ON READERS DIGEST AUSTRALIA’S 2011 list of Australia’s Most Trusted Professions, real estate agents and car salesmen sit side by side – near the bottom. At numbers 42 and 43 out of 45 respectively, their occupations are less trusted than those of sex workers, journalists and taxi drivers, but more trusted than politicians and telemarketers.
Both industries have been tarred with a brush that has left a mark nearly impossible to remove. But as in real estate, so-called “dodgy” car salesmen are the exception rather than the rule.
Even award-winning luxury car salesman Tim Long of Marshalls Motors in Parramatta, NSW feels frustrated by the negative perception.
“People come into the dealership with their guard up,” he tells Real Estate Business at his showroom.
“But the industry has changed. Marshalls Motors hasn’t been in the game for 54 years selling shonky cars; we sell a beautiful product.
“People do know when you’re being genuine and they do know when you’re lying,” he says.
Despite the negative perception of the profession, Mr Long still managed to sell 128 brand new Mercedes-Benz vehicles, ranging in price from $40,000 to $350,000, in 2011. His achievement made him Mercedes-Benz Star Guild winner for 2011 and one of the top-selling salespersons for his company in Australia.
And he did it all by making friends.
“Would you like to know how to sell a car?” he asks. “You make a friend, the rest is easy. It’s a numbers game – you get out there, you meet lots of people, make lots of friends and you sell lots of cars, and that goes across any sales.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, doesn’t matter what your product is, that can’t change.
“The only thing you can do is have a different kind of approach and mine is making a friend. It is very hard to say no to a friend.”
Industries worldwide have suffered since late 2007 in the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC).
In Australia, real estate principals have tightened their belts and begun to focus more on their property management divisions, realising this was a source of constant revenue.
Similarly, the motor industry had to adapt to a changing market. Once considered the vehicle for the ‘Sunday driver’, Mercedes-Benz decided to modernise, focusing instead on a younger market.
“My pop was a Mercedes-Benz driver,” he says, looking around the showroom floor where more than 15 brand new cars sit. “I get into some of these vehicles and the smell takes me back to my childhood.”
On the market for just six months, the Mercedes-Benz C-class coupe, a more affordable car with all the style, design and safety for which the brand is renowned, is a great example of a car that appeals to a younger generation.
The brand continues to go from strength to strength. Last year, Mercedes-Benz reported its best result since the company launched in Australia 52 years ago. In 2010/2011, Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and SUVs set a new sales record, with 18,464 units sold and a market growth of 22.4 per cent, making the company the fastest growing prestige brand in Australia.
“Since the GFC, retirement funds are not looking as good as they once were and a lot of people have been hit hard,” says Mr Long. “Mercedes-Benz has decided to go an alternative route, aiming at the young professionals. So it is a very exciting time.
“We are bringing out these small cars for city driving, and they’re very well priced with all the safety features. We are bringing in the younger generation because that is where we see the money is.”
THE RIGHT PROCESSES
Mr Long doesn’t prospect, nor does he hand over products to his customers. He is nevertheless able to consistently hit his Marshalls Motors’ target of selling 10 brand new vehicles per month.
He attributes his success to the way in which his team is structured and to having the right processes in place.
“We’ve got a delivery coordinator who delivers all our cars and we’ve got a business developing coordinator and he takes on all the enquirers – sorting the good from the bad – and passes them on,” he explains.
These tried and tested processes, he says, have eliminated the need for prospecting.
“My real estate friends might not be aware but we don’t need to prospect like they do,” he says, acknowledging nevertheless the power of the Mercedes-Benz brand in helping create awareness among potential buyers.
“In fact, if there is a strong lead then it’s pretty hot before it gets given to us – the client goes through that avenue with our business developing coordinator.”
All aspects of the transaction are also dealt with by specialised teams of people, except the actual sales negotiation phase of the vehicle sale.
“The handover is a massive job. It needs at least 20 forms signed and tailored to get the car from us to the customer’s hand. You need driver’s licence, rego papers, transfers…
“Then you’ve actually got to physically hand over the car. We’ve got walking, talking owner’s manuals that will show the customer a step-by-step process. We don’t have to do that.”
Despite this time the client spends with other members of the Marshalls Motors team, Mr Long is adamant it does not affect his particular client relationships.
“We thought implementing a delivery coordinator would seriously affect our results but in essence it’s actually improved it,” he says. “I am not running around like a mad man trying to get all the paperwork together when the customer is sitting out there.
“Before we had these systems in place, I had a customer who sat in our cafe for a couple of hours while I got organised. You can only drink so many flat whites.”
The average person changes cars every three to five years, according to Mr Long, but even though he has only been in the auto game for three years, his repeat business is on track.
“My repeat business is just starting out and I would think I’d be doing less than 40 per cent to date repeat business,” he says. “When I’ve been in the job for seven years, I should be doing 60 per cent repeat business and only taking on a small handful of enquirers.
“You do get to a stage in sales where you build yourself a customer base, you make sure those customers remember you and then all you should be doing is taking control of your own database and servicing your clients.”
When it comes to sealing the deal itself, Mr Long knows it is important to pinpoint the kind of buyer with whom he is dealing.
“Every customer is different; some love a little bit of a push because they are not natural decision makers. Others may need a night to think about it,” he says.
Only five per cent of customers will make the decision to buy a vehicle on the first day, he adds, so it is essential not to push a buyer too early in the piece.
“I ask them if they want to buy the vehicle. There is a rule of thumb that if you ask somebody five times they can normally give you an answer,” he says. “Then it is your job to work out what is holding them back from buying.
“There are a lot of smoke screens, and I am sure they are used in real estate as well – things like, ‘I just need to think about it’, ‘I need to speak with my wife’, and so on.
“If you can overcome those objections by asking the right questions, then usually it is pretty easy going from there.”