Thursday, December 2, 2010

Death of The Salesman

Salesmen are a necessary part of our economy.  The problem with today's economy is that we don't have many talented ones anymore.  Today, salesmen wait for customers to come to them, and want the easy score, the big cleanup - the big ripoff.  Going out and SELLING product and getting people to buy is a lost art in this day and age.

The boom economy of the last two decades was a bad influence on nearly every sector of our economy.  And this is no more true than in the sales sector.  Finding a good salesman these days is damn near impossible.

During the boom years, any idiot with a pulse could be a car salesman.  Demand was high, money was flowing, and people were convinced they needed cars and SUVs.  So all a salesman had to do was wait for some blubbering idiot to come in and say "I HAVE TO HAVE THAT!" and watch them hand over their life's savings.  Adding on bad financing, sealant protector, undercoating, extended warranty, and even selling them floormats that come with the car as an accessory, were so easy to do.

And if an educated consumer comes in the door, well you just ignore him.  Why bother wasting your time with someone who knows the prices, when you can snooker some jerk into paying $1000 over list?  Let the educated consumers use the Internet sales office!  During the 1990's one Mercedes salesman told me just that, when I asked him why he wanted $2500 over KBB retail book value for the car he was selling.  "Because before the end of the day, I can sell it to someone else for that price, so I don't need to talk to you."  And as if on cue, a Chinese family came in and bought the very same car, for the asking price.  Those were the 1990's.  Heady days for "salesmen" of the era.

We visited the Jeep dealer the other day.  We weren't really serious about buying, but we wanted a change - and my partner wanted a Jeep.  We were fish waiting to be caught.  The salesman came over and introduced himself, but didn't bother to really do much more.  No offer of a test drive.  No mention of a trade-in, financing, nothing.  I could have paid cash for the car I was standing in front of, and with an 800+ credit score, could have driven it off the lot on credit.  But he didn't even try.  Perhaps he knew that I would insist on paying close to invoice price for the car, and he would rather have sold it to some kid.  So a little chit-chat and he walked away.

And the same is true in other areas of commerce. When we bought our first home in Virginia, our Agent went out of her way to line up financing and show us how the home could be affordable.  Today, agents hand you a list of homes and say "You want one?  Let me know".  And not surprisingly, people aren't buying.

Again, in the 1990's and 2000's, Real Estate Agents got spoiled.  List a house on Thusday, do an open house on Saturday, come home Sunday night with four contracts over asking price, with escalation clauses, confirm the contract by Tuesday, close in two weeks.   It was like a license to print money.

But in this economy, it takes a skilled salesmen to sell a home.  You have to assure the buyer that what they are buying is a real bargain and not a pig-in-a-poke.  And one way to do that is to sell them a real bargain.  Unfortunately, many agents show homes and don't bother to point out whether they are overpriced or not, thinking that offering advice is not part of their business.  But an Agent is an Agent - he is supposed to be on your side.  And if they take the time to understand the client, find them a house that fits their needs, and then shows them how it could be a good deal - and affordable as well, then he or she will make a sale.

I've wasted countless hours in the back of Mercedes, looking at houses which were not what we wanted, out of our price range, or clearly overpriced.  And yet the agent at the time showed them as if they were all equal choices.  No advice, no counsel, no Agency.  Perhaps some of these Real Estate "Agents" need to take a course in Agency and understand that their loyalty lies with the person riding in the back seat, not with their manager in the Office.

But today, huckerism and crappy deals are the norm, and not surprisingly, people are just saying "NO" to consumerism.   8 million people recently decided to dump their credit cards, and the pundits all blame it on "nervousness about the economy".  None bothered to wonder that maybe Credit Cards Companies are selling a crappy product - with high interest rates and "Fuck You" fees.  You treat your customers like utter dirt, and then wonder why they walk away.  Must be the economy, right?

The problem with the economy today is that there is nothing worth buying and we have a population that is getting older and wiser.  The target demographic for marketers is the 15-35 group, preferably male.  These are the folks who have to have that "must have" electrical gadget, fancy car, boat, jet ski, or whatever.  They will come to you, salivating over your products and pay anything, on any terms, so long as they can have it.

And they are a dying breed.    As Baby Boomers age, the population of this "target demographic" diminishes.  And the kids these days - well, they're poorer than their predecessors.  The Boomers have all the money, and they aren't about to squander it, with retirement so close.  Add in the Internet, which shows what lousy deals most companies are offering, and sure enough sales will slow - significantly.

And an older consumer, I can tell you that I am just sick and tired of consuming.  When someone tells me that their product is 70% off, that is not an enticement for me to spend, only a confirmation that their goods were wildly overpriced and that the real value of the item being proffered is nearly impossible to determine.   The square root of minus one.   And yet most outlets do this - jack prices into the stratosphere, and then offer "discounts" to entice you to buy.  That may work for the stupid, but if you have half a brain, you realize you are getting no bargain, just overpaying slightly less.

Economists are talking about intentionally raising inflation to stimulate sales.  If you see an Economist, shoot on sight.  Gee, thanks - Just what I need, rampant inflation, intentionally created, to wipe out what little savings I have accumulated!  Their theory is, that we, as consumers, will see prices rising, and then just start going out and buying shit on the premise that it will cost more tomorrow.  Great theory, but it has two major flaws. First, most consumers don't have that astute a perception of prices going up or down.  Second, if you don't need shit, why buy it?  And if the economy is going to go further in the tank with rampant inflation, how does buying shit help you personally?  Answer:  It Doesn't.

What we need, if businesses want to increase sales, is Salesmen - real Salesmen.  People who can cut through the bullshit and say "Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, I listened to you and understand your needs, and let me recommend a product that I think will fit your needs, and show you how that product will be a good, affordable bargain for you."

But we don't have that today. What we have are oily hucksters who just want to bend you over the desk and swipe your wallet.  And not surprisingly, consumers are tired of this.  It just isn't worth consuming, anymore, when every transaction is a "Fuck You" kind of deal.

Outlets which provide no-nonsense pricing without gimmicks, sales, rebates, or rip-offs, are prospering in this economy.  Wal Mart is selling well, because there are no gimmicks attached.  You can go there and buy something and know that you haven't been too badly hosed, that the product will have reasonable quality, and that it isn't a utter rip-off. 

Want to buy a flat-screen TV?  Go to WalMart or a wholesale club.  They are stacked up there like cordwood, you pick one, put it in your cart and buy it.  Places like Circuit City (dead) and Best Buy (dying) rely on a Salesmen model, which in theory should work well.  But the salesmen are only trained on how to bend over the consumer, get them to spend more than they should, while not answering basic questions about the product in question.  All they want to do is get you to buy the extended warranty.  Want product information?  Better go to the Internet.

Electronic salesmen are dead, replaced by teenaged kids who sell extended warranties, and little else.  You are better off just buying the same thing from Wal Mart and not getting utterly hosed on price.

If Wal-Mart starts selling cars, well, watch out GM, Ford, and Chrysler.  (Hmmm... why not?  They already do have auto service centers).

But failing that, what we need are real Salesmen.  And it seems all the real Salesmen are dead.

R.I.P., Willy Loman!  We miss you!