I saw a message on Twitter the other day saying that someone had telephoned a Mercedes Benz Dealer and 24 hours later they still hadn’t had a return phone call everyones first reaction was that the dealer had no excuse for that, but my own experience tells me he did.

When I was working as Sales Manager at a Mercedes Benz Dealer I had to attend a meeting with all the other Sales Managers and Dealer Principals, the big wigs at Mercedes Benz were going to tell us how to sell cars, in my opinion I was wasting my time there as my Sales Team were way ahead of our target and I had forgotten more than the speaker would ever know about selling cars.

I remember the guy standing on the stage in front of us all with a pained expression as he covered his eyes with his thumb and forefinger shaking his head from side to side in a very dramatic fashion and then expressing his concern that Mercedes Benz had provided all the Dealers with leads for people who were in the market to purchase a new car and who needed to be contacted, but Mercedes had also conducted their own survey and phoned a cross section of the leads they found to their horror that less than 40% of the leads supplied had actually received a telephone call from their local dealer.

Why oh why he remonstrated, if I’d have had a tomato in my pocket he would have been wearing it, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer and I shouted “Because they were crap and a waste of time” the next few minutes were like the stoning scene from ‘The Life Of Brian’ while the people at the front were all asking each other ‘Who said that?’ and craning their necks trying to see, the Dealers sat around me were all nodding in agreement, but trying not to make it obvious to the important people at the front, my Dealer Principal who was sat next to me had gone the colour of his shirt and was now doing a ventriloquist impersonation talking out of the corner of his mouth telling me to shut up, realising what I had done i needed to diffuse the situation and throw the big wigs off the scent so  i turned round to and pretended to look for the culprit, I smiled at the guys behind me and said ‘I think he said “blessed are the Cheese Makers” they obviously thought “th Life Of Brian” was hilarious too and the burst out laughing.

I’ve been in the Motor Trade a long time and I have witnessed some truly rubbish schemes to increase showroom traffic, and i can tell you that any idea which involves a free gift is just a waste of time and money, an even bigger waste of time is getting people to go for a test drive before they are included in some kind of draw to win a new car or the like, for example in 1978 there was a programme on the TV starring Rock Hudson called ‘Wheels’ the program was about the trials and tribulations of an American Car Manufacturer and to publicise the series in the UK the TV Times magazine ran a competition and the prize was a new Opel Manta Silver 2, all you had to do was answer a question then write a slogan in case of a tie breaker.

This competition wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for me as it didn’t involve thousands of people visiting our showroom, sitting in all the cars, dirtying the footwell’s, taking our brochures, and then because they were too embarrassed to say that they had only come to enter the competition they wasted even more of our time by asking for a valuation on their part exchange and pretending they were really interested in changing their cars.

What did bother me was that our dealership had a sales target from Opel which involved selling a certain amount of New Opel Mantas it wasn’t a great amount but we were a small dealer and it was always a struggle, sometimes we had to self register the cars and then sell them off cheaper second hand, so you can imagine my delight when we got a call from Opel to say that a lady in our area had won the car and we had to present it to her, to add insult to injury we wouldnt get to supply the car so it would show as a pump in vehicle by one of the big London dealers right into our area, the next time our Opel area manager came to visit he would probably tell us that we werent doing our job and had allowed another dealer to penetrate our POR or Prime area of responsibility.

The question was designed to get the maximum responce and was something like What was Rock Hudsons christian name, a) Stone b)Pebble c)Rock but to this day I remember her winning slogan it was ‘I like Rock Hudson because he’s a dish, and I like meals on Wheels’ now 2 things sprang to my mind, 1) Rock Hudson was gay and he wouldn’t have touched her with a bargepole 2) She didn’t have a driving licence and she really wanted the money, so she would be putting the car up for sale in our area and in doing so she would take one of our prospective customers out of the market when she sold it, thats what you call a double whammy. Of all the Dealerships in all the world she had to win it from ours!

Another brilliantly underwhelming campaign was ‘Win a Vauxhall Astra’, thousands and thousands of people were sent a key and told to trip along to their local dealer to try the key in the ignition of a special display car, if the ignition turned the horn would sound and the indicators flash and they would be the proud owners of a new Astra,the showroom traffic was relentless and we were inundated with people who had absolutely no interest in buying a car but just wanted to try the stupid key , there were so many people coming that the car had to be hoovered out every few hours, we soon spotted that people were quite upset that their key didn’t turn and judging by the number of bent discarded keys either Uri Geller had entered the competition or a few of them were using an extraordinary amount of force to try and make it turn, the rules stated that before they were allowed to try the key they had to put a postcard sized entry form with all their details into a specially made (cardboard) post box, i think the guy who invented the shredder got his inspiration from this because there was absolutely no chance that any of these people would buy a car.

Now 20 years later having suffered the same sort of stupid campaigns with Vauxhall, Peugeot, VW Audi, BMW and having wasted a large amount of my life dealing with the type of galactic timewasters which only competitions like this could generate. I was sat here at this Mercedes meeting experiencing a moment of Deja Vu with a guy making a speech who apparently was moved to tears by the failure of his brainchild, but believe me if anyone should have been crying it was me, as a Sales Manager i had car sales targets from Mercedes Benz, and then I had the targets from my Employer which were about 20 to 30% higher than Mercedes targets, the salesmen were too busy dealing with genuine customers to bother contacting the leads that Mercedes had given us.

Just to make things a little more complicated the Salesmen’s target were broken down into New and Used, the New’s were then broken down into A, C,E, S, SL, V and M Classes, then also we had accessory sales, and finance targets, the paper work was unbelievable, we also had our own prospects to contact, 1 of our lads used to lock himself in the boardroom at the end of each month to try to work out if he had reached his targets or would he be getting a rollocking for reaching his cumulative target but failing to achieve his model mix, I found him in the showroom one day standing on one leg with the other one crossed as if he was desperate to go to the toilet he was in a complete daze and just staring into space, I asked if he was alright and he didn’t answer so I prodded his arm, on reflection i prodded his arm a little bit harder than I perhaps should have done because he went down like a felled tree and only snapped out of his daze when he hit the Mercedes Benz specification floor tiles.


There wasn’t enough hours in the day for me to complete the work i already had so i took the list home and began ringing people and working through it, after speaking to well over a 100 people and mostly getting the answer sorry mate i don’t want a new car i was just entering the competition, the final straw was ‘Good evening its Barrie here from the Mercedes Dealer, could I speak to Steven Cook please’ the Lady who answered said ‘what do you want him for he’s only 12 and he’s upstairs doing his homework’ that happened well before I got to 40 % of the leads so i have nothing but admiration for the dealers who plodded on any further.

In hindsight the ones who plodded on regardless are probably the dealers who didn’t return the calls of genuine Mercedes Benz customers!