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Let’s see, the mother company just launched a hot new product and customers are emailing about it. I think we should ignore them and focus on pushing mediocre products on drive-by prospects.

If you tried this in any other industry, you’d be fired with extreme prejudice. But in car sales, this sort of thing seems to be standard operating procedure.

There was the time I almost had to rugby-tackle a salesperson in the showroom to get them to pay attention to me.

There was the time when, still pre-kids, I was looking at two-seater sports cars, and chased the dealership for six months (!) to get a test drive. Finally instead of just arranging a test drive, they comped me a full day of driving academy on the Monza F1 circuit, which they told me was several thousand Euros’ worth. This day gave me the chance to do several hot laps in the BMW Z4 M Coupe, plus messing around in a Mini Cooper S, a 135i, and a 330d M Sport, on the skid pan, in the cones, and generally left me with a huge grin on my face.

Think they followed up with me afterwards?1

The current idiocy is over the new Abarth 124 Spider. The announcement made quite the splash, and I am thinking vaguely about a weekend car, so I messed around with the configurator on the Abarth site (not that you can do much with the spec), and then filled in the form to be put in touch with my local Abarth dealer.

Crickets.

Tumbleweed.

Okay, fair enough, they probably get a number of time-wasters wanting to drive their hot cars, and I’ll be the first to admit that my interest is tentative and not immediate. Still, it’s the twenty-first century. You can at least set up an auto-responder - “thank you for your interest", sort of thing.

I have already written off ever owning another BMW because of shenanigans my local dealer pulled - not just on the sales front, but in maintenance. Their shoddy workmanship left me by the side of the road and forced me to cancel a very important meeting, but the worst of it was that they refused to apologise when I called them on it.

Customers are fickle, but not that fickle. Treat them right, they can be yours for life. Treat them poorly, you’ve lost them forever.

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The part of the process of engagement that makes the greatest difference is the point of contact with the customer. I love BMW products, regard their advertising as high-quality, and generally appreciate the company in every way - but I will not have anything to do with the local dealer. The process of terminating my Fastweb contract was so unpleasant that despite the fact that I had been a fan until then, I will not only no longer consider them for myself, I will go out of my way to advise others to avoid them.

The local VW/Porsche dealer, on the other hand, treated both my wife and me so well that I can see myself sticking to VAG products for the foreseeable future. Same goes for Vodafone: even when they have had technical difficulties, they have been so communicative and willing to engage that I have made allowances, and still recommend Vodafone over alternatives.

I try to do the same in my own sales engagements. I do my best to communicate in a clear and timely manner, and so far, it seems to work. My end of the IT market is of course a pretty small shop, so I am strongly conditioned to treat people well because I keep running into the same people over and over. Even in mass markets, though, people talk, and through social media, your actions will catch up with you.

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count, whether you’re selling cars, phone lines, or enterprise software.


  1. They weren’t to know that kids were on their way and so from then on out it was all wagons, not slinky coupés.