|As our society continues to move further into a service-oriented economy, any company that makes it’s living from selling a product is finding it harder to make ends meet, including automotive dealerships. With a huge variety of choices available now due to technology, the product itself is becoming less meaningful because there is always another equivalent product available. The importance of the product has been replaced with the importance of the experience.|
The stereotype of the car salesman – slick, sleazy and only interested in making money – is so prevalent in the minds of your customers that nearly anytime they step foot into your dealership, they are already prepared for a negative experience. The goal is to give not only a good experience, but to give an experience that makes them want to tell their friends and family about you. The easiest way to do this is with staff members that exhibit a level of professionalism that banishes those negative stereotypes.
Professionalism can be a very nebulous idea and one that many people have different views on. In general, though, a person is considered a professional if they exhibit the use of a specialized set of skills developed through education and training and they use independent judgment in the functions of their job. In many industries, to be considered a professional, people are required to pass a test or meet certain criteria as developed by an organizing group within the industry.
Think of real estate agents, CPAs and attorneys. All are required to prove that they are knowledgeable and capable in their field. Unfortunately, there are no uniform guidelines or tests that can be taken for automotive sales staff to be designated as professional. I have always advocated that dealerships I work with start to develop their own guidelines of professionalism, so they can standardize their customers’ experiences with any of the sales staff. How do we start? Education and training are the first two things to look at.
Education level is not necessarily a hard and fast rule for sales staff, but most industries generally require a professional to have a college or technical degree of some kind. Attaining a degree indicates a certain level of devotion to accomplishments and likely shows that the person is capable and willing of interacting with others in a formal setting. During college, knowledge is obtained through discussion, both verbal and written. These skills are directly transferable to the sales process. Although they don’t necessarily guarantee success, they are a good staring point.
It is important to note that I am talking about education in general here and that most professions require a specific degree in the field or industry. Though degree programs specifically geared towards automotive sales are available, they are few and far between. As these programs become more widespread, we as an industry may start looking to them more for the recruitment of the necessary professionals in our dealerships, but until that time, we will have to work with broader terms.
The second area critical to being a professional is training. A college degree does not necessarily mean that someone is capable of the work. Training will be required and this is where we, as dealership managers, can really contribute to the development of professionalism. A formal sales training program is vital to the success of a dealership and the development of positive customer experiences. Detailing how to develop a successful sales training program is too lengthy to include here, but one key concept stands out above all.
We need to remember that defining professionalism is all about exclusion. Not everyone is capable of being an attorney or doctor just like not everyone capable of being a good salesperson. Having developed and led sales training programs, I know that a significant portion of the people who come through it will fail. I expect this and embrace it. If everyone that goes through your sales training succeeds, then your standards simply are not high enough. Make the training difficult, so you can weed out the poor performers. This leads to a uniformly high level of competency in your sales staff (one of the aforementioned goals in developing professionals).
The third area, and one that ties closely to training, is knowledge. Every profession has its own unique body of knowledge and has developed its own language. For our staff to be professionals, they need to be knowledgeable of our dealership, our product lines and our industry. I’ll share an example from my personal life to show the difference. I have a close friend who recently began working as a sales consultant for a large used car dealership. He’d been successful as a sales person in other industries and thought automotive retail would be a good fit for him. As we were talking about his work he told me that he was trying to sell a 1994 Buick Roadster. Having worked for a Buick dealership for many years, I was a little confused by what he was saying. Eventually as the conversation went on, I realized that he was talking about the Buick Roadmaster. If I had been a customer, he would have just proven to me that he was not a professional. While he might be a good salesperson, he had yet to develop the body of knowledge necessary to be conversant in the industry.
These three areas may not seem like much, and quibbling about how to define who is a professional may be the least of your concerns. However, to really up the level of your sales staff and give the customers a great experience, you need to be thinking along these lines. By creating your own guidelines and standardizing what makes your sales staff professionals, you can develop a sales environment where any customer can come in and talk to any sales consultant and you can be comfortable in the fact that things are being handled as they should be. A professional staff and satisfied customers will go a long way towards making your life easier.
Auto retail veteran and F&I products expert Paul McCarthy has joined AUL Corp. as vice president of national sales.