Singapore – We all know what a car salesman (or woman) does – they sell cars, right? That’s true, but it’s also not the whole story.
Buying a car is one of life’s biggest joys – but it is also a complex task. The process of selling a car, in turn, isn’t straightforward as you may think, at least not at a proper, well-regarded and super-established car dealership.
Louisiana Lim, is a Sales Team Leader for Borneo Motors, the authorised dealer/distributor for Toyota in Singapore. We asked her about a typical day in the life of a sales representative at a ‘real’ car dealership – but the answer was rather surprising.
“Actually there isn’t a ‘normal’ day for us, because one day you might have a non-stop flow of customers and no time to eat, literally, but other days can be really quiet,” she says.
Car-buying in Singapore is cyclical, in that it follows the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) bidding process to some extent, but that doesn’t mean it’s predictable: There are holidays, bonus periods, bad times in the stock market, good times in another sector…
What’s safe to say is that a sales person’s schedule revolves entirely around one thing: The Customer.
Borneo Motors has a system in place such that a customer never sees a ‘blank’ showroom when they enter – in other words there’s always somebody on hand to serve them, if not a professional Japanese concierge, then a qualified sales rep.
It seems a minor thing, but Louisiana says there’s a big significance to it: “It’s all about first impressions, really. I think the most important thing about the job is serving the customers with heart, and building relationships. If they don’t feel welcome right from the start, it’s not a good way to begin that process.”
Duty days can start at 8am or 10am and last nine hours, officially at least. Louisiana gets in early on a duty day, 7:45am, to make sure things are ready.
“On a duty day I make sure the test drive cars’ trade plates are ready and that the cars are cleaned and presentable, so any customers can immediately take a test drive if they wish,” says Louisiana.
So just what happens when a customer walks into the showroom? For the best sales personnel, like Louisiana and her colleagues, it’s all about finding out what the customer wants.
Usually, people who walk into the showroom have a good idea of what they’re looking for already, they just need a guiding hand to nail down the nitty gritty: Everything from how warranties work, to the solid advice on financing a purchase, to the actual test driving and product experience itself.
In fact, you could argue that it’s not even the purchase that’s important, but the whole positive ‘feeling’ surrounding it. It’s about letting customers find out what they like and taking the time to contemplate everything in a relaxed environment.
Louisiana, whose own sales record eventually resulted in her heading a team, understands that patience is one of the best virtues a salesperson can have. That’s why a car purchase takes at least an hour, or typically around two or three hours for her to negotiate, and she’s happy even if they don’t end up signing the dotted line at the end of it.
“Some sales people lose interest if they realise a customer hasn’t got spending power or isn’t intending to buy right at that moment. But that doesn’t mean they won’t become a customer of yours eventually,” she explains.
She’s had customers who decide to buy months down the road – the ‘record’ is a buyer who kept her name card and the car’s brochure for a whole two years before signing the dotted line.
On the days they’re not manning the front line, sales reps are still hard at work behind the scenes.
Sales representatives know that the work only starts once a customer has signed the dotted line, since all the ‘back-end’ details need to be taken care of, everything from finance to insurance and the whole process of getting a car ready for registration.
The entire process can easily take a days, and nights, especially during periods of high sales activity, such as after a car fair or the Singapore Motor Show. It’s also sales staff which are responsible for handing over freshly-prepared cars during a customer’s most joyous moment: the delivery of a new vehicle.
It all sounds like a huge job, but motivated reps like Louisiana are up to the task because they’re driven by the desire to deliver more to their customers. “Our schedules really are dictated by customers, from walk-in to delivery and hand overs and follow-ups,” she says, “But being in sales, it’s like being in the service industry, it’s not for everyone. But I really do enjoy serving customers straight from the heart.”
So what’s the best bit about the job then?
“During the hand-over of the car, it’s telling customers about service plans and the next steps of ownership,” she says, which prompts some puzzlement.
“That’s because when they’re actually buying the car, they’re too excited to listen much! When they get to see it and touch it for the first time they’re actually more calm and the whole idea of car ownership has become ‘real’.”