Wave goodbye to walkarounds

Is it possible for a salesperson to know everything about every new vehicle on offer? Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

Walkaround contests are anachronisms and should go away.

Walkarounds are where salespeople show off their deep knowledge of the vehicles on the showroom floor, extolling each of the features and benefits the car or truck offers. Automakers, who sponsor these contests, love the idea that their salespeople can quote chapter and verse of the sales literature, in part because that shows devotion to the brand.

But in today's crowded and segmented market, why?

First, it just isn't possible for a salesperson to know everything about every vehicle on offer. It is unrealistic to expect a Toyota saleswoman to know the ins and outs of every Prius nameplate as well as every feature and option package on every edition of the Tundra.

Second, who cares? Consumers who walk into the showroom today typically have spent something like 18 hours online, researching the car or truck they are ready to buy. They don't need to be sold on that vehicle, and they certainly don't need or want to listen to a 20-minute regurgitation of the facts they've already researched.

That goes double for used cars. It is unreasonable to expect that Toyota saleswoman to know what's included on the winter package of the 2012 BMW 3 series that the dealership took in on trade for an Avalon.

Sure, there are exceptions. Some customers come in with Cadillac tastes and a Chevrolet budget and need to be assured that the vehicle they can afford is a good buy. But that's rare.

A salesperson who knows less than the customer about a car can look dumb. But they look even dumber if they guess and they're wrong.

Enter technology. MAXDigital, for one, offers a product that allows a salesperson to instantly call up option packages, original sticker prices and other details on any vehicle -- new or used, the one on sale or the one it competes against.

At the very least, salespeople should be allowed to go online with their customers and review together what Edmunds, KBB.com or some other site says about the car or truck. That would set a tone of working with and for the customer, rather than trying to upstage them on product knowledge.

A salesperson only has so many hours available for training. A dealership can waste that person's time on memorizing product details that go out of date next model year. Or it can devote those hours to training staffers in how to build rapport with customers, how to treat them right and how to create the kind of customer experience that will produce a five-star rating online.

Walkaround contests made sense before the Internet. So did paper-packed Rolodexes.

News Editor James B. Treece oversees Automotive News' coverage of auto retailing.

You can reach James B. Treece at autonews@crain.com

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