Emotional intelligence is most important skill says BMW chief
When it comes to selling cars Christopher Wehner knows a thing or two, having spent almost 20 years working at BMW. As BMW Group Asia MD, he looks after 13 markets including Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
In nearly two decades at the premium German brand, he has seen the way cars are sold change dramatically to respond to customer behaviour. ‘’Customers would previously come into the showroom four or five times before buying a car. Now it’s more like two or three times, as they use other channels to do their research. Some know exactly what they want before they even come into the showroom.’’
So the emphasis is less on product knowledge and more on the emotional skills needed to develop trust with customers. ‘’The sales person has to have emotional skills. Because when you meet people, you have to come in and build a trust relationship. Trust is what matters when you decide if you want to buy from this person. We make a lot of training for people to behave in a BMW manner’’.
So what exactly is a BMW manner? It relates to the brand’s core values of appreciation, openness, transparency, trust and responsibility. “Understanding the brand is very important to us. That is why we have a brand academy in Munich and send the majority of our people there to experience what the brand values of BMW are. Within that programme, they can also see the production and assembly line’’.
As cars become more technical, particularly electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids, BMW has trained up technical experts to become what it calls ‘’product geniuses’’. ‘’A car is much more complex than in the past so we do a lot of product training. We have about 30-40 cars in our range and to be an expert in every car is nearly impossible,’’ he adds.
So there are two types of salespeople – those expert in emotional and people skills, and those with deep knowledge of specific models. ‘’The salespeople have more capabilities for us in terms of emotional intelligence. Maybe more important than to know the latest technical gadget of the car. For premium brands like BMW, emotional intelligence is really necessary as we sell emotional products’’.
Automation and job losses
There are fears within the car industry of widespread job losses as more automation and robotics are introduced. But Wehner is quick to dismiss these worries within BMW.
“Car manufacturing is very much automated already across assembly lines, so there are not many more opportunities to automate’’.
BMW said last year was a record year for car sales and 2020 could be better still. The automaker sold 2.5 million cars in 2019, a slight increase over 2018, despite a challenging time for the industry in terms of demand. ‘’If you look at BMW over the last few years, production people haven’t diminished. We are actually growing and opening up more plants’’.