Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Jake Yorath | posted April 27, 2016 10:35
What it means to be a front liner
Recently I went into a dealership of a very well known car brand. No need to name names, but this is something most -if not all- dealerships can take something from.
Upon walking in through their door, the security guard welcomed me with a smile on an excruciatingly hot summer day, a greeting that I returned as I entered; being nice to those who perform often thankless jobs is one of the most basic of decencies that a person can extend another. I then made my way to the front desk of the showroom to look for my contact.
I was standing there at the front desk and asked the two sales people to call George (name has been changed, of course) and let him know I was there to see him. Unusually, neither of them even looked up as both were busy with their phones.
I would understand if they may have been in the middle of a phone or SMS conversation with a client, but one was Facebooking while the other was using the selfie camera to check her make-up. I would have also understood if they took a few seconds to wrap up whatever they were doing, but I stood there for two to three minutes just wondering if they actually heard me or if I had somehow spoken a foreign language that they didn't get. Farsi, perhaps?
At this point I didn't bother with them, pulled my phone out and contacted George (again, not his real name) directly and walked around the showroom to check out what they have because, quite frankly, who else was going to show me? After a few minutes, another sales person comes up and asks me if anyone has assisted me already, to which I said none.
"Oh okay sir," said the sales person. "Would you like to take a look at our new (so-and-so) sedan?"
Normally I would have said yeah... but she was pointing to a crossover.
Just to explain, the front desk of any car dealership is always manned by a couple of sales agents; they usually have more interesting designations like marketing professionals, sales associates, sales executives and the like. Nevertheless they must all exhibit the qualities of being welcoming, attentive, friendly, hospitable, and knowledgeable about the products, process, and services.
This dealer's showroom front liners, however, scored zip on nearly all counts. This is also odd for another reason: a sales manager usually appoints his or her best and brightest for showroom duty because of the critical nature of the post. They have to be the most amiable, the friendliest, and the most outgoing people because they have to maximize the home court advantage.
To be honest I'm not at the dealership to buy a car, but every person that walks into a showroom must be welcomed and attended to by the sales staff. It sounds odd coming from an automotive writer, but this is something I know very well.
Just over a decade ago when I was fresh out of college, I had two choices: call center or car sales. I opted for the latter, and applied at a nearby dealership. The job is tough, highly competitive and humbling, but you learn a lot about dealing with different types of people.
The best piece of training I was given by my sales manager, Mr. Mike Tiu, was to talk to every single person that walks into the showroom. It doesn't matter if they're there to buy a new car, pick up their ride after servicing, or even just to use the restroom. Neither does it matter if they're wearing something as mundane as shorts, sandals, and a plain white tee shirt; we sales staff must talk to them, show them where to go (if they're coming in for a service or another department), or even offer a complimentary cup of coffee. Sure they may not buy a car now, but as a salesman, it's important to plant seeds to potentially harvest later; either by direct sale or by referral. All a salesman has to invest is a few minutes of time, a bit of chit chat, and a smile.
The sales person is the front liner of every car brand, the first contact of customers to introduce them to what makes the company (or the dealer) better than the rest. Sure there are products that sell themselves; usually these are newest models on the market and thus sales (almost) comes naturally. But more often than not in this highly competitive business, most of the models on the showroom floor need to be actively sold and pushed by the agents, given the influx of so many new brands, nameplates, updates, and all-new versions.
All things with the products and brands being equal, simply being attentive can easily become the deciding factor, and it always pays off. Perhaps this is why this brand has been experiencing stagnant sales for the last few years.
As I walked back out the door to the car, the security guard greeted me again and walked me to my car. Maybe he should apply for a sales post. I have a feeling he can do very well.