Dealers have been making money hand over fist due to record-high demand coinciding with the new-vehicle crunch. When business surges it’s easy to put employee training on the back burner. After all, you may be seeing your highest profits ever thanks to consumers willing to pay top dollar for pipeline, special orders and pre-owned. Yet, ongoing employee training and education is an essential part of any corporate culture.
Now, when profits are high, is the best time for an employee development health check. Here’s why.
Record-high profits raise the question of how much longer these conditions can last. No one has a crystal ball, but eventually, supply and demand will be in balance again. There will be a reset. Will your salespeople be prepared to actually sell again and not just take orders?
This is an important question, considering how digital retailing and the pandemic have changed shopping behavior. Today’s consumers spend upwards of 18 hours online doing their homework before visiting a dealership. Historically, the model was to drive consumers to the store. Now, it’s about driving consumers to your website, helping them move through the digital retailing process, answering every question and engaging them so they will put down that vehicle deposit (it bears mentioning that the sales model of ordering a vehicle, along with having some inventory on hand, is likely here to stay).
Now is an opportune time to invest in training, because managers and salespeople have more time on their hands. Consumers are coming to them. There’s less, if any, tracking down leads, haggling over pricing and engaging on the floor. Take advantage of employee downtime while you have it.
Train the Trainers
Do your managers understand this shift in the market? Are they prepared to train employees and make learning a priority? Management may feel they have terrific people with terrific skills when in reality those people don’t fully understand how to engage with today’s consumers. This leads to employee turnover, frustrated customers and fewer sales.
Trainers must be trained first in new processes. Be prepared for some resistance. Many managers won’t think training is necessary. Prepare them by explaining how the market has shifted, how you want them to lead and how you want processes carried out moving forward.
This gives the training program purpose and helps managers understand why training is important. It also signals that you consider these people leaders in the organization and are counting on them to help meet business goals.
Many dealerships invest in training only to discover there are too many distractions in the store for managers to properly concentrate. For this reason, I recommend sending managers and influencers on the sales floor and in the BDC off-site for training. In addition to getting them away from distractions, they’ll be surrounded by peers with whom they can share ideas, swap strategies, etc.
Look for training that focuses on how the market is changing; how to serve, not sell; and advanced ways of resolving differences over price, payment, credit and trade value. I highly recommend the ADKAR training method that prioritizes clear goals, measurable outcomes and a single framework for everyone involved in the change.
Bring Change Home
A challenge with any training is that new concepts won’t be applied consistently and effectively in the store. You’ve crossed the first hurdle when you send managers to training and they come back excited about new concepts and ready to share. The next step is to bring in an on-site coach to train your staff with managers acting as cheerleaders and role models.
Reinforcement after in-store training is key. Studies show without consistent reinforcement, people only retain 15% to 20% of what they’ve learned. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to plan to set aside 30 minutes every day, or three times a week, to conduct small lessons or activities that support learning.
In the case of sales or the BDC, this can be as simple as listening to a customer call and giving feedback on what’s great and what needs work. Remember you always catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so lead with praise.
Shopping behaviors have changed; employee training needs to change, too. Use this time when managers and employees aren’t consumed with chasing down leads and negotiating pricing to take an employee development health check and address training needs. It will give your dealership and your staff a leg up when demand and supply are in balance again.
Lawson Owen (pictured, above left) is the founder and CEO of Proactive Dealer Solutions, a provider of lead management and conversion services for the auto and motorized vehicle dealership sector.