Globalization, technology, rampant regulation and fierce competition at every turn have created an increasingly complicated work environment at most auto dealerships. This is causing professionals at all levels — from the service bay to the boardroom — to flounder as they attempt to navigate the escalating complexities, consistently perform at a high level and achieve upward career mobility.
As a direct result, dealers and managers have less time than ever to spend coaching and mentoring employees or to benefit from such guidance for their own professional gain. In addition, many younger workers are ill-equipped to navigate the “gray area” of dealership life; specifically, the environment and culture that manifests from the multifaceted challenges and forces every organization faces. The result is a glut of entry-level and newly entrenched professionals who are unprepared, unequipped and unable to effectively communicate in a way that will productively impact their career in the auto retail space.
It is incumbent upon dealers to create a culture in which success and change is possible. The first step is to empower managers and staff to engage with an audience — any audience — with ease and intention. Those who cannot will never realize their full potential nor attain a maximum measure of success.
With this in mind, here are four tactical tips to help sales, F&I and service pros become more effective communicators and, in doing so, gain better control of their career trajectory.
1. Become the Universal Translator
The most valued and successful person in any business is the ‘universal translator.’ This person can translate facts, figures and concepts into actionable ideas. Those ideas must make sense and resonate with their bosses, peers and subordinates. In the dealership space, the same rules apply to fresh ups, returning customers, agents and vendors.
A true universal translator should be able to:
- Step out of their comfort zone or discipline,
- Let go of any insider department lingo or technical terms and focus on the audience at hand,
- Suggest specific ways others can move forward with the information relative to what is important to them and
- Present their vision, plan or theory in a way that is clear, crisp, confident and above all, actionable.
Universal translators are successful because they are able to translate complex or technical concepts into strategic steps that will impact the bottom line. If others can understand, relate to and rally around what you are presenting, it is sure to yield winning results.
2. Meet Before You Meet
When managers and prospective managers seek outside training, they are often expected to leverage that education toward improving their own performance or, quite often, improve or overhaul a process storewide. But major changes to proven processes are typically met with some resistance or, at the very least, questions and objections.
There are few things more painful and embarrassing than getting completely derailed in a meeting. Many of us have seen coworkers get pummeled with questions before they can get past the first page or slide of a well-prepared and thoroughly rehearsed presentation. Rather than moving forward with their agenda, as they hoped, they leave the meeting with more work and lost credibility.
The best way to counter this is to determine who your key constituents are relative to your topic and set up one-on-one meetings with all of them at least a few days in advance of the big meeting. Make sure you understand their perspective and answer any questions and concerns. You will head off disastrous interruptions and undoubtedly gain valuable information that will help refine your presentation.
3. Stop, Ask and Listen!
Today’s fast-paced workplace has dealers and managers running at record speed, often from department to department, while emails stack up in their inboxes. The resulting pressure of this overload causes you to rush through conversations so you can cross them off your list and move on to the next task. Unfortunately, plowing through important conversations will never yield a productive outcome, and it often produces more work and headaches.
The best method for approaching key conversations that need a little extra finesse or persuasion — particularly in the midst of a time-pressed schedule — includes using the following techniques:
- Stop and take a breath so you don’t rush into your agenda in the first five seconds of the conversation,
- Ask open-ended questions, such as “What’s going on in your department?” or “How has this system helped you?” and
- Be sure the person with whom you are engaged has ample time to convey their thoughts without your interjection, direction or interruption.
When you do have the chance to speak, keep in mind that people only have the capacity to absorb so much. When you provide an overload of detail, you risk losing the real essence of what you are trying to convey. Stay focused on who your audience is and what they care about to ensure your dialogue and key points are streamlined and succinct.
You will find this tactic also helps build more productive professional relationships. The most successful people in any company aren’t necessarily the smartest. They are those who take the time to listen and learn from others because they truly value what they have to say.
4. Converse With Clarity.
People today are inundated with data, work under tight timeframes and talk in acronyms. Some professionals tend to use a lot of insider jargon and industry terminology when they communicate, making it difficult for anyone outside their immediate network to understand.
Also, incompetent people tend to rush through important details in the hopes that no one else will ask questions or notice their inaptitude, and you certainly don’t want to be perceived in this light. Such conversation crushers can leave others feeling intimidated, out of the loop and unable to effectively contribute.
Rather than contributing poorly to the conversation or sitting on the sidelines as the dialogue ensues, a better approach is to pick the right setting and ask clarifying questions to ensure messaging remains on point and resultant activities on track. If you’re not sure where to start, the basic who, what, where, when, why and how is a sensible approach. “Why are we doing this?” or “How will that work?” or “Where will this help the organization?” are some examples.
This strategy fosters clear dialogue, makes people accountable to answer direct questions and often uncovers problems that need to be addressed but would have been overlooked had this approach not been utilized.
In more than two decades as an executive trainer, I have seen millions of dollars senselessly lost merely due to ineffective communication. It’s imperative for achievement-oriented professionals to communicate well in all aspects of their job. Doing so can be the key to cutting through the bureaucracy of an organization and taking control of one’s career, as opposed to feeling like a victim of circumstance.
Mastering even a handful of skills, such as those cited above, can help professionals better negotiate their way through the proverbial career maze with speed, dexterity and accuracy.
Vivian Ciampi is a coach and facilitator at Harvard Business School’s executive education department, principal at Professional Coaching LLC and a nationally recognized workplace communication expert.[email protected]