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Dealer Mis/Disinformation Is No Way To Sell

For the past 20-plus years I have repeatedly talked about the need to educate consumers on the things you think they know but don’t.

This column relates to that, but with a twist: It’s about things your sales associates should know but don’t. It’s also about distortions, either innocent or intentional, and the damage such things cause your business.

Several months ago the monitor of our company’s Mac G5 video-editing station abruptly died. A quick check of the marketplace indicated we could either spend $800 for an Apple-branded replacement or $500 for any number of non-Apple PC monitors. Since none of the retailers I shopped offered a good reason to spend more, the decision was made to go with a Samsung.

Attempting to install it, I quickly discovered what the salesperson from a well-known national CE-IT chain should have mentioned when she sold it to me: that the monitor needed a special cable to work with the Mac.

Here’s what ensued:

  1. I purchased a $75 cable from a national office supply chain on the advice of another sales person.
  2. I returned said cable after it would not connect to the Mac.
  3. I bought said cable again, this time from the first store, where I had gone in disgust to return the monitor, after the first salesperson apologized profusely for her oversight.
  4. I also bought a $50 adapter that I learned is also needed to connect the $75 cable to the Samsung and the Mac.

Tallying that up, you will see that my $300 savings on the Samsung monitor was really closer to $175. But that’s not the point of this tale. The point is, a simple task took at least twice as long as it should have because the sales people simply didn’t know what they were selling.

The second example involves a non-CE client who asked my advice on advanced TVs. I briefed her on plasma, LCD and DLP and sent her off to her local dealers, telling her to call me if she had questions. Sunday morning she phones from a national CE chain store where she was about to buy a Sony rear-projection LCD. Her only question: should she buy the extended warranty that the salesman said was an absolute must? She said he was insisting that “a bulb that makes the TV work will burn out in two years max, and you will save yourself a lot of trouble by buying the warranty for $300.”

I got on the phone with the salesman to question the limited lifespan of the bulb, but he would not back down. He wanted to sell that warranty, and, by God, that TV’s bulb is gonna die in two years and that’s it! As a result, my client didn’t buy anything that day — not the TV, not the warranty, nor anything else from that chain either that day or probably in the future.

I understand the salesman’s motivation, which was to follow his training and increase his store’s profitability by selling the service plan. But did it ever occur to him — and management — that his pitch for doing so was that the product was unreliable? So unreliable that it required an additional warranty above and beyond the manufacturer’s?

This is bad for everyone: manufacturers, merchants, sales staff and certainly the consumer. Misinformation and disinformation on the sales floor should not occur with the frequency it does. And don’t get too comfortable just because you’re not part of a major national chain. These situations could just as easily have transpired at any number of venues, including, no doubt, yours.

The bright side? You can do something about such inexcusable ignorance and hard-sell tactics, and I encourage you to do so now.