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Instead of training and coaching salespeople, a few weeks ago I was in a different role – a used car buyer looking to replace my 5 year old car.

I use the ‘race’ analogy here because in this instance the favourite didn’t win, and it didn’t win because the salesman didn’t deliver on some key elements. Both runners that didn’t win failed to join the dots to provide a smooth customer experience. In the end it was this that was key in my decision.

The line up

After trawling Autotrader and the manufacturer’s Approved website it came down to three cars. Any listings ‘awaiting image’ were non-starters. Of the contenders there was a red one, a blue one, and a black one – all had the spec I wanted, with a price difference of £5,000 between the cheapest and the most expensive as listed. The mileages were between 9,000 and 16,000 – and the date of manufacture ranged from April 2016 to January 2017.

So before the race started, the runners lined up like this:

  • Red: 16,900 miles, April 2016 manufactured, Lowest price
  • Black: 9,000 miles, Sept 2016 manufactured, £2000 more
  • Blue: 10,000 miles, Jan 2017 manufactured, £5000 more

There was no advantage in distance from my home as I live in Yorkshire and the cars were in Norwich, Edinburgh and Coventry. The most expensive was at an independent the other two at main dealers.

On Wednesday morning the race began. I emailed all three dealers, and received calls back from two out of the three very quickly, this put the blue car at the back of the field as I got no response initially. All three salespeople had been given details of my part exchange car.

The red car took an early lead. Almost by return the salesman had it out in the sun and produced a personalised video for me, the car looked superb, and the salesman focused on the points I had discussed with him when he’d called me.

The black car was in second after a useful phone call, but no additional images or video as the car was at the bodyshop having its wheels refurbished – a bit of a stumble, putting it a few lengths behind the red one.

The blue car was flagging, but it had looked great on Autotrader, and being on business only 20 miles from the dealership I called in on Wednesday night to look at the car. Well prepared, excellent condition, but the salesman wasn’t clued up about the car, despite it being front centre in the showroom. He admitted that he had received my email, but didn’t offer an explanation for why he hadn’t replied to it. The field was starting to leave this one behind, could he put on a spurt by offering me a good deal?

Thursday morning. I emailed all three salesman asking for their best offer on cost to change, adding that I’d like to receive this by COB that day (so my wife and I could discuss it over dinner). At this point a steady but not spectacular part exchange offer would have secured it for the red car.

When the salesman with the black car responded straight away, they made significant gains on the red. Still the red would not have needed the best offer to win, just a sensible one…but, it all went a bit quiet at their end.

The quotes were in

The blue offered £1,000 less than the black, which now made the blue £4,000 more expensive in cost to change, and when I followed up over the phone the salesman was unwilling to move on either end of the deal. This was the independent so it didn’t have the backing of the manufacturers’ Approved programme, and I got the impression from the low responsiveness that this one would prefer not to be in the race, so I put it out of its misery.

Now it was a two horse…er car, race. The red was still a strong contender but seemed to lack the final push to offer the figures. Eventually they arrived at 7pm in the evening, with an explanation that the ’central used car buying manager’ had been late in getting the offer back to the salesman. It was £3,000 below the black offer, and £2,000 below the blue offer…so quite substantially the most expensive now, which was a shame when all they really needed to do was match the blue offer to win.

In the end, despite being the favourite for a long time the red fell at the last hurdle. There’s just no way I’d pay £1,000 more in cost to change for a car that is older with almost double the miles.

So black wins!

And my conclusions – join these dots for used car sales success:

1. Present the car well on the internet sites – make sure you have all the spec and great photos – otherwise you’re not in the race

2. Price competitively and in a way that bears scrutiny – i.e. is consistent with age, mileage and desirable spec

3. Respond quickly and accurately to emails – and use video to really pique interest and establish the lead

4. Think clearly about your part exchange offer – will it benefit the sale, and can you support the offer when you resell

5. When the customer tells you what information they need to make a decision provide it quickly, and do the best you can to make the deal attractive

The post-race information is interesting. The favourite claimed to be hampered by a central buying group. They gave all sorts of reasons to justify the low offer they made, which included the rate of depreciation of my old car, and the fact that it wasn’t especially re-sellable.

The winner; gave the best part exchange offer, then prepared my 5 year old car for retail, and listed it 5 days later on their website with stunning photographs, and a competitive price…and then sold it within a week! They ended up making a decent margin on both cars.

A week after this race was over both the blue and red cars had been reduced on Autotrader by £1,000.

Now all of this was conducted on the phone, or by email, apart from my visit to look at the blue car, which was actually detrimental. The two final contenders were with main dealers, but the experience was quite different with each. The black approach was planned, purposeful and effective. The fact that they sold two cars in a little over a week off the one deal shows that they have form…form which is repeatable. So maybe the others need to take off their blinkers.

What’s more, when I got to the dealership to pick up my new car everything ran like clockwork, a great visit, a smooth handover, and a useful follow-up (so much so that my wife is now considering buying her next car from them).

So although the black car won this race and I won the best deal, the real winner is the dealership who secured a satisfied customer, advocate and promoter.

About the Author: Tony Dunk is a Director at cda, the Management Consultancy specialising in L&D solutions. Tony has a proven history of delivering improved business results for clients through training, coaching and people development. With considerable experience in Business Process Improvement, Management Consulting, Strategy, Executive Coaching and Program Management, as well as learning and development design and execution.

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