Leaving the past behind

  15 December 2014

Got a moment to spare? Enter ‘used car salesman’ into your favoured search engine, taking care also to select the ‘images’ button. Try it now.

The results are perhaps predictable – but disheartening all the same. It’s no secret that the job of selling used cars has an image problem.

It matters because our huge industry depends on some 7 million-plus transactions a year, most managed by professional sales people. It also matters because the job’s a tough one. Long hours, the need to develop a thick skin and the resilience, too, to smile even at the end of a tough day are prime requirements, to say nothing of a knack with people, an eye for detail and a head for figures. And its low status keeps away the ablest candidates for such work.

You can argue with cause that the image lags behind reality and that the use of ‘used-car salesman’ by pundits and politicians alike as a term of near-abuse is wholly wrong. If you substituted ‘Muslim’, ‘Jew’ or ‘black’ into their chosen sentences, a torrent of righteous anger would result. Rightly so.

Can auto retailers do much to correct this? Definitely. It’s key that you openly acknowledge the issue – with customers and staff – and lead from the front. In my view, this retailer tackles this point well. And this one’s approach (which extends through to the core message of their TV advertising) offers food for thought, too.

That done, keep reminding staff that what they do is worthwhile: how else would millions of people find the vehicle they want?

Finally, re-educate that small minority of sales execs who enjoy the ‘notoriety’ they believe the job confers, and play up to it. Tell them that it’s time to stop shaving their heads, and to tone down the big jewelry. If they won’t, maybe it’s time for them to go…

No matter how hard you work at it, the industry’s perception won’t improve overnight. But selling cars is becoming a more co-operative process and a change will come. It has to be for the better.

Ray Castle
Auto Retail Agenda


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