Monday, July 03, 2006

Needless Drama in Sales

Selling as a career can be one of the most exciting roles anywhere. The idea of helping people find what they want, what they need, and what they perhaps would not have discovered on their own, thereby bringing joy to them while producing income for one’s self is truly a wonderful thing.

Why then is it that so many in the field of sales continue to pursue their chosen career with the belief that their prospects are not intelligent enough to understand the sales process and can therefore be readily and easily duped with worn out and often underhanded if not just silly sales tactics?

As an example, while recently purchasing a new vehicle, my wife and I entered the dealership having done all our homework and knowing what a fair price would be for the vehicle we desired. As the salesperson began his part of the process, he of course started with the full retail price added this and that to it and then presented us with an offer note that was $3,000 to $4,000 higher than what we knew to be a valid price. We responded, “Thank you however this is the price we have in mind, we know it’s a fair price. If you’d like to sell the vehicle today, we’ll be glad to write you a check in full.”

Of course, the last part of our statement were magical words to the salesperson and he quickly scrambled to fill out an offer note and have us sign it. With a signed offer in his hand, he dashed off to his manager’s office for approval. Of course, that took 30 or 40 minutes during which the salesman returned to where we sat patiently waiting to advise us we were very close and the manager was taking our offer very seriously.

Finally, after the car sales deities had determined that the correct amount of time had passed, the sales person returned with paper in hand. He restated his claim that we were very, very close and sat down with us to review the numbers. Within seconds it became clear that in spite of the fact that the sales person was prepared to talk for several more minutes in an effort to convince of the meaning of the words “very close,” the manager’s idea of “very close” was still approximately $600 higher than my wife and I had proposed as a purchase price. At that point we simply stood up, pointed out to the salesman that he was $600 too high, thanked him for his time, shook his hand and left.

It probably took us all about five minutes to walk out of the dealership, get into our old car, put on a seat belt, start the engine, and begin backing up to leave the dealership. At the very moment we were shifting from reverse-to-drive, the sales person who’d been helping us came running out of the dealership waving a fist full of paperwork at us. Next thing I knew he was at the car side motioning for us to roll down the window so he could breathlessly tell us his manager had decided that our price was OK after all. Yes, he moved very quickly for a fellow I’d guess to be in his late sixties! As my wife and I re-parked the car and headed back into the office we couldn’t help but shake our heads in wonderment at the drama that had just played out and how time wasteful it was for all concerned.

What we didn’t fully appreciate however was how much more time was about to be wasted. As the salesperson completed the offer paperwork, we asked about writing the check. The salesperson immediately pushed back and said “please don’t write me a check you need to write the check in front of the finance man”. And with those words, act three of the process began; a process whose first step was another hour of waiting for the finance man whose real role was to begin sales negotiation number two.

When we finally sat down with the finance person, he started the process over again of walking through the numbers and explaining what a great price we were receiving. He then preceded to take a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle of it, and on the left hand side he listed every major item that you expect and want to be covered by the standard warranty. He then turned his attention to the right hand side and began by writing the words “not covered” at the top. From there he began to explain to us what types of items would not be covered by the standard Chevrolet warranty. The example he used was that climate driven issues would not be covered by the warranty. Being the curious type, I couldn’t help but inquire as to what a "climate" exclusion would entail. It was then that the finance person explained that since Seattle is known for rain, problems with the windshield wipers would not be covered by the warranty just as problems with air conditioning on cars in San Diego would also not be covered by the GM warranty. Unbelievable as it may sound, this was his pitch. At that point, my wife suggested that if he wanted to continue with his presentation, we would not be buying the car after all. On the other hand, if he wanted to stop right where he was and accept our check, we’d complete the purchase and be on our way.

Long story short, nearly two hours after having walked in with a decision and our checkbook in hand we finally left the dealership with completed sales transaction and a car set to be delivered within the next couple of days. My wife and I were very happy with the vehicle and we paid a fair and reasonable price; definitely not the lowest price but certainly not what the dealership attempted to force upon us. In the end the salesperson succeeded in that a sale was made and a commission generated and in the end the finance person processed the paperwork successfully and so I suppose the tactics will be propagated based on their successes.

However, what if the salesperson, the finance person, and the dealership could see through the falsehood of their activities and instead approach the customer in a different manner; a far more reasonable and human manner. Don’t they see that dealing with the prospect in a straight up fashion without the games, shenanigans, and high drama would make for an easier, more time efficient transaction and most importantly better secure their customers’ willingness to purchase future vehicles from the dealership with the knowledge that the dealer would treat the customer right from the very start of the process?

Yes, a career in sales is a tremendously powerful foundation upon which to build a life’s success. Too bad that so many practitioners still believe in the power of high drama and high pressure as the “key to success.” It’s time for salespeople to stop the drama and pressure tactics used on unsuspecting customers and realize that to forgo the short term, higher dollar sales provides far greater dividends in the long run.