Sales Talk : The old ones are the best

Everybody likes a good deal on a new car, but sometimes a customer by their own fault can end up driving not quite the hard bargain they thought.

Mike Humble

Letting the customer do the legwork

The 75 & ZT tended to attract a decent kind of customer - but not always!

Buying a new car can be a stressful experience and even a sales person will vouch for that. Walking into a showroom in some cases can be a similar experience to entering a Lion tamers cage, a time served sales exec can akin to an angry animal – almost smell your fear. Once he/she has sensed your vulnerability, you’ve had it and unless you are prepared to go to battle, your hard earned bunts will be drawn from your pocket before you know it.

I’ll be honest with you right down the line, I have no problem with people looking for a good deal and customers who can negotiate or counter offer are held in high regard with fellow salesmen – after all, we all want to say hello to a good buy after all don’t we?

With the advent of the internet, footfall through the showroom doors are nothing like what they were say 10 years ago, find your car and click to buy, its that simple. Some customers will masquerade as a retail customer out to test drive a car only to pop back home and buy online. Of course, you can’t avoid this so you have to seize every opportunity with every potential customer who comes your way, timewaster or not.

But some customers often try to punch above their weight and quite often have no idea how much a dealer will make on a car – and in many cases, they loose money now and again, relying on a target bonus windfall from the manufacturer. There is of course, the customer who flits from dealer to dealer who sometimes… loses out!

The dreaded phrase the customer would utter would be ‘what’s your best price’ of which my answer would always be ‘what’s your best offer’ quickly moving the onus onto them. The objective is to get them loved up on the car, if you talk numbers first the customer will often realise they are trying live the dream they can’t afford and run away.

Get them in the car, make them bond with it, let them drive it and let them paint a mental picture of a shiny new motor parked on the drive. Then you will find that dream is affordable, sometimes at any cost, but I seldom would talk money first – it always seemed to end in tears. I recall a customer entering the premises who seemed to tick all the right boxes – nice part-ex, nice affluent couple and in the market.

The car in question was a Rover 75 or MG ZT of which we had a brace of on display in the showroom and their part exchange was a pre facelift Vectra which was almost fresh from the box so to speak. I ventured out to do a part exchange valuation leaving the couple blowing the froth from a Flavia and spotted a 75 brochure rammed down the seat pocket. Right away I knew my pencil would have to be sharp as they obviously had been visiting another dealer.

This was confirmed when I pulled out the brochure and a salesman’s card plopped onto the carpet, even better was the fact I knew him quite well and had even been known to play a frame of Snooker or two with the chap… as they say – forewarned is indeed fore- armed.

Returning to the comfort of the showroom secretly armed with this useful detail of which I kept quiet, I offered the couple a test drive of which they politely declined. Their reason being that a ‘friend of the family’ owned one – rubbish, they had already test driven one nearby and more than likely had an offer proposed to them. They seemed keen to talk money and wanted to know what my best price would be for a self financing deal, my reply was to ask them were they looking to buy or bidding to try. After being told if the price was right they would buy there and then, I made an excuse to leave the desk for a moment and quickly ran upstairs for a word with the dealership manager.

Telling him of my knowledge, we knocked up a very enticing deal whereby we still had some meat on the bone and I duly offered this on the table. No incentive would make them commit there and the – such is life, and they left the showroom only to come back a few days later telling me of a deal that another MG Rover agent had offered them.

They wouldn’t tell me who was counter offering but of course I knew damn well and every little piece of the cost breakdown was hand written on a piece of paper. A counter offer was submitted on the condition they told us who were up against, this they did and of course my guess was correct, so in a bid to sew things up I made it quite clear that our deal was a right here and right now kind of offer.

Many of you groan at this but we were right at the lean end of the deal, any further cost shavings would make the gig a loss maker and besides, we were having a blistering month and we had hit our dealership target so why should we give stock away. So Mr & Mrs deal hunter walked away into the sunset and went on to purchase a new 1.8-litre 75 auto from a nearby rival but the cards didn’t quite deal in their favour. You see, the vehicle we were offering was a late 2002 model year car in mid 2003 and this was right in the thick of MG Rover’s ‘Project Drive’ cost cutting life saving policy. Those who know their onions or Rovers for that matter will know that the latter pre-facelift cars were deemed as being somewhat inferior.

Obvious differences included the loss of the neat BMW-style bonnet release lever in the grille, the lovely ornate gear lever replaced by a nasty rubbery type and a whole raft of other revisions both visual & under the skin. Any verbal reference to ‘Project Drive’ with the customer was suicidal and sometimes a practice that would get you fired, the 75 and ZT had that visual wow factor, but close scrutinizing would reveal some inferior ingredients to a once well served dish. After visiting our service desk sometime after owing to his supplying dealer folding, he came waltzing to my desk cooing about how he had struck a deal and how the other dealer had coaxed him by telling him our car was an obsolete model.

After all his showboating, it transpired we had lost the deal over a paltry £130 but sadly for him, the trade soon got wind of ‘Project Drive’ and valued the earlier 75 higher than later ones. Still continuing to make bones about his amazing deal, I simply handed him a Photostat copy of the 75 series deletion sheet and mentioned this – the colour somewhat drained from his face. In a nutshell, yes, all dealers are out to make money but if you want to outsmart the salesman – do your homework revision to ensure you are equally as clever, otherwise you will end up paying for it in the long run. Also, if you are playing dealers off against each other, you must realise that not every showroom is that desperate for your custom.

My own take on the getting the best deal used to be a simple one. Should a customer arrive and have no other motive than to talk money before product, I would offer them a test drive and merely suggest they find their best price and come back to me. This policy of mine had two distinct advantages over the traditional  ‘wear em down till they surrender’  tactics some main dealers apply. Firstly: you are not spending hours potentially wasting your time with a customer who wont buy anyway – and secondly: you come over as the good guy who is not breaking their arm to buy a car.

Why? simple – because the customer does the leg work and not the salesman – after all, if you want to save money you have to earn it.

Mike Humble


  1. When Essex had numerous Ford dealers I use shop around to get the best price, which evern when you had Ford employer discount was still effective. Nowdays unless you are buying different marques is very difficult unless you want to buy on credit with th dealer to get a good deal. I have found Cash is not key anymore.

  2. I think i’m right in saying a dealership can make more money on selling the credit than they do on selling the car. The same goes for manufacturers too, this is why MGR went bust while the finance arm was still very profitable.

    The car is just a mechanism to get you to buy the credit.

    It’s a lot like when you go into Currys/Comet and buy a £200 TV, they offer you an extended warranty for £150 extra.

  3. Dennis – your right about the extended warranties. When I use to work in the electrical sales business back in the 90’s we were continiously pushed to sell the warranties even though some were just a joke. I remember they wanted us to push warranties on Vac’s, which £80 on a £200 Dyson was alright but on a £50 Hoover was a joke! The reason being they got a 40% commission from the warranty company on every warranty sold! That’s why the government are now looking at changing the sale of warranties in the UK to improve the rights of the consumer – however all that will do is keep the prices the same and the insurance companies making more money!

  4. Pretty much Dennis but a lot of it is down to some clever advertsing.

    Take 0% interest finance – mostly only against list price, but Fred Pleb LTD will offer you a finance package through Knuckle Finance Co against a heavily discounted car… yes there is interest on the money, but often the total paid back is less than 0%

    The dealer also gets a small kickback from the finance house too!

  5. 0% finance deals very often need a 50% deposit if you notice, and quite high monthly payments over a fairly short term, normally 2 years. They are almost always on vehicles that are about to be facelifted as well, so come to the dealers quite heavily discounted. When you look at it, finance companies can easily clear a fair few grand profit, on even the cheapest of snotters. Just look at the finance rates of some places. You are still on a nut squeezing 25-30% APR on a clapped out fleet shed.

  6. I’ve been in a GM multi franchise today where out of two salesmen, one stared at his paperwork and the other stood eating salt and vinegar crisps. I spent 5 minutes in one particular car then wandered out to the previously enjoyed stock for a unbreached wander!

  7. Every car has a price – Before going in to any negotiation I know what my trade in (if any) is worth and what the car I am buying is worth. This gives me the figure I am able to work on (I will happily pay £1m for a cheap car if my trade in is overvalued by even more).

    I then go to dealers to see who will give me the best offer. However, I am always honest that I am looking for other prices and where I am looking if they ask (this can help if there is a real rivalry) and also that I know they have to make a profit. I also let them know what I must have on a car so the spec can be a bit flexible e.g. leather and climate are must haves but colour can be one of several!

    I have found this business like approach works as it offers a quick and easy time for the salesman who can focus on the deal as the car is already sold. (if you want a test drive to help decide – just ask the dealer will know the score and be able to manage it).

    Of course I always ask if i can get a bit more or things like mats chucked in but if the answer is no and they are on the money with the deal – thats fine I just admit I was being a bit cheeky.

    Interestingly the last car I bought (a fiesta with over 20% off list) was via a reverse auction at autoebid – a great way of doing things if you have no trade in)

    Finally – why do dealers love flavia coffee? It is terrible. A filter pot of some good coffee will give a nice smell to the dealership, will be cheaper and is more sustainable.

    Ok I admit it – I am a procurement specialist and am working on a business plan for a coffee shop! (really I am)

  8. Anyone mind if i put a good word in for a couple of garages who have been really good to deal with?

  9. Barretts Jaguar in Canterbury – hassle free sales process – done via the internet – excellent deal. Interestingly got calls from Jaguar chacking if everything was ok

    Allen Ford in Northampton – nothing a problem during purchase and keen to speed the process

    H A Fox Jaguar in Leeds – very helpful service department and sales staff happy to let the kids look over the cars in the showroom in a way only a 5 and 7 yo can! (No button unpressed – despite my best efforts!). Not what i’d expect from a big dealer group – much better!

    There are some good guys out there.

  10. “Barretts Jaguar in Canterbury”

    Were also a very good Rover dealer, were Rover’s oldest (even back to the point they sold Rover and Bicycles before their cars) and regularly won awards for their service.

  11. J Edgar and Son of Rowrah, Cumbria, a totally family owned ex Rover dealer who have now branched into Nissan, Suzuki and Hyundai and Ford approved used( the new stuff is sold by the evil empire of Arnold Clark). Visited Arnold Shark looking for a used Fiesta last year, was treated like an idiot, was offered a very expensive finance deal by a 20 year old salesman who was so clueless he had to ask his boss every ten seconds, and was offered the usual warranty rip offs. Visited Edgars an hour later, and saved well over a £ 1000 with a servicing plan and a free warranty on a 58 plate Fiesta.

  12. Going to a dealer these days to buy a new car is like going into the garden and burning hard earned 20 quid notes. Buy on e-bay, take a warrenty out if you must and save a fortune. 20k for a car that will be worth 5k after 3 years makes no sense. I work on the basis of 500 quid depreciation a year and 500 quid on servicing and repairs. Thats affordable motoring. Also car sales staff add no real value to the purchase and in many cases give a poor experience. Not interested.

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