The old school car salesman wouldn’t recognise his modern counterpart

In the good old days of selling cars, when you applied for a job the sales manager would probably just ask questions like; ‘have you got a large mortgage?’ ‘Is your wife/girlfriend pregnant?’ Or ‘do you have a gambling or any other expensive addiction?’ If the answer was yes to any or all of these questions you could be fairly sure you got the job.

Of course this is a tongue in cheek way of saying that you did not necessarily have to be Professor Hawking to get employment in car sales, you did however need to be hungry, self motivated and be a good communicator.

In those days you were given a desk (if you were lucky) a phone and a diary and just told to get on with it. If you could stand the fact that all around you was a hive of activity and chatter while you stood around like a spare part trying to make sense of it all, then you may have a chance, as only if you lasted beyond this would you begin to be accepted and maybe given some basic training and product knowledge.

Basically you sank or swam, and if you swam the satisfaction and enjoyment you could gain from the circumstances and especially the characters both customers and colleagues was priceless.

It was just like being at school but without the discipline and as long as you hit your targets they left you alone and amazingly you got paid to have all this fun! Although those days were fun and rewarding anyone could tell that it really wasn’t sustainable, there was only so many times you could use the same old sales closing techniques and only so many times a customer would put up with the fantastic experience of buying a car but the terrible let down once they had paid their money.

Of course today it’s totally different. The life of a modern day salesperson, especially in a franchised showroom, is all about filling in customer recording documents, gathering information and explaining the customer’s rights to them. A typical day will usually commence with a sales meeting which can often go on for over an hour such is the sheer volume of feedback which needs to be communicated. Everything about every customer must be dissected to ensure they are getting what they want. There are now surveys being carried out secretly during the sales presentation, by mystery shoppers on behalf of manufacturers, the dealer hierarchy itself and sometimes even finance providers, all designed to keep tabs on the sales staff and find out whether they are on message. There are so many financial solutions linked to successful outcomes that many think it is more profitable and beneficial to forget about selling cars profitably and concentrate on making sure each dealer qualifies for the standards money which nowadays can be substantial.

I have been told by some in the business that it can take up to 3 hours to successfully complete a sales presentation on a new car, such is the amount of detailed information to gather and dispense, which I personally find staggering.

As usual in situations like these the pendulum has swung completely the other way. In some cases the very customers who were reluctant to go into a showroom for fear of being ripped off, are now hesitant because they fear they may be loved to death!

There needs to be flexibility to car retailing, if the customer wants to spend just 20 minutes buying his new car why not let them and if they want to make a day of it that should be OK too. Buying a car is a personal thing and as long as the conclusion is satisfactory for both parties then fantastic. It seems like, as the profile of sales people has changed over the last decade and the old guard realise that they can no longer cut corners and do it their way, that an awful lot of talent and experience, not to mention productivity, is being drained from the business.

The new breed of sales people coming through often lack the skills and personality to actually sell a car rather than just take an order. A sales manger actually said to me recently that it will not be long before sales people will be renamed as customer service agents or some other title. What he meant by that is that they are proficient at filling in forms and answering questions but may not necessarily be capable of offering alternatives or switching a customer into a second choice. It’s an important point because that second choice may be immediately available to the customer and sticking to the script rigidly may end up taking weeks to come to fruition.

The solution is obvious and simple. Why not just use our common sense and employ a mixture of people? Men and women, old and young, new and experienced, then understand that each person has different strengths just the same as each customer has different needs. There may be aspects of the job they need help or training with but the end result will be a team capable of successfully handling any customer to a satisfactory conclusion.

You see it is all about management, teamwork and also a genuine commitment to customer satisfaction, not some virtual reality invented just to massage the figures by bribing customers with flowers and mats and free services.

Actually looking long term and giving the customer the reason to tell friends and family and be confident of seeing the same salesperson next time they buy a car will prove a massive reward.

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One Response to The old school car salesman wouldn’t recognise his modern counterpart

  1. nicko October 23, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    i coulndnt agree more,great article spot on

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