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Becky Quick, a contributor to Fortune magazine as well as an anchor on CNBC's Squawk Box, included an opinion piece in the most recent issue (2/27/12) entitled, "It Drive Me Crazy! A Short Screed on the Stupidity of Car Salesmen." Why did Fortune magazine include an opinion piece on car salesmen in this issue, and why should the ADM community care?
You should all care, because Quick not only writes for a magazine with a large readership, she also has a large public presence on a respected news channel. Her bad experience in a dealership is currently making the rounds, and all she is doing is reconfirming the stereotypes about car salesmen.
Quick begins her piece with a lesson she learned early in life while waiting tables: "treat every person in a dinner party equally, because you never know who's picking up the bill--and therefore determining your tip." From there, she shares her experience in "one Chryler, one Honda, and three Toyota dealerships." Quick found it hard to get any of these dealerships to take her $40,000 for a minivan! She ended up buying from one of these only because she was tired of looking around. Does that sound like she'll be a repeat customer when she's on the market for another car? I don't think so!
She walked into a Toyota dealership very pregnant and ready to buy. All she wanted to do was test drive a Sienna. Instead, the salesman asked where her husband was and assumed that the man standing behind her was her husband and began to address him. Turns out the man was a complete stranger. Oops! Still, the salesman never introduced himself or asked her what her name was. He was more interested in talking to Quick's husband, when he learned who he really was, until her husband told the salesman to talk to Quick. Double oops!
It didn't end there. When the salesman got them back to his desk to take down their information, he asked for her home phone number and followed that up with an obnoxious comment, "Obviously you don't have a work phone." At this point in her opinion piece I just had to laugh, because I'm hoping that the salesman finally realized at some point in time who the woman was that he was insulting.
I know the trouble with car salesmen is an ongoing issue in the industry because many articles in Auto Success magazine address this very issue.
Givens' article advises dealerships to "evolve to meet the needs of today's consumer." So just who is "today's consumer?" Using Quick's opinion piece as an example, today's consumer includes people like her or Anne Mulcahy, former chairman and CEO of Xerox, women who have a large network of friends with money or a lot of money and power.
Quick includes Mulcahy's experience in trying to buy a Porsche. The salesman thought she should have someone else there when she announced she wanted to buy the 911 Cabriolet. I'm assuming he meant a man should have been involved in the purchase of such a big-ticket item? The finance officer also insulted her by asking if she needed a co-signer. Mulcahy felt like she was back in the 70s and 20 years old again instead of a CEO of a fortune 500 company with a large pocketbook.
Why would anyone go out of their way to irritate women like these?
Givens article lists three things consumers want, which are also part of the new art of selling cars, and those things include "truth, transparency, and honest." To this list I would like to add respect. Quick and Mulcahy's experiences show car salesmen tend not to respect women who walk into their showroom.
Quick writes, "It doesn't take an MBA to recognize the bad business practices on display. . . . [A]ny executive would blanch to hear stories like these. But somehow the lesson hasn't trickled down to the sales force." They haven't?! I disagree with her here. The lessons have trickled down, but I think it is going to take a larger cultural shift before salesmen start treating women who enter their showroom equally, because they might be the ones with the $40,000 in their pocket or eyeing that 911 Porsche Cabriolet for themselves.
Bretlinger's article reveals his impatience with what looks like something he's said time and again: "listen to the customer, keep the customer talking, and let the customer sell themselves." These are all good pieces of advice, but again, to these points I would add, never make assumptions about the customer!
Kristoff offers advice on how to retain customers, and in his article he also notes that "30 percent of your customers have a friend or family member that (sic) will purchase a vehicle within the next year." If this is true, how many of Quick's or Mulcahy's friends or family members will be rushing down to the dealerships they went to? How many of Quick's readers or viewers of Squawk Box will go to these dealerships? None. That's my quick and dirty answer--NONE.
Now I'm not just talking about developing new sales tactics here. I'm talking about something much bigger. As I said before, a cultural shift has to happen, and many of my posts address what I mean by this. However, many of those posts are seen as feminist drivel and so ignored. Nevertheless, The way salesmen treated Quick and Mulcahy is a reflection of the way society treats women more generally.
Quick ends her piece with this: "After an experience like this, I am in no rush to step back into a showroom any time soon." She advises auto execs to teach their staff the lesson of waiting tables.
Download the original article scanned from Fortune Magazine*: Fortune Magazine Article Scanned.pdf
(*Thank you to Eric Hinkle)