Sales Talk : Pitch perfect? Far from it…

Taking the cars to the customer if they don’t come to you is just one way of creating business. However, missed opportunities happen all too often as our Mike Humble witnessed only recently.

The sad thing is though it’s just oh so very simple to get it right.

A newly-appointed MG dealer proudly displays their wares in a busy County city. Great idea, even greater opportunity, too. But such as shame it was breathtakingly poorly done. It’s just not good enough

Once upon a time, long ago, your typical dealership on a Saturday was not far short of being as busy as a supermarket the day before a bank holiday. Thanks, in part, to the Internet, showrooms are much quieter as more people browse and ponder online.

We still, of course, visit the gin palaces to test drive and hammer out, but footfall traffic as it’s known in the trade is vastly reduced these days. To sell cars or even just to create an interest dealers often resort to different tactics. So, if the customer traffic isn’t coming into the dealership the answer is simple – take the cars to the customers.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is by renting a small bit of floor space in the town/city centre or shopping arcade and hey presto… all the customer traffic anyone could dream of. This idea is not new, of course, and dealers tend to be reluctant to sign up to the notion (they hate spending money to make it).

How it works

Trust me, it works – if, that is, you put in a little effort and can live with sore feet for a day or two afterwards. But if you have an unmotivated salesman who cannot work unsupervised and would rather lock the car doors and hide in Costa all day then it’s all been a waste of time.

I used to love the outdoor events. Armed with a wad of business cards, some pens and an A4-margined notepad attached to a clip board you basically spoke to anyone who showed an interest in the car. Having done this in unglamorous places such as shopping centres and as big as the NEC, I’ll tell you, with hand on heart, honestly there’s no better way of banging the drum and creating a path straight to your desk in the showroom.

A weekend of manning a dealer pitch in a busy shopping centre once gleaned me over eighty contacts on my pad. Out of that number about twenty confirmed appointments were made and 10 bought a car – good going that is!

Canterbury tales

The missus and I recently visited Canterbury – a city we both love to trudge around. She does the shopping while I visit my favourite sweet shop (Barrett’s Jaguar) and chat to Harry Wilkinson their affable trainee salesman – if he’s not too busy, of course. During our recent visit there, we noticed that a newly-appointed MG dealer had one of these aforementioned rent-a-pitch sites right smack bang in the centre of Canterbury’s pedestrian shopping walk.

There looking resplendent was a shiny silver MG3 and an Indesit white MG GS with a brace of banner flags right outside M&S… you really couldn’t get a better spot if you tried.

This rather scruffy looking chap who I mistook for being a browsing customer was actually the man running the pitch. Bereft of product knowledge, cards, a pen or a notepad it made no sense as to why he was there. You don’t have to know it all… just look the part and take down details for someone else from the company to follow up via a cheery ‘phone call soon after – how simple is that?

The other half groaned and muttered something like, ‘oh lord, I’m going in Marks’ see you in a minute,’ and left me outside in the sunshine. The city centre was heaving by this time but I noticed there was no salesman around and the cars were unlocked – not ideal.

I opened the door of the base model GS and a mature chap in well-worn cords, trainers and a hoodie hopped out of the other side, walked round the back and sat on the open boot floor looking rather bored. Mentioning something banal as one man says to another stranger, it transpired that he was the person manning the site. But when I asked him a quick question about the car things took a turn for the worse.

Dressing down for the occasion

In a rather over-familiar manner, he told me the GS was available in three engine sizes of 1.1-, 1.5- and a 1.7-litre diesel (that’s news to us all, eh?) and I was advised to steer clear of the diesel unless I did big mileages – an old Peugeot engine so he told me because in his words not mine, ‘it clanks around a bit’.

Now okay, fair enough, product knowledge is a sticky subject, but if he didn’t know the cars that well then all he needed to do was take down the names and numbers of potential customers met on the day and tell them a salesman will get back in due course – that’s how it’s done, you see.

But he didn’t, not to me or the nice-looking couple who I slid away from to let him ply his craft, nor the affluent looking older man after that – what a waste of time and money.

This nice-looking couple made all the right noises about being in the market to buy. He never bothered to note their names or numbers despite the couple asking all the questions

Eventually my long0suffering better half came out of the store and we retired to a nearby coffee shop where we sat outside basking in warm sunshine. I noticed he continued to sit there perched on the tailgate happily ignoring curious passers by unless they spoke to him first.

Now before some of you foam and bleat on about MG bashing, this is not the case as I have seen our local Ford dealer spectacularly ignore folk in our own shopping centre in leafy Horsham quite regularly – not to mention other dealers being guilty of the same failure. As the saying goes; people buy from people, you only get out what you put in so far as sales or success matters.

Another mountain to climb

However, MG Motor has a much bigger mountain to climb than other brands. In the eyes of the general trade scene they are a laughing stock with an image of cheapskate advertising and patchy aftersales support. Regardless of the closure of Longbridge, so far as car production is concerned, most of us with a sensible head don’t want MG to fail and fade into the pages of history.

That said, witnessing such apathy and poor practice from the coalface like the dealers themselves who, for the record, invest substantial sums of money for the privilege of selling the brand, it’s getting ever harder to fathom in terms of viability – and difficult to recommend as a new car purchase.

And that’s a real shame too. The trade should and needs more Harrys and fewer, er, oh, that other chap never did tell me his name!

Mike Humble


  1. I have seen a similar thing with MG’s in the Merry Hill shopping centre. It’s a no brainer to generate leads and get the brand known but, for heaven sakes, if you’re a sales manager who is too shy/self-important and prefer to sit behind a showroom desk browsing the internet pretending to look busy get a proper sales agent to do it – there sounds to be a business opportunity here?

  2. Go on keep moaning at MG.Getting very bored of all this MG bashing.Was the sales pitch good enough,no but please tell me that no other dealer makes mistakes.MINI went on a 1 day strike the other day,no words here from anyone.If it had been MG it would have made more noise.

    • No… I’m not buying that, its not MG bashing at all. The point was made that other dealer groups are just as guilty. But… and its a BIG BUT, other brands have a better image / back up / Infrastructure / Parts availability and Model by model USP that MG sadly do not in its current guise.

      As per the article mentions the dealers pay a fair lump sum up front just for the privilege of a red banner and octagon totem planted into the forecourt. The dealers also know or at least ought to know the shortcomings – hence why many operate a sizable used car pitch and / or another brand.

      When you look at a small UK presence such as MG, the times of LADA and Skoda of old spring to mind. The cars may have been a bit wonky but the dealer group offered a Rola Cola price structure with Rolls Royce levels of customer care – that was their USP… and by jingo it worked!

      So… If MG Motor UK can’t make a good account for themselves, then its down to the goodwill of the dealers who on the whole tend to be smaller family affairs with much much more than money alone to loose if all goes wrong.

      But if the dealers cannot be bothered as seen in Kent and you couple that to the UK HQ that seems unable to really drive home that MG is around for the long run and operates on a budget for less money than it costs to feed my cat for a week – well… where do you go from there?

      The thing that really annoys is the fact that they know at Longbridge what’s going on out there and what their shortcomings really are but either they or the Chinese parent company *wont listen / don’t care / cannot be bothered with the British market.

      * = delete as applicable.

  3. What a shambles! Such a location with plenty of footfall should be an ideal opportunity for attracting potential customers to the MG range (albeit only 2 models)

  4. It was the same at the BTCC stands . The reps were often scruffy looking and wearing jeans ! Next door at Honda everybody had a consistent and smart attire .

  5. They should do us all a favour and pack it in for good. Unless you’ve been to Outer Mongolia for the past ten years everybody knows it’s a now a tarnished brand~unfortunately. Product not good enough, it s not British anymore and there are so many better cars out there.

  6. Our local MG dealer here in Swansea had a 2 car pitch outside the local Tesco extra, which is a very busy store but there were no salesmen/saleswoman only the dealer banner on the roof with the number to call if interested. That’s it nothing else not even information leaflets, unsurprisingly not one person was stopping to take a look.

    • It was much better, and in some ways it was better than the BMW era that preceded it.

      The knots and bends in the communication were shorter and less complicated for starters. If you were in a PVH-R dealership you had instant access to the factory – in many cases able to leap-frog the bigger dealer groups in terms of accessing cars literally as they plopped off the track.

      Decisions were made faster and implemented quickly too, the Monogram scheme really worked and made money. The company battled on for five years simply because the right number of key people in key departments such as logistics and engineering actually gave a damn and had fire in their belly – often working by candlelight, outside of office hours, under the radar and unpaid for their extra toil… just ask Ian Pogson!

      Ok so the fab Phoenix four didn’t make friends by 2005 but it was the men and women in the plant on the tracks and behind the scenes, many of the dealers and marketing who ran the company.

      Despite the top level management issues, the bandy gang of four knew the long term shortcomings of PVH and they knew they were dead without collaboration on a global scale – John Towers virtually said as such barely hours after the take-over.

  7. A complete embarassment, a half arsed salesman in a hooded top and trainers, no wonder MG struggle. A few weeks ago, a local Toyota dealer was showing off their new crossover on market day and the well turned out young woman was very knowledgeable about the car and handed out her business card.

  8. Who, or what, is the target market for mg’s anyway? I’ve seen a few 3’s about and only a handful of 6’s, the 3’s I’ve seen around tend to be driven by youngish people and to be fair it’s quite a pleasing looking car and offers an alternative to the young kids of today who were traditionally of the Saxo/Clio persuasion. I’d quite like to see a scheme with the 3 like free insurance for a year as that would get young people into them and then surely others would slowly follow. Do people who once bought rovers now go out and buy mg’s or do they see it as not the ‘true’ mg? The point is though I guess, as already alluded to is that surely if you’ve got a brand that’s not seen as fashionable then surely you make up for the shortcomings in other areas, like good customer service by professional looking sales agents. I probably wouldn’t stop and talk to this guy if I’m honest.

  9. I understand the point this article is trying to make, but I find it a bit creepy taking photos of people without them being aware, and then publishing them on the internet.

    No laws broken, but still a bit odd.

  10. The local MG dealer has been doing well at marketing, often taking out adverts on the front page footer of the local newspaper.

    I’ve seen them park a liveried (price etc.) MG3 outside the old police station on the way out of town.

    They were a family Rover dealer, then moved to Citroen. As a result, you see a lot of Rovers and Citroens around the town. MGs are now a common sight, 3s and saw my first GS – it looked very Toyota-ish, does not look like a cheap product at all!

    • An example of the local MG dealer local paper ad from about a year ago

      Of course this has now been updated with the 3, GS and finance information.

      But still, good effort from the local ex-Rover small family dealer.

  11. There’s a photo elsewhere on Aronline of an MG dealer doing a vehicle handover in front of what looks like a collapsing garden fence..

      • Sums up MG in this country, a salesman in a hoody and an old man buying a car from a dealership with all the glamour of Arthur Daley’s used car lot. They could learn a lot from my local Toyota dealer, where a woman in an immaculate corporate skirt and blouse was promoting the CH-R crossover and clearly knew her product well. Also using a saleswoman, who aren’t too common in the industry, was a useful promotional tool to attract female buyers.

        • The point about female sales staff to appeal to female buyers is very valid. Motor industry figures for the last 10 to 15 years for the UK show major increases in cars registered to female owners, for males the figures show modest increases, an indication of near-saturation point for the latter, a 50:50 ratio is still some way off therefore the growth market in the next decade may well be the female owner

          • Where once there was a large gap between men and women who drove, the gap has narrowed massively in the last 40 years and most better off households where the man and woman work will own two cars. Yet I can only think of the local Toyota dealer and a Skoda dealership in Carlisle that have saleswomen.

  12. A Car Sales environment does seem to attract a certain type of “Jack-the Lad Thirty-Bob Millionaire”

    A car salesman who was given a “second chance” after attempting to cover up his criminal past has been jailed after stealing £128,770 from a luxury car franchise.

    The Crown Court heard how 49-year-old, had been sacked by another branch for covering up his convictions but was handed a £58,000 job after the dealership decided to give him a chance.

    The show of faith proved misplaced, however, when he admitted taking the six-figure sum via fraud and money laundering between May 1, 2015 and June 3 last year.

    The defendant had been employed at another luxury car dealership for about a month in 2014 before his dismissal for failing to disclose his convictions.

    Another “dealership gave him a chance” and employed him as a sales executive, selling cars on a salary of £58,000 a year with a company car.

    The dealer principal was told by a sales executive a short time later that the defendant had taken £8,000 cash from a customer and paid it into his personal account.

    After concerns were raised about another £15,000 the defendant confessed, telling his employers to go to the police before blaming gambling debts from his past as the trigger of his stealing.

    “The defendant took skilful steps to cover his tracks to prevent the fraud being discovered. “When a car was due to be delivered, he would sell another car to balance the books.”

    The defendant had convictions for 41 previous offences dating back to 1992 and had previously been jailed for handling stolen goods and drugs offences.

    The Dealer Principal “knew what had happened” – when the defendant was sacked by another luxury car franchise – but was “prepared to give the defendant a chance” with a “good job” on a “comfortable salary” and a car.

    Jailing the defendant for three years, the Judge said: “I am sure they bitterly regret trusting you when he knew that others wouldn’t do so.”

  13. Might be worth contacting the dealer and asking for their perspective. Maybe the guy in the hoody was just minding the cars while the salesman was in M&S getting sign-off on a 250 car fleet deal.

    But then again….

  14. MG more than any other brand present on UK market should be the most cosseting when it comes to marketing. Getting business is quite a fierce battle, an unknown entity can’t afford scruffy/dodgy chaps to represent the brand. Not at 10K+, it’s not a £50 tablet…

  15. I find customer care varies by manufacturer. Ford seem mostly interested in fleet deals and don’t seem as interested in private buyers and having Arnold Clark as your local dealer means hopeless after sales care. However, the local Kia dealer, where my family get their Motability cars from and who mainly deal with private buyers, has a vastly better standard of customer care where the salesmen know the customers by name, the 7 year warranty offers better peace of mind, and the staff are knowledgable and far more professional than Arnold Clark over the road.

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