Nelson Auto Group takes a different approach to building its business that it says is unlike most automotive dealerships’.
The automotive group sees how it operatesits business — not auto sales them selves — as its product. Brandon Murphy, managing partner of Nelson Cars in Tulsa, Oklahoma, explains that other dealerships can outmatch pricing competitiveness, location or facility any day of the week, but it’s harder to match a product rooted in core values that delivers a premium experience to every customer. The dealership group, founded by Robert “Bobby” Nelson, aligns every aspect of its business with the following values:
- Trust in God
- An attitude of excellence
- Acting with character
Murphy says the dealership needed a shift after checking the pulse of its operations against those values, discovering that the process it operated in was not in line with the team itself.
The discovery prompted the dealership to change the way it sold vehicles and F&I products. Nelson Automotive has not had a traditional F&I office since April 2019, when it moved to a “One Person, One Price” model of doing business.
Now it employs client advisers, or CAs, who work with customers from the start to the finish of a sale.
“All of our client advisers are trained finance managers but in a no-pressure manner,” Murphy says. “Each one acts as a true adviser and advises each guest on F&I products based on real need.”
The dealership pays CAs on salary; there is no commission associated with F&I product purchases or the number of cars they sell. The dealership leadership believes the innovative pay structure leads to ethical presentation and sale of F&I products. When CAs get a flat salary, Murphy says customers are not pressured to buy products they don’t really want or need.
Today’s customers have high expectations based on their experiences elsewhere, according to Murphy.
“They are not comparing us to this dealership or that dealership. They are comparing us to other businesses outside of the industry,” he says. “They do business with Amazon, Target or Chick-fil-A a certain way, then come to an automotive dealership and experience an archaic system developed 30 to 40 years ago. We realized car dealers, ourselves included, were selling cars the way we wanted to sell them instead of the way our customers wanted to buy them.”
Murphy explains that car dealerships want to control the sales environment and fear that losing control of the sale means losing control of the customer and profitability.
“But we live in a day where customers do not want to be controlled.”
Today’s customers dislike points of friction, he says, noting that the number one pain point is the traditional price-negotiation sales model. The time spent on the sales process is the number two complaint. A traditional vehicle sale has a lot of back-and-forth between the seller, management and the F&I office, all of which takes time, according to Murphy. Nelson Automotive developed a one-price system across all sectors.
“One price in vehicle sales, one price in finance product sales, and one price in presenting accessories. No one gets a different price based on their education, their ability to shop, or their wanting to pay more or less,” Murphy explains. “We wanted the price we offered to be the price everyone gets regardless of skin color, economic background, or who they know at the dealership.”
Now customers have a single point of contact throughout the transaction, which limits time spent in the process to 30 minutes.
“That’s with 30 to 40 people in the showroom,” says Murphy. “Customers told us they hated the back and forth, and the time to buy a car, so we removed both elements.”
To sell vehicles the way customers want them, Nelson Automotive knew it needed a new mindset. Murphy says the shift occurred as it gave employees more power.
“Employees are loyal when you empower them. They are passionate about what they do. And because they are empowered in the entire process, they can better serve our guests,” says Patti Tremonti, Nelson Automotive’s manager of training and development and managing partner at MTN Automotive Training, the group’s training company.
The training doesn’t stop there. Every member of the dealership gets weekly training and a one-on-one session with their supervisor each week.
“In those meetings, we measure behaviors, not results. We actually say results don’t matter,” says Murphy. “We are more concerned about the conversation points along the way, the behaviors that get the right response.”
Nelson Automotive calls the training method the Power Selling System and offers it to other dealerships through MTN Automotive. The company measures behaviors with A-Z Software, which the auto group partnered with to develop pinpointed time slots based on conversion metrics. For example, the software might measure the finance conversation around the extended service agreement. That conversation takes, on average, seven minutes, but the dealership targets five and a half minutes.
“If it takes 17 minutes or 1.5 minutes, we know there is something that needs to be addressed through training,” says Murphy. “We have built a behavioral- based system that doesn’t depend on compensation to drive results, which creates an amazing training environment. No one is worried about taking time away from the next sale. We can focus on training moments that give customers the best experience possible.”
Murphy says the group focuses on the process instead of results “because we found the outcomes didn’t always mirror our core values.”
A successful shift to a “One Person, One Price” sales model demands employee buy-in. Nelson Automotive got it by being upfront with its reasons for the change.
Management informed team members that the transformation was necessary to better live out company values, not to make more money, Murphy explains, noting its fear that staying the same was greater than its fear of change.
“We didn’t change to make more money,” he says. “That wasn’t our focus, though that’s what happened. It wasn’t so we would sell more cars, although that’s what happened. It wasn’t so we would have higher PVR, although that’s what happened. We did this to be more transparent and honest, and to provide customers with a great experience. We also wanted our team members and managers to have a great experience at work.”
The auto group guaranteed good salaries and asked team members to trust it.
“We said, ‘Regardless of if you fail, we’re going to be here to back you up,’” he says. “Imagine what happens when you do that — the fear leaves people immediately.”
“The irony is they all wanted to come back when they saw our success,” he says. “Not only did our sales turn around, but they went up almost 100%. Our finance numbers initially dropped 50%, but now they are above where they were before.”
To maintain the culture, the company also adopted a stringent hiring process.
“We want to make it the right fit for us and for them,” says Tremonti. “When we interview someone, we make sure they can interview us, too.”
Interviews include conversations with all managers because any manager might work with the candidate.
“We don’t look for someone with car sales or F&I experience. We look for someone who is good with people.”
“We teach them to listen and understand body language, to pause and to put the customer first. And we train our management team to do the same for every team member. To put them first every day. To ask, ‘How can I serve you today? What would you like to train on today?’” she says.
Nelson Auto Group gets managers to embrace the mindset through monthly management training, when Tremonti trains them in the five pillars of leadership:
- How to notice people
- How to coach in the moment
- How to listen
- How to communicate better
- How to know your team member and understand the way they learn
“We teach them how to sit down with their team members every week and follow up with them every month,” she says. “Managers learn that with every issue they have with a team member, the solution is always a partnership. If someone is missing the mark, they need to ask, ‘How can I help you meet that goal and then exceed it?’”
SERVE THE COMMUNITY
Nelson Auto Group prides itself on being an active part of the community. Besides partnering with Meals on Wheels, City Serve Oklahoma, Habitat for Humanity, Night Light Tulsa, and other nonprofit organizations, the dealer group also allows every full-time employee up to 32 hours of paid volunteer hours every year.
“Our mission isn’t about selling more cars or making more money,” Murphy says. “It’s about giving and blessing other people. And it starts with our own people. We give them time to serve, and our people are doing some amazing things in our community. That’s a key thing that moves our team members from the mindset of ‘Did I sell another car? Am I making another dollar?’ to ‘What am I doing to help our neighbors?’”
Originally posted on F&I and Showroom