Last Saturday, I went with the rest of my fellow Top Gear team members on a shoot for our very popular Wrong Car, Right Car section wherein we help people, preferably normal ones with normal needs and normal budgets (I say normal because dealing with celebrities has been in the past, a royal pain in the a$$ on these types of shoots unless these celebrities themselves are true car guys and are the down-to-earth type of folk).
We typically visit dealerships and showrooms in Libis/C5 because our guests usually have a schedule to keep and it is such a waste of time commuting to different places far away. Sometimes we might drop by dealerships in Makati as well, but again that’s simply because all other dealerships are close by.
Now in its sixth year, you’d think we’re pros at this already. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. We’ve been late a couple of times, we’ve had to reschedule once or twice and had to cancel a venue or two because traffic, the schedule of the guests or unit availability was an issue we had to live and compromise with.
What is surprising, though, is the general lack of confidence, product awareness and the general knowledge or lack thereof, about cars in general. Ask a typical sales representative what is the difference between a single overhead cam engine and a dual overhead cam engine and they turn red in embarrassment or utter words that sound like Swahili, Zulu, or Slavic to you and me. Ask them what the relevance of an intercooler is to turbo-charging, or what makes direct injection better than indirect or port injection and their eyes stare into deep space. Understand that this lack of knowledge doesn’t make them any less of a salesman (or woman for that matter), but I’ve seen it many times already in the past, this general lack of knowledge about cars makes sales representatives less credible, less believable for someone who is probably making his or her second biggest ever purchase in his or her life, after a house. This is not an elitists’ view on cars and the uninformed salesmen who sell them. This is about product knowledge and professional competence. A car buyer is making a purchase that will change his/her life significantly, and the buyer deserves to be as well-informed as possible, assured that he/she is making an educated decision and thus requires all the knowledge and wisdom available to him before he/she buys a car. That is but fair to expect.
If you go to Greenhills, in the “tiangge” section selling mobile phones and you’ll find some of the most knowledgeable tech and IT products and services personnel in the entire country. For a small mobile device, the most expensive of which costs less than a tenth of the cheapest, most affordable car in the entire automotive industry? And people change their mobiles phones quite frequently, far more so than people who change cars. Hence the ever greater need to be a well-informed car salesman, because the product you are selling will be of greater value to your customer, and they will be keeping their cars far longer than any mobile phone.
The mobile phone business is highly competitive, and I would like to think that the car sales business is equally competitive. Why then can’t we have better trained salesmen more knowledgeable about the products they are selling?
I’m not talking about car geekiness the way a petrolhead exudes all things cars from himself/herself. I’m talking about basic, general knowledge about cars and engines as a whole. Greater professionalism involves greater knowledge about your line of work, about your industry, and about the economic and political landscape that affects your industry.
In the past, the best sales representatives well-informed about the products and services they offer have been from the luxury marques like BMW, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Jaguar. Among the mass-market brands, Honda, Hyundai and Subaru have stood out among all the other brands. Notice the trend? All these brands are enthusiast brands, filled with people who genuinely love cars and enjoy driving them. If a sales representative genuinely loved cars, he/she will naturally become more knowledgeable about cars. If he/she were more knowledgeable about cars, he/she would be able to sell more cars, and sell them better. Thus ensuring the further growth of the automotive industry. Doesn’t that make good sense?