Finding good salespeople has always been hard, but if you approach the market with an open mind, are clear with what you’re looking for, and ask the right questions during the interview, you will grow great sales teams.  -  IMAGE: Getty Images

Finding good salespeople has always been hard, but if you approach the market with an open mind, are clear with what you’re looking for, and ask the right questions during the interview, you will grow great sales teams.

IMAGE: Getty Images

With change comes opportunity, and after what was arguably the most transformative year for the automotive industry since the 1950s, we are entering a period of transition where we grapple with long-term inventory issues coupled with an unprecedented turnover of employees across all industries.

There’s no single reason to explain what’s happening, but one thing is certain: Our collective resistance to change dropped in March of 2020. People are more willing now than ever before to try something new, and dealerships that are ready to engage with the talent market with the same innovative mindset that they used to serve customers during the pandemic will reap the rewards.

If you’re looking to hire and retain great talent for your dealership, make sure you have these three things covered when you go to market.

Know How to Communicate Your Employer Brand

Employer branding is the collection of messaging that communicates who you are as an employer. If product branding is the messaging that speaks to your ideal customer, then employer branding is the messaging that speaks to your ideal candidate. Your employer brand and product brand should be complementary — sometimes you can borrow elements of your product brand to build your employer brand, but they are not the same and cannot compete. 

Your employer brand explains who is successful at your dealership and how you get work done. The more clearly you can articulate who you are looking for, the more likely you are to get it. If you haven’t developed your employer branding strategy, start by answering these questions:

  • What are our core values? Core values tell the stories about how your people work together. 
  • What is it like to work here? Competitive or collaborative? Formal or unstructured? Data driven or gut instinct? 
  • Who will do well and who won't? Describe your ideal candidate in as much detail as you can.

If you are trying to tap into a new talent market or simply attract salespeople who don’t have prior automotive experience, this is how you’re going to hook them with the opportunity. Paint the picture for them a little. They may not have considered automotive previously, but the excitement of trying something new and working in an industry that has successfully transformed their sales, delivery, and services models in under a year is a compelling story for a salesperson who is fast-paced, coachable, and open to change.

Post a Solid Job Description

Often overlooked in the race to post a vacancy, a well-written job description makes a difference in both the quantity and quality of the talent pool you will have to choose from. A good job description explains who you are, what you’re looking for, and what is your ideal candidate. 

Introduce your dealership. Describe who you are and what differentiates you from your competition. Why would someone want to work for you more than the group down the road? Don’t underestimate the power of this section of the posting. It’s not only where you outline what it’s like to work for you, but it’s the cheapest advertising you’re likely to get anywhere. Thousands of people will see the job ad. Most of them will never apply, but they might be a customer. A compelling job description reflects well on the dealership as a whole and, as part of the whole marketing mix, helps to keep your brand top of mind.

Tell them what you need help with. Once you’ve introduced yourself, explain what you need help with. Are you growing your sales team? Implementing new tech and sales processes to support changing customer needs? This is where you describe what you’re looking to accomplish through this hire. From the candidate’s perspective, this is the problem that you’re trying to solve.

Describe the candidate. Now you can shift to outlining the knowledge, skills, and experience that you’re looking for in the candidate. This can range from education or professional experience through to a narrative of what behavioral competencies you’re looking for from the ideal salesperson. There’s a “sweet spot” in terms of length here— too short and it reads “vanilla” and too long doesn’t get read. Three to five sentences is usually long enough to accurately describe the background and behaviors that you’re looking for.

Explain key responsibilities. This is where you tie together the job role and the candidate to explain what they will be expected to do on a regular basis. If you need someone who can run the sales process independently, this is where you state it. Include key quotas and performance metrics that they will be measured against. Again, don’t overload the job description with minutiae, but give enough information that candidates can decide if they’re interested in the job.

Summarize the pay plan. Wrap up with a summary of overall compensation and benefits. You don't need to provide details at this point, but be sure to give an overview of the compensation split between base pay and commissions, healthcare, retirement planning, etc. Candidates start their search here. They generally filter based on compensation first and many decide what jobs to apply for based on the benefits offered.

Hire for Culture Over Skills

It’s far easier to correct a skills gap than it is to correct a behavior issue. If you focus on hiring people who complement and add value to your organizational culture, you can train for the rest. 

Hiring for culture starts with values and branding and translates into a set of questions that you ask during the interview. The questions aren’t focused on past experience, though you can start there to break the ice. Rather, they are behavioral questions that ask the candidate to give an example from the past that speaks to the specific behavior that you are evaluating. For example, if you are evaluating a candidate’s ability to persuade, you might ask them to describe a situation in which they had to be diplomatic without making concessions or to tell you about a time when they had to settle an argument without damaging the relationship. The answer doesn’t have to be directly related to sales, but it provides an example of how a behavior in one set of circumstances can be applied to another.

The key to behavioral interviewing is to ask the question in the past tense, not conditional. You’re not asking about what they would do, you’re asking about what they actually did. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. If it worked last time, chances are, that’s what they’re doing next time. Look for responses from candidates that clearly explain what happened, their specific role in the solution, and the outcome.

The other side of the values equation is to identify what motivates or drives people. This can be a little trickier because it’s below the surface, but you can address it by sharing your values and drivers and inviting feedback from the candidate. The goal is to be clear on what you can and cannot deliver in a job. If collaboration is an important motivator for a candidate but you drive your teams to compete, you may not be able to set that candidate up for success. There are job profiling exercises and assessments that can support this process, but barring that, a careful examination of who is successful on your sales team and why that’s the case will help you better articulate your expectations to potential candidates.

Finding good salespeople has always been hard, but if you approach the market with an open mind, are clear with what you’re looking for, and ask the right questions during the interview, you will grow great sales teams that want to stay with you for the long haul.

Jen L’Estrange, the founder and managing director of Red Clover, an outsource HR firm, is fanatical about helping companies clearly define their people strategies and achieve their change goals.