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  • MilesDriven

The way things were. The Motor Trade has changed.

Times are changing fast, and so is the way we interact with car dealers.

Getting older doesn't mean you are old or outdated, but things change, and those that are taught the old way both benefit and struggle. Nurses in the NHS used to have a grueling entry into their working life, take nothing away from the nurses of today, but as my grandmother would say, they just don't make them like us anymore. Her entry was the old school way of sink or swim, nothing should be beyond your grasp, and since the nation was only just finding its footing from a war, this makes sense. It was perfectly conceivable that our nurses may be called into situations that no training could ever prepare for, and so there was no easing into it. You either cracked and moved on, or you prevailed.

Comparing the motor trade to such a noble profession is preposterous, but similarities can be drawn. Especially the split in generation. Upon my entry to the trade, I was a fresh-faced teenager, given the job because I had a driving license, a chatty nature, and a newly found interest in snooker that the sales manager liked. He spent most of my interview regaling stories of his best break. Since he was a veteran of the trade, missing half his ear from a dustup as a young man and had little time for fools, I listened and spoke only when instructed. My colleagues were in their 40's and set in their ways, many had more stories than James Patterson, of varying embellishment. As a young pup, my target was to keep up with these men, and they were exclusively men, one woman worked as a sales manager and had earned the respect of even the longest standing salesman. Many chose not to take the promotion, they lived for the hunt and the kill. Saddling them behind a desk would be a one-way ticket to the bottle, and sadly I saw several lose their jobs after turning up to work in no fit state to drive, but getting behind the wheel before anyone noticed.

These were the old order, they didn't speak to any salesman that hadn't been around for 6 months, I was told on several occasions that I wouldn't be around long enough to bother learning my name. Long hours, huge pressure, and managers with hair-trigger rage would have seen me off within a week had it not been for one salesman. A Polish man in his late twenties that took a shine to me. I'll keep his name off here for now, but he knows who he is. Having been in the special forces in his home country he was the type that didn't know defeat, and with a revolving door of Polish customers keen to speak to someone in their mother tongue, he never slipped too far from the very top of the sales leader board. The old order left him alone, mainly through fear of his biceps and clinical knowledge of rearranging the body parts of people that got in his way. Some of this may have been bravado, but even the owner kept a safe distance and didn't once mention that being clean-shaven was part of the uniform, his styled facial hair went unnoticed on the morning line ups to check our shoes. Yes, I'm being serious, you would swear we had signed up for boot camp, but standards were kept high.

Towering over everyone certainly helped me, even if I was built like a wire coat hanger, and after a year I had made friends, some for life. The dinosaurs took to me, and one other young gun that survived the pressure of several 80 hour weeks on the trot.

If all this sounds a bit toxic and outdated, it's supposed to, the trade was guarded this way, there are too many shysters out there selling cars that if one slips through the net of an established garage, they quickly poison the pool.

Eventually, I moved on, when I did I was the 8th longest-standing salesmen out of 40. Two women had joined the sales ranks by this time and proved themselves equally stoic, I think they are both still in the trade today.

There are many characters and stories from this time in my life, some can be found over in the motor trade stories section, but for now, it's time to talk of how the trade has changed.

Some rules that were ingrained in me, email enquires aren't serious and go to the back of the queue, the phone takes second place to someone in front of you, even if it's a long-standing customer, deal with the person before you above all else. Buyers are liars, and no one in the history of mankind has dragged their family to a forecourt, just for a look. Whether these are truths or not is beside the point, they were our truths. Added to this was sell on the day or never see them again, and there are only ever three reasons a customer won't buy, the car, the money, or you. All can be changed on the spot, and there is no pride lost in letting another salesman take over when you've exhausted your best effort.

Now everything I've described up to this point was horribly outdated in 2007, today I may as well be describing a different planet in a sci-fi novel today. Some of the basics remain, shiny shoes and sharp suits remain ubiquitous. Passion for cars is a hindrance to any salesman outside of the specialist sector, and if you didn't listen at school you can earn a lot more money in the trade than many of your peers.

We all lived for the jokes years ago, the fun that earning a living from shifting metal afforded us, this appears lacking today, every penny is squeezed and every hour recorded. Performance reviews weren't a six-monthly affair years ago, instead, you got one each morning, and if you still had a job after a bad sales day, consider yourself lucky. I remember a particularly poor weekend ending with us all lined up and told two of us needed to hand in our notice. This was the perilous pit we experienced together the pendulum swung away from us. It was tough and pushed us all to work harder, at the time six days a week in and over sixty hours of work was not out of the ordinary.

Today, emails and phones appear king, and these are tightly watched to make sure you don't break any new rules on pushing a finance package on someone. The art of convincing severely watered down. Some may say this is a good thing, it stops the public from being rolled into finance deals they don't understand. This is one way of looking at it, but you would have to believe every salesmen's moral compass spins faster than the wheel of fortune to really believe it. There are shysters, there always has been and there always will be.

This shouldn't mean that a couple of car price comparison sites lead the way for buyers. They were in their infancy when I entered the trade and a useful tool but nothing more, today they scoop up commissions that were once taken by the hard-working salesman.

Years ago the term order taker was pejorative, today it seems the prerogative. Let the buyer make their mind up at home then write down what they want. It's incredible that we buy such incredibly complex machinery without thinking the person trained to sell them could advise us better than we can ourselves. This leads to people spending too much on cars they aren't happy with, but the deal seemed good at the time. It would surprise a cynic to know that I had convinced several buyers to go for lower specification, or entirely different cars when striking a conversation with a customer. I still earned my commission and they came back to buy from me, knowing they would get an honest answer to their questions.

Any salesman worth his salt should know every car on his pitch, and know the key features. The old boys would laugh at me if I didn't know how many gears a car had or that no auto option was available, fortunately, I was a car nut as a kid and matched their knowledge without breaking a sweat.

Today the manufacturers have decided to bring the corporate mindset to selling. Customers need to bring their A-game, not the sales staff. if there is a financial gap, tell them, and sit back. In years gone by you pointed out what was needed to get the deal done, but the emphasis is now on reacting instead of being proactive. With finance everywhere and tight rules and heavy fines, this is understandable, but it roots out the talented sales staff and brings smiling, nice but fairly clueless workers in their place. A recent survey of some local garages with a friend desperate to get something a bit more fun was almost embarrassing. One told us to let us know if we found anything, the other ignored us and another actually said, 'I'm not sure I can help'.

Now, to add some balance I'm sure there is a counter to all this, but it's sad to see an industry change in such a way when you've learnt with the old school, or is it?

If sales staff aren't shouted at each morning, pressured into selling to everyone no matter the circumstances, and the shysters have less area to move around in, this can only be good. If only it could be done whilst still being an attractive place for the dedicated few that would travel the length of the country to get a deal done and have no understanding of the words 'it can't be done'.

If you're thinking of a career in the trade take away three things from the old school, the phone should never take precedent over the physical, knowing your product should something to take pride in and no matter how impossible it looks, a deal is always within reach. Good luck out there!


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