I, Salesman

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
i salesman

Imagine the world's best car salesman. He knows your name, buying history, automotive likes and dislikes. He knows your car: its age, condition and service history. He knows your budget and preferred finance method. He knows what car-related purchases you like: stereo upgrades, driving instruction, branded merchandise, etc. He knows when to approach you, and when to back off. He's friendly yet authoritative, completely informed about ALL automotive products and scrupulously honest. And best of all, he's a computer.

Oh sure, in an ideal world, it'd be a real person. But we live in a world where consumers can summon a new car's dealer invoice with a click of a mouse. Where anyone can buy and sell a used car over vast distances at the push of a button, for less than the cost of a classified ad in their local paper. And that means that today's car salesmen make a couple of hundred dollars per sale. For that kind of money, you get an order taker. At best. At worst, you get someone who doesn't know anything about anything who tries to hide the fact that there's only one person he hates more than himself: you.

Again, automation is the answer. To wit: I once asked a Renault exec how his employer had morphed from sad manufacturer of pathetic rust buckets to steadfast supplier of quality cars. "Robots," he replied. Once the French automaker removed as many humans as possible from the production process and replaced them with computerized assembly workers, the company could consistently create reliable vehicles. So if automation has transformed cars into paragons of mechanical virtue, why is the sales process still run by Neanderthals playing with flint axes?

To some extent, the car sales cro-magnonification has begun. Dealerships are splashing-out on "customer resource management" (CRM) software. These automated programs process sales and service data to track and stimulate the sales process. For example, when a potential customer walks into a dealership to test drive a new car, the salesman grabs his email address. When the customer walks, the salesman hands the email info to the CRM team. The dealer's computer then bombards the escapee's in-box with inappropriate come-ons– until the program eventually decides it's time for the spam to stop. OK, that's not the ideal. But it is the actual: the precise sequence of events following my last visit to a Toyota and Ford dealership.

More sophisticated CRM systems analyze service department data– mostly mileage over time– to figure out when customers might be ready for their next whip. The box flags the info for a salesman's phone call, email or direct mail pitch. Some systems also alert the salesman when their customer is in for service, to stimulate a co-incidental new car chin wag. All of them send birthday cards. Clearly, obviously, these systems suck. Current CRM software doesn't gather the right data, doesn't gather enough data, processes the data badly, responds inappropriately and, ultimately, asks lazy, unmotivated, inefficient humans to capitalize on its algorithmic efforts.

If it wasn't so ludicrous, it wouldn't be so funny. All a CRM programmer really needs to do is find the world's best car salesman (or woman), figure out exactly how they sell a car, and then get a computer to do it. Obviously, you don't want a computerized voice calling you up and asking you the same sorts of questions as your local car dealer's real-life "main man." Or do you? I get on just fine with my automated Virgin phone top-up babe. Study after study shows that automotive consumers feel that their car dealer doesn't contact them enough. No, really. They feel neglected. You never call. You never write…

Gold-plated CRM systems practice what their programmers call "data mining." The software digs through extensive customer data to find the nuggets the computer's human masters consider useful or relevant. It's an entirely inappropriate process. What's needed is "data schmoozing." CRM systems should engage customers in an endless series of interactions that allow the computer to create a precise and contemporaneous portrait of the potential customer's exact needs. They should respond to the customer's (not the salesman's) input with interesting, informative, entertaining and relevant information. That kind of CRM process would bond the customer to the computer– I mean dealer.

On the other hand, maybe automobile manufacturers should be the ones pursuing "third wave" CRM automation. After all, any dealer who engages their customers in such a lively, ongoing and information-rich conversation would have an enormous advantage over the company providing the product. In fact, the race to create an automated sales system will determine the future of the car industry. The question is: who will own the customer? As always, it will be the company with the best product– AND the best salesman.

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  • Kitzler Kitzler on Jun 17, 2006

    Hi Robert, frankly today's car market is very confusing, the options are no longer color or trim, but gadgets that most people do not take the trouble to familiarize themselves with, i.e., read the manual... can't say I blame them, it's so thick and so difficult to find an answer to a question... the salesmen are totally useless and the service technicians make you feel like your concerns are not valid.... So here is what I propose, before I buy any car, rather than take a test drive, I would love to be able to rent a particular car for a week or two, a la Herzt, it would save me a lot of grief later, and the investment would be worth it.. that way, I could decide which I like better, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Audi, or Infiniti... the last one being 40% owned by Renault (THE FRENCH) I would have to really like it to purchase it.... So I could use the Net to sell my vehicle and then spend the next few weeks checking out the latest models that inspire me, to see how much I still like them a couple of weeks later... because today's car shopping is totally useless to most people who do not even understand what VSC or ABS means to them or to their tires, all they really care about are the looks of the car and how good the woofer sounds, too bad, there are still a lot of frustrated folks like me out there....

  • 808217 808217 on Apr 25, 2008

    For that kind of money, you get an order taker. At best. At worst, you get someone who doesn't know anything about anything who tries to hide the fact that there's only one person he hates more than himself: you. At best an order taker... not true. Maybe some, not all, and not me. Hmmm, I sell GM products, and I make more money than that. I enjoy my job very much. The consumer can be quite a pain in the @$$ though. For many reasons other than being afraid of getting ripped off. If you are a good enough sales consultant, you dont need to worry about only making $200 a sale. Because you could have that person come back and buy from you for a long time, including their family and friends. You make some big deals, and you make some small deals. Its about how you treat people. In the end of the month, if you are HONEST with people and know how and when to push, and know when to give enough space to a customer... you have yourself a decent paycheck, and happy customers who will return to see you again. Its about referals and customer service. I cant stand a disconnected sales consultant who does not enjoy their job. The postion can be as good as you want it to be, or as bad as you want it to be. In this day and age of on-line shoppers, you need to give them the best price off the bat. I have no problem with that at all. Because once they buy from you and you treat them well, the will be back. I am also the certified internet manager at the dealership where I work. I love on-line leads. They get a bottom dollar price up front and are easy to deal with. Who does not want to get paid for sending a few emails and doing a little bit of paperwork? And they always send business back to me! As far as getting their e-mails and spamming them, it does not work that way here. All of the customers that I do business with on-line get a better experience than a constant spam-o-matic system purchased by a lazy dealer. Automated is not the way to go for internet customers. There should be an internet manager at every dealership that takes care of them. Or not, I dont mind not having the competion.

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