Smart….Not So Smart

Want to know how to turn off a potential customer, so much so that your product is no longer under consideration? Just be dumb…like Smart.

Mercedes Benz is actively selling the Smart in the U.S. and — since I drive a 2007 E320 CDi and love it — I was enamored with the Smart car and stopped by a local dealership this morning after dropping someone at the airport to check it out.

Often I hesitate to drive into car dealerships in my MB since salespeople make assumptions and swoop down hoping for a sale. The young woman who greeted me was pleasant, we looked at the Smart and she answered questions, and I knew a car with such a narrow wheelbase needed a test drive in order to determine if it was too bouncy to be in consideration as a commuter car for my bride (she leaves up to me the initial due diligence on cars and technology).

We’re six months or so out from making a new purchase and our first choice is a plugin hybrid and the 2009 Toyota Prius is the likely candidate, but this Smart car certainly seemed like quite a viable option and worthy of consideration.

Until my experience this morning at Smart Center Bloomington.

If you’ve shopped for new cars you know the game is this before a test drive: “We’ll need a copy of your driver’s license.” As a former sales head who had a rental car broken into nine years ago and been hyper-watchful of my identity ever since, I learned early on this was nothing but a lead generation and followup tool and I’ve always said, “No”. The security issue of identity theft used to work and savvy dealers now tell you, “You can watch us shred the photocopy of it when you return.” After they’ve entered in all your information into their database, that is. I’d still say no and walk away if pushed.

No question I’m able (usually) to convince a sales manager that it’s in his/her best interest to let me, the customer, be in control of the communications process. As someone who (is) and at least appears to be financially solvent and driving a car substantially more expensive than what they’re selling (and with a license plate clearly visible in case I steal their demo model) I’m not much of a risk.

Not only did the young woman manager push back she then inadvertently reinforced the reason to demand my driver’s license in exchange for a test drive, “Well then, you can give us your name, phone number and email would work“, their expressed 22 month lead time to deliver a Smart car allowed them to exhibit an attitude that expressed, “Tough noogies. They’ll be someone else walking through that door momentarily.” Funny thing is, I’ve seen this exact same attitude over-n-over-n-over again by clueless car dealer personnel who happen to have one of the hot models of the moment and that hotness always goes away.

My Mercedes dealer interactions — and all experiences I’ve had buying at Acura and Lexus, manufacturer’s who rigorously train their dealer personnel to avoid boneheaded moves like my experience today — demonstrate that this old, plaid-sport-coat way of lead generation must die since they long ago abandoned this meaningless exercise. So in one inflexible interaction this morning the Smart car is forever off of our list.


  1. Stephen Downes on May 28, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I agree with your concerns about their demand for identity. But…

    > So in one inflexible interaction this morning the Smart car is forever off of our list.

    You should know as well as anyone that making an inference from one datapoint is unsound. You may as well consult your astrologer.

  2. S Johnson on May 30, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Sometime children throw fits for unknowen reasons. Your message about this dealership is so far out that I would guess that something personal is going in your world. These Smart people are the very best I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Maybe a astrologer is not a strong enough term. To put it in a childs words, your spooky.

  3. Dan Cross on May 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I have to disagree with your opinion of the smart dealership in Bloomington. I have had only the best customer care considering my car isn`t as expensive as a Mercedes. Knowing the good folks who work there, I think the only attitude found there was the one you provided yourself. The smart is obvious not the car for you. The Prius would be a much better fit,the “hotness” has already worn off.Good luck in finding your next car, there are plenty of other options out there.

  4. Steve Borsch on May 30, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    @StephenDownes and @SJohnson:

    First off, look at this post within the context of this blog. I write about social media, its impact and conversational marketing. What occurred is counter to the trends and old school. If you participate on the ‘net at all (which you do, Stephen, as I’ve read several of your articles at Stephen’s Web) then you’ll ‘get’ the inflexibility of the approach.

    Of course I don’t make inference’s from a single data point though will you be my astrologer? ;-) S Johnson, glad you stopped by my spooky blog and take everything here at face value.

  5. J. E. on May 30, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I have to disagree with your statements. Smart Center Bloomington is an awesome dealership, where can one go and get recognized by NAME when they walk in, when its only their 2nd time in the place? Where can one get asked to be on the local news for a SMART interview? Where can one go to actually get real life respect, not fake smiles. I believe the answer is Smart Center Bloomington.

  6. Steve Also on May 30, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Seems to me that you could possibly just be of the personality that needs to have their way and won’t take direction from anyone else. People are predisposed to have an alergic reaction when walking into an automotive dealership of any kind.

    I’ve worked at a highly regarded (in terms of customer service) dealership in the past, and the copy of the license is simply in case you damage or steal their product.

    People try to come into these dealerships every day looking for a way to take advantage of their good will. In the off chance you drove up in a stolen Mercedes, sure they have the license plate to track, but that wouldn’t be you. So, the copy of the license is standard procedure at most locations in order to get the best shot at having some recourse should you be a criminal.

    They were willing to shred the information upon your safe return. As you stated yourself, they were acting as if “if you’re not interested, someone else will be.” This indicates to me that they don’t need you as a “lead” since they already have a two year list of people waiting for ordered cars, and a list of other people waiting for the rejects. Why would they want or need to waste their time pestering to buy a car they don’t even have?

    It’s too bad you took such a personal attack away from this to ruin any chance of you enjoying the wonderful experience of owning this car. Lighten up. You’re a Minnesotan for Pete’s sake. Be friendly, not pompous.

  7. Steve Borsch on May 30, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    @Steve Also: I trolled the ‘net for a minute and I’m thinking you either own a Smart or are aligned with them somehow (e.g.,

    “Seems to me that you could possibly just be of the personality that needs to have their way and won’t take direction from anyone else.”

    Hardly. I’ve been on both sides of sales and marketing in retail; led sales teams; carried a bag myself; so know the drill. Unlike some, when I am presented with a situation that’s not right, I admit to not being meek. Perhaps you cheerfully comply when some person says, “Well sir, that’s just our policy.”

    “I’ve worked at a highly regarded (in terms of customer service) dealership in the past, and the copy of the license is simply in case you damage or steal their product.”

    Let’s not be naive. They wouldn’t let the car go out without a salesperson so that’s not true.

    Did you read my post? The receptionist, saleswoman and manager ALL agreed it was for lead generation. In fact, the manager, willing to comply with my request, then stated I’d have to give her my name, phone number and email address since it WAS for lead generation. How much clearer does that have to be?

    BTW, I was quite friendly but firm. Just like I am when someone, anyone, who clearly doesn’t need it, insists it’s “standard procedure” or “our policy” that I fork over my Social Security number. Not gonna happen, but you’d probably cheerfully fork it over, right?

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.