(In)Competence in Business

On 01/24/2011, in Professionalism, by Jordan Wilson

I do not expect perfection in business dealings (although I hope for it).

But I do expect that my staff, colleagues, and business associates are competent. That is, they can perform their functions within the minimum standards for their specific function.

If I am dealing with a person trying to sell me a product or service, I am even more demanding that they exhibit basic competence.

Sadly, this basic proficiency is often lacking.

For example:

A Sad (But True) Story

I was helping a friend purchase a new vehicle on Saturday.

She loves the car she has now and has owned it since 2003. Likes the service department at the dealer. Simply wants to trade in her car for the newest model. Has done all her comparatives on the internet and knows the price of the different classes with assorted options.

An easy sale for the salesman.

Explain differences between the model classes, do a test drive or two, then go through pricing and finalize the transaction. No need to sell the car or service team. Just close the deal.

Pretty easy.

But life is never easy. And a lot of people lack core competency at their jobs.

The Bad

The salesman was unable to effectively communicate the differences between the classes. He was unable to even provide brochures and fact sheets. “All that stuff was on the internet” was his reply to my request for information.

We did get the test drive though. The car performed as expected. Even though the assistance had been very poor, my friend was still ready to purchase the new car.

Then came the pricing discussion.

While the salesman had wandered off, we spoke with another guy who mentioned an accessory package we should consider. It was a $900 package, but on sale for $495.

The car price came in at about $3000 more than my friend calculated on-line. Seeing as how the car dealer’s website was supposed to calculate the amount down to the penny, including freight, levies, taxes, etc. we wanted to determine the variance.

Unfortunately, the salesman’s quote was one lump number (albeit with a hand-drawn smiley face underneath it) on the quote sheet.

And he was unable (or unwilling) to provide a detailed price breakdown despite being asked three times.

He was able to break it down into multiple financing options over 24, 36, and 48 months. That was great! Of course, we had also told him more than once that it would be a cash purchase.

As for the add-on accessory package, that too had mysteriously changed in price. The $900 list price that was on sale for $495 had suddenly come in from our salesman at $1200.

At that point, I went to the washroom to see if I had “sucker” tattooed on my forehead.

By then, any goodwill that auto dealer had built up over the years was long gone.

An easy sale to a satisfied, repeat customer was history.

The Good

On the way home, we stopped at another auto dealer.

Not a car maker we had previously seriously considered as the cars were a little different than she wanted. But the auto maker had a good reputation, so we went in to take a quick look.

The salesman there knew his vehicles and was able to answer all questions professionally. Hard to believe but he even had brochures and fact sheets. He added value to the process just by doing his job.

This morning, we took a vehicle out for a test drive. Came back and the salesman was able to produce a detailed price quote that completely matched the one we had calculated on-line.

We negotiated for a few extras, so we could leave feeling we got a bit of a deal on pricing and options. Later that day, she purchased the vehicle.

Not because the brand, vehicle, or pricing was superior to my friend’s initial choice. Not because the service department would be better. And not because the dealer representative was a great salesman.

But simply because he was competent (and the other dealer incompetent). He was able to meet our expectations and thus made the sale between two equally matched products.

Moral of the Story

In your work life, you do not need to be the best. Often you usually only need to be competent.

Being more than competent is definitely an asset. But there is so much dross in comparison, that often simple competence will make you appear better than you really are.

And if you are in a position where you deal with clients, actually know your job.

If you sell cars, know your product and similar models offered by your competitors. If your dealership does not have brochures or fact sheets, download them from the internet yourself and make your own sales packages.

If you provide financial advice, know the available investment options and be able to clearly explain them to clients.

It is not necessary to have an espresso machine and croissants on hand for potential clients. While nice to have, clients do not usually want or need extras when conducting a transaction. Instead, clients want the basics provided in a professional manner from someone that can answer their questions and effectively close the deal.

In short, just do the job that the customer or business associate expects you to do.

If so, you shall succeed in your career.

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