Imagine what would happen if your organization was attracting and retaining the best of the best employees. What type of atmosphere would that create for your customers? What results would your company attain? Take a moment and think about it. Compare your answers to the reality you face every day.

Today’s business atmosphere requires organizations to focus on seeking, attracting and retaining the best personnel. It is no secret that the automotive industry continues to struggle to attract and retain the best employees. The sad reality is that over the years, the industry has developed a reputation that pushes many talented people away. To many, the thought of working at a car dealership has never crossed their minds. Let’s face it, most prospective candidates at one point purchased a vehicle from a dealer, and not all of them had a pleasant experience. Simply put, they do not trust us. This stigma makes it harder to attract good employees from outside the industry. Oftentimes if you do attract them, you struggle to retain them. How do you change this? Look inside your dealership and see where there’s opportunity to improve.

There are two types of sales managers in dealerships today – the old-school managers and the new-school managers – and age has nothing to do with it. When it comes to hiring, training and developing, there is a gulf of difference between the two. Since most of the real pros are taken, an old-school manager relies on having pseudo-pros working for them. These salespeople have been recycled through several stores around town and typically come with their bad habits, negative attitudes and extra baggage. They are good at hiding it throughout an interview and great at selling you on why you want them. Once you’ve hired them, they will show their true colors when no one is looking.

One of the main reasons an old-school manager attracts a pseudo-pro is because they are both lazy. Here are some characteristics of a pseudo-pro. They’re great at disappearing from the showroom floor throughout the day. They’re known to avoid training (they already know everything), one-on-ones (what’s that?), or other such activities old-school managers avoid as well. In this case, like attracts like. This type of management style creates an environment where the training and development of personnel is considered a chore and is on the bottom of a priority list or not on any list at all.

The second type – coaches – is part of the new-school. First of all, they’re known for taking ownership of their team’s results. Second, they understand and appreciate the value of developing their people. Thirdly, they realize the only way to improve someone is to improve oneself first. They know that training and coaching is a process and that it takes time. Self-development and team-development are of high priority to them. They take it seriously. To create this mentality, you must start from the top.

Here is the good news; an old-school culture can be changed. This change requires a shift in the thinking of everyone involved—from the top to the bottom. One must stop thinking as a manager/ruler and begin to think as a leader/coach. When that happens, or if you are already there, below are five steps that will help you attract and retain the best.

1. Good Hiring Practices. The talented people are out there. In order to attract them, you must change your hiring strategy. Look over your current team and analyze how they came to work for you. Ask yourself, through what sources did your top producers find you? Ask them what made them want to work for you. This will help you assess your strategy. You may have to change your approach and explore other means of attracting better-quality candidates. If all you see are weak candidates, discontinue the old wanted ad in the newspaper that keeps bringing them in. There are plenty of employment Web sites you can use to reach out to college grads and a professional crowd.    

My friend Dave Anderson said, “Hiring is an elimination process, not an inclusion process.” Those doing your hiring have to keep that in mind when they interview prospects. To save time, experts recommend pre-screening candidates over the phone. Having a prepared list of basic questions will help a coach to spend a few minutes identifying a candidate’s employability and weed out many unwanted applicants to avoid spending hours interviewing those who are unqualified to begin with. As an added bonus, you can assess phone skills of an applicant during a conversation.

While conducting an interview, focus on a candidate’s previous performance and achievements. When analyzing new hires, three common denominators normally arise among the top performers, no matter what background they came from. They all performed above-average at their previous jobs, they are the sole breadwinner in their households and they all have bills. Now, those are not the main characteristics you look for in your hires, but those are the main indicators you should pay attention to when you’re seeking a top performer.

There are numerous Web sites and books full of great information on how to conduct an interview and what questions to ask. Lou Adler is a good resource (HYPERLINK "" He is an expert on performance-based hiring. You will find his advice on a two-question interview extremely helpful. Here are the two questions (the second is modified to fit the auto industry):

1. Please think about your most significant accomplishment. Now, could you tell me all about it?

2. We have certain performance goals for our salespeople. If you were to get this position, how would you go about reaching those goals?

Ask yourself those questions and see how powerful they are. The answers will help you determine whether you have a winner in front of you. Once a good candidate is identified and hired, you are ready for the next step, and that is training.

2. New-Hire Training. Standard new-hire training in many dealerships is, “Here are the keys to the new cars, and here are the ones for the used cars. Go sell them!” Here is the irony; you expect new hires to succeed without any training. If you think the manufacturer courses online will prepare a new salesperson to sell, think again.  

If your dealership does not have a standard new-hire sales training program, it is time to invest in one. Videos, DVDs and manufacturer training serve as great supplements to face-to-face training and coaching. Adults learn faster and retain information better through interactions and effective instructing.

Taking time to develop a training program that will provide your new troops a foundation for their careers is something that should not be treated lightly. Because of the size of the Walser group, it conducts new hire training on a monthly basis. This training consists of a week-long class, and the outline of the class is tweaked monthly. Define the basic skills you want your new hires to have, and design training classes around that. Identify your sales process and teach it, along with procedures and policies. Depending on the store’s needs, allocate two to four days per month (or once a quarter) for ongoing training. Once you train new salespeople, it is up to you to provide an environment for their success.

3. Environment. Experts agree that a new employee’s first week is most critical. The first impression you create will set the tone for the rest of his or her employment with you. During the first few days, it is important to create a welcoming and supportive environment. Remember your first few days in the car business? Everything was new and exciting, and you probably met everyone with a smile and were eager to start making money. Sometimes you run into rude salespeople who don’t talk with green peas or the sale rep who will try to crack you with smart comments about how slow the business is. Let’s be honest, this happens every time to a new salesperson. What do you do to prevent this, or do you become part of this “initiation” process?

It is ironic to see so many managers anxious to hire new people, in most cases because they are short on staff, and once the new people come on board, those managers spend little or no time at all with them. It is common for a new person to feel unimportant, ignored and as if he or she is an interruption to everyone around. New salespeople are lucky if someone takes them under their wing and mentors them.

A mentor could be a solid salesperson who will spend time and help a new person get acclimated to the business. This individual will need to be incentivized to help new employees. To be effective, an incentive needs to reward both a short-term and long-term success. Keep a mentor accountable by monitoring and reviewing the new employee’s progress. A mentor’s job is to continue developing skills that were taught during the initial training.

The type of environment you create for your people will determine how productive your new employees will be. Their success, and ultimately your success, will depend on the culture you allow.

4. Review/Feedback.
When it comes to retaining employees, most successful companies have a very similar approach. They constantly review and evaluate their employees. The president of Delta Airlines, Ed Bastian, said that he likes to think of feedback to his people as his gift to them. Continuous follow-up, review and feedback of an individual’s performance is something that most employees are longing for. Everyone likes to know how their doing. In addition to giving feedback, it is important to be open to a new employee’s feedback as well.

After analyzing 120 new hires at Walser, it was found that the dealerships lost the majority of them within the first 60 to 90 days of employment and management decided to see if it can “catch” them before that time. Now, meetings are held with all new employees who have been with the group between 30 and 60 days. They’re asked several questions to solicit their feedback prior to the meeting, and invite two directors from human resources and business development to be part of those gatherings. The new people share their perspectives on how the dealership operates and ask for their feedback about challenges they face. Those sessions have been very productive in identifying issues and concerns, as well as simply making people feel that their views matter.

Many employees who stay longer than nine months typically move to the top 20 percent of the group’s producers. This is good news that should be shared with new employees to encourage them to be persistent and stick with it. Continuous feedback and reviews at 30 and 90 days and then at twelve months will lead to higher retention. With this in mind, constructive feedback alone will not guarantee success. It will need to be utilized along with continuous coaching, mentoring and training.

5. Continuous development. Training, coaching and feedback are the only keys to continued improvement. Your approach to training and coaching will determine the results your team will achieve. Employee development has to be done on daily basis.

The majority of sales meetings are either drawn out or too short and without a point. At times, salespeople are more confused after attending a sales meeting. The main reason is managers were never taught how to conduct an effective meeting, let alone how to incorporate training into it. Everyone is better served if each sales meeting includes a training element.

First, it is important to plan each training session. You have to think about what you would like to accomplish with it— what skills you want salespeople to acquire, what the benefit to all involved is and what the desired end-result is. One way to identify the need is to assess the skill gaps you observe in your team. When assessing your team, ask yourself what skills salespeople need to have, where they are now and what the ideal looks like. Once you identify those gaps, prioritize them and begin to develop a plan of how to train and coach those skills.

Second, once you identify the need and plan out your training, you must be prepared for the meeting. Preparation is the key. Most managers are not prepared and are without a plan. They get into the store five minutes before the meeting in the morning and wing it most of the time. Without a plan and thorough preparation, you will fail to execute.

To assure consistent execution, select a trainer from one of the managers. That individual will be responsible for training. When a GM takes on the role of a trainer, it is the ultimate form of leading by example. Who else can do a better job than the top manager? That also sends a great message to the team—that training is being treated seriously. Another benefit is that stores are extremely profitable when the top manager is part of training.

Keep your sales/training meetings short and to-the-point. Start with any housekeeping items to get them out of the way. Then go to the training topic. Describe to the team where they are now with a chosen skill. Inform them why it is important to get better, and show them how you see them improving it in the near future. Move to the “what" part of the session by describing the actual skill, and always point out benefits to them, customers and the dealership. After that, describe to them how it works and seal it with role play to show them. Then, ask them to role play with a partner or in front of the group. Complete the session with encouraging words, a list of all the benefits, a request for their commitment and a reminder of your support.

Once the new skill is introduced, a good coach goes into “observe, assess and modify” mode to make sure the training sticks. Keeping people constantly accountable for their new skills is a critical part of coaching. This is where one-on-one sessions come into play. From my experience, to get the most out of training and coaching, conduct weekly one-on-ones. This takes time and commitment, but like anything else, success does not come easy. The more time and energy spent on developing people, the easier and more fulfilling a trainer’s job becomes.

Attracting and retaining the best of the best is not an easy task. It is not enough to have a great hiring strategy or the best initial training. It is about changing a culture within. It is about changing how you think about and approach training and development. It is about focusing on improving results through improved people. It is about creating a new breed of managers/coaches who are focused on developing themselves and their people, coaches who take responsibility for wins and losses. It will not happen overnight; it takes time and commitment. The good news is you can begin this process immediately. Delaying will keep you where you are. It is your future; start now.

Vol. 6, Issue 12