Archive for June, 2008


The Greatest Product Ever Designed

On my run the other morning, I realized that the greatest product ever designed didn’t happen in a lab or come as a result of opinion polls. Consider some of the characteristics of this amazing product: instant recognition, multiple models, multiple locations, and predictable interactions. Another aspect of a good product is the ease of marketing said product. This particular product doesn’t require a large ad campaign and often relies on word of mouth to differentiate between the various models.

Drum roll please…I speak of none other than the human body. (Imaginary air going out of imaginary balloon). How, you may ask, does the human body count as a product? Let’s put it into context. The purpose of a product is to be attractive so someone takes it home with them or at least is willing to engage for a few hours with it. Few things are more attractive to us than other people. And with the variety of models available, few things are more customized or personal. However, there’s a certain level of predictability, and thus comfort to the human form.

For instance, most everyone has the same parts: heads, arms, legs, etc. While these parts vary in specifics from person to person, they are easily recognizable. The same goes for the differences between the sexes.

I came to my conclusion about the human body on my run as I noticed how, without fail, every single car that went by with a male in it couldn’t help but look, or even stare, as our paths intersected. Sometimes these individuals made eye contact. Now, in the cars where only women were present, I got nothing. No look, head turn, or even acknowledgement of my existence, a somewhat scary prospect when sharing the road.

I’m neither a model nor a troll, so I know there’s nothing particularly eye-catching about me. But it’s like guys couldn’t help themselves. By my very existence as a female, I registered on their radar. The same thing happens if I’m driving somewhere, too. My eyes are pulled to the males, frequently ignoring the females.

What company wouldn’t sell its soul to generate a consistent response to its product like human beings do to each other? I think that’s why I’m so impatient with people who only focus on the marketing aspect and pay little attention to the quality of the product itself. I’ve written before about quality and my frustration over its lack in our modern world. I think the human body makes the perfect case for what can be accomplished if proper thought and investment is put into the outcome.

Too much of what clutters our landscape is crap, created with the sole purpose of generating as much money as possible, as soon as possible, before people discover that’s it’s really just crap. Will we ever say, “Enough?”


The Confusion of Car Buying

I bought a new (used) car this week and was struck by how complicated this process remains. I’m not a shopper by nature, so the car-buying process can feel excruciating. I don’t negotiate for the book I buy at Target. Why does the expectation still exist that I should do so for a car? The same issue exists for home buying. While I can understand the subjectivity of home prices (i.e., few homes are exactly the same), I fail to understand why prices vary so greatly between dealers, particularly since one can easily compare similar vehicles between lots.

This issue leads me to the car salesmen. And yes, it’s still salesmen for the most part because in my 15+ years of driving, I’ve only worked with one saleswoman on a car purchase. Such individuals sadly fit the stereotype of their profession more frequently than one would like to believe. Characteristics can include aggressiveness (working on commission), condescension (what does a woman know about cars), and over-the-top friendliness (stay out of my personal space, please).

Car Language

Such qualities are not limited to this group alone, but it does make for interesting language. For example, while patiently waiting for my paperwork (why does it take so long?), I noticed a sales call script pinned to the wall. In this instance, the script assumed the caller was inquiring about a specific vehicle and encouraged the salesman to insinuate that the vehicle may no longer be available but that he would check on it. Since it might take some time, give me your name and number and I’ll get back to you. In today’s information society do you really expect me to believe that it takes more than a couple of minutes to access a dealer’s inventory and see if the vehicle is still available?

The script continued on in a similar vein for the follow-up call, but it totally matched my experience except mine happened online. The dealer I worked with has an online site and is set up to let one request an internet quote. I did so, specifically asking for the price of the vehicle and the vehicle’s history (e.g., trade-in, auction, etc.). Here was the response I got back:

My name is X, I am the Internet Sales Manager for Y. Thank you for the recent inquire. We are committed to making your purchase an easy and enjoyable experience. Here’s how it works.

* We will find the right vehicle for you.
* Provide you with great value and all the information you need to make an informed decision.
* Schedule a convenient time for you to come in, test drive and take delivery of your new vehicle.

In order for this to happen I need the opportunity to talk to you. I can be reached at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or by responding to this email. Or just come in and visit me in . I would love to get you all the information that you need to help you find exactly what you want.


Internet Sales Manager

As you can see, this email didn’t answer any of my questions. I sent another email, again requesting the details I had asked for earlier. I received a response, with the actual information, the morning after I’d already purchased the vehicle.

So why did I continue to work with this dealer? They had the car I wanted. The closest similar car was over 200 miles away. So I compromised. I did things the old-fashioned way and went into the dealership and met with the antithesis of most car salesman—polite, relatively non-pushy and clearly more interested in working than the other salesman sitting around the office telling jokes.

Change the Experience

All told, this experience took a significant portion of my day and left me wondering how this process hasn’t streamlined itself over the years. We’ve made it easier to buy just about everything. From online stores like Amazon to self-checkout stands at the grocery store, we’ve found ways to may the buying experience more simple. And yet, things like buying a car, and the language surrounding it, remain unclear and complicated.

Perhaps I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the art of negotiation, so I fail to get any pleasure out of the process. Usually, my negotiating goes like this: I research the vehicle, determine a fair market price, then counter with that number if the dealer offer is higher. If he doesn’t match, I walk away. For you negotiating experts who are shaking your heads in dismay, ask yourself how much money you’re losing (I’m self-employed) by spending hours bargaining. Do you always save more than you lost in time spent?

Alternative Buying

I’d posit that car dealers as individuals are missing an opportunity to set the standard in their industry. Saturn does it to an extent with it’s no-haggle approach (you pay what’s on the sticker), and I know of other non-Saturn dealers who do the same. As a whole, however, the bulk of the industry remains focused on posting a price that few customers ever pay and then engaging in the back and forth with the customer.

I may be in the minority, but if you combined consistent customer service with straight-forward pricing, I’d go back to the same dealer again and again. In such environments, language becomes easier, more clear. One doesn’t need call scripts or crappy sales tactics to “lure” in customers. The experience speaks for itself. And let’s be honest, how many of you really enjoyed your last car buying experience?

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June 2008
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