Come On People Now

I just overheard one of my sales people blow off a new-car customer rather than respond to a simple product question with an embarrassing, I don't know. I know what you're thinking. Typical lazy salesman. That's not it. This salesman would rather eat glass than lose a car sale. So it isn't about laziness, it's about self-image, about comfort zones. Sales people see themselves in a particular way.

I just overheard one of my sales people blow off a new-car customer rather than respond to a simple product question with an embarrassing, “I don't know.”

I know what you're thinking. “Typical lazy salesman.” That's not it. This salesman would rather eat glass than lose a car sale. So it isn't about laziness, it's about self-image, about comfort zones.

Sales people see themselves in a particular way. You aren't likely to change the image that stares back at them in the mirror. The salesman in question sees himself as a used-car guy, believing that new-car sales are somehow less individualistic, less well paid, and therefore less worth his while.

That said, the question for you, as a dealer, is: Would you fire this guy for putting his ego ahead of my customer? While you're pondering, consider that he sells more than 200 cars a year and averages more than $2,500 each, and he's been known to personally clean a car an hour past closing to make a delivery then, rather than allow the buyer to cool off by waiting until later.

Also, if you fire him, he's likely to wind up selling at your fiercest competitor to many of your former customers.

So, since we don't think he's lazy and don't want to lose him to the competition, the pivotal question is: Can we really run a profitable sales department with salespersons who pick and choose customers based on what they'd prefer to sell?

Hell no. Not unless we provide a safety net to catch the customers that fall through the holes in our sales system. My safety net (support staff) includes telemarketers to make appointments (and follow-up customer satisfaction calls), closers to jump in when a customer loses that loving feeling and mumbles about needing another day to decide, and finance managers to structure the deal so that the customer's cash and credit translate into an acceptable profit on the deal.

To them I've added administrative support staffers who order and check in new vehicles, appraisers to value trade-ins and wholesalers to liquidate excess inventory. At times I've even hired greeters to welcome and count customers, as well as outside consultants and trainers to keep my team savvy about products and selling psychologies.

In a perfect world, every salesperson would meet, greet, qualify, close and deliver cars with nothing more than a calculator, a pen and some sales forms. In that utopia, one manager would suffice to review the deal, and a single cashier would receive payment and forward paperwork to bookkeeping.

In today's world, we sell tons of cars, for tons of gross with tons of staff all the while struggling to keep from breaking the bank with tons of costs.

We struggle this way because average salespeople spend more time standing around waiting for something to happen than making something happen. Without saying it aloud, we've enabled a society of “not-my-job” specialists; we've built a staff that's unwilling to stretch itself.

“Someone-else-does-that” attitudes, and kindly (meaning “weak”) management styles have added thick cost layers to dealerships.

Porters fetch the cars after detailers clean them; salespeople greet the customer but others qualify and close them after desk men run the numbers assisted by finance managers who structure the deal after which clerks spin the paper and cashiers receipt in the deposit.

If you need a quick test to determine if this trend has infected your organizational chart ask yourself:

What is the full name of the person in your staff whose job it is to thank every customer for shopping at your store? Before you get a brain hemorrhage trying to remember your customer satisfaction team leader's name, the correct answer is “Everyone.”

I'm going to review my New Year resolutions soon. I've resolved to empower and train my sales staff to satisfy all of our customers' needs without passing them through a seemingly endless line of managers and administrators.

I foresee a time when everyone in the sales department does whatever it takes to sell a car and when no matter to whom in the sales department you ask a question, you'll hear: “Glad you asked. I can help you with that.”

Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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