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Is It Time for In Store Advocates?

By Hank Barnes | March 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

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A recent article on cnet, talks about BMW’s plan to put “Genius Bar” like services in showrooms.   The article talks about using younger employees armed with iPads whose purpose is to answer questions that customers might have.  The association is a good one as the Apple and BMW brands share some similiarities in terms of the type of customers they appeal to.  At the same time, there may be some challenges with this approach:

  1. Intent –In the article, BMW tells the reporter that “the program will aid salespeople.”  While that is a nice objective (anything to make the hard job of selling easier is a good thing), the focus, in my opinion, should be about “aiding” customers.  Making their buying journey easier.
  2. Trust – While BMW indicates that this staff will not be sales people, they are still BMW employees.  As a result, many potential customers may perceive them to be sales representatives and interact with them cautiously.
  3. Expectations – As the article points out, the Apple Genius Bar is for customers to address problems and questions about things they have bought already.  BMW is going after prospects. However, I would not be surprised to see current BMW owners come to the showrooms to ask questions about their vehicle.  BMW may need to be prepared for how to handle that with this model.

As I thought a bit more about this,  a different approach came to mind–based on my interest in leveraging advocates in your customer base.   What if BMW staffed this function not with employees, but with current customers that love their cars?  (As a note, when I was in college, I worked in a personal computer store.  One of our best customers would come in every Saturday to see the latest software–and proceed to tell every other customer in the store which ones he liked best.  He helped us sell a lot of software, just because he was passionate about it.)

As a prospect, I’d love to hear from a peer v. an employee.  There are some challenges to this model (getting the time commitment–and making sure they follow through–from the advocates), but I see lots of benefits.  BMW could also reward the advocates for their activities in at least three ways:

  • Recognition  – Create awards (plaques, in showroom displays, etc.) for the advocates based on the help they provide.
  • Insight – Provide the advocates with sneak peeks into new car models and access to engineers and product managers to discuss these new products.
  • Rewards – Without paying them, they could reward them with discounts on future purchases, nice to have accessories for their cars, or even passes to their Performance Driving School. (Note: I’ve never done the driving school, but friends who have tell me it is an amazing experience!)

As you think of new ways to improve the customer buying experience, and making it easier for your sales teams, make sure you think about ways that you could leverage your customer advocates effectively.

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