I found myself in the unusual position of spending a couple of days on the front line recently by helping a colleague who was short staffed in his showroom. Having not actually sold cars for many years I concluded that it couldn’t have changed that much since I was last at the coalface. How wrong I was!
I met up with the sales team for the traditional greasy Saturday breakfast and through the haze of cigarette smoke and hangovers I realised how much I had missed the camaraderie and relentless piss taking which occurs when a group of mainly men are thrown together in an environment such as a car retailing. There was a mixed bunch of fresh faced newcomers, all aftershave and keenness, and the old stagers who wheel themselves out on a daily basis to try and find a customer they like and make the day a little more bearable.
I figured I would just try and muck in and help the guys out in any way necessary, even if it meant being just a glorified test driver for the day. Talk about back to the shop floor, these guys were certainly no respecters of my rank I was teased unmercifully about my tie and sock combination and the fact that my Aramis aftershave was now more than slightly old fashioned, but still I enjoyed every minute of it.
I was struck by how much more paperwork was involved now and how much new regulation there was across the board. Another aspect that intrigued me was how much more educated customers were and the fact that they are happy to go away and re-visit the same car several times before making a decision; clearly the modern day salesperson needs to have patience.
With the choice on offer buyers have more decisions to make than ever and this is not necessarily compatible with eventually ending up with the right car. In fact I saw one couple who had spent more than 3 hours with a sales guy and were still no nearer arriving at a decision. The good news is that we sold 10 cars and although the showroom was busy most of the day all the customers seemed to get served and most seemed happy enough that they had come.
I had some valuable time to assess customer attitudes and how the staff dealt with questions and objections, and though this was just a small snapshot and everybody was on their game I was happy in the main with what I saw. Negotiations were robust but carried out with a sense of friendliness and it proved to me that there is nearly always a common ground to be had when indulging in the buying and selling of a car.
As I waved them all goodbye and congratulated the sales manager on a great day I felt just like I used to when I had sold some cars and delighted a few customers, only this time I gave the pub a miss and was snoring soundly by 10. I was happy that in general business is being done in the right way and that people are still the most important part of any business.
Although, because of the emotiveness of cars, there will be some rotten apples who give the car retail trade a bad name there are far more sales staff who want to give value for money and carve a career out for themselves in the industry.
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