It’s no secret that digital retailing has changed the car buying process. Nearly 89% of consumers now start the process online, using websites for product awareness and discovery, and some for purchase.
In a panel discussion titled “Training Superstar Sales Teams” at the 2021 Industry Summit Experience, Gerry Gould, owner of Gerry Gould & Associates, recommended that F&I and sales managers start every sales journey asking: What research have you done so far? “This way you know exactly where they are in their journey and you are not taking them back to Step One,” he says.
It is also critical to make a great introduction and have an early trade discussion, added Carter Abel, national director of training for Spectrum Automotive Holdings, during the discussion. “Customers who start out online have lofty expectations about what they will receive for their trade,” he says.
How Digital Changes Training
As more consumers shopping online, they will connect with more people at the dealership. For this reason, anyone who works with customers where F&I questions may arise should attend F&I school, says Ritch Wheeler, vice president of training at the Automotive Training Academy by Assurant.
He explains, “A customer may review F&I products before they even settle on a car, get a trade evaluation, or submit a credit application. If that’s the case, whoever they are in contact with must be versed in F&I.”
Wheeler recommends, at a minimum, sending F&I and sales managers to F&I school. “The sales process and the F&I process are not nearly as siloed off as they used to be,” he explains. “A lot of the F&I process now starts with sales managers.”
Abel advocates for F&I education for every role. He cites a recent study that showed 62% of digital consumers said they would buy F&I if they had the chance. “If we had more people understanding product and processes, it would go a long way,” he says.
Gould agrees that sales and F&I are not as separate as in the past and that sales managers will field F&I questions. Still, he says he’s unsure that educating everyone about F&I is necessary. He believes in increasing communication between sales and F&I instead and involving F&I managers earlier.
“The missing component is a willingness to get F&I managers involved at the point of discovery,” he says. “It is the F&I manager’s place to discuss F&I products.”
Steps to a Sale
Even with digital retailing, the panelist agreed, sellers still need to know the steps to a sale. “We still need to teach the foundational steps,” Wheeler says. “The path may look a little different. But the components are the same.”
Wheeler says he’s read there are 34 different touchpoints in the car buying journey and 19 of them are digital. These touchpoints include a variety of websites. In fact, he says, just 70% of customers go to the dealers’ websites. “They’ve been to 18 other websites, and our salespeople have no clue where those websites are,” he says. “We need to learn what the customer has seen, done or already accomplished before they sit down in front of us.”
He adds, “We must teach salespeople to use the customer’s [online] research and the portion of the journey they have already been through. Rather than take them back to Step One, we must find out where they’ve been and where they are in the process. Then ask, ‘How can I take that information and complete the buying transaction?’”
Wheeler adds it’s time to stop looking at the sales process as a linear step. “The sale is the goal we are trying to accomplish, but how we get there may look a little different with each individual customer,” he says.
Teaching New Ideas
It’s said, “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.” But in the new paradigm, dealers must teach the old car dog innovative ideas and processes.
“The old car dog is cemented in how they do business. It’s been successful and they want to stay in that,” says Abel. “But in today’s world, if they don’t change, they will fall behind.”
His advice for converting longtime salespeople to a new way of doing things? “Let him see the paycheck of the new guy who has already figured it out,” he says.
But Wheeler says it’s also important to respect their skills. He explains, “A lot of times the old car dog is the old car dog because they’ve been at it a long time. They’ve sold a lot of cars. That person has talent inside of them.”
To shift these professionals to a new sales strategy, help them understand the why behind it. “Until you get them to understand the why, they will continue doing things as they always have because that’s how they were successful,” he says.
Dealers can get at the why by showing seasoned sellers the new process and explaining how it will help them communicate better and sell more cars. “When they go from selling 30 cars a month to 45, your old car dog just became your biggest champion. Now you have the senior salesperson telling the new salespeople, “You need to do this to improve your career,’” Wheeler concludes.
Hire the Right People
New hires also must embrace the new paradigm. Dealers must hire the right person with the right skills from the onset, according to Able.
“You can teach people skills, but you hire on core values,” he explains. “If they fit with the organization and are likeable, hire them.”
Gould stresses the right candidate will mesh well with your personality and dealership culture. “If you wouldn’t want to go out to dinner with them, don’t hire them,” he says. “Likeability is important. When someone interviews for a job, assess how hard they must work to be likeable. Are they automatically likeable? If they are likeable, customers will like them. If customers like them, they will buy a car from them.”
Wheeler also suggests looking for candidates who communicate well in a genuine and earnest way. “If they communicate well, the customer will tell them what they need to know. Why they are there? What their needs are. They will learn about their life, hobbies, family, and how the vehicle will fit into their life,” he says.
Training that Works
“You have got to make training fun and show them to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Abel says. “You also have to show them how to get to the pot. Show your new hires the path.”
Wheeler says sales and F&I managers are often so busy that they push off training. Here, hiring a training company ensures new hires get trained, Wheeler says.
“Training is easy to put on the back burner,” he says. “But training doesn’t just teach people to do their job better, it is an internal motivator. It shows employees that the company will invest in them and wants to help further their careers.”
Dealers often schedule specific training days or weeks. “But training should not be just an event,” adds Abel. “Training should happen in 5-minute increments all day long. If we want more effective people, training is continuous. It’s culture.”
Get Creative with Communication
“Communicate with people how they want to be communicated with,” says Wheeler. “Some people will say they want a phone call, others an email or a text. Pinpoint the way the customer wants you to communicate, then communicate with them that way.”
Still, Wheeler says he leans toward text and video text messaging. “People are three times more likely to watch a video to read a text,” he explains. “If you can send someone a personalized video, they are likely to watch it and it gives you a connection with them. It humanizes the salesperson, and you can get a lot of lift from that.”
Wheeler knows a seller who created a YouTube channel, where he put his personalized customer videos. He opened these videos to the public. One day, he sent a personalized message to a customer, then put it on this channel, and had 84,000 people watch it. “How many more customers will you create by doing something simple like that?” he asks.
Abel recommends using video messages throughout the process, whether it’s sales, F&I or service. “Video messaging works. It’s such a powerful tool,” he says.
Video messages also communicate customer semantics, adds Gould. “You can see if they are sincere, not sincere,” he says.
And video conferences help sellers match up a customer’s driver’s license with his or her face. “You have a perfect reason for video conferencing,” Wheeler says. “Now I can have a genuine conversation, a face-to-face interaction, and I can screen share to go through the menu or the manufacturer’s warranty.”
Sometimes salespeople feel awkward engaging with video. Gould recommends encouraging salespeople to “step outside their comfort zone. Tell them, ‘It’s going to feel awkward at first. But this type of communication will distinguish you from the rest.’”
Hold Them Accountable
All the training in the world won’t help if dealers do not hold those in sales and F&I accountable, the panelists agreed.
“The biggest problem in dealerships today is accountability,” says Abel. “We have processes, but nobody wants to hold anybody accountable for them. Asking better questions is the only way to change that.”
Gould recommends dealers contemplate the process and ask questions. “Too many sales managers haven’t been trained to ask the right questions,” he says.
Often the first question sales managers ask is: How much does the customer want to pay? Followed by how much do they want to put down? What do they want for a trade? “These questions force the sales staff to derail the process. You want to hold people accountable,” Gould says.
He adds, “We’ve got to be careful of the questions we ask and thoughtful of how we ask them. Ask: What did they say after they drove the car? What did they think about the technology? These questions force the entire staff to stick to the process we all believe in.”
Gould concludes, “The battle for the customer starts at their home. We don’t know where they are [in the sales process] when they contact the dealership. The traditional sales process is passe. We need to get back to needs assessment and start asking the right questions in the sales process and at the F&I desk.”
Ronnie Wendt is an editor for Auto Dealer Today.