BMW dealers with Product Geniuses boost profit and customer satisfaction
BMW dealers in Europe taking part in the automaker's Product Genius program are getting a financial boost. The tech-savvy employees' no-pressure explanation of the features available in BMW’s vehicles has increased the purchase of high-margin options by 10 percent to 15 percent, the company said.
The Product Geniuses are part of a comprehensive new program called Future Retail that BMW started rolling out at all of its 3,250 dealerships worldwide this year. The total number of Product Geniuses will rise to 2,000 in early 2015 from about 1,000 now, Ian Robertson, BMW board member for sales and marketing told Automotive News Europe at the Geneva auto show last month.
Initially, Robertson said European dealers were concerned by what they saw as an added cost. “But when they understand it and see what results are possible, it’s a minor cost,” he said. Dealers who were the early adopters of Product Geniuses have seen such an increase in revenue and margin that they plan to change how they staff their showrooms. “We were originally thinking of having one Product Genius per dealer, but some dealers now have four or five.” He added: “One big dealer group recently told me that they want to completely rebalance their sales force: from the current four sales guys and one Genius, they are planning to move to three Geniuses and two sales guys.”
BMW currently has about 20,000 sales people worldwide. Even at 2,000 Geniuses, they will still be outnumbered by salespeople by a 10-to- 1 margin. That, however is expected to change over time. “Once this process rolls, we’re going to see those ratios mix up a bit,” Robertson said.
Ian Robertson: “We were originally thinking of having one Product Genius per dealer, but some dealers now have four or five.”
BMW’s Product Geniuses provide a function similar to that offered at Apple’s Genius Bars, where Apple customers can get assistance using their products or technical support when they have a problem without any pressure to make a new purchase. At BMW, specially trained employees -- many of them college graduates -- talk with potential customers about the vehicles and their features, often using an iPad to explain how the different technology functions. The Product Geniuses, who are paid a fixed salary, do not sell cars. Buyers who want to make a purchase are handed over to a sales person.
BMW’s Product Geniuses pilot started in 2012 at select dealerships in the UK, France, the Netherlands and China. BMW’s U.S. dealerships started adding their first Geniuses late last year, with a full rollout due next year. Cadillac and Lexus have similar programs at their U.S. dealerships.
Robertson said that customer satisfaction is higher at dealers with Geniuses. “The customers feel that they’ve understood the product better,” he said. Individual dealers decide how to compensate their Product Genius beyond their regular salaries. Robertson said that having bonuses based on customer satisfaction would best fit the program’s original concept.
The average age of BMW’s Product Geniuses in Europe is 23 and their backgrounds are mixed. “A lot of them are graduates coming out of university but some came from airlines, from the service industry, from high-street environments,” Robertson said. “This works because what we’re looking for is that customer empathy, as well as the ability to use the digital tools that we have.”
Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report
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