Sales Talk : Pulling in the punters, dealers can’t do right for doing wrong

Mike Humble

Well? Looks okay doesn't it? The soon to be launched MG GS is over here undergoing extensive proving and engineering programmes. Enticing walk in customers will help improve brand credibility and concept sell this very important all new model.
Well? Looks okay doesn’t it? MG’s first SUV, the GS, will be launched here at the London
Motor Show on 6 to 8 May. Enticing walk-in customers with free gifts or special offers can
only help improve brand credibility and presence, build up a customer database and concept
sell this very important, all-new model just in time to carve a slice of the thriving
British Compact SUV market

I have AROnline reader and good mate Neil Rapsey to thank for this one following his recent post about MG Motor’s latest offer of a free gift with every test drive on the Facebook page. He asked whether this smacked of desperation on the part of what remains of old the Longbridge empire and it’s certainly split opinion. The idea is that you simply steer into your MG dealer, take a new 3 or 6 out for spin and claim your free gift. There’s a choice of one year’s English Heritage membership, a sat-nav or one year of free breakdown membership. Sounds simple doesn’t it? However, it’s a bit more important than just that.

Let’s therefore isolate the trio of freebies. The first one is great, we are members of this along with the National Trust, they make for really good days out – especially if you like a bit of history. The second one is also really handy – use it yourself or keep in the drawer for that dreaded emergency birthday/Christmas present. What about the last one? Well, that’s equally useful – especially if you drive away from the dealer in your old clunker having not taken the plunge on a new car and much prefer to lurch and clunk around our fair isle in a worn out N -reg Vectra that burns more oil than the QE2.

MG Motor is not, of course, doing this because they are feeling flush – they want to sell you a car and, to do so, they have you entice you through the door to start with. Once you have done that, there’s a 50-50 chance you will buy – pretty good odds by all accounts. The post seems to have split opinion right down the middle, but in my own humble (ahem sniff) opinion I think it’s one of MG Motor’s better marketing ideas. I still shudder at the one they did a little while back whereby, if you dragged the other half into the Sales Centre on 14 February, they would throw a box of chocolates at you. It’s a numbers game.

To give you a smile-worthy example, I once worked with a lad called Barry Follow, who looked like a combination of someone that who had walked out of Belsen in 1945 and The Pogues lead singer, Shane MacGowan. He was colloquially known as ‘hollow legs Follow’ as he could drink more beer in one sitting than Ollie Reed, Paul Gascoigne and Georgie Best put together and still have room for a three-course Indian meal. Every Friday night three of us would go to this God awful club in Bedford – the sort of joint where you could bop away to yesterday’s music and drink beer at tomorrow’s prices today.

That said, for three single twenty somethings, it was heaven. Anyway, Barry would slowly but surely oil his inner cogs and walk up to any and every single-looking female (his prerequisite being at least four working limbs and a pulse) to simply ask if he could… Well, dare I say more? His well-polished patter nearly always worked though sometimes he would get a slap round the gills from the girl concerned or, at worst, a punch up the conk from an angry boyfriend. Let’s just say that, more often than not, three of us would go there but only two of us would come back the taxi. There you go… That’s how the numbers game works!

In the showroom, it’s called conversion – if 20 people walk in, 10 take a test drive and five buy, there’s your conversion. However, dealers cannot and do not just sit and wait twiddling their fingers waiting for the next walk-in customer to arrive – those halcyon days of a packed Saturday showroom are long gone. This is where the free gift or special offer kicks in – it serves not just give a reason for you to walk in, but for the dealers to get you there in the first place. Inflatable dinosaurs, face-painting, a meal for two, they are all basically nothing more than honey traps set by the dealers or manufacturers.

The average salary before commission these days for a new volume brand Car Sales Executive is around £10K and it’s not that long ago that many worked on a commission-only structure. In some showrooms, the pressure is so great it could make a bronze statue weep but, in my own personal experience, I found it enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding both financially and mentally. I got no bigger a buzz than seeing a customer almost jump with joy at the point where you shake their hand and hand over the glistening virgin keys to the second biggest purchase most adults ever make in their lifetime.

Oh God no not him! But oddly enough this marketing campaign and massive play on the word "free" has turned the company around from a local unheard into a national leader in its field.
Oh, no not him! Oddly enough this marketing campaign and massive play on the word ‘free’
has turned the company around from a local unheard of into a national leader in its field
almost overnight

Mind you, some marketing ploys actually have the reverse effect. Remember Radio Rentals and Box Clever? Well, in the dying days of rented TVs and Nicam stereo video recorders someone up on the ninth floor hit upon the idea of hiring in local mobile DJs who would plonk a huge speaker in the doorway of the local branch. After cranking up his or her gramophone to number eleven, they would blast out a trillion watts of racket into the High Street while intermittently shouting out the latest deals on the current range of rental goodies – it flopped, rather badly in fact.

The public would sometimes cross over to other side of the road to avoid a shattered eardrum. After various branches copped brown envelopes from their Local Authority Noise Teams and the Bedford HQ received pleas from Store Managers up and down the land, they packed it in. Desperate times do, indeed, dictate desperate measures. Posters in shop windows, those bloody annoying double-glazing adverts with that balding, yelling North country bloke are nothing more than a proven way of getting you COME DOWN NOW or to plant a seed in your mind.

Offers like the aforementioned free gift for a whizz round the block from be it MG or any other car manufacturer can bring in far more revenue than the initial outlay and it’s nothing new. I’ve worked for dealers doing similar things – it does bring in business when done properly. Do I think MG is doing it right? Well, let’s just say I think it’s a huge improvement over previous efforts. The soon-to-be launched GS is pretty much the right car at the right time and the more the public are made aware, the more secure the future of Longbridge should be – that’s surely a good thing, isn’t it?

One thing is a fact with any manufacturer – in some folk’s eyes; they are damned when they don’t try to bang the drum and damned when they do.

Mike Humble


  1. I for one Hope it works and generates a lift in sales. I do think the GS is the last chance for MG in the UK however it is launching into a sector that buyers are flocking to. Did anyone see the bit about the MG3 in this weeks Autocar?

  2. I suppose the prospect of a free Land Rover Experience voucher with a test drive of a Freelander worked for me in 2011. I bought the car and anothe 3 since.
    I think that they would have to be a bit more ambitious on the prizes than this to get me into a Chinese car though!

  3. I suppose the prospect of a free Land Rover Experience voucher with a test drive of a Freelander worked for me in 2011. I bought the car and another 3 Land Rovers since.
    I think that they would have to be a bit more ambitious on the prizes than this to get me into one of SIAC’s products though!

  4. Might help if MG offered to bring a test drive car round to the potential customer’s house, especially given the current patchy geographic spread.

    You can never tell with advertising – the current cringeworthy and intensely irritating Tesco TV adverts apparently have been more successful than the lavish John Lewis and Sainsbury Christmas campaigns….

    I hope the GS does well but I can’t help thinking it’s a clone of a Ssangyong launched as much as 7 years ago but with a nicer interior.

  5. The problem isn’t with the car as such, it’s probably just as competent as all the competition, the problem is that they’re trying to sell it as something it’s not and even if it works that something is a flawed brand.. People in their 40s remember spavined metros, maestros and montegos, people in their 20s wouldn’t know what an MGBGT looked like if they’d just been hit by it, and anyone over 60 remembers the allegro, including my father’s memory of one that ate three gearboxes in 3 months and reduced its owner to tears (a engineer, who was religious about caring for his vehicles) because he thought he’d done something wrong when it was Neil the nerk at the dealer replacing the wrong part with the wrong part. Add to that the joys of buying chinglish and you’ve got baby boomers who wouldn’t touch anything associated with Rover/MG because of reliability and build, their kids who heard all the stories plus the dreck that was my generation – maestro etc (although to be fair the 800/600 were OK, bar subframes welded together with plus/minus an inch tolerance and warp speed rust) and their kids getting it from both generations upon mention that the new MG3/6/GS looks good.. To paraphrase hunt for red october “it would have been better if you had not mentioned the last 40 years… “. Not to mention selling something it strictly is not, you could probably say in its strictest sense it’s a counterfeit – trades descriptions could be taken to its extreme to say it’s a pretence about being descended from a lineage of great British sports cars in the same way as me saying I’m related to the last King of France because my surname is somewhat French..
    It might not matter so much in other countries but people here have long memories – ask a Lancia exec..
    I might well buy the MG cars was I in the position to do so, but not on the basis that they’re British because they’re bolted together in a factory that in a former life that it’s probably trying to have removed from Google, it built the all-aggro equipe.
    Still there is a use for the Allegro, if by chance the Daleks attack and the defense forces show up in them, the Daleks will all die laughing.
    More honesty about the brand will help no end.

  6. PS, the less said about that northern berk punting windows the better. That’s one of the few adverts I’d come on down for, with a chainsaw and a manic grin, another one are the money supermarket ones or those 1300% interest payday loan ones, how the people who star in those sleep at night..

  7. @ Jemma, these types of adverts tend to fill up daytime ITV 1 and 2, whose viewers are often the poorest and most susceptible to loan shark companies, where they are lured to borrow £ 1000 straight away, with the small print briefly appearing that tells them the APR is 1000 per cent. ITV should really stop showing these adverts, but as they pay Phil Schofield’s massive salary for discussing last night’s soaps, and probably make a profit for them, they’re unlikely to stop showing payday loan adverts and dubious bingo apps, where no one wins but are encouraged to spend more and more each time they play.

  8. MG3 in this week’s AUTOCAR ?? I had already read it cover-to-cover and had to go back for a closer look!! It is NOT where you would expect it 😉

  9. Glenn, amen to that. A friends ex husband just lost his flat after his son gambled away the 700 quid rent money for that month, courtesy of one of the TV advertised gambling concerns – despite admitting it – they got chucked on the street.
    Cameron, Duncan Smith and the rest of them should be strung up too for how they’ve treated people – over 600 have suicided as a direct result, notwithstanding the people whose disability benefits have been cancelled after they died of their conditions. It bears investigation under the suicide act & I wouldn’t be surprised, treason acts as well… The chances of that happening are about as good as a Chicago cop giving a black teenager a hug..

  10. @ Jemma, rather like the dubious ITV Play channel was closed down as it was really just a money making exercise through premium rate phone lines, OFCOM should step in and ban advertising for pay day loans and bingo apps.
    However, this is drifting a bit off topic. With regard to loud music being used to advertise businesses, my local branch of Arnold Clark, for reasons best known to itself, seems to like to play rave music over the tannoys. It might be to attract boy racers into buying some sporting version of a Citroen C1, or someone in the dealership likes it, but it is annoying to the other customers and probably another reason to stay away from Shark’s evil empire.

  11. Going back to Mike’s original text and final comment – dammed when they do bang the drum and dammed when they dont – there have been plenty of previous comments on this site bemoaning MG’s lack of advertising and brand promotion so lets praise this initiative – and the great £2,000 trade in deal they have offered recently and the 0% finance offer. We surely can’t accuse them of not trying..

    Also, it seems to be paying off with the 35% growth in MG sales in 2015 – and on the road I am seeing more and more MG3’s – yes and I drive one too now – and one of the rather charming benefits of new MG ownership is that some of the other MG3’s I do see sometimes flash their lights and wave! Not something you get driving a Fiesta!

    So MG is on the up and the GS does look good. Finally right car right time for MG?
    Lets hope so, but I do fear that like it’s stablemates, it will launch with only one engine choice – a 1.5T petrol – so the price has still got to be good – and the test drive offers..

  12. Many years ago, I took a test drive in an Alfasud Ti. Quite a tasty little car, with very responsive steering, not least due to the low centre of gravity. I knew that if I bought one, I would have it Ziebarted immediately; especially as the (dealer fit?) glass sunroof was dripping water onto my scalp.
    ANYWAY, the freebie which got me into the showroom was a Jacqmar ladies’ scarf. It was passed on to my mother as a Christmas present. “Oh, that’s lovely”, she said, “it must have been expensive”. My only reply was an enigmatic smile!

  13. Has anyone seen the email from MG withe countdown clock for the GS launch? Indicates May 3rd…….. Hope the diesel is available from launch otherwise it is in danger of being another own goal flop.

  14. I still have the carriage clock I got for test driving a metro back in the 1980s. I suspect it’s working better now than the metro I ended up buying!

  15. So when Mrs K wants to replace her MINI Countryman Cooper S with all the bells and whistles will there be an MG to tempt her? She wants quality, spec including sunroof and heated windscreen, and a powerful sporty engine that can much more than pull the skin off a rice pudding. A good range of body and interior trim colours? At the moment she is thinking of another MINI (next gen Countryman), BMW X1, VW Tiguan (new model) , Volvo or even a Skoda Yeti like the younger daughter. So the Knowles family may get another SUV, but will it be an MG? It would probably help if we had a dealer nearby; we have two BMW/MINI ones to choose from.

    • The GS is being launched later this year, and MG do seem to be building out their dealer network – certainly NI went from 1 to 2, to 1, to none, to 2 again which seem to be ticking over with MG3 sales.

  16. Vouchers for the national trust? Oh god here we go again! Let’s entice all the retired couples and oldies to look at this car (Let’s face it it’s only older people that would use or be interested in National Trust vouchers!). I thought MG would want to encourage a younger, more dynamic audience, like the 30-40 year olds the Evoque currently appeals to.. This looks like it’s going to go full circle again with MG being a brand of Octogenarians and not the public as a whole, just as Rover was for most of the 90s and 2000s…

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