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A Lesson in sales from... The British Automotive Industry


Guest articles > A Lesson in sales from... The British Automotive Industry


by: Neil Shorney


I am the proud (and sometimes exasperated) owner of a red MG Maestro. If you don't know what this is, it's a marvel of 1980s British badge engineering! Rover cars, the main British car manufacturer until its demise in 2005, took an ordinary hatch back car, stuck an “MG” logo on the back and a big 2-litre engine under the bonnet, and the MG Maestro was born. It's fast, it's fun to drive, it's a “modern classic” and I love owning it. Unfortunately, the build quality is pretty poor, it rusts (frequently), the driver's seat sags, and recently the handle to open the sun roof fell off for no apparent reason.

Owning a classic car means joining the owners' club, because it's here where one finds tips and hints to keep it on the road, as well as moral support for those difficult days and a reasonable supply of spare parts. In a recent club magazine which arrived at my house, there was a piece about the advertising campaigns when these cars were new, and there are some nice sales lessons to be learnt which I'd like to share with you.

Remember, these were never “great” cars. These were not Mercedes, Aston Martins or even nice reliable Volkswagens. Rover cars had long had a reputation for questionable build quality and a propensity to rust. Yet they sold a lot of cars (the number still on the road today is testament to the rust problem!). So why did the British public go in their droves to the car showrooms and purchase these cars, which were slightly dated even when new?

Think about the most recent car advertisement you saw on television. One that springs to mind for me is a recent Honda ad which was very cleverly put together, where one car part falls into another, making it move and hit another, and another... you get the idea! It apparently was created with no CGI at all, just precision engineering. What impression does this give? A precision-engineered machine which will provide years of reliable service? Or perhaps some sort of ultra-sophisticated car with gadgets you can only dream of?

Or how about the Toyota ads with the hybrid petrol-battery technology where the car charges the battery on a long drive and runs on the battery in towns. What does this say to you? Green? Environmentally friendly? The car of the future?

Or perhaps the advert for the Vauxhall Corsa where it's zipping around corners and jumping over things in the rush to get home, bright colours everywhere and cutesy tree-lined roads. A great little reliable car? More fun to drive than the competition?

These examples are clearly good ads and one can see how they sell cars with campaigns like these.

So what about the advertisement campaign my Maestro? How did that manage to sell cars with a slightly questionable reputation for corrosion and poor reliability? Well, with the ad I was reading about, I had to really think about that question. Firstly, it didn't get its “own” advert – it had to share one with other models in the range. Secondly, there was no clever engineering on show, no environmentally-friendly spiel about fewer emissions, no fun drive home from work. Instead, there were various British television personalities walking around a car showroom pointing out the latest models from the manufacturer and making cringeworthy jokes. I'm not talking about George Clooney or Harrison Ford. I'm talking about Noel Edmonds (former DJ and current daytime TV presenter) and Boycie and Del Boy – two shady characters from the popular 1980s situation comedy “Only Fools & Horses”. And the Boycie character was a rip-off merchant in the second-hand car trade, famous for lying about the cars he was selling. Yet these campaigns worked and they sold cars.

Why? Because they were comfortable. They were familiar. They featured personalities and characters whom the British car-buying public could see on their televisions on a Friday night and have a laugh with. It didn't matter that Noel Edmonds wasn't exactly the most trendy celebrity at the time, it didn't matter that Boycie ripped of car buyers and it didn't matter that Del Boy sold stolen junk out of a south London flat. What was important, was that these were people the British public could relate to in quite a personal way. They were on out televisions so much that we felt we knew them, and if they told us a car was worth having, complete with their poor jokes and the cars' poor reliability, then we wanted one of those cars.

So what's the lesson here for you and I, selling our products or services in a different, more modern, more technological age? The lesson is to remember that you're selling to a person. That person might be impressed with your latest product features or how high-tech it might be, but beneath all that, your customer is a person who wants a salesperson to really relate to him, who wants a salesperson to be warm and friendly, who wants to feel comfortable making a purchase, and who wants the salesperson to really speak to them. Personally. Relevantly.

Next time you go on a sales visit, take your glossy brochures, be prepared for your product demonstration, but also make sure that the way you're selling really speaks to the customer, and above all, make them feel comfortable during the whole process. You'll be surprised at how this can override any inadequacies there might be in other areas!

Happy selling!


Neil Shorney manages a European sales team at the world's largest project management training company, where he spends his time selling, leading and training in areas as diverse as sales, communication skills, ownership & accountability, and Microsoft Excel. He has over 13 years of international sales, management, and strategic experience in diverse industries including hospitality, energy, IT & telecommunications, project management, and business analysis.

Neil has sold complex solutions to all levels, from CEO/Board right through to new employees and members of the public. This gives him a fantastic insight into decision-making processes and great flexibility of approach in order to get the sale with people at all levels within an organisation. Neil is a firm believer in the value of consultative, solution-based selling, and in ensuring that every sale has a genuine win-win outcome for both the customer and the vendor, resulting in a long-term mutually-beneficial business partnership.
In his spare time, Neil runs a selling website at where salespeople and managers can access a variety of free resources from articles to training videos to a quarterly e-magazine all about selling and business.

Contributor: Neil Shorney

Published here on: 16-Sep-11

Classification: Sales


MSWord: ALISF The British Automotive Industry.doc

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