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.
Letting the customer do the legwork
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.
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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