Making Expensive Sales or Lucrative Relationships

by Guy Ralfe on December 30, 2009

Star-RatingsI have just returned from vacationing with relatives in Colorado. The vacation was great except for the frustration caused by one purchase over this festive season. Steve was due to take delivery of a new vehicle yesterday that they had ordered 3 weeks before.

Buying a car is likely the most expensive discretionary item most people purchase. There is often a lot of thought and time that goes into the purchase even if you are not a car fanatic. Whatever make, model, style and financial commitment you settle on, you have to live with for 3-5 years before you get to change it without incurring unnecessary cost.

During our vacation we got to hear a lot about this transaction… After a less than stellar sales interaction the paperwork was complete and the deposit paid. The expected delivery date was given with a 98% certainty. Steve requested weekly updates even if it was that there was no new information, to which the salesman assured him he would get.

After two weeks he had to call the salesman for an update. The salesman promised to get back to them, which he didn’t until they called back again a day later. Only news was that it still appeared to be 98% certain to be available on the promised date. On the promised date no call was received by 10 am, so a call to the dealership was made for an update. The salesman wasn’t available so the sales manager promised to get back with an update shortly. By 4pm still no response so another call was placed to the dealership.

On being put through to the sales manager and requesting the update, the sales manager said they had been extremely busy with a number of other customers and that Steve would have to wait. When Steve asked if he wasn’t also a customer having committed to spending more than $35,000? The sales manager  took everything to heart and rather than addressing his concern, attacked him and told him he could come to the dealership and collect the down payment for the vehicle if he was so dissatisfied with the service – which he could guarantee delivery of in 10 min!

Having waited 3 weeks already, he assured the sales manager he wanted the vehicle and was not concerned when it came, just that he expected some information so that he could plan around that. The sales manager then said the manufacturer was off and the systems were not updated so it could take up to two more weeks to get the vehicle. Steve was fine with that but upset he wasn’t told that initially when he called and said “… great then I will expect it in two weeks”. To which the sales manager then responded “…but I expect you to get the car in the next two days!” Steve then became frustrated as he asked the sales manager – how can you make that assurance when you have just told me the system is not updated? In frustration the sales manager then offered his down payment again, which Steve refused and responded that he will work to another 2 weeks delivery and maybe he will be surprised – and the dealership will call him early!

Based on this interaction (there is always two sides to every story and a lot more detail but…) Steve will wait out his delivery but as a consequence he has already made two commitments:

  1. He will not use the dealership for any service and maintenance
  2. He will post on online review forums about his experience

This is where the tragedy lies and so much damage is done without the salesman even being aware of the situation they have caused. Instead of viewing the transaction as a relationship where there could be ongoing goodwill through referrals and future maintenance of the vehicle this is now a once off transaction that is likely going to cost more than the expected sale. Secondly, this is the ignorance of a salesman/sales organization not yet accepting the power and influence of Social Media and the cost it can have on:

  • The salesman – any online post will likely name the individual and the power of Search Engines will quickly find that for future customers and employers
  • The dealership – also named in the online review will produce a negative customer valuation which can affect traffic to the dealership
  • The dealership network – often a dealership is an affiliate or part of a larger network (across multiple brands). Again the power of search engines will make the association of the individual dealership within the larger organization thus tainting their reputation.
  • The manufacturer – the dealership represents the retail storefront for a global manufacturer, who works hard to promote and protect their image. In the realm of social media they are dependent on their product and dealers to preserve this image.

As consumers this is the magic of Social Media – no longer are we told through marketing and advertising what our perceptions should be, our peers and fellow consumers tell us firsthand. Social Media has given us the power, we need to use it wisely, to both promote and demote based on actual interactions which helps everyone.

This is a simple illustration coincidentally involving the behavior of a stereotypical car salesman, but this applies in all transactions – Understand and engage at all levels as if you were in a relationship as Social is how the world moves today.

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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