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SalesGate: Customers know everything!

You cannot sell successfully and consistently something you know very little about.

You can go online and find information about everything and anything! There is no doubting this. But this, in itself is creating a growing problem. A problem that every salesperson should know about, and thank the internet for every single day.

As salespeople, and as customers, we are told that customers know more about what it is that they are buying than the people selling it. The marketing geniuses of the world (and they are geniuses and brilliant at what they do) go on and on about it. With instant access to loads of information online, at your finger tips 24/7, they do have a point...

But I'm not so sure... It's why I'm calling this 'SalesGate'.

I am a Professional Customer. I buy loads of stuff, every month, varying in price and category. Bluetooth speakers, cables, outdoor gear, shoes, clothing, toiletries, food, drink, garden equipment and gadgets. I buy far too many gadgets! So by definition, I qualify as the 'typical type of customer' that the same marketing geniuses are referring to. But more often than not, I find myself in a store trying to find someone to assist me in my purchases, and not online..

So It got me thinking: Am I that 'old school' customer, or is there something else going on that no one is talking about? Considering that I live and breath in the realm of Future Retail, it must be the later.... Something else is going on that no one is talking about.

Here's what I've found.

The problem, in a nutshell and at a very high-level, is this: There is too much information online!

Let's take something we can all relate to - buying a car. Simple enough. I'm going to use the example of looking at buying a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. A fantastic and brilliant premium hatchback car, pack with loads and loads of flippen cool tech.

And on the point of buying a car, the marketing geniuses tell us that the average customer spends around 6 to 9 hours online doing research before making up their minds what car they want to buy.

Lets look at just some of the online resources available to me as a customer:

1. Mercedes-Benz website:

Full of 'buy me' links and financial offers for days. There is also a fair bit of information about the standard features. But the moment I want to look for more information about the options and see if any of them are 'must haves' in my world, I need to click on a vehicle configurator and 'configure my perfect A-Class'. This is a great way of focusing me, as the customer, on the exact car I have in mind. (But what about the alternative choices...?)

So going through the Mercedes-Benz configurator, one can spend a decent amount of the '6 to 9 hours of online research' just on this one configurator. Clicking on an option, clicking the little '?' icon to get a bit more information, and then moving onto the next option.

Testing this, I spent just a little under 2-hours on the A-Class configurator. Changing the colour, changing the wheels, changing the interior options etc.

In reality, multiply this by at least 3 as a customer is probably also going to look at the BMW 1-series and Audi A3. So in total, around 6 hours in total just going through the configurators of each Brand.

The SalesGate here, is that the information is extremely high-level. For instance: Take the lighting options offered by each brand. They all have LED options which can be upgraded to include some intelligence functionality. But the extent of the intelligence is not clear. For that extra money, what benefit do you really get?

The other SalesGate issue, is that manufacturers don't call the same technology by the same name. They all have their own catchy names - MULTIBEAM vs. Matrix as an example. And they all interpret these technologies slightly different. So it's very difficult to compare one to the other, as it's not apples with apples.

If only there was someone who knows about this stuff to speak to...

2. Online motoring reviews:

Online reviews are a great way to get short, professional opinions (and they are opinions) on the cars you're interested in. Most reviews are watched and not read and they are generally 10 to 15 minutes in length with the odd exception touching the 20 minute mark. I'm a big fan of online car reviews and I follow a few journo's keeping me up to date with my motoring curiosity.

Time wise, spending the online time watching multiple car reviews adds another hour to our already 6-hours of online time, taking our tally to 7-hours - so we are in the 6 to 9 hour benchmark. Great!

The SalesGate here is that very few (if any) journo's are technically astute enough with all Brands to be able to explain how the interpretation of technology specific to each Brand gives that Brand a specific advantage in a specific situation. When the talk about LED lighting for example, the statement is often that all Brands have them as standard or as options. What they don't tell you is the differences in the interpretation of LED technologies across the Brands. So why does Mercedes-Benz say their lights are better than Audi's? If the professional journo's can't tell us, who can?

If only there was someone who knows about this stuff to speak to...

3. Our 'circle of influence':

This includes friends, family and colleagues who's opinions matter to us. When looking to buy a new car, we ask people we trust for their opinions. It's even better when one of them has already purchased the car you're looking at buying (in this example an A-Class), because then we can ask a 'same-car-owner' what they think.

The SalesGate here is that they are not professional car people. They only have their own opinions and can only tell you what they know about their car or what they found online while they were researching. Ask them the difference between the LED lights of each Brand, and the answers you get are often vague, incomplete and inaccurate - because ultimately, most of them don't know! All they know is that they had a bad service experience from BMW and thats why the chose the Mercedes-Benz, or they prefer the 'driver orientation' of a BMW and thats why they bough the BMW instead of the Audi. And so on and so on.

And on this topic, none of my 'circle of influence', told to check out the Brand's website - they told me to go and speak to so-and-so at x-Dealership...

And once again, if only there was someone who knows about this stuff to speak to...

The big SalesGate question about all this online information is this:

Is all the information relevant, or even correct?:

Is all the information customers are researching and the online review videos they are watching all relevant to their specific market? Markets often do not share the same specification levels and not all markets offer the same technology due to market laws and restrictions. So for example, after watching various reviews showing the A-Class changing lanes for itself, and really wanting this option in my A-Class, I was left disappointed to find out that this option is not available in my market... oh the frustrations!

The other issue is 'human error'. Not all journo's get the information spot on, or they don't use the right terminology in their reviews. My biggest red-button here is the 'loose' use of the term 'PDC' for Park Distance Control. Too many people refer to PDC on all cars when talking about parking sensors. And here's the thing, when it comes to the 3 Brands mentioned in this article, only BMW refers to their parking sensors as PDC. Mercedes-Benz calls it Park Pilot and Audi refers to it as Acoustic Parking. So when an online review tells me about the great PDC system of Mercedes-Benz, for the life of me I cannot find any information regarding PDC on the Mercedes-Benz website... Drives my nuts!! I have no problem when a journo refers to the generic name, in this case parking sensors. But when you use a specific inaccurate term... get it right dammit!!

If only there was someone who knows about this stuff to speak to...

My point is this:

As customers spend up to and sometimes in excess of the 9-hours researching a new car online, they only end up 'knowing' what they can remember researching. They know little to nothing about what they didn't research. They know what they know, and they don't know what they don't know - and who knows if what they do know is actually correct?

Adding to this, after spending these 9+ hours online, customers have only looked at around 3 to 4 cars, and most likely the 3 to 4 cars were from 2 to 3 different Brands. And they may not have look at all the alternative and similar segment options from (in this example) Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

(Mercedes-Benz: A-Class sedan, B-Class CLA, GLA, GLB)

(BMW: 2-series, X2, X3)

(Audi: A3 Sportback, Q3, Q3 Sportback)

Let alone any options from other manufacturers including VW, Mazda, Lexus and Honda to name but a few.

So even when some customers spend their 9+ hours researching online, when deciding to buy a new car, they are still only investigating a very small sample compared to what is out there, and even then a very small sample of Brand defining interpretation of technology.

So what does this mean for salespeople in the motor industry, and by association across the Retail world:

You are still needed! You are still one of the most important cogs in the Retail process. Customers still want to speak to product guru's. Customers can save so much time simply speaking to someone who knows this stuff, vs. spending hours online only to find that the information given is not market related.

Just make sure that you are the person who knows EVERYTHING about all this stuff, because customers do not know everything.

Happy selling!!


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