Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Tacit Racism in Sales: Lessons of What Not to Do
Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Tacit Racism in Sales: Lessons of What Not to Do

Saying good bye to the family van

Recent trips to local car dealers to purchase a new car has reminded me what NOT to do when making a sales call.

Upon entering a local popular car dealership, we were immediately greeted by a Korean man who suggested that we schedule an appointment.

1. Because we are an Asian family, there's that tacit racism going on of sending a fellow "Asian" to greet us. I suppose the presumption is that we'd feel more comfortable working with an Asian sales person. You know, the whole idea of relate-ability.

2. Schedule an appointment? We're about to drop $40k on this dealership in search of a new minivan, and THEY want us to schedule time with them? Jeez. . .

We proceeded to check out the vehicles in question and left the dealership. Days later, we called the dealership again and in an effort to-play-by-their-rules, scheduled for a test drive. We were happy to get an appointment with "Susan" who sounded like a caucasian woman, at the very least, non-Asian.

No sooner did we reach the dealership only to find out that "Susan" was the receptionist, and that we would be assigned a sales person. The sales manager/owner took one look at us and assigned us to another Asian man. This time an elderly Korean man. Did they want me to buy the car from someone my father's age? I love my dad, but seriously do I want to be sold by my "father"? Can't win. . .

(By the way, we're Asian, but not Korean. The analogy would be assigning a French salesperson to an American because they both looked European).

As we're settling down to chat, this kindly gentleman began to wind up his pitch. I asked that he wait until my wife (our household CEO) joined us, who was off taking care of the kids and getting them donuts. The salesman pauses and then continues. I asked him to stop again and to please wait. He pauses and then continues. This happens three times.

I also make mention that we've seen another salesperson before and did this matter to them (I suspect that the salespeople make commission and wanted to be sure that should we make the purchase we give credit where credit is due). He sloughs this off and gives a non-answer.

We need the new car, and it's a popular model, so we hang in there. (My wife confides that we'd probably buy the car despite the horrendous sales experience). We let the salesman know we're interested in test driving the vehicle, to which he suggests that we follow him to the dealership parking lot. We (with kids in tow) proceed through the dealership, through the service area and into the parking lot. The salesman points at the vehicle in question and then says he's going to get the keys, leaving myself and family to melt in the hot summer sun. Not great service. . .

When we test drive the car, it's wonderful. Exactly what we're looking for, except that whenever we ask the salesperson a question, he's not clear on the features of the car. He confesses there are 11 models of the car and that it's hard to keep a track of the different functionalities. (Know your product anyone?)

On a third visit we make to the dealership, we try to deal directly with management, hoping to get their best price. With the advent of all of these on-line resources, we know what the dealer paid for the car and what the potential lowest price point would be. Suffice it to say, this was the last straw as the dealer did one of those typical sales moves of stating, "The price is the price." In other words, take it or leave it. We left it and purchased a car from their competitor.

Trinkets for Clients


Sure, you do want to build your sales organization somewhat to suit the target audience. If you're a software company that calls upon young men in investment banking, it doesn't hurt to have a few young women who are their callers. Likewise, if you're in document management services and your audience is mature female administrative staff, you may opt to hire just a few more youthful men who look sharp in suits. Sounds sexist? Does it work? You be the judge.

But be sure not to take it too far. Beyond the superficial fit of salesperson to potential client, you still have to have a smart salesperson who is self aware and doing more than rout delivery of a sales pitch and a good understanding of the environment that they are working in.

In my own experience, early on I learned that my ideal target prospect were young men with starting families who liked to talk about sports and commiserate over being a salaried employee, or much older woman who wanted to help a young man out in their career. Prospects that typically never worked for me were young women, who probably felt all the attention I provided was on the creepy side and believed that I was hitting on them. (For the record, I wasn't. But company guidelines needed me to keep in touch with prospects and clients, invite them out for lunch/coffee/drinks and shower them with all sorts of tschotskes).

So in your sales recruitment try not to go for the obvious match - and spend a little time getting smart salespeople who know how to work with a client and listen to what they need. You might find that you don't have to just relay on the product selling itself. Or in our case, great product, terrible sales experience = buy elsewhere.