Understanding your role in the dealership and how it contributes to the success of the entire operation leads to satisfied customers, higher profits and greater job satisfaction.
BY JEFF COWAN
Recently, I was in a meeting where I was asked to set aside 30 minutes at the end of my presentation for questions and answers. This group was very interesting and diverse. It consisted of, in equal parts, dealer principles, general managers, fixed operation directors, service managers, technicians and service advisors. What started out as one simple question, ended up becoming a game of “one-upmanship.” No one wanted to look like the bad guy and what resulted was one of the most interesting question and answer periods I have been a part of. Based on the group’s reaction, I know they enjoyed it, too.
The whole Q & A session was centered on one simple question: “What is the biggest mistake that (dealers/general managers/fixed ops directors/service managers/technicians/service advisors) make?” The following are my answers.
Dealers: When a dealer fails to learn and understand their fixed operations as well as they do the variable operations, the result is lost opportunity. By not immersing themselves in this all-important part of their business, they are forced to rely on information from those whom they pay to understand it for them. When this happens, the dealer principle is forced to run this department based on how that particular person sees fit. Many times this does not match the dealer’s approach to business and is usually very costly. A manager’s style of running a business is typically based on maintaining business, while a business owner’s is usually based on taking chances and promoting growth. In short, the person who knows the most is most likely to get their way.
General Managers: General manager means generally managing all departments – being the leader, the one to inspire, encourage and create a cohesive team that works seamlessly together. At least that is what I tell my general manager. In the auto industry however, too many times the GM becomes an extension of the sales manager. This is because that is from where most general managers are promoted. That being the case, the fixed operations get over looked because of unfamiliarity and the “front end / back end” mentality that exists. Sometimes, there is not just one big team that works together for the common cause to serve, excel and grow, but a team of “us vs. them.” A house divided is not a house that is going to be one of maximum production.
Fixed Operations Manager: This individual is the overseer of multiple locations. The problem arises when they fail to brand their locations and enforce consistent customer handling processes from location to location. When I visit a chain restaurant, hardware store, clothing store and the like, I do so because I know by the name on the sign exactly how I will be treated and what the experience will be like. I can bank on it and that is what draws me in.
By allowing the service manager of a given location to run that location as they see fit, you will be guaranteeing one thing: that from location to location very little, if anything, will be the same. When that happens, and it happens a lot, it is frustrating for your customers and bad for business.
Service Manager: Very few service managers truly understand the art and skill involved in professional selling. This is a problem since one of the most important components to their department is the service advisor team – or as I like to refer to them, the sales team. How can you effectively manage a sales team if you don’t truly understand the process of selling or have never sold to customers yourself?
One of the biggest secrets to being a successful sales manager is being able to actually deliver a sales presentation at least as good as your best salesperson. As a manager of salespeople, you yourself must be able to do all of the things you want and need your team to do. You need to be able to greet customers, ask diagnostic questions, walk around a vehicle, point things out, make a professional presentation, ask for the sale, handle objections and all of the other things a professional salesperson knows how to do. The best way to get a sales team to listen to you and take your instruction is to show them that you can do everything you are asking them to do to the letter.
Technicians: Technicians must fully inspect every single vehicle every time. It’s easy to see why sometimes they don’t. If you take the time to fully inspect the vehicle, fill out your multi-point inspection sheet, present the multi-point inspection sheet to your service advisor and they, in turn, can’t sell what you so painstakingly found, why waste the time? I wouldn’t.
Technicians hold all of the cards in this scenario. The need for highly skilled and motivated technicians is at an all-time high. If you are in a shop that does not allow you to work in the most efficient and profitable manner possible, I would shop my talents. Of course, I recommend that you first talk with management about your concerns, but if your concerns in this area are not addressed within 90 days, they never will be. Trust me, if you cannot get the work done efficiently and in a profitable manner for your service advisors, they are not going to stick around. Your profession is not a game. Maximize your opportunity and position yourself to work with like-minded professionals and inspect every vehicle every time. You have the right to be successful too, and in my opinion, it is not fair for you to be held back by those who can’t do their jobs.
Service Advisors: Service advisors should take more personal responsibility for their careers instead of waiting for the dealer, the general manager, their manager, their co-workers or the factory to supply all the solutions, training and opportunity. As a professional salesperson you cannot wait. You have to invest in yourself, your career and your future. Sign yourself up for all of the free sales information you can on the Internet. Invest in books, magazines, webinars, videos, workshops and seminars. Be open-minded. The information you seek out does not have to be specific to the auto industry. Some of the best tips, practices and advice I have ever received have been from sources outside my immediate industry. As a professional salesperson you should set aside between 2 and 5 percent of your annual income to invest in your education and self-improvement. Over time, that investment will reward you at least tenfold. The salesperson that rarely reads will experience a bad economy more often and deeper than the salesperson that does read.
Of course the picture I have painted here is not a reflection of all people who hold these positions, but it sadly does reflect the majority. As you can see, the underlying theme here is taking responsibility, stepping outside your comfort zone and taking steps that are oftentimes uncomfortable but best for your career. If you wish to maximize your opportunity you have to prepare yourself to maximize your opportunity. The sooner you start the better. Start today because you will run out of tomorrows.