Does the car make the man? Lessons for the Automakers.

This week, the Big Three (are we still calling them the Big Three?) automakers showed up in Washington, hat in hand. Unfortunately, they didn't know enough about sales NOT to show up in their private jets.

Quick story: I know a sales rep who, after doing pretty well, went out and bought the smallest, cheapest Mercedes Benz she could find. The car cost about $30,000 and she leased it. However, it was a brand new Mercedes Benz. Upon showing up to visit her existing clients, all of them commented on the new car.

The comments about the wonderful new Mercedes Benz were quickly followed by comments as to a price reduction in her services. Her clients told her that if she could afford such a car, they were clearly paying too much for her services. It didn't matter that it wasn't true; what mattered was the perception.

I am pretty sure we all knew that the Big Three CEO's used the company's private jets. But they forgot who their customers were, and they forgot what they were selling. Instead of sending the message that they are in financial dire straits, and that they were willing to do whatever necessary to rescue their firms, their message came across that they were entitled to being bailed out (although it isn't hard to figure out how they could have made this mistake when you look at those in similar positions atop the financial giants).

Lesson 1: Perception is everything! They would have done better had the perception been that the Big Three had skin in the game. They could have flown commercial, shared the cost of a single private jet, or, heaven forfend, they could have driven their own automobiles (imagine the very different perception).

Lesson 2: Image Alignment. If you sell to prospects who have a low cost value proposition, you need to align your image to their value proposition. Think about our sales rep in the story above. If you show up to your low cost prospect in your shiny new Escalade, don't think for a minute they don't notice. You are sending the message that you don't share their values. Do expect a lot of discussion on your price and your margin.

In the way of full disclosure, I have always driven American made cars. I have two cars, both Chrysler. It seems that Bob Nardelli may have learned from his time at Home Depot, agreeing to a $1 salary. Even though he stands to do well if Chrysler does well, this is still real skin in the game. And symbolism matters.

For other ideas, see Tom Peters and Seth Godin.

Filed under: Sales 3.0

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