When was the last time that you purchased a new car? Do you remember it vividly? I'm sure you do, because it was probably a horrible experience – kind of like the experience I am having right now. While I’ve purchased a few new cars in my time, I’ve come to realize that there is something fundamentally wrong the new car buying process - and it has nothing to do with the buyer.
Ask a new car salesman to compare his job now to 15 years ago. He will tell you that everything is different – and more difficult now. He’ll say that buyers are Internet-savvy and more prepared now, making his job much harder.
Is it really?
Since I am right in the middle of the process of purchasing a new car, I can say with great confidence that the problem with the new car sales business has nothing to do with the buyer, the Internet, hold-backs, days on the lot, dealer interest payments, the economy… none of that.
The problem lies with the salespeople.
They are terrible. These past few weeks I’ve encountered the absolute worst salespeople I’ve ever met. It doesn't matter if you are shopping for a Cadillac in New Jersey or a Hyundai in California. It’s all the same. Car salespeople appear to be noticeably uneducated regarding the products and services they sell. As a business owner, I simply can't get over this. I can't imagine selling something and not having a clue about the details and specs.
Think I'm wrong?
Give this a try. Pick a car, any car. Now spend about an hour on the manufacturer’s website and learn about this car. Learn about what is standard, and what is optional. Learn about the packages, the specs, the details. Now go into a dedicated dealership and try and stump the salesman with a question.
Don’t worry, it won’t be difficult. In fact, I have yet to meet a car salesman who really knows his product. This is embarrassing! In one hour I can learn more about the product than a man (or woman) who sells this product all day long!
Why do car salesman take this for granted? Why do they not educate themselves on the product they are selling? Recently I asked a car salesman about the financing that was available for this model. I already knew the answer but wanted to see what he would say. His response? "I don't know, I guess I can check."
“Really?” I thought to myself. How could he not know? The answer is printed on the front page of the manufacturer’s website! It's on a TV commercial every five minutes. It's 0% for 60 months. How can he not know this?
Let's talk about the car salesperson’s incredible lack of skills. As co-founder and CEO of my own company, I am also the top salesman. It's my absolute favorite part of my job! I love to spend time with current and potential clients. And most importantly, I love listening to them. Good salespeople listen – it’s the most important skill in sales. If you truly listen to your customer they will tell you what they need, and then all you have to do is supply it.
Someone should teach listening to car salespeople.
As a salesman, I drive quite a bit every day. I've always owned and driven full size GMC vehicles. However I was interested in perhaps making a change and driving a sedan. I had the new Cadillac SRX in mind.
I took some time to learn about the features and the price - it's a tremendous value. So I headed off to the dealership to have a look. My objective was to see if I liked the interior up close - because that is where I spend a lot of time. I wanted to see the navigation system, the iPod interface, the bluetooth interface and most importantly, the cup holders.
That's right! The cup holders!
Great cup holders are critical for me. I need to know where my coffee, water and iPhone will sit every day as I rack up hundreds and hundreds of miles. It turned out the new Cadillac SRX had everything I was looking for, including an interior layout that trumped Lexus or BMW, hands down. Seemed like a winner to me.
Until the salesman blew the deal.
I walked into the dealership and was quickly escorted to a table with a salesman. It was his turn to be in charge. He quickly turned me off with series of personal questions and collecting personal data. I couldn’t figure out what any of this had to do with looking at a car!
We then went out to look at the car. He started off with the engine. He wanted to show me under the hood. As I stood there listening to him babble I thought to myself that I couldn't care less what is under the hood - and I'm a Mechanical Engineer. I know it's going to start. Every day. It's a brand new car! And I don't care how much horsepower it has. It's not a Corvette and never will be.
Remember my main objective?
Cup holders. The salesman never showed me the cup holders. He never asked me what was important to me in purchasing a car. I sure did learn a lot about the engine though. And the safety record, the maintenance schedule and the quality paint job. After about a half hour of this nonsense I concluded that this was actually a fabulous car and a tremendous value. And then I thanked the salesman for his time and I left.
You see, the salesman made a crucial error. He neglected the simple act of hearing what my needs are. He didn’t ask me why I was there. He didn’t listen to me. He didn’t want to know what is important to me in a car. He didn’t ask me what is not important to me. He didn’t ask me about my job – or whether it requires me to spend lots of time in the car. He did not ask me about my commute. He did not ask whether I have a family, and whether they would be riding in the car. He did not ask me if there was anything I wanted to avoid or prevent with my new car. He did not ask me how this new car would fit into my life!
Just a few questions and that salesman would have had me talking. And possibly driving away with a new car. Instead, he lost my business. The worst part? He doesn't have a clue what he did wrong.
And me? Well, I'm still looking for the ultimate cup holders.