As Yogi Berra might have said, “You gotta be careful about who you interview because you might hire them.”
That's the problem faced by managers across the country as they look for sales people who will contribute to the revenue line without destroying the bottom line of the dealership's income statement.
It's not an easy process. Finding candidates, interviewing them, and making the hiring decision each present hard-to-solve problems.
Help-wanted ads, according to many dealers, bring in both the professional interviewee and the car sales “pro” with an arm-long list of previous jobs, at which few the person actually succeeded.
Says Augie Di Feo, president of Chrysler-Jeep of White Plains, NY: “We've done everything from advertising to word-of-mouth and referrals, and I've found the most success we've had has been through referrals.”
Finding good candidates is especially tough for dealers.
“I think we as an industry don't draw the best available talent because there's that pre-conceived notion and stigma that this business has created over a number of years,” says Di Feo. “Experienced people in the next 10-12 years won't have the same baggage and will come better equipped for the proper way of doing business.”
That's why he and Tim Lynch, general manager of DeSimone Cadillac Company in Mount Laurel, NJ, don't hesitate to look at candidates without car sales experience.
Lynch recalls one instance when “I took one of my best customers who got caught up in a corporate downsizing and made him a salesperson and he did so well that we made him a manager.”
He adds” “We believe that the personality fit is more important than anybody's credentials, the skill set or the experience that they have. We present our vision, mission, and value statement and ask if they see themselves fitting into our culture.
“They have to feel comfortable with us, and we have to feel comfortable with them. We are in a people industry, so we look for nice people.”
No hustlers need apply, says Lynch. He wants someone who sells smarter, not harder, like one of his first hires who, Lynch observed, walked slower than anyone he had ever encountered.
“He said to me, ‘I might walk slow, but I write fast.’ There's a guy who was thinking,” Lynch says. “He's the kind of guy who looks like he's not working hard, but he's methodical, he's constantly thinking, and he's one step ahead of everybody else. I hired him and he's been one of my best hires ever. He's been here about eight years now.”
Di Feo says, “I look for someone who can engage with the customer.”
He tells of interviewing an engaging young man.
“He was putting on a show and he carried a bag of props with him,” Di Feo recalls. “Inside the bag he had little trinkets that he would use to support whatever he was saying. Like if the customer wanted a little money off on a deal, he'd reach in the bag and throw a handful of monopoly money on the table.
“He'd say, ‘I'm going to stretch to make this deal,’ then he'd pull a rubber band out of his bag and stretch it. He was engaging. He had a world of potential — a very creative mind — but he didn't have any discipline.”
Di Feo vets his applicants thoroughly.
“First, I get a background check,” he says. “What they've done, where they've lived, what type of educational background they have. I try to size up how many jobs they've had over ‘x’ number of years.”
He adds that someone else always interviews each candidate as well, and that he never hires someone on the first pass. “I would never hire in a vacuum,” he says.
Lynch says he goes even further with his applicants.
He explains, “They talk to a team of people. Typically, we have them interview with three different people individually. Then we meet to discuss the person to see if we think they are a good fit. Then we bring them back and review them as a panel.”
In a way, hiring salespeople sounds as simple as following a formula. Find qualified applicants through referrals, conduct multiple in-depth interviews, check the references, observe the applicant's follow-up behavior. Then sleep on it and make a decision.
But it's not easy to accomplish all these tasks when you don't have time to do them. All too often, hiring the perfect salesperson just isn't possible because the position needs to be filled — yesterday.
“Sometimes it's like a baseball team; you have to field nine players,” says Di Feo. “They may not be the nine players that you want, but you have to put somebody in every position. Having a poor player with a glove at second base is better than having a hole in your infield.”
Dave Donelson writes and speaks on sales and marketing. He's the author of Creative Selling: Boost Your B2B Sales.