In the 32 years I've been in the car business, a lot has changed. Sadly, something that hasn't changed seems to be the overall quality of dealership sales force.
In my visits around the country, I hear the same old complaints from management. Such as:
“It's hard to find good people.”
“I've got too many ‘lot lizards’ living off my advertising and marketing dollars.”
“Where is their self-pride?”
“Why won't they do what will make them more money on a consistent basis?”
“Of 20 sales people, I've got only one complete professional.”
In response, I go down my checklist:
- Do you have a disciplined hiring process that includes multiple interviews and objective skill-assessment tools?
- Do you positively and continuously train and coach and give technological support necessary in today's market?
- Do they know what a good job looks like, including world-class rapport-building, questioning, presentations, product knowledge, demos, objection dissolving, closing; and follow-up?
- When they fall short, do you correct them quickly, firmly, instructively?
- Do you pay them at least some form of salary in addition to commission?
- Have you checked to see if your pay is competitive not only with other dealers in your market, but with other businesses seeking the same talent?
- Do you work to sustain a culture of joyful accomplishment, recognition and mutual support?
- When you find you've hired someone who isn't cutting it, do you terminate them in a timely manner?
We could say much on each of these points. But let's cut to the chase.
Even stores with solid hiring processes have talent problems. And even those stores tend not to continuously train and coach their people in a positive manner. Sales managers often get scattered and look only at the numbers, instead of talking about the dynamics of selling.
Even in stores with good sales managers, there often is an absence of showing people what a good job looks like and insisting that everyone perform to standards with good, daily close-the-sale coaching while deals are in the works.
Sales people still go to price or payment way too fast, and aren't duly corrected.
Many sales people have good product knowledge and give good, credible presentations, but fall down on the demo drive. Sales people too infrequently show customers the aspects of the car they will appreciate most as owners.
Sales training doesn't work if insistence isn't there in the daily culture to do all of the above correctly.
As to pay, if you don't offer some kind of subsistence salary, where is your leverage in asking people to do things that don't come easily to them? And if you don't offer the opportunity for substantial additional earnings through commissions or bonuses, how can you compete with other dealers and businesses in your market?
It's important to create a positive, high-performance, low-maintenance culture where standards are equally applied. In the better stores I've seen improvement on this.
We now arrive at what may be the single most important point. Even in well-run stores, there is far too much tolerance for poor performance.
We manage mediocrity long after a person has been given a chance to rise above it. Then we get angry and lay blame when, in fact, it's our responsibility as managers.
If you've had people on the floor six months and have given them high quality training and coaching, they'll be soaring high if they have the wings and the desire. If not, cordially bid them adieu. Great managers don't just hire well, they fire well, in a timely and compassionate manner.
What about the long-term employees whose mediocrity you've tolerated for years? Let them know their performance is no longer acceptable. Collaborate with them in helping them get better. But if you want success for them more than they want it, then they too must go.
Auto veteran Bob Kamm heads Kamm Consulting, a leadership development firm in San Luis Obispo, CA. He is author of two books, The Superman Syndrome and Real Fatherhood. He is at [email protected] and www.bobkamm.com.