Let’s play a little word association game…
- When I say Big Mac, what thought follows? French fries or a Coke or a milkshake, most likely.
- When I say Fenway Park, what do you think of? The Red Sox or the Green Monster, probably.
- When I say car salesman, what comes to mind?
Don’t answer that.
Sometimes reputations are completely unwarranted… and other times we know exactly why some industries are known the way they are. This past weekend I went car shopping and got a first-hand look at some of the delightful qualities of this sector. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about Porsche salesmen. I wish I could go car shopping for a Porsche. But I’m just a burgeoning reputation communicator (read: PR gal) so I had to set my sights a lower.
I’ve been car shopping before – usually with my father or my fiancé – so I knew to expect a lot of pressure from fast-talking salesmen and their confusing contracts. What I didn’t realize is how much worse it would be when I did it alone. A young woman alone in a car dealership is like a bar of soap at a “germ-phobe” conference or a single magic pacifier (guaranteed to stop any kid’s screams) at a Baby’s R Us. Everyone wants to claim it and take advantage of it and milk it for all its worth.
At first I was angry at the way I was treated. But anger soon gave way to regret… to sadness, really. Car salesmen are doing nothing to better their reputations. People need to buy cars. People have to interact with car salesmen. With a captive audience, we could drastically change their reputation, and this change could take root very quickly. Instead of viewing potential sales as an opportunity to screw the pooch (excuse my language), we could very easily change the entire industry’s reputation (while still allowing them to make a profit – and with the added benefit of faster sales!) with a simple change in attitude and behavior.
As anyone who knows me can tell you, I love “projects.” I love fixing things (like industries or computers); I love making situations better and I’m mildly obsessed with good reputations (thanks to Peter Morrissey). So here are some of my suggestions to help fix car salesmen’s reputations. Feel free to add to the list!
- Ask more real questions, and fewer “leading” questions. Find out what the consumer really needs and how you can address those needs.
- Grant more power to the actual salespeople and don’t make them go to their managers/money guy about every change in color or minor negotiation. Empowering people will make them more pleasant to work with and speed up the purchase process, too.
- The Golden Rule is golden for a reason. Heck, do it one better: treat everyone like you’d like your grandmother to be treated!
- And do not think that just because a single young woman walks into your showroom, that you can take her for all she’s worth! After all, she might just be the gal who can help fix your dastardly reputation…