The Funk Brothers, Motown, and The Role of the Salesperson in Selling a Car


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Next time you’re in Detroit, head on up to 2648 West Grand Boulevard. Just off the Lodge and a few streets past the hospital you’ll see Hitsville, USA.  With a little imagination you’ll hear the sounds coming from Studio A of Diana, Marvin, Stevie, Smokey and the many others that made Motown famous.  

Motown Museum

But as successful as these artists were, what ‘made‘ the Motown sound was a bunch of studio musicians that you may never have heard of, a group of guys who became known as The Funk Brothers.  

They were the unsung heroes of Motown who were singly responsible for the hooks and choruses that are still resonating 45+ years later.   

The singers provided the flash; the Funk Brothers did the work.

The Funk Brothers BandI can’t help but think of the Funk Brothers every time I see reports of how influential various forms of social media are reputed to be in the car buying experience.

If one were to believe the press, Facebook and Twitter are really the only form of advertising a manufacturer or dealer need to do since they, it is said, are the most important sources of information to consumers in buying a car.

I hate to break it to you but it ain’t true.  The baby is ugly.

I ran some numbers from our New Vehicle Customer Study, the largest automotive study in North America, and based on responses from 85,000 American and 49,000 Canadian car buyers, Facebook and Twitter really aren’t even on the radar screen.

Where it all happened. Studio A at Hitsville USA. A converted garage where Berry Gordy made history

Where it all happened. Studio A at Hitsville USA. A converted garage where Berry Gordy made history

Here’s the US numbers:

Salesperson at the dealership 21.8%
Family/friend/word of mouth 20.2%
Consumer guides (e.g., Consumer Reports) 17.4%
Dealer’s/manufacturer’s web sites 8.5%
Third-party Web sites 6.1%
Automotive magazine reviews 5.5%
TV advertisements 3.6%
Dealer’s/manufacturer’s brochures 3.5%
Chat rooms, blogs, forums 1.7%
Auto shows 1.7%
Dealer/Manufacturer-sponsored event 1.5%
Direct mail from the dealer / manufacturer 1.4%
Newspaper advertisements 1.4%
Automotive TV shows (e.g., MotorWeek) 1.3%
Online videos 1.3%
Newspaper reviews 1.1%
Facebook 0.5%
E-mail from dealer/manufacturer 0.5%
Magazine advertisements 0.3%
Twitter 0.3%
Radio advertisements 0.3%
Outdoor advertisements 0.2%

Here’s the Canadian numbers:

Family 22.7%
Salesperson At Dealership 17.2%
Consumer Guides 8.1%
Manufacturer Web site 6.5%
Friend 5.8%
Dealer / Manufacturer Sponsored Event 4.8%
Automotive Magazine Reviews 4.5%
TV Advertisements 2.7%
Dealer Web site 2.2%
Newspaper Advertisements 2.1%
Dealer/Manufacturer brochures – Paper 1.9%
Co-Worker 1.9%
Automotive TV Shows 1.7%
Online Videos 1.4%
Direct Mail From The Dealer/Manufacturer 1.3%
Automotive Forums 1.2%
Dealer/Manufacturer brochures – Digital 1.2%
Third Party Web Sites 1.1%
Magazine Advertisements 1.1%
E-mail from Dealer/Manufacturer 1.1%
Autoshows 1.0%
Newspaper Reviews 0.9%
Automotive Blogs 0.8%
Non-Automotive Blogs 0.7%
Online advertisements 0.6%
Radio Advertisements 0.5%
Twitter 0.1%
Facebook 0.1%

Salespeople are to car buying what The Funk Brothers were to Motown.  They don’t get the credit they deserve.

Why is that ? Why do more flashy sources seem to grab the headlines?  For some reason, the shiny object seems to get the press when, in fact, other things much more important are there quietly standing in the background.

It’s salespeople who rank right at the top (or near the top depending on the country).  It’s salespeople who are hugley  influential as a source of information in the car buying experience.   It’s salespeople who don’t get the credit they deserve.  Time to right the wrong and ask Facebook and Twitter to stand in the wings until it’s their time to take the stage.

Until next time.


PS.  For those who are interested, the 2002 documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” provides tremendous insight into The Funk Brothers and the pivotal role they played in creating and spreading the Motown sound.   Fascinating watch.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chris Travell
Chris Travell is VP, Strategic Consulting for the Automotive Group of Maritz Research. He is responsible for working with Maritz' Insight Teams to further the understanding and application of the firm's automotive research. He has appeared on numerous television programs and is often quoted in Automotive News, Time, USA Today, Edmunds, Detroit Free Press, The Globe and Mail and various other publications in regard to issues related to the North American automotive industry. He is the principal contributor to The Ride Blog, Maritz Research's automotive blog.


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