Interview with the (ex) timeshare salesman

Your timeshare sales experience as seen from the other side of the presentation table. Steven (name changed) a former top performing Club La Costa salesman shares with European Consumer Claims what he and his colleagues really think about timeshare, their resort, and most tellingly, what they think about you.

ECC: Hi Steven, thanks for agreeing to speak with us about this. You worked for several timeshare companies, but your main history was with Club La Costa (CLC). Can you tell us a little about your background before you joined (CLC)?

Steven: I had been living here in the Costa Del Sol for 20 years, working in property management. When you rent a villa or holiday apartment here in Spain, it was me or my guys who made sure it was shipshape and ready for your holiday

ECC: And what brought you to CLC?

Steven: The recession hit and my work dried up. I needed something to do and my friend sent me a link to a CLC open day. I went along and was interested. The money sounded amazing and it would be nice to work with other people for a change. My previous work was quite solitary.

ECC: Do you own timeshare yourself? How many of the CLC sales staff would you say are owners?

Steven: I don’t own timeshare myself, no. There was one guy on the 300 strong sales team who actually owned timeshare with CLC and he was an owner before he joined the team. None of us would buy the product. We knew how it worked, or didn’t. We didn’t want to be on the other side of the system.

ECC: Can you elaborate?

Steven: Well we were selling a one bedroom apartment worth probably €200,000 (outright) for well over €830,000 when sold as separate timeshare products. The extra money was purely profit to fuel the CLC machine. There were around 900 sales and marketing staff, and the wage bill was huge. As a good salesman I was personally earning around €15,000 a month. Just the breakfasts we gave the clients during the sales presentation cost another €15,000 a week. And of course all this was being paid for by the clients who joined CLC.

ECC: Surely as a CLC staff member you would have been entitled to a serious discount if you wanted a membership for yourself?

Steven: I wouldn’t have bought at any price. It would be too much commitment, and it doesn’t work.

ECC: Doesn’t work?

Steven: Timeshare is designed not to work. If it worked, then people would join and never need to upgrade. Our Inhouse sales team accounted for 80% of CLC’s total revenue. That is people who already own being sold upgrades. If what they initially purchased gave them the holidays they wanted, they wouldn’t need to spend more. The Inhouse reps’ job was to meet each member when they returned and show them how what they owned ‘wasn’t quite enough’ to give them the holidays they wanted. The clients always needed to spend a bit more.

CLC and other timeshare companies see each new member as ultimately yielding around five times their initial purchase cost over the next few years.

ECC: And yet your work was convincing other people to spend their own money joining this system. Did you ever feel an attack of conscience about selling these memberships?

Steven: Like anyone, you question yourself sometimes at first, but you have to earn a living. In the end you stop seeing them as human beings almost. Each presentation becomes a chance to either earn money or waste four hours of your time. The ones that don’t buy make you feel like you have lost or failed. You have to be dispassionate about it. If you can get the people in front of you to part with money, you will take it regardless of their circumstances. It isn’t your job to protect them when you have your own family to feed.

ECC: Ok, and how exactly do you persuade someone you never met before to spend tens of thousands of pounds on timeshare membership in the space of a few hours?

Steven: There is a very, very technical and specialist system at CLC. Every aspect of the sale is refined to the minutest detail. The initial and probably most important goals are to make these people really like and trust you. You spend the first part of the tour seemingly in friendly conversation, but your goals are deadly serious. You need to make these people like you, or they won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you they a) won’t believe you about how the system works and b) won’t feel comfortable about spending any money. They will only buy from you if you can make them truly believe you are their new best friend.

ECC: How do you get your clients to like you?

Steven: CLC taught us detailed and powerful psychological sales techniques. Initially we discuss random topics until I can find things that I have in common with the prospects. Maybe we both like the same rugby team, or our kids are the same age. Or maybe we drive the same kind of car. It is important to find and agree on these common bonds. CLC taught me that “people like people like them”. Meaning that it is much easier for prospects to like me and therefore trust me if they think that we are alike in many ways, or have similar worldviews.

ECC: So you didn’t actually like your clients?

Steven: That is a complicated question. While I was on tour it was vital to make them and myself feel like we were becoming best friends. But it was completely artificial on my part. Without anything to gain from them I would never have created this apparent bond between us. To be honest, once the deal was done and the client hadn’t left yet, it was a pretty big strain to maintain the appearance of affability with them. Like any of the sales force, I would sit around after work having a few beers and bragging about my achievements in basically manipulating strangers with my ‘skills.’ As soon as the clients had gone it was a huge relief to drop the act.

ECC: What other tricks or techniques did you use?

Steven: There were too many to list here, but for example it was a godsend if we could see a piece of litter on the floor so that we could make sure the client saw us pick it up and carry it to the next bin. This would demonstrate a ‘deep pride’ in our resort. We were not allowed to wear any colour shoes except black, because apparently it has been proven that people trust others wearing that colour footwear slightly more. We also took every client out for a ‘consolidation’ meal the following night after the deal was written.

Ostensibly this was because we wanted to see our ‘new best friends’ one more time before they left. In reality it was because the clients legally had 14 days to cancel and we had to both shore up the deal (make them feel guilty that they would be letting down a friend if they cancelled), and also give ourselves the chance to overcome any objections that they thought of overnight.

Statistically we knew that any ‘buyer’s remorse’ would manifest on that first night. So the consolidation meal would give them a chance to discuss any misgivings over a glass of wine, and for me to overcome the objections. Most couples would not even mention their concerns until after the food was gone. Then they would (as if it had only just occurred to them) say something like: “Oh, while I think of it, what would happen if we didn’t want the membership any more….”. I would be well prepared and put their minds at rest. Provided they still believed we were all best friends, they would accept my explanations.

ECC: You no sell longer timeshare. What made you get out of the business?

Steven: I wrote a deal a few years ago, and I had to go with the couple in a taxi back to their hotel to collect their credit card to pay the deposit. I waited about 45 minutes and they eventually came back out to tell me that they had Googled us and didn’t want to go ahead because of negative things they had read. In that moment I knew the writing was wall for timeshare. Unethical sales behaviour would clearly be called out online more and more regularly from now on.

Timeshare also made no sense anymore. No amount of fancy sales patter could distract from the fact it was a more expensive way to take exactly the same holidays. Plus we were asking for people to legally commit themselves to this more expensive system for many years. Why should they do that when there is no benefit?

ECC: What, if anything, do you feel guilty about from your time at CLC?

Steven: I suppose the people who took up finance to buy memberships. CLC worked together with credit providers like Barclays, Shawbrook and Hitachi to arrange loans. Getting finance approved for a client was a real windfall as CLC got their money straight away and therefore I got my commission the same month. However the clients who needed finance really were making a bad financial decision to pay for something like timeshare on credit.

Timeshare is not like a car that gradually decreases in value. Instead it is worth absolutely nothing the second you buy it. It literally has no resale value whatsoever. People soon find that out that it doesn’t work and that the annual fees are more expensive than regular holidays. There are so many stories in the media about people who made rash decisions to buy timeshare on finance, end up owing double what they borrowed and losing their house, their pension and savings.

At the time I sold them memberships I didn’t care about that. But now I look back and I do feel guilt about my part in the ruining of those people’s lives.

ECC: What is your advice to people who are still thinking of buying a timeshare membership?

Steven: You would be very foolish to buy a timeshare membership. Joining commits you to paying an expensive annual fee, even if you don’t holiday that year. You can stay in any timeshare complex via normal booking sites as and when you please, without paying a fortune to join.

ECC: And finally, what about people who are stuck with memberships they don’t want?

Steven: Firstly don’t go back to your resort. People like me would be waiting to talk you into spending more money to upgrade to yet another product that is unlikely to work.

Once you decide that you definitely want out, then the best thing is to speak to a reputable claims firm to help you to get free from the membership. Be careful because there are a lot of scam firms waiting to steal even more money from timeshare victims.

There are a couple of good consumer associations that will point you in the right direction.

Also a lot of people don’t know that a huge amount of timeshare contracts, for decades, were sold illegally. If your contract is illegal you might be able to claim compensation. Claims firms can help there too.

ECC: Thank you for being so candid Steven. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

Steven: My pleasure.

For advice on escaping a timeshare membership, or to understand your position regarding a potential compensation claim contact ECC for a free, confidential consultation

ECC provides timeshare claims services, expert advice and help

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First published on MyNewsDesk May 2022



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