What’s the problem with Mercedes sales people?

There are words that have historically been associated with  people who sell used cars – pushy, sleazy, arrogant, slippery, devious and generally willing to do and say anything to make a sale.

A friend of mine, June, is currently going through the process of purchasing a previously owned Mercedes and based on her experience of dealing with sales people at four different Mercedes dealerships I don’t think any of the above words and phrases are applicable.

At the first 3 dealerships actually selling a car doesn’t appear to be on the agenda as her experience has been completely underwhelming as she has been faced with either a lack of communication or complete disinterest when actually speaking to someone. The chap at the fourth dealership has provided a complete contrast with her describing the service as professional, polite, passionate, knowledgeable, reliable and empathetic. Unsurprisingly June has chosen to purchase the vehicle from the fourth dealership despite it costing her a little more.

So where did it go wrong for the first 3 dealerships?

June was interested in a new car, as she was in a car accident recently when someone drove into her car and wrote it off. In terms of a replacement all she wanted to do was find a car as similar as possible to the one that was in the accident. So she called the Mercedes dealership she bought her previous car from and explained what had happened, what she had before and what she mercedes glawas looking for in terms of a replacement. Despite being told that she had been in an accident the salesman didn’t ask after her welfare and simply concentrated on taking down details of the car she was interested in. He then told her he would check their system and come back to her with some options…. this was 3 weeks ago and he still hasn’t called her back.

A few days after speaking to him June called the next nearest dealership but they didn’t answer their phone, so she called a 3rd Mercedes dealership and spoke to a salesman there.

It was a similar conversation as she had with the first salesman, although this chap did express some concern for her health, and was again promised a call with feedback on what was available. Again no phone call was forthcoming.

In the meantime a complaint to the second dealership via Twitter yielded a phone call from the Customer Care Manager who told her they had a car with near enough the exact spec she was looking for sitting on their garage forecourt. She accordingly visited the dealership that day to view the car, and was introduced to John,the salesman who would be dealing with the potential sale. John was polite but did not appear to be particularly knowledgeable about the car; for example, he couldn’t supply a convincing explanation of the difference between the satellite navigation on this car to the one fitted on the previous vehicle. June decided that she would put down a holding deposit on this car and John told her that he would send through the relevant paperwork for her to complete. This has not been done and he seems to be unable to return the calls that June has made to the dealership. It’s interesting that all of these three dealerships are owned by the same parent company, is the lack of service symptomatic of the company culture?

June decided to call the fourth dealership, owned by a different parent company, as she was concerned and frustrated by the indifference shown to her by the dealership where she was planning to buy the car. The guy she spoke to, Darren, was very helpful. He called her back three times that day to supply her with more information on the car she was interested in and took time to explain the differences in the satellite navigation installed in the car. There was naturally some negotiation over the price but it was good natured with give and take on both sides and a price was eventually agreed. Darren then took time to explain the process and what would happen next. The paperwork has been prepared and will be signed in the next few days. It has been a fairly straightforward sale, but June feels that Darren has “worked” for the sale and has been impressed with Darren’s enthusiasm, knowledge and professionalism.

June admits to taking a certain amount of pleasure in calling the second dealership to explain why she wouldn’t be progressing with the purchase of their vehicle. For John it’s been like putting a shot wide when faced with an open goal from three yards out. It was easier to score but a lack of technique has cost him an easy order.

So why was Darren’s technique better? I think it all comes down to trust and how strong it is in the relationship. If a client trusts the sales person they have confidence in what they are being told and are more likely to listen and to take positive action as a result.

There are four simple steps to building trust in a relationship*;

  1. Reliability: if you say you are going to do something then make sure you do it. If the first dealership had come back to June with some options, as they promised, she may well have not looked any further. If John had followed up her visit with a phone call and sent the paperwork through as discussed June would not have lost confidence and gone on to contact Darren.
  2. Credibility: You need to know what you are talking about. As a car salesman product knowledge is important. John’s inability to adequately explain the differences in the satellite navigation system first started the doubts in June’s mind that she was making the right decision. When he failed to follow up on his promises those doubts grew.
  3. Intimacy: This is about emotions and how comfortable the client feels in expressing how they really feel about a situation. Displaying empathy is an important first step for a sales person in developing intimacy. The salesman in the first dealership failed here as he didn’t take time to show any concern about June following her accident. Darren did take time to discuss the accident and find out the details. His approach to the initial call encouraged June to then share her frustrations around her dealings with the other dealerships she had spoken to. This gave him a great insight into how best to adapt his approach to provide the most appropriate service to meet June’s needs.
  4. Self-orientation: This is arguably the most critical factor in developing trust. If the sales person is seen as only being interested in what’s important to them, with the client being a means to an end there is unlikely to be a successful outcome. I’m sure we have all dealt with someone at some time who was clearly only interested in achieving what mattered to them. As a result they can come across as arrogant, selfish and cocky at one end of the spectrum and bored and disinterested at the other end of the spectrum. John wasn’t in tune with what was important to June and appeared disinterested in her, whereas Darren took time to listen to her, to answer her questions and to look for a solution that satisfied both of them.

It is clear when people enjoy their jobs, their energy and passion shines through and results in people wanting to engage with them. It is very rare that people come to work not wanting to do a good job, so questions need to be asked about the style of Leadership at work at the first three dealerships discussed above, but the sales people also need to ask themselves what stops them from following up on calls and providing a level of service in which they can take pride. This was a fairly simple sale for whoever showed interest in the client, but it needed the sales person to focus on the clients and their needs rather than simply relying on the brand name to make the sale for them.

What is your experience of dealing with car sales people? Leave a comment here with your examples, good or bad, of your experience.

If you work at a car dealership we would be interested in your thoughts and experience from that “side of the fence.”


At Coach Potatoes we provide 1-2-1 and group coaching in Leadership and Sales. We have over 20 years experience in sales and have spent the last 15 years helping Leaders develop to their full potential.

We have produced a set of coaching cards specifically designed for Sales Managers and you can view these here: http://bit.ly/coachingcards

*For more information on the Trusted Advisor Model please see:
The Trusted Advisor

If you would be interested in discussing how we could help you please email us at support@thecoachbusiness.com


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