No More Excuses

Dealers react to a poll that suggests sales pros are falling behind customers in product knowledge.

May 2017, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Tariq Kamal - Also by this author

In April, MAXDigital released the results of a survey of 400 dealers who attended this year’s NADA convention. As cited in Joel Gordon’s sales training article, they were asked how often their sales professionals know more about their vehicles than their customers do. Fifteen percent said “always” or “most of the time.” Five percent said “never.”

These findings align perfectly with my own experience as a car buyer and third baseman. But I have never worked in a dealership. For all I know, product knowledge isn’t all that important. So I reached out to a brain trust of current and former dealers, GMs, sales managers and F&I directors to get their take. I promised anonymity in exchange for honest opinions.

“It is embarrassing,” one dealer wrote. “It is unfortunate that, as an industry, our professionals are not held to a higher standard and expected to know what they are talking about.”

“There is an impression in our industry that customers know more than salespeople do. … In general, I see a decline in salespeople’s professionalism and skill level,” said another.

But does it really matter? Not necessarily. “All manufacturers build a good car. People buy cars from people,” said one dealer. “It’s not about horsepower and gear ratios.”

“I watch even the least knowledgeable of our staff impress customers all the time, so I think this survey is a little weak,” said an F&I director. “Consider the fact that manufacturers demand product knowledge certification to the levels of insanity in order for the dealer to qualify for various trunk monies. So salespeople are plenty informed about the product.”

Summarizing a widely held opinion, one sales manager said the proliferation of vehicles and options was at least partly to blame for any product knowledge gap. “More models, more trims, more colors, more everything. A customer studies and memorizes one of those.”

Well-researched car buyers were a popular target. Dealers and managers don’t expect their sales pros to know as much as this customer about this vehicle — an “insane amount of minute research,” said one. “As to sales managers not insisting more knowledge is gained by their staff, I’d say laziness is the answer,” he added.

If product knowledge isn’t mandatory, “It’s not the salesperson’s fault; it is management’s,” a sales manager concurred.

A dealer agreed. “Now that information is only a click away so, there is no good excuse for not being knowledgeable.”

An F&I director said that, when sales pros demonstrate a lack of product knowledge, “you are essentially performing your own colonoscopy.” He suggested sales managers conduct group walkarounds and role-play questions and answers about their vehicles. “This is a no-excuse business. Quit making them.”

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