Perfecting the Art of Sales Prevention
By Mark Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group
Most businesses have a key department or function that drives the rest of the organization.
For example, in the movie business, producers are in charge. They hire the directors and actors, acquire financing, negotiate distribution deals, etc.
For some retailers, the key department is merchandising, because the function sets the tone and positioning of the store to customers.
In automotive retailing, I’ve recently come to believe, the key department is sales prevention. I realize this Web site doesn’t have many articles about automotive retailing and there have been no articles about sales prevention (as a business discipline) so I believe the following story to be worthwhile.
Recently, I tried to help my friend Emily buy a new car. She wanted to test drive six manufacturer brands. She asked me along because she’s not comfortable with car salespeople and, for reasons that elude her, I really enjoy dealing with them.
She picked a Sunday to go car shopping because she’s a very busy doctor.
She wanted to spend $30,000 to $50,000 and maximum driver comfort was her primary goal.
Her current car is a 1997 Infiniti model with 166,000 miles on it. Emily was looking to replace it and be behind the wheel of new car within a couple of weeks.
I started the shopping process by going to various Web sites to see which dealers in the NYC area would be open on a Sunday. Unfortunately, there is no Web site that easily answers this seemingly simple question, so I ended up calling a dozen dealers to determine who’d be open on Sunday. My introduction to the sales prevention process had begun.
When it came to sales prevention practices, the two most dominant brands were BMW and Lexus. Neither had a Manhattan dealer open on Sunday and so each was awarded a Gold Star for excellence in preventing possible sales.
The Manhattan Honda dealer, when we asked to see a hybrid Accord, proudly said there’d be no waiting since he had four in stock.
Not wishing to be outdone in the area of sales prevention, the dealer informed us none of the hybrids were on display and we’d have to go up to an elevator to test “sit” in one. The retailer had a policy of “no test drives for any car on the weekend” so hitting the road was out of the question.
Hoping that reason might prevail, we explained that Emily would not be able to easily return to the dealership on weekdays because of her professional demands.
Seeing that even though the car was licensed and sitting in front of the garage car elevator, it wasn’t going anywhere, we tried another tactic. We asked for literature on the model. Not having any actual literature, the salesperson was only able to provide a photocopy of specs from his reference copy.
For its innovative test drive policy and other best practices in sales prevention, the Honda dealer earned a Silver Star rating.
The Manhattan Infiniti dealer’s showroom contained a car Emily had an interest in buying. At first, we thought the sales prevention police were on the job as the car’s seat and steering wheel could not be adjusted.
The receptionist explained none of the showroom cars had any electricity but the model outside did. Perhaps, we were not encountering sales prevention techniques as much as a temporary avoidance of a sale.
Going outside, we found the model we were looking for sitting in the sun. The dash thermometer read 104 degrees and the luxuriousness of the experience went right out the car window with the heat.
For making us sweat and thinking twice about buying if not completely writing off a purchase altogether, the Infinity dealer receives an Honorable Mention in the area of sales prevention.
Not knowing when to get out while we were ahead, Emily wanted to test drive a six cylinder Volkswagen Passat with all-wheel drive. When we entered the showroom, we were pleased to see the cars had electricity. Our enthusiasm was dampened a bit when one car’s alarm went off and the showroom staff had to search several minutes for the key to restore quiet.
Having silenced the alarm, a salesman informed us that there were no more Passats of the desired model in-stock and the manufacturer was making others. Instead, a new model that would be available in four to eight weeks was being rolled out. Of course, he had no literature, specs or picture of the new model. For this and an ear buzz worthy of Ozzfest, the Volkswagen dealer is awarded a Bronze for sales prevention.
While so many dealerships distinguished themselves in the area of sales prevention, one was an utter failure.
Arriving at a Manhattan Acura dealer we were shocked to find cars on the showroom with electricity and no sirens blaring. The salesperson was all too willing to let us take a test drive and even provided literature on the model.
For failing to dissuade us in any way from purchasing a car, the dealer gets our lowest ranking for sales prevention.
Clearly, as our experience indicates, upscale foreign car dealerships in Manhattan on a hot Sunday afternoon excel in the area of sales prevention, the one exception being the unexplained sales-focused performance of the Acura dealer.
Author’s note: No domestic dealers were surveyed on this shopping trip, since it was Emily’s strong assumption their sales prevention practices would be on a major
league scale compared to those of import dealers whom she viewed as toiling in the minors. As with any important piece of business study, more research is needed.
Moderator’s Comment: Does it sometimes appear to you that retailers (or some associates perhaps) are in the business of sales prevention? What companies
have great sales cultures and how do they create and maintain an organization focused on selling? –
Mark Lilien – Moderator