Malaysian automotive brands must improve the engagement skills of their sales force

I’m buying a new car.

And as it happens, I’ve never managed to secure any consulting projects with automotive brands. So as buying a car is probably the second largest investment most of us will make, I decided to use this opportunity to carry out a mini brand audit of those brands I visited.

So today (Sunday) I visited the Audi, Mercedes, Peugeot, Land Rover & VW showrooms in Kuala Lumpur. Excluding the luxury marques – Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and Bentley, these are considered top end cars in Malaysia.

The automotive sector here in Malaysia is really tough, especially as the middle class market, although growing is still rather small. In fact, between them these brands probably sell no more than 10,000 units per annum of which 60% are Mercedes.

Furthermore, with import duties higher than anywhere else in the world and an increasingly bleak global economy that looks like it will catch up with south east Asia in 2013, you would expect these guys to have some of the best sales people in the industry.

Well here’s my ‘mini’ report card on my experiences and the ability of these top marques to sell their products.

Firstly though, some background information.

1) Not one of the sales people that attended to me asked for my business card.

2) Only one sales person asked my name.

3) Only one of them asked me what car I currently drive.

4) One of the sales people who was very pleasant, could not pronounce the name of her brand. I’d like to add that this brand name is bloody hard to pronounce for English people so must be impossible for a native Chinese speaker. But…

5) At one of the showrooms I was told if I bought the car today I could get free Sat Nav (GPS). When I asked whether it covered Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand I was told no, it covered France – I swear to god that is the truth!

So, in reverse order, here is my report card on my experiences with these brands and a brief explanation. WARNING: It makes for distressing reading.

5=) VW.
VW comes in last, way last. Not really a result of the salesman’s ability or inability to sell because he was a very nice guy and anyway we didn’t get a chance to test his sales ability because the VW in Malaysia doesn’t come with Sat Nav (GPS) and in my opinion, at that level if you don’t have Sat Nav, you are not in the game.
5=) Land Rover
Joint last is Land Rover. Again, not a result of the ability or inability to sell because we didn’t get a chance to find out. There weren’t any sales people to attend to me because they were all out doing test drives. That’s no excuse. When your cheapest car – the Freelander 2 – is RM271,000 (US$90,000) and your most popular car – the Evogue – has a long waiting list, you need to be on top of your game. I wasn’t the only person to walk out frustrated.
3=) Peugeot
I really liked the top of the range 508 GT but the sales person seemed to want to sell me something cheaper. Maybe she was on a higher commission to sell that car or maybe she was just using price to make a quick sale.
3=) Audi
The Audi lady was nice and gave a good description of Quattro to my wife who really looked as if she was interested. But she didn’t ask me anything about what car I drive, how old is it etc, etc. Where’s the relationship building?
1) Mercedes Benz
Apparently, the sales lady here was working in the Mercedes showroom in Glasgow, Scotland for 10 years but is now back in Malaysia. In 20 years of living in Malaysia, this was the first time I have heard a Malaysian speaking with a Glaswegian accent! But crucially she was miles ahead of the rest with her product knowledge, attempts to build rapport, personality and sales ability. Not too pushy, not too technical and she asked for my name at the right time in the discussion and when I gave her my first name she asked for my surname so she could address me as Mr Osborne – top talent.

I’m not here to criticize, only to offer feedback to help people and brands. Viewed for what it is – feedback, every brand on this page can learn from my experiences. Sales is no longer about taking orders or convincing someone of something. It is now about building rapport and delivering value, on an individual basis. If you don’t have the training or the skills to do that you will lose business, lots of it.

All of these brands spend a lot on advertising to draw people into their showrooms. And they may be happy with their sales but my question is, would any of them be happier with less advertising spend and increased sales as a result of better customer engagement skills? Of course they would.

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