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Memo to Ford Sales: Quit While You're Ahead

Ford Motor company amazed the business world yesterday by achieving nearly a billion dollars in profit -- despite a down economy that clobbered its US-based competitors. However, the sales professionals who work for Ford are fooling themselves if they think happy days are here again. The truth is that there's no real reason to have commissioned sales reps if you're selling automobiles retail to consumers. They just don't add enough value.

Now, everyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm on the side of the sales professional. Even so, I'm not going to pretend that every product requires a sales rep at every point in the sales process. When a product becomes sufficiently standardized, and there's little differentiation between competing products, a commissioned sales rep is needless overhead.

That wasn't true in the past. Before the Internet, customers needed commissioned sales reps to provide information about the products they intended to buy. And commissioned sales reps had information (like the wholesale price) that the buyer lacked.

Today, however, consumers can find out everything you need to know about an automobile on the web, including where the cars are located, how much they cost the dealers, the average price of the vehicles sold, etc. Naturally, you'd want to test drive a car before you buy it but (and here's the important part) you don't need to pay a commissioned sales professional to take down your name and license number, and then hand you a set of keys.

On a car lot, commissioned sales reps no longer add enough value to justify their existence. I'm sorry, but it's true. What's more, car salesmen (and women) have over the years garnished such an unsavory reputation that most people would rather not deal with them. So here's a case where the sales pro is not just unnecessary, but actually acting as a brake on the sales process.

I hate to be the one to bear the bad news, but retail commissioned car sales are about to go the way of retail commissioned computer sales. People are going to buy cars and get financing over the Internet... after they've taken a test drive a "test drive center" that will probably be located where the defunct dealership used to be.

That's the future of car sales. So here's my memo to the sales pros at Ford: "Get out of the car business while you're ahead of the game."

That's how I see it. I'm curious what you guys think: