What does a car salesman have to do to earn commission?


I have the very great pleasure of working with the franchisees of Fire Compliance & Safety Ltd. The franchise is very keen to sell their Fire Risk Assessments in an ethical and appropriate manner.  I have been working with them to develop the teams’ sales skills.

Reflecting on good and bad experiences of being sold to (or NOT being sold to) one of the team, Shaun Harness, related a recent experience at the hands of car sales people.

So picture the scene: he wants a van for his business, he’s done his research, he knows the sort of van he’s after and narrowed it down to one of possibly four models. Bearing in mind there’s a recession on – the car and commercial vehicle markets seem somewhat depressed – he expected to have salesmen snapping at his heels for a deal.

On the contrary, at the local Ford, Peugeot and Vauxhall dealerships the “scruffy” sales team “with dirty shoes and frayed suits” remained resolutely sat on their backsides (presumably cold calling and filling in zeros on their sales returns.) He and his business partner, Caroline Hepburn, could not believe the lack of response to their extraordinary buying signals: picking up leaflets, opening and closing van doors, sitting inside and stroking their chins as they admired the paintwork. After walking straight out of two of the dealerships (devoid of any other customers) Shaun approached the sales desk at Ford and asked for assistance. He was told that the commercial sales manager was in a meeting. The team of four redundant salesmen (“…we don’t sell vans”) didn’t even ask for their details so their colleague could call them back. No doubt he arrived back at his desk to complain about what a quiet day its been!

VW Commercial van salesmen – the best??

Their experience at Volkswagen was quite different. The first thing they noticed was the place was heaving with customers!  A few minutes after they walked in they were warmly welcomed and asked if they needed assistance or whether they were happy browsing for a few minutes. When they were ready the same (very smartly dressed) salesman sat them down and had an amiable chat with them. The next thing he did was take their personal details (so he could stay in contact) asked them loads of questions, identified the ideal van – and sold them the van they needed. He negotiated sensibly with them and out walked two happy business people with the van they came in to buy – oh and some war stories about customer service! Well done to VW, no doubt the salesmen at the other dealerships would earn a bit more commission if they could actually sell.

For Shaun and Caroline, about to launch their new fire risk assessment business, the experience brought home much of what we’d covered in the training: build rapport (you can only do that if you actually talk to people – You Don’t Get Business Sat on Your Arse), watch out for buying signals, ask questions to fully understand needs and look the part – first impressions count for a lot!

The very best of luck to Shaun and Caroline as they set out to run their business.


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2 Responses to “What does a car salesman have to do to earn commission?”

  1. Mike Lawrence Says:

    Hi Ken, this really doesn’t surprise me at all. This appalling lack of customer-focus is rife within the motor trade and has been for many years. I cut my teeth in this industry, selling British Leyland Cars in the seventies – that was a ‘men from the boys’ time! Trying to sell the Allegro, Maxi, Marina, Sherpa Van against the Cortina, Avenger and Ford Transit successfully was a real demonstration of sales professionalism.

    Sales Training – in many industries – seems now to be sadly lacking in proper content. Too many “Training” companies using buzzwordy techniques to justify their fees but not actually delivering quality solutions for the budding (car) salesman. You could easily chuck out ALL the fancy courses and just give copies of ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’. It would produce better results – assuming it got read of course. Nothing has changed since Dale Carnegie wrote that Bible…. People buy from people and even the internet won’t change that for most customers.

    You said this morning, “You wouldn’t send a car mechanic to sell a car!”
    There were several furrowed brows at that point and I don’t think it sank in for a few people. A car salesman has to be able to sell from the point-of-view of his prospective customer. Whether he/she is a professional driver, a learner, an OAP, housewife/husband etc. etc. They all have different needs and until the industry learns to train their sales people to recognise this the worse it will get.

    Customers want two things…. the answers to a problem and to be made to feel SPECIAL (I have a great presentation on this..) That is ALL. It isn’t rocket science and if salespeople just learned this their results would be truly staggering.

    Sorry about the rant! I believe passionately in sales training and despair sometimes when I hear stories of experiences like Shaun and Caroline’s.

    Kind regards, Mike Lawrence.

    • Ken Norman Says:

      Hi Mike

      Rants accepted! As customers we often store up these feelings – the last people we want to give the feedback to is the person who does this kind of thing to us. After all – why would you help them out!
      Thanks also for the feedback about my comment today – will have to qualify it in future!!

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