So you really want to succeed in car sales? Here’s how to do it…

Automotive retail consultant James Litton examines the true essence of sales craft

Time 7:31 am, March 14, 2022

You never forget your first proper job.

Despite my parents imploring me not to leave university with only a year to go, I knew a car showroom was where I wanted to be.

I’d done two years of my retail management degree and had committed to working at Currys during my placement year.

The problem with the Currys job? My heart wasn’t in it.

I was working in a store selling anything from toasters to TVs. However, I only liked to sell items I felt comfortable with and that I was giving good advice about, and for me that was audio systems.

Currys had offered me training and a very comprehensive week-long course on sales skills, which I greatly enjoyed.

The MCMR (‘My Customer My Responsibility’) mantra has long stayed with me, and I’ve advocated this ethos to any inexperienced salesperson.

It also majored on FAB (‘Features Advantages Benefits’) and how to present them.

The problem was, I didn’t much care to learn about the features of a Zanussi or Hotpoint washing machine, far less their advantages or benefits.

However, when I was offered a post as a placement dogsbody at a Rover dealer, all of those lessons paid off.

The unquestioned big dog was Gus. Gus was big in every sense of the word. BIG guy, BIG numbers, BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG on bull.

My mentor, though, was Paul. He encompassed everything I wanted to be as a salesperson – warm, friendly and knowledgeable.

He never earned the most or topped the sales charts, but he seemed to enjoy his work the most.

With Paul as a mentor in my early career and latterly having an interest in human behaviour, I’d like to think that I’ve become a very effective salesperson.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel H Pink writes that in many day-to-day interactions, someone is trying to sell something.

Getting the kids to tidy their room, getting a colleague to make you a tea, asking the builder for a lower quote… We’re all selling every day but seldom recognise it.

The term ‘consultative selling’ has been around for decades, but for me this is the true essence of sales craft.

Identifying a need or desire for something that may not be awoken in the subject is both rewarding and addictive.

Gus wasn’t a sales genius, despite his sales figures suggesting he was. Gus was a liar and a cheat.

What annoyed me then is the same thing that annoys me now: he got away with it for long enough to earn a nice living.

Gus had joined the business I worked for after he falsified finance documents at his previous employer, but he was caught and subsequently sacked.

The car sales professionals in the franchised world today are more like Paul and less like Gus.

What really saddens me is that the real Guses of the world now live in the Cabinet.

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Advocates for the Tory party seem to turn a blind eye to the immoral, reprehensible and possibly illegal actions of No 10 in the same way my sales manager ignored Gus’s indiscretions.

However, I am comforted that Gus always went too far, his insatiable greed resulting in one devious act too many, and I just hope that the same happens to this government.

This column appears in issue 168 of Car Dealer, along with news, views, features, reviews and much more! To read and download it for free, click here.

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