Pursue six attributes for your dealership that make salespeople feel challenged and affirmed. BY CHRIS ROLLINS
Staff retention has been a major headache for auto dealerships for years, but nowhere is the pain more acute than with the retail sales force. Just talk for more than a few minutes about your dealership, and odds are that your salesperson retention problems will come up in conversation.
The volume of professional literature, seminars and blog posts on this topic is massive. A lot of good advice is being circulated about how to stop turnover in sales positions. So, why does this continue to be an Achilles heel for most dealerships?
Salesperson turnover will never be reduced to zero; in fact, that would not be conducive to high performance. However, study after study has shown the high costs of constant turnover, so cutting into the rate will certainly produce bottom-line benefits to your dealership.
There is no quick fix to this problem. However, you will begin to progress as soon as you start developing the kind of culture that emphasizes retaining top talent and achieving cumulative returns on the investment in your teams. As I have learned from my mentor, John Maxwell, creating a growth environment is one of the most crucial tasks that dealers face as leaders. Once we do that, not only will retention improve but also when salespeople do leave, it won’t constantly be our best talent walking out the door.
However, what does a growth environment look like? Following are six attributes that I believe characterizes that kind of sales force in the retail automotive industry.
Keeping Carrot At Stick’s End
What happens once your group has hit No. 1, however you define it? Let that question really sink in for a moment. There is an old saying, “If you are the best person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” When competitive people no longer feel competition in their current situation, they will seek it out elsewhere.
Your goal is to create an environment in which your salespeople are constantly challenged in new ways, and thus constantly engaged. Doing this could be as simple as tracking more than just numbers of sales and touting, for example, appointments made or profit per transaction.
When you start tracking multiple metrics, no one sales rep will be No. 1 in every area. Everyone has something to strive to achieve. Plus, you could offer one-on-one coaching to your top performer as a reward. That is the sort of incentive that keeps your people working at high level of energy and with consistent enthusiasm.
Keep The Focus Forward
Give the salespeople a big picture on which to focus. When you share our vision for where you plan to take your dealership, your reps will get a lot more excited than if you announce, “Hey, we really need to sell 15 cars each this month.”
A growth environment is one in which your team can visualize how each piece comes together to create the overall big picture and destination for your dealership. Dealers and GSMs should talk about their vision constantly until it becomes engrained in every part of their culture.
Make The Atmosphere Affirming
I believe this presents one of the biggest areas of opportunity for dealerships nationwide. Many automotive sales reps come to work daily feeling like they constantly battle a negative image, with the buyer population pulling up to the lot already distrusting the salesperson due to stereotypes or past experience.
To make matters worse, in forum after forum salespeople make it clear they feel treated like a number and unimportant to the dealer. Their criticisms can and should sting, but they are necessary medicine. Are the salespeople important? Absolutely! Your challenge as the leader is to ensure they know you appreciate their value to the dealership.
One simple yet powerful tactic I have tried for years is to send personal letters home to a spouse or family member, letting her or him know how much we appreciate the employee. Win the heart of the spouse, and you have a huge advocate at home.
Stray Outside Of The Comfort Zone
There is an old saying that growth takes place out of your comfort zone. The danger of performing the same sales functions day in and day out lie in people unintentionally getting caught in the comfort zone trap.
Keep training, challenging and encouraging your team on a consistent basis to make yesterday’s top performance the new standard. When you do, your team will remain in a constant state of challenge, while you keep raising the bar of performance.
Failure Is Not Your Enemy
How many times has a rep walked in from the lot after missing out on an apparent sales opportunity and uttered the classic line, “Oh, they were just looking”? I bet you have heard that excuse at least once already today! Salespeople aren’t going to close with every customer, but when you foster an environment where they feel secure about opening up and really digging into why the last prospect walked, you begin to develop strategies that will win more of those opportunities in the long run.
Flipping that lost sale to a source of learning from a source of frustration marks an environment where reps are encouraged as they are challenged. It has been said for too long that “Experience is the mother of all learning.” That is simply not true; evaluated experience is.
Help your sales team embrace learning from failure rather than fearing it. To get things going, try at the next sales meeting opening by inviting the team to brainstorm responses to the customer objections they face every day.
Growth Should Be Modeled, Expected
When was the last time you participated in a sales training class with your team? When did you last read a great book on sales and then share a few key takeaways with your salespeople? If you truly want to create a growth environment, then it starts with you as the leader.
When you model for your team what growth should look like, your reps know you truly are in the battle with them. At that point, you have earned the right as leader to insist on what is expected from everyone who chooses to be part of your team.
When you create an environment built around principles such as these in your dealership, it becomes about more than simply selling cars. Yes, that is the function your reps perform every day, but you also want them to realize a sense of purpose.
Take a few minutes to perform a personal inventory of the six key areas discussed above. If you are feeling really brave, take an anonymous survey of your team to ask how they feel the dealership is performing in these areas. That will give you a great starting point to address the aspects of a growth culture that will have the greatest impact on your salesperson retention.
Record the specific ways you are tackling each area and then compare your dealership’s sales rep turnover and retention rate in six months vs. today.