As with most members of the male species, I enjoy anything to do with motor cars. I regularly read up on websites and check out the specifications and performance figures for the latest models. I’m quite confident that my brothers and I know more about cars than the average individual out there.
So naturally one of our favourite past times has been visiting car dealerships and checking out the latest models; since 2002 my immediate family has purchased no less than seven cars.
But this article is not about cars. It concerns the people who sell them, the so-called “salesmen”. Now it is true that not everyone who walks into a dealership will buy a car, and I would imagine that for every 100 people that cross the floor, maybe only one or two would make the purchase. But everyone who comes into the dealership is a potential customer.
The Ineffective Salesmen
When I returned from the Caymans, I was definitely looking for a car and with the recession and downturn of the economy I somewhat expected that people would bend over backwards to try and make the sale. But here are some of the experiences I encountered:
• A couple of my e-mail enquiries were not answered, even when I left my contact details at the bottom.
• My brother and I walked into a Volvo dealership and all the salesmen were busy on their computers and ignored us completely (Maybe that is the reason Volvo hasn’t sold as many S40s and S60s as they would have liked).
• Some security guards will provide you with a little slip as you enter the parking lot of the dealership, which they require you to have been signed by the person you spoke to when leaving the premises. We received this form at the gate at the VW dealership in Midrand, went around looking at their cars. When we were done my brother presented the form to one of the salesmen to sign us out. He promptly signed it without asking if we had been helped or found what we had been looking for.
• A salesman from one of the better VW dealerships took us for a test drive of the new Polo. I told him I was keen to buy and told him what I wanted in terms of colour and model. He took my details and promised to phone me if he found the model that I wanted. To this day 7 months down the line he hasn’t contacted me.
• I saw a whole lot of salesmen who spoke to me when I enquired about cars, but I got the impression that some of them would rather be doing something else and not a single one of them were interested in offering a discount to sweeten any potential sale.
My brother bought a new VW Golf 6 a few months ago from BennoiCiti. After the sale he also recommended we speak to the salesman with whom he dealt.
The Good Salesman
I was not looking to spend a lot of money and was only interested in the cheaper VW Polo. The salesman took us for a test drive, sat down with us and spoke about colours, spec levels etc. He even spent some time going through his stock lists with us. Within half an hour of leaving the dealership I had a quote for the Polo in the colour I wanted, including a discount.
The next day he gave me an even better deal on a new VW Golf (a car I have always wanted since I was a student). Not only did I get a bigger, better car than the Polo, but I received a discount of around 10% on the recommended selling price. The salesman got a 10 out of 10 rating from me and I have recommended him to my colleagues and friends.
Whenever I have had queries on the car, this salesman replies promptly to my e-mails and he has provided his company car for the use for the day whenever my brother and I need a service on our Golfs. I will also buy another VW from this salesman in the future.
Even though the above mentioned salesman is really, really excellent, he isn’t the best car salesman I have encountered. That honour belongs to a gentleman that I will call Jonathan H. (I can’t mention his name or the previous salesman because I haven’t obtained their permissions).
The Great Salesman
I met Jonathan at the BMW dealership when the company was running a promotion to get rid of some of their old 3 Series BMWs because the new 3 Series was about to be launched.
I wasn’t really looking to buy, I was just curious and more interested in getting something for my father. My dad’s Volvo had recently broken down on a trip back to East London so I was looking to see what he could get from BMW. I spent my lunch break with Jonathan and was mightily impressed with his knowledge of cars in general.
He didn’t appear to force a sale and gave good advice regarding the cars in the 3 Series range. He even went as far to say that if my dad sold his Volvo for a BMW 320i my dad would be disappointed by the lack of power and rear space. Wow, that was refreshing! A salesman giving you genuine advice rather than shooting down competitors just to make a sale.
He even gave me a copy of the new 3 Series brochure even before it was officially made available to the public. His words were, “We are not allowed to send this to our clients, but screw it, why shouldn’t our clients see this.”
I met up with Jonathan a few months later, again looking for a car for my father. I also knew that as the new 3 Series was being launched, BMW would be desperate to get rid of their stock of older model 3 Series. We went around looking at the stock he had on hand, with the requirements that I wanted such as automatic gearbox and sunroof.
He even told me that his bosses were desperate to sell these cars and he would get them to give me a good discount. I got a really good deal on really good condition 3 Series and my brothers and I would have got it for my dad. In the end we didn’t get the car, but at no stage was Jonathan disappointed or told me that I was wasting his time.
I was so impressed with Jonathan that I told him I felt really disappointed that I couldn’t buy a car from him and I related some of the experiences I had with other slack salesmen. He told me that as a salesman the customer pays for his rent and puts food on his table and if someone is going to do that, he will move heaven and earth to help them.
Jonathan also told me about a time when he worked at Lexus: there was a man who came into the dealership at least once a week for an entire year, just chatting to the salesmen and looking at the cars. The other salesmen never took the guy seriously and always joked about him. One day the guy came in and looked at the really top of the range Lexus, asked about the price and bought the car right on the spot! He even did the bank transfer at Jonathan’s desk. The price of the deal was R1,3 million! ($175 000 US)
Ferrari Came Knocking
Mr H. recently told me that he went for an interview with Ferrari (I found out the next day he got the job). The position would involve spending four months in Maranello for training and two tickets to Italy every year; one of them for the Grand Prix. He wouldn’t just be a salesman, but would be involved in either requisitions or client relations for Ferrari South Africa. They were, in short, offering him a career at Ferrari, as opposed to being just a salesman at the BMW dealership. The above job would be the ultimate dream for any petrol head.
Well, how did he get the job? He sold a BMW to a friend of the Managing Director of Ferrari SA. The friend was so impressed with Jonathan’s service that he recommended him to the Managing Director.
Jonathan started at Ferrari at the end of April and even told me that if I bought a BMW from him and had to take delivery of the vehicle after he left, he would take a day off from Ferrari to come oversee the delivery himself. He felt that the person was buying a car from him as a person rather than from BMW the organisation. I 100% agree with him; often I have bought some item because the salesman gave me peace of mind that I was getting the best advice or the best product for my requirements.
Selling is more than just the Product
Now if you are involved in sales, ask yourself, “Am I selling myself or just my product?” And if you not selling the product, it is because you haven’t sold yourself first.
I believe that everyone has the potential to do better then their current standing, but not everyone has the courage and determination to want it enough.
And that is why whenever I encounter a car salesman who is “too busy” to leave their desk to ask if they can help or knows very little about the car they are “trying” to sell me, I remember that not everyone wants to drive a Ferrari as their company car.