Mike Humble shares a story of working at the sharp end of the motor trade. This one cost someone his job, but gained a sale and gave everyone else a good lesson!
All of the big dealer groups have their standard sales process (the method of getting from enquiry to hand over). They spend millions studying the buying trends and motivations of the customer, along with vivid advertising in both local press and on local TV. Some groups even have their own classroom situation or academies, where experienced former-car salesmen or managers will train mobile ‘phone sales execs or fast food restaurant supervisors into hardcore car sales executives.
Like the title says, ‘Nobody Walks’, means that you – as a salesperson – must introduce a manager or team leader to your customer, in the event of no-commitment coming from the customer before they leave the showroom.
There is a sad fact that many of today’s sales managers refuse to leave their office to work the floor or be hands-on, so to speak. This is wrong, as I think introducing your potential customer to higher-ranking member of staff can often inspire confidence and help break down that wall of defence most customers (and rightly so) have when dealing with car sales staff. Contrary to modern belief, most of today’s sales people are no longer the spivs and shysters that used to work the trade 20 years ago.
There are simply too many governing rules and regulations to allow them to exist these days. All finance deals (under £25K) are governed by the FSA, and you are legally required to be accredited by the FSA before you can even sell a new car.
The Internet has changed the way we buy a car, and as a result, sales staff have to be switched-on and professional in duty to make sure they are competitive and able to make that deal… in theory anyway. On a personal level, the one thing that annoys the hell out of me is the dreaded Test Drive. Not the actual drive itself, but the rigmarole of preparing the car.
Running around looking for trade plates. Who last had the fuel card? Digging the car out of the showroom or car park may only take 20 minutes, but from a salesman’s point of view, it seems to take hours. Once, it took so long to get a car ready that when I finally had the damn thing parked outside ready for the off, the customers had finished their coffee and scarpered!
But getting to the chase, this one is about what can go wrong on a test drive:
The former dealer group of Reg Vardy was a formidable force. Not only nationwide, but very much in the North East of England. Sadly, it succumbed to a hostile take over battle with Lookers and Pendragon (Evans Halshaw) in 2006. Even though it was one of the biggest dealer groups, it was held in high regard both in the trade and with customers. The company took the attitude that customer service came before profit and chairman Sir Peter Vardy was a religious person with values and ideas of how his staff should perform their duties. It was a decent firm to work with.
The one thing that kept you on your guard was Sir Peter himself.
At any time and without warning, Sir Peter would leave his executive office in Sunderland, jump into his Jaguar and visit a showroom anywhere in the UK. He’d enter the premises via the workshops and would stop and talk to anybody, regardless of you being a cleaner or a dealer principal. This was not done with any malice or spite – the man simply cared about his business, staff and customers.
One time, a workshop manager spotted Sir Peter sweeping the workshop floor. The manager rushed up to Sir Peter apologising and blaming the workload for the fact there was rubbish everywhere. ‘That’s okay, son,’ said Sir Peter. ‘I can see you are way too busy to keep the place tidy’. Such was the man and his methods.
I remember a memo circulating the group from Sir Peter with regards to fuel, and making sure adequate juice was in the tank for a test drive. This was prompted by what happened to someone from the Sunderland Nissan dealership. A couple came into that dealer one blustery weekend looking to test drive a car – and as was the norm, the fuel light was glowing bright. Despite that, the bandy trio of three set off for a test drive.
On their return, the car ran out of fuel 500 yards short of the dealership, and the salesperson was guilty of two cardinal sins – namely, not having his mobile ‘phone, and failing to make sure enough fuel was present in the car.
The salesman left the customers with the stricken car, and hot-footed back to the dealer for a can of fuel. But it got much worse.
As the soaked salesman panted into the dealership, looking like a drowned rat, Sir Peter Vardy and his wife just happened to be driving along and spotted the crippled car at the side of the road with it’s hazard warning lights flashing away. Stopping his car, Sir Peter introduced himself to the now angry couple, and asked what the problem was. He offered them a lift back to the dealership, and they all set off in the rain back to the showroom in his toasty warm XJ8.
In the meantime, the salesman returned to the car with a can of fuel to find it empty and locked. Back at the showroom, Sir Peter was sat at the salesman’s desk with the couple doing the deal on the car and charming the birds from the trees.
Can you imagine the horror of that salesman as he returned to an abandoned car, then returning back only to find the top man sat at his desk, doing HIS job with HIS customers?
He could only watch from the wings as a florist arrived with a bunch of flowers for the lady of the couple, and they both got a mindblowing deal on a new Nissan. All topped off with Sir Peter’s sincere apologies. After they left smiling from ear to ear, the motor trade tycoon took the hapless salesman aside, and simply asked him if he would like a lift home!
Motor trade slang for the being fired!
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
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