||August 2nd, 2007|
by Peter W. Robinson
I was talking the other day to a fella who does corporate sales training for a major American car company. We commiserated a bit on some of the challenges inherent to his position, and exchanged a few observations on the state of auto sales training in general. I came away feeling very happy and optimistic to know that there are people with his focus, dedication, and skill level out there trying to improve our business for consumers. The fact that he works for a domestic manufacturer makes his success that much more important, because those trainees must overcome not only the public perception of a car salesman as someone with, um ... let's say ... less than stellar credibility, but also the idea that the products themselves are somehow vastly inferior to their foreign competition.
It may well be that the best way for us to take some momentum back from foreign builders is to excel in the difficult area of personal service. Saturn has had superb customer ratings since it's inception--despite years of mediocre products--because of the relatively user-friendly nature of their process ("One price shopping! We'll be nice to you!") Of course, as soon as their products improved substantially, GM immediately set about bungling the marketing phase.
The inability of domestic automakers to properly market the many excellent products they offer is the key to their continuously evaporating market share. This places a dramatically increased level of responsibility on salespersons to possess a sort of built-in credibility of their own when discussing product, and is often simply too much to ask, particularly of novices. Those who say things like "Well, those 'Hondotas' just sell themselves, it must be easy" are dead wrong, but it certainly doesn't hurt to be able to move quickly and confidently through the 'establishing product worthiness' phase of the sales process.
While it is a bit too much to expect consumers to "Buy American!" simply because they are American, it is not a bad idea to encourage folks to explore domestic alternatives. It would probably be fair to say that the 'Hondotas' of the world are under-priced when new (in order to compete in their category), but it is certainly a fact that they are typically overpriced as used vehicles. Perception is reality in nearly every financial transaction, but the idea that any car is 40-50% better after 3 years than a direct competitor (with some rather obvious exceptions) is ludicrous. We should all hope with every fiber of our beings that our American car companies can and will compete into this millennium, particularly now when the Chinese are getting ready to invade our shores with full-size cars for $17.95 (presumably made by small children on lunch break from sneaker production). The labor situation in our auto plants (and nearly anywhere unions are involved) has prevented us from competing on a level playing field. While it is true that as long as we are paying the best wages in the world to workers in an environment that encourages only mediocrity, we will struggle to regain our industry-leader stature, it does not seem practical for us to model the Chinese production template ("Work! Or die!")
Perhaps as folks realize how much value these 'Fordrolet's' represent as pre-owned vehicles, and begin to perform due-diligence research (uncovering a surprising body of evidence to suggest that they are solid competitors in nearly every niche), a return to American brand-loyalty will inevitably follow, and this will usher in a new 'Golden Age' for American automakers!
Hey, it could happen...
Peter W. Robinson is the founder of Movinmetal, a family-owned car buying and consulting service in Escondido, CA., located just north of San Diego. He has spent many years working in the car business, and is convinced that there is a better way to complete car deals. He can be contacted at 760-688-6398 or at the website www.movinmetal.com.