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Keep focus on customer needs through training, expert says.

Investing in People, Digital Retail Technology

Technology is making buying and selling easier, but it is not replacing people, and those people must be correctly chosen and trained, skilled up to fit the changing times.

In the automotive retail industry, we’re accustomed to seeing marketers qualifying their pitches with the single adjective “right.”

That is, the right prospect, the right customer, the right vehicle, the right message, the right offer, the right service, and so on until our eyes blur whenever we see the word.

Yet, I can’t think of a better word to describe what we all seek in this business: Getting it right.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with such a worthy goal, for yourself, your employees or your customers.

Perhaps it’s why author Tom Wolfe titled his work about the test pilots and astronauts during the early days of the U.S. space program as all having The Right Stuff.

I’ve been thinking about those test pilots lately. I live near a U.S. Air Force test pilot range in Arizona and daily watch or hear highly sophisticated government jets engage in practice runs. The unit cost for a single F-35A is about $100 million and can have an hourly operating cost of $30,000.

The U.S. can’t afford to let just anyone fly those costly machines. That’s why it finds and trains and continually retrains candidates who, in their judgment, have the right stuff. The Air Force culture applauds improvement and requires pilots to stay sharp.

Conversely, if they were to hire the right person but fail to train that person in the proper use of the flight technology, that pilot would likely crash the F-35 jet. A bad investment for U.S. taxpayers, to be sure.

Even for the Air Force, finding, training and certifying the right person is easier said than done.

Industry-Voices-bug (002).jpgCase in point: Nicknamed “The Admiral” because he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, former NBA star center David Robinson at over 7 ft. was way too tall to fly jets. Likewise, someone with the ideal height and weight but without training would be ineligible. A person with outdated technical skills and unwilling to learn new technology would be out, as well.

The unexpected arrival of COVID-19 has forced car dealerships into starting their own digital space race. Many dealerships have gone all-in on digital retail and find themselves attracted to the latest shiny software.

Unlike software, you cannot simply plug and play salespeople. Yes, the technology is making buying and selling easier, but it is not replacing people, and those people must be correctly chosen and trained, skilled up to fit the changing times.

Almost overnight, our industry faced a paradigm shift, changing the environment from walk-ins to call-ins. Showrooms now are mostly virtual; test drives occur without ride-alongs; cars are delivered directly to the customer’s house.

Amid all these virtual touch points, how can your sales and service teams build actual, long-lasting relationships with customers?

The answer is training that focuses on meeting each customer’s needs and values over the long haul, instead of just closing the deal. Dealerships must learn to let go of outdated techniques, such as video-based tutorials and boring lectures, and trust that science, as typified by an AI-based training program, can lead the way.

Returning to my fighter jet pilot analogy, detailed flight analytics can tell a pilot whether they tipped a wing too far and would have missed the target. As a result, the pilot corrects the mistake and becomes more skillful.

David O'Brien.jpgAI can identify a problem when, say, a salesperson gets only one appointment out of 15 emails. The software can suggest new content or additional training that might help develop key skills and behavioral tactics.

The military never would allow unqualified people to fly its expensive jets. In a similar vein, dealerships must ensure their sales and service people remain qualified and stay sharp to justify the dealership’s investment in digital retail.

It’s time to bring the heart back into the car business. Instead of thinking of how customers can serve our needs, let’s understand how we can best serve theirs. It’s the right thing to do.

There’s that “right” word again. The truth is, you can’t go wrong when you do the right thing by surrounding yourself with the right stuff.

Am I right?

David O’Brien (above) is the president and CEO of Quantum5, a social advocacy learning company helping companies train and build community with their teams.

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