Sales Talk : Treading carefully with over-inflated egos

Mike Humble

The part ex was pristine with some tasteful aftermarket goodies - my manager wanted it all costs.
The part-exchange was pristine and had some tasteful aftermarket goodies – my Manager wanted it for a present.

I used to work for one of the biggest dealer chains in the country, and before it was taken over by another equally huge group, it was a pleasant outfit to work for – providing you pulled your weight. I transferred over to a nearby Vauxhall site eventually, but at first, my role involved selling new Renaults. I hated every minute of it, but the Business Manager, whose name I will omit, was a great man and a lunatic with a fuse shorter than a bonfire night rocket. He only got involved if you were really struggling to close a deal, and I am proud to say – we still keep in touch.

Customers come in all shapes and sizes – anyone who works with the public will slowly nod with heavy heart at this – but by far the punter dreaded the most by sales folk is the armchair know it all. They will, as a rule, waltz into the showroom with a rolled up copy of Which? Car or What Car? using everything they have read to gain what they think is the best deal. Our buying power quite often meant we could smash the published target prices by considerable margins, but – so long as this type of customer was happy in his or her own mind that the dealer had been beaten – both parties saved, and made a few bob.

My period with Renault will forever be remembered as the time when we had hardest customers to deal with. Fussy, pedantic, tight-fisted and forever complaining, it comes as no surprise to hear of the brand’s ever-shrinking market share with dealers throwing in their franchises. This is a real shame, as the range back then – and, indeed, today – drives really well. My demo at that time was a black Megane 105DCi Dynamique – possibly one of the nicest smokers to bop around in, and only spoiled by build quality even worse than a novelty found in your average Christmas cracker.

I shudder at the recollection of a customer who wandered in about 20 minutes before closing on my late turn. The trick was to give them a rock solid reason to come back at a more sociable hour, lock all the doors, set the alarms and bugger off home. This chap was in no rush so, after taking some details, I managed to boot him out just after 7.00pm. He did call back a few days later, and the process started again and he was every inch the customer from hell depicted above. Having just split with his partner (the lucky lady), he was looking to lick his wounds with a newer car.

Driving a stunning pre-tintop Megane Cabriolet trimmed in black leather, which he wanted to part-exchange, one of our special offer used MG ZRs caught his eye. Even though this was just after a year from the implosion of MGR, the cheeky ZR would still sell fairly strongly and we had two or three of them on offer. They were all with electrics, air conditioning, and in happy colours. A test drive followed but, when he drove the car, the chap moaned about the knobbly ride, the lack of bottom end punch of the 1.4-litre K-Series and the tired-looking dashboard. Imagine my delight and wonderment when he wanted to take things further.

The part-exchange was nothing we could retail, but owing to the fact it was quite immaculate, featured upgraded alloys, an impressive aftermarket stereo, all the stamps in the book and agreeable mileage my Business Manager tugged me aside and told me he was going to have this ragtop Renault for his wife. The customer chipped and haggled away wanting mats, fuel, a full service and fresh MoT (even though none was required) to the point where we almost threw him out of the door. He even made a remark about how undesirable MG Rover cars were – my retort being, ‘why do you want it then?’

Anyway, after a windy hour of hassle, haggle and negotiation, prices were agreed and my Business Manager had shrewdly created a document that stated the deal was purely on an ‘as is’ condition basis. A week passed by, and the MG went through the workshop where it was discovered it needed discs and a couple of other minor bits and bobs to make the grade. And then the hour came for the handover. It all kicked off again when he claimed we had promised a full tank of fuel (we had not) and then spat his dummy out, when I told him he could not come back to have some free mudflaps fitted.

What was more important was his part-exchange Megane Cabriolet. The aftermarket wheels and stereo had been changed and the road tax was missing – all of which went against the terms of our agreement. After some heated words and a consultation with my Business Manager, who was somewhat nonplussed, the deal went ahead anyway and it was good riddance to him. However, the horror returned roughly a week or two later on a busy Saturday afternoon, while I was attending to a nice elderly couple who, I think, were browsing over a Clio which was next to my desk.

With no regard to my current customers, he bounded over to my desk yelling and shouting various unprintable words that rhymed with words like front or cat. My customers quite rightly flew away like startled pigeons, and my Business Manager sprung from his office like a greyhound lure, and literally grabbed the screamer and manhandled him into his inner sanctum – with me in hot pursuit. Closing the door behind me, the customer was firmly told to quieten down and explain his angst – he then asked us why we had stolen the spare tyre from his MG.

We explained that the ZR did not come with a spare wheel but with a canister of tyre fix, and we were accused of trying to fob him off. It was all pointless as, once again, he went off in a rage demanding we supplied an alloy rim and tyre, which we firmly refused to do. He stormed out the side office and marched through the showroom telling everyone in sight how we were crooks and sharks with a liberal smattering of obscene language for good measure. The Business Manager peered round the door jamb and yelled back ‘And we want our road tax, wheels and stereo… so **** off!’

The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet really!

Despite the MG-Rover death, demand for used MG models especially the ZR remained.
Despite the MG-Rover death, demand for used MG models, especially the ZR, remained.
Mike Humble


  1. Car salesmen have a bad reputation but there is probably a much ripping off, & attempted ripping off, done by people part-exing cars.

    I wonder how many people have cleaned out the expansion tank of a Rover with HGF & filled it with brand new coolant before the short drive to the garage. (Not forgetting to wipe the mayonnaise off the oil filler cap of course.)

  2. Where do people get off thinking that its acceptable behaviour to storm into a car showroom, or bank, or supermarket and rant off like that?!

    I stood up to one woman ranting off like that and got a disciplinary hearing for my trouble….

  3. Stories I could tell..
    And the newspapers do not help with
    their degenerate stories on how to
    wheel and deal,hoping to sell more

    The funny ones are the men who come
    in trying to impress their sweethearts
    acting the big shot and all..degrading you
    and seeming to get pure enjoyment out of it.

    When I was selling Chrysler/Jeeps in the
    day I would steer them toward the most expensive
    Jeep on the lot..Show them all the features
    and safety bits.. Tell them how great they would
    look in it and how impressive they could be…Really
    swell their heads up. And of course by that time
    the other half is all for it and his ego is working

    The manager knew what I was doing with a hand
    signal..Having the look on his face after noticing
    their trade in. When it came time to close.. and
    they needed time to think it over…after wasting
    my time for two hours.. I would say something
    like “Yea that’s a big payment it might be really
    hard to afford that…you better make sure..”
    Of course the ego would kick in..O yes I can, who
    are you to tell me? lol

    Four days later coming back in asking for their
    trade in, back or Six months later they would come
    back wanting to trade down for a used car before it
    got turned back in..

    Such fun..

  4. Only today I received an e-mail informing me that I would be given an interview for the job I’ve applied for. Its for a vehicle sales executive. I’m new to the industry but not to sales. However reading this has frightened me a little.
    Or made me look forward to the fun 😉

  5. We visited our local MINI dealership a couple of weeks ago and I came away with the distinct impression that the sales ‘droid’ – I’m using that term as she seemed to be robotically programmed – was clearly only interested in flogging us Finance, a lease or a contract, but NOT a car.
    I probably expected too much from a Beemer dealer.

  6. You can have fun Alan..
    The secret is knowing how to play the game back without them. They come on your turf. They need or want a car
    or otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

    The jokes in the states about the honest car salesman.
    Well it applies both ways. I have this perfectlow mileage
    trade…ok fine..Do a car facts and it was in huge wreck.
    Or other damage.

    Or I got perfect credit and want the no money down and expect this and that and for you to bend over backwards
    to every demand I have..Ok fine..Run the credit report
    and wonder why they are not in jail for passing bad checks and other things while looking you straight in the eye and
    telling you how great they are.

    Although some customers maybe 60% of them truly are decent people and you do go out of your way to help them find the
    right vehicle for their needs and budget.
    It can be a rewarding experience..

    Sometimes you got the other 30% that are really rude and think the world revolves around them..You just have to
    know how to deal with them and if need be “spank” them

  7. Well written, I had my own showroom selling used cars using my own capital. I never sold MG Rover product,if one came in part ex it went straight to the block, no matter what its condition or history. I would photograph and compile a detailed condition report on part exes and if presented any differently the deal was off, once bitten and all that. My money, my cars my terms, if they didnt like it they could go elsewhere. I sold upwards of 5 cars a week every week for 2 years and lost count of the number of clocked, finance owing,written off and on 2 occasions stolen cars I was offered as trade ins..Car dealers need to be on their alert, some customers were just crooks..

  8. An excellent and entertaining piece. I always strive to be a good customer to deal with being in sales all my life myself. The old saying being the easiest person to sell to is a sales person has a ring of truth as we empathise with the person doing the selling. Taking the reasonable punter approach tends to get a good result for everyone and it is rare that my good punters nature has been taken advantage of.

  9. @1

    I remember helping my old boss trade his E46 in for a nice Saab. The radiator was going and the sill was starting to rust (german build quality for you…), a tub of radweld and a touchup paint later and it was faultless. Told him to get shot of it!


    Same for MINI used sales, actually. One even admitted that the finance is a lot more expensive, but that the ‘finance company has an interest in the car’. I’m sure they do, with their army of bailiffs…
    Almost as bad as PC World and their ripoff covercare.

  10. When I first started selling Peugeots in the 1990s (at an old school rural dealership), I worked under a Dealer Principal who had a profound and lasting effect on my career even to this day. Close to retirement back then, his knowledge and passion for selling cars was second to none, and he was a real gent with honesty and integrity as well.
    However is favourite saying to us all was “gentlemen, remember that the biggest crook in the trade is the private motorist…”

  11. I have a nightmare customer at the moment an old boy retired nothing better to do than write practically illegible letters, send recorded delivery and each goes over and over the same dribble again and again.
    The problem is he feels that after he bought, paid and took the car [RAV4] he feels that he should have had at least 5% discount [£300] HE recieved as part of the deal 6 months tax [£143] thrown in and he also purchased a 3 years u/l miles warranty FSA accredited that attracted ipt tax at a discounted price for the warranty of £425 inc ipt.
    The first letter I received said that because the tax showed on the invoice as a breakdown he had paid for it!, this also went on to include the warranty cost a higher figure than he paid with the ipt shown as well [all legally allowed] even though the invoice totalled the correct balance showing the deposit paid he just cannot get it into his thick head he has paid no more or no less than what was agreed when he purchased and took the car.
    He has resorted to passing details to his accountant and has threatened to go to the OFT, Oh and by the way he now says a tyre is illegal even though it was checked by an independent garage who confirm it is within the legal allowed.
    Some of these cretins just have nothing else to do but moan moan and try and snipe back at a dealer any way they can because they feel they can get something out of it.

    The saga continues the old fart hasn’t given up YET!

  12. Car salesman have a bad reputation, but perhaps if some didn’t resort to pressure selling tactics that may change. Years ago I was looking at a Toyota Avensis (honestly, I have no idea why!), the salesman was new (he was so Boltonian he could have been an extra in “Pheonix Nights”) and had to defer to his manager, who turned out to be a “spotty oik” with all the sincerity of a used handkerchief. He was unable to give me a price for my part ex but claimed that if I agreed to buy the Avensis there and then he would “frigging go round to his boss’s house and frigging get him down get a price”. Funnily enough I didn’t bother. Not what I expected from a main franchised dealer! At a Honda dealers I was told to come back next month when I asked someone about a deal on a new car. Bizarre!

  13. I don’t know how you guys can deal with the general public.

    I have no problems discussing sensitive issues with Chief Executives or presenting in front of hundreds of people but the idea of dealing with the average punter scares the living daylights out of me.

    I am probably an easy customer to deal with – I treat it like a professional procurement project (my day job) so I know what I want and what the price should be (as long as I am happy with what I paid so what if I could have saved a couple of hundred quid somewhere else)and it becomes very simple. Also I have a little flex in my specification so its not a unique model.

    The last couple of deals I have done with Barretts Jaguar in Canterbury and Allen Ford in Northampton were very easy and good. I did however remember to drop a quick e-mail to the sales persons responsible thanking them for their help and professionalism.

    I have also been in some Jaguar showrooms recently (the XF Sport Brake seems to have a huge magnet in it that attracts me) and the staff in a couple of different showrooms have been excellent even when I said it would be a good few months before I changed car. They provided me with information and let me kids in the cars to test the build quality in a way that only a 6 and 8 year old can. As a result there is a great chance that they have turned my eldest into a Jaguar driver already (until he can afford the brand new Range Rover that I (apparently) need!

  14. This man sounds like the customer from hell and reminds me of the lunatic who used to appear in Citroen adverts.
    I know some car salesmen can be dodgy and evasive, but sometimes the customers can be a lot worse.

  15. I’m not a car salesperson but did work at the local car breakers during my school/college holidays and weekends. Some of the people i dealt with were unbelievable. We had many people buy an engine and then bring the duff one back and claim it was the one they had got from us and would want their money back. My boss was wise to this and would produce a little book with the engine number from the one we sold. He would also make a little stamp on the engine some where and ask to see it on the “duff” engine. The horror on their faces when they realised they were rumbled. Then the little but loud Irish fella who wanted an alternator for a “red” car.

  16. I’ve recently had both bad and good dealings with main dealers. Buying a used Merc C class estate in January, I found one on Autotrader that looked just the job other than being black (not my favourite colour), but the price was good. There were no pics on the Trader but a phone call to the dealer (actually a Honda main dealer in Blackpool) promised leather seats, cruise control and immaculate condition. The car was being taken as a trade on a new Accord (which should have rung a warning bell) at one of their other branches and they wanted a £500 deposit – which I put up on my credit card. To cut a long story short, after 3 weeks of numerous phone calls, and throwing my toys out of the pram at the sales manager, the car was duly delivered to Blackpool.

    After an hours drive to Blackpool from Cheshire, a quick walk round the Merc revealed: a dent in the drivers’ door, scratches on the tailgate and passenger door, 3 badly kerbed alloys (gouged to hell) plus poverty spec with no cruise or leather. Salesman’s question was “can we do a deal….”. My answer involved him doing an act involving sex and travel, closely followed by demanding my deposit back forthwith.

    I therefore hit the Mercedes approved website and found a couple of possibilities for not that much more money. A call to the dealership in Erdington found me just what I wanted and a salesman prepared to haggle a bit. This time, the car was better than described i.e. immaculate and the dealer had the interior and exterior given a protective coating before I picked it up. Not only that but there was sufficient fuel in the tank to get me home to Cheshire. The whole experience could not have been different.

    Guess which dealer I will be going back to?

  17. Never, ever deal with Arnold Clark, they are the worst of the franchise type dealers. One of my friends, a black belt in tae kwon do and not a shrinking violet, found the tracking was badly out on her Fiesta. They said they had done the work, but when she was driving to York for a TKD seminar, she found the work hadn’t been properly done and the tyre had worn through. This could have caused a fatal accident and she vowed never to go near them again, luckily she didn’t try out her skills in the dealership. Also I have heard stories of them inventing work, selling 1.6 litre cars as 2 litres to make more money, and selling dodgy warranties that are worthless. Yes they might be cheaper than a family dealer, but they’re rubbish.

  18. When I was in my early 20s I went into my local Austin Rover dealership and politely told a salesman I was interested in an MG Metro and asked him for a brochure. He gave me a brochure with the comment “They’re very expensive you know” !

    I thanked him for the brochure and a few weeks later bought a brand new MG Metro from another dealership.

  19. Before I learned more about life I was probably the salesman’s dream customer. When I was 18, back in 1983 I had a 75 Marina 1.8 coupe as my first car, a friend bought a fairly new car so I thought I’d upgrade mine. I visited Frank Voisey Cars in Bristol (Skoda dealer I think) and decided I liked a 4 year old Cavalier 1600L MKI with a sticker price of £1795 (probably worth that and more now!)I enquired about p/ex and the shiny suit offered me about £350 I think, I agreed without question, took the finance and the deal was done !!
    A few years later, a friend went to a Vauxhall dealer, he fancied an Opel Manta, not being the snappiest of dressers he was in his usual jeans and Doc Martens, we browsed the stock on the forecourt stopping at a couple of Mantas. A salesman arrived and said, and I quote “I doubt there’s anything out here in Sir’s price range” ! Needless to say he didn’t get a sale. But a while after we decided to buy a banger between us and paid £150 for a rotten, 3 eyed FE Ventora from another dealer’s chapel of rest.

  20. @ Dominic

    You know, its interesting how many times that comments like yours pop up in the threads.

    If you go back to the old days, the market was buoyant and long before FSA rules and strict practice legislation, selling new cars was pretty much as easy as shelling peas.

    If I go back to 1987 when I did my work experience in a large GM dealer, many of the sales lads made more money than than the managing director and one I knew who lived close by even owned property in Spain.

    Back in those days, you really could cherry pick your customers and get away with blue murder to sell a motor. Another point was that your average salesman was old enough to drive, knew his stuff and was mature enough to charm the birds from the trees.

  21. My wife, who earns over £50,000pa went to a Citroen dealer recently to enquire about a new C1. Turned up in a 3yo fully specked C4 Picasso but we wanted a little run around. Anyway said dealer, for reasons best known to himself, decided the car ‘might be beyond her finances’! Needless to say the man at the Fiat dealership next door copped for a nice sales bonus an hour later!

  22. Car dealerships vary. I know there is this belief that smaller family dealerships are better than the franchises, but it’s not always true that visiting a smaller dealership will be better than a franchise. Sometimes if you want to buy a car more cheaply and have the cash, or a local family dealer can’t offer you credit, the franchises are often a better bet. However, the smaller dealerships usually score better for after care and friendliness as they have more to lose than a huge franchise if things go wrong. Yet for all we hear horror stories about the usual suspects Arnold Clark, I do know the Benfield/Lookers group among the big boys have a good reputation at their Carlisle branch.

  23. Oh the fun I had as a punter for my first brand new car as a fresh-faced 22 year old.

    Had already whittled my shortlist of basic 1.0/1.1 litre superminis down to 4 or 5, but thought I’d get the most from the experience by trying-out all 5 and maybe a couple more of the more interesting but left-field choice ones.

    Despite being smart/casually dressed, polite, very knowledgeable and arriving in a clean-looking 7-year-old VW it was very hard to be taken seriously at most outfits.

    In the end, although the local FIAT did offer a test drive, it was the one in the next town that got my order due to the better attitude of the sales force and the reduced amount of BS about the car/it’s features they spouted at me.

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