Sales Talk : Dealers or stealers – who’s to blame?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

An Essex dealership, yesterday. This one had a Bedford Midi and Fiat Amigo on offer...
Dealers or stealers? Mike Humble has his own informed opinion…

Sharks, wide-boys and order takers… call them what you want but a sales person is there for good reasons. To represent the brand, advise the customer accordingly and hopefully – sell you a shiny new car. The general consensus of opinion tends to place the salesperson on the same morale plane as Adolf Hitler, Great White Sharks, Estate Agents and opportunist thieves who rob old ladies.

I have been in and around the game long enough to know good ones and bad ones – and trust me there are many truly awful ones in the game, but on the whole, the ones I do know tend to be four square as a rule. But for every horror story I have heard about foul practice from dealers, I’ve heard two stories about customers who can often be just as shady, downright criminally dishonest or to be simply avoided.

The public are a funny lot and I recall going to look at a property in Bedford a few years ago, the vendor omitted to tell me about a notorious criminal family a few doors down or about how the local taxis used the road at night like the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans – some members of the general public couldn’t lie in bed straight. And yet it’s always the dealers fault though when a car deal goes upside down and thanks to wonders of the internet, people can vent their anger virally almost as quick as the speed of light. In so many cases, it’s the customers who have brought the strife upon themselves and even though I do know a few less than honest punters, they vent their angst virally and give some traditionally decent dealers and salesmen an often unfair kicking over the internet.

This has been brought to the fore with a posting on Facebook I read from a man who wants to change his car but wants to avoid using a dealer. Using a past experience as the yard stick, he claimed to have been hoodwinked or call it what you will with his previous car and as a consequence ALL dealers and ALL sales executives are seemingly low life amoeba’s. Personally, I have been robbed by customers who have sneakily removed tax discs, alloy wheels, tool kits, floor mats and other paraphernalia when trading in their cars for new at point of hand-over – despite agreements stating the trade in to be accepted in the evaluated condition. Many may be reading this blowing the froth of a coffee thinking “yeah good on them” – but do two wrongs make a right?

In my own days of selling new metal, I never set the world on fire in terms of numbers. I preferred to go for the slow burn, build up a rapport and make sure everyone was happy before the order form was signed. There have been dozens of deals that went through with no hassle or screaming but not once was I ever recognised for my toils – and trust me when I say that on more than one occasion I moved Heaven and Earth for some customers. Despite this, some punters are plain trash. There was one incident whereby the wrong colour car got ordered and I informed all parties concerned – they were more than happy to still go ahead. For their troubles, we even threw in some nice fabric mats and delivered the car to their home – they were over the moon on hand over, but the customer survey afterwards had them slating and slagging me off something terrible. They got a £50 voucher from Rover and I had strips torn off me – sometimes you just don’t win!

Roll this up, tuck it under your arm, and you know everything there is to know, apparently...
Roll this up, tuck it under your arm, and you know everything there is to know, apparently…

One of the hardest punters to deal with is Mr / Mrs Know-it-all. These are the kinds of folk who profess to know every trick in the book that a dealer might use and come armed with a rolled up What Car? or equivalent stuffed hard inside their armpit. One such example waltzed into my showroom midweek claiming to be interested in changing an Astra up to a Vectra (it was a few years back) and came out with a wonderfully rehearsed speech about how he didn’t want badgering or pestering by, and I quote – “bloody ponced up salesmen”. That went on for about five minutes. You have to make a snap decision with people like this to gauge if they are worth the hassle and could you ever hope to give him the satisfaction – let alone gain any form of mutual trust.

If you want a cracking deal, you have to work for it and it’s that simple – you get nothing for free in this world, but let’s get one thing straight – unless you are buying a premium class car or one loaded with options, there is nowhere near the massive profit margins you may have thought. Those optional added items such as paint and fabric protection that often get stapled onto the final quote may seem pointless and annoying but often they make more money for the dealer than the deal of the car itself. I’m not making it sound like violins of sympathy for the trade but it really is that tight in some showrooms, so by kicking the showrooms doors down with your size nines full of argumentative attitude will often as not achieve you nothing.

The car dealer's bread and butter - accessories are often worth more to a sale than the car itself.
The car dealer’s bread and butter – accessories are often worth more to a sale than the car itself

You see, too many people buy from either the first place they go to or the first car they drive, often as not with their eyes wide shut, with no homework done resulting in a good scalping. Then they cry like a hungry cat when the milk turns out to be sour – in this information crazy internet world we live in, there really is no excuse for this any more. Everyone knows somebody who has been subjected to a bum-steer from a car dealer, but to add some balance to the equation, I know dozens of people who have been totally satisfied, if not overwhelmed, by the level of service. The reason for this is simple – we are a nation of moaning Minnies that like nothing more than bad news. What will surprise you is the result of a survey taken out a few years ago with motor trade customers.

When asked how many would recommend a dealer to another person that had treated them fairly and squarely, the result came back at around 70% – no amazing surprise there but what about those who had felt they had been ripped off? Amazingly, the numbers were crunched and the figure this marketing company came back with was 50% – so what does that tell us? In a nutshell, half of us would like other people to suffer the same way which equates to the plain and simple fact that many of us are only happy when other people are unhappy. So a fair number of people would be happy to recommend a dealer to a friend or colleague despite the fact they may have had their trousers pulled down – why should someone else get a better deal than me is the attitude of some people – nice eh?

You can learn so much from the internet, deals have never been keener, pricing has never been more cut throat and transparent, so why are people still playing blue murder at dealer practices? Simply because they let them, it’s rather like placing your hand on a hot cooker hob and not learning from the experience – once bitten and so on. The dealer or salesman’s prime directive is to make money, and if you are loose on your purse strings, they will extract every spare penny going – with a smile of course. But by crashing into a dealer with a poor and frosty attitude is bound to get you nowhere, the salesperson will make a snap decision to see if the profit (in some cases very slim) is worth the hassle. In the aforementioned case of Mr Vauxhall, we didn’t bother to deal with him for the simple reason being he couldn’t be placated no matter what we tried.

We only buy from people we like and the salesperson will only work with you if that’s reciprocated, and despite what you may think, a dealer actually likes a well informed customer who is keen to deal and lock horns. By doing your background checks beforehand armed with a little inside track knowledge and a smile, buying a new car is a right hoot but honesty is the key. The dealer (if doing their job right) will sniff out any bull or flannel a lot sooner than you will ever realise vice versa and if you come over hostile and unapproachable, the dealer might just walk away from you. One of the best bits of advice I could ever give a potential customer is this: you have no obligation whatsoever to buy the same as the dealer is under no obligation to sell to you. See the dealer and politely explain your wants, needs and time-scale – if they still push you into a hurried decision… walk away!

So if you walk out of the showroom with an order form having been stung or overcharged, who is actually at fault? What I would say is this: combine the advice of your wife, hubby or best friend with the voice from within – your gut feeling. If something seems wrong with the proposed deal, ask for clarification or walk away – you are at no point obliged to buy and are free to leave whenever you like. Sit there like a dummy and you will be sewn up like a Kipper, we live in a world where almost every aspect of a business transaction is transparent with forums, advice sites and information right at your fingertips. There really is little excuse to complain and whine about buying a car… all you need to do is a little fact finding beforehand.

My money is on the smaller dealership, you may not get the cheapest deal but you’ll likely get the best service and a trusted relationship that lasts for as long as you want it to – the extra money you might have to spend may just buy you peace of mind – and that’s priceless in my book.  A cheap deal so often always ends up costing you at some point, but a good relationship and happy motoring is built up on nothing more than good old fashioned trust and it’s a trust that needs to be reflected from both parties. Great dealers and cracking sales staff still exist but it only works if you are a cracking customer!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

10 Comments

  1. I never buy a used car from dealer, not so much because I don’t trust them (although most lower end car lots sell recycled, tired auction tat) but because they sell cars that are at least 30-50% more expensive than what you could pick up a (probably better) car up for privately. For instance, a 2003 Mondeo in average condition can be easily picked up for six or seven hundred quid privately whilst the same car would set you back at least £1400-1500 at a dealer, why would anyone in their right mind pay the premium??? I know that people think they are getting a better car from a dealer but is simply not true, and don’t think you’ll get any kind of a warranty, you won’t! Problem is now, in the UK, everyone is trying to be a dealer, hard times have made people wheeler dealers and just about everyone is asking dealer money, private or not…

    • Most dealers give at least 3 months, and if you don’t do your homework and get the car home and turns it was written off/finance pending etc. you have a bit of comeback.

      Buying privately is a nightmare, most people are simply passing on their headaches, the good bargains are snapped up immediately by driveway wheeler-dealer types, the rest has a history shadier than the Krays.

  2. Just bought a 2013 Focus from my Ford Direct dealer. Traded in my excellent MK2 Focus and obtained a Glass’s part-ex guide in advance of the deal. I was expecting to haggle and joust, but surprisingly they gave me the top part-ex price,6 months tax + Supergard paint treatment without haggling.

    As Mike suggests it’s important for salespeople and customers to build a rapport (this is the third car I’ve bought from said dealer) My sister-in-law also has. Have to say I prefer negotiating with car salesmen than Builders!

  3. The Dealers often make more money from sales of used cars than new, and due to the hog cycle effect, for example low volumes of new car sales in 2009 means a shortage of 3 to 4 year old used stock for the forecourt in 2012/13.

  4. ” My money is on the smaller dealership, you may not get the cheapest deal but you’ll likely get the best service and a trusted relationship that lasts for as long as you want it to – the extra money you might have to spend may just buy you peace of mind – and that’s priceless in my book. A cheap deal so often always ends up costing you at some point, but a good relationship and happy motoring is built up on nothing more than good old fashioned trust and it’s a trust that needs to be reflected from both parties. Great dealers and cracking sales staff still exist but it only works if you are a cracking customer! ”

    Yes indeed! In a nut shell!

  5. “In my own days of selling new metal, I never set the world on fire in terms of numbers. I preferred to go for the slow burn, build up a rapport and make sure everyone was happy before the order form was signed. There have been dozens of deals that went through with no hassle or screaming but not once was I ever recognised for my toils.”

    Is it true that these days, car salespeople’s salary/bonuses are based on customer service scores, not just sales volumes?

  6. I enjoy buying cars. I don’t change cars often but when the time comes, I enjoy doing the research, enjoy doing the test drives, and even enjoy the (gentle) haggling process. The only bit I don’t like is the relentless pushing of add-ons – GAP insurance, paint protection etc. I know the margin on these is good for dealers, but I wish I could just politely say “no thanks” to these products without being subjected to a relentless hard sell.

    Mike, it sounds like it has been quite a few years (more than ten?) since you last worked in car sales. What do you think has changed since then? It seems like dealers are more tied to a fixed script for selling cars – is this frustrating/demoralising for salesmen? Also, I’ve heard some car brands being described as “more about selling finance than selling cars” – does this attract a different kind of salesman who has less of an interest in cars?

  7. Its a sad fact that companies cream themselves on the results of these surveys or ‘NPS’ results, when invariably they are not worth the paper they are printed on. I get them in my job and I got a pitiful score once, with comments to suggest I’d gone out and murdered their children such was their dislike of me. When my manager contacted the customer it turned out they have no issue with me or my work, it was the fact the terms and conditions had changed the week before so took their anger out on the feedback form, ignoring the bit where it says ‘Based on your most recent experience and the service received from staff member xxxxx how would you rate the service’. Therefore it can be proved that these scores are about as accurate as Septic Peg.

    I’m not sure if there is a ‘script’ in car sales, although any finance or insurance would be regulated, but the biggest issue is that the Sales Director will have decided what price the car is to be sold for (usually way above its real value) and the poor salesman will have a nightmare trying to convince someone to pay that and won’t be able to accept reasonable offers below that figure, so how often does he have to see potential sales ‘walk’ because the SD wanted £10k for an MG6 that’s only worth £5k.

  8. I have to say most dealers i have dealt with nearly always seem to try to “shaft” you in some way.

    Take my latest purchase-a Hyundia I20, he tried to sell me a warranty-its under 5 year makers warranty mate i replied, oh he said. So he either didnt know or he was out to take the mick for something i didnt need. Whichever it was way he was wrong.

    heres another-a friend was buying a Insignia-whilst taking to the sales rep he was told “we buy cars” is killing us-my friend repsonded by telling him “well give better deals then”.

    My advice-get rid of your car then become a cash buyer.

  9. I have had both good and bad experiences. One of the worst I ever had was with a Ford stealer in Fazakerley, Liverpool, ironically called Fairway Motors. I don’t know if they still exist but I would never, ever, return after the treatment we received from them when buying a car with my dad. Basically, it ended with the police being called to calm things down. He may have eventually sold us that car but would never see out business again so a net loss to them.

    On the opposite hand, Mercedes at Erdington were superb when I bought my last used car from them. They did everything that they said they would and more, and offered a significantly better trade-in deal than our local Honda dealers against my Honda.

    Dealings with a VW dealer in South Manchester were appallingly bad, again, one we would never go back to, whereas Cheshire Oaks Audi were much, much better.

    The simple comment is that if you muck about with the customer, you may make one sale but you will lose more in the long run.

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