How Your Sales Department Can Dramatically Increase Closing Percentages – Brian Finnegan, Advanced Dealer Concepts

Brian Finnegan

Dealers spend a lot of money on getting customers to call, click on, or come into the dealership, but once they get to the showroom floor, the salesperson falls flat. We recently caught up with Brian Finnegan, to find out why. Brian is the owner of Advanced Dealer Concepts and we discussed what sales trainers should be focusing on in the dealership today, to have a more profitable tomorrow.


Jim Fitzpatrick: It seems that for the last 10 years, dealers have been spending millions of dollars to get a consumer to visit their website, or better yet, their dealership. Has this infatuation with all things digital taken our attention away from the experience the consumer will have once they arrive in your showroom? Has your sales team been properly trained on delivering a great walk around presentation, or providing an effective demo drive, or better yet, have they been trained in the right way to develop a great rapport and to greet a customer properly?

Well, to talk about this topic and other challenges facing today’s dealer, is Brian Finnegan, President of Advanced Dealer Concepts, and former Sales Training Director with AutoNation. Brian’s also served as General Manager of Mercedes Benz and Lexus dealerships in the Southeast. Welcome to CBT, Brian.

Brian Finnegan: Thank you, thank you. Good to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You just heard my intro there. We’ve gotten so far away from training salespeople, and again, I just wanted, my footnote here is please don’t send me a nasty email. If you say, “Jim, we don’t do that here. We train our people.” There’s a great a number of dealers that do training right, and I think you would agree, Brian, out there.

Brian Finnegan: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: However, we’re talking to those dealers right now that are still challenged in providing that foundational type training to their sales department, because they have their eye on the website and what’s happening in the internet and what’s happening in third party lead providers matters. Let’s talk about that.

Brian Finnegan: I go into a lot of dealerships. Because of my background being in training so many years ago, I always try to observe especially the younger salespeople.

I just stand there, and I shake my head because the only thing these kids know how to do is go on their system, look for ups, make phone calls. And when someone comes in they say, “What stock number did you want to see?”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Thinking that the customer has already done all of that online, right?

Brian Finnegan: Oh yeah, it’s all done. All I have to do, is have the car. I’ve watched the actual selling of the car. They do have good product information, they know the technology, they don’t know how to deliver it. They don’t know how to do a demonstration drive. I told you at lunch, I actually had a couple of them take me on a demonstration drive.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Feared for your life.

Brian Finnegan: Oh yeah. It was pathetic.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And they got into topics they shouldn’t be into, whether it be politics.

Brian Finnegan: Oh yeah, I heard about their sisters, I heard about their dog, and the whole nine yards. Yeah, what I see happening is the customer is coming into the dealership, and typically he has picked out a stock number, but he has not seen that car. And we are assuming that that’s the right car for him.

Jim Fitzpatrick: When somebody comes in on a particular car, how many times is that one actually delivered to them?

Brian Finnegan: Well, that’s-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Maybe 10%?

Brian Finnegan: We did a survey with Lexus years ago, calling the customers who did not buy. Lexus contracted us to do that. We were calling them 60 days later, and the number one reason that a customer didn’t buy and didn’t come back, was the car. It wasn’t the salesman. It wasn’t the price.

They’d say to us, there was just something about the car that just … it just didn’t feel right to me. I just wasn’t-

Today, now they’re not going to auto shows, they’re not shopping five dealerships. They’re going online, they’re seeing a car, it fits the price parameter.

So they pick a stock number because it’s the right color, and they come in and we start assuming that this must be the right car because they picked the stock number, right?

Now the salesperson puts on those blinders, goes through the motions, takes the customer for a demonstration drive, and the demo ratio is okay.

Then he comes to the desk and the desk manager does nothing in reference to needs analysis, or how did the customer react to the product presentation? How sold is he?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Why are they in the market right now for an automobile?

Brian Finnegan: No, they just say, “What do you got?” Is he ready to buy today?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Brian Finnegan: No, he’s not ready to buy today. All right, let me go talk to him.

Jim Fitzpatrick: See if we could knock it out of him.

Brian Finnegan: Yeah, so I think a lot of the dealers … And to your point, the good dealers, there are good dealers out there that are doing some good training, they’re spending some money on it. But quite honestly, the majority of the sales forces that I see today, they would be able to increase their closing percentage dramatically with just a little bit of hands-on training.

The thing that you and I talked about before is, the managers aren’t equipped to do that training. They haven’t been trained to train, they don’t have the material to train.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, it’s almost you got to forgive them because they don’t know how.

Brian Finnegan: Exactly. We can’t blame this on the managers.They are busy as it is dealing with all the things they deal with. This is really a dealer issue.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, it is. It is.

Brian Finnegan: I don’t blame this on … And I understand-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Dealer GM, you mean?

Brian Finnegan: Yes. Somebody at the top has got to make this happen for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, and how do you make that happen? What does a GM do? Does he bring in an outside company to say, “Okay, be here every day,” or do we train the trainer? I mean, do we train the manager on how to train the salespeople? What does that look like in your world?

Brian Finnegan: We’ve gone through that exercise over the years, where we’ve really tried to train the managers to train. For some reason, and maybe we didn’t do it well, but it never lasted. Either there was turnover in the management team, and now the whole thing’s gone. Or the managers are busy doing other things, and it’s not their priority. Plus, quite honestly, they are just not good at it. So you’re a salesperson sitting there listening to training being put on by somebody that … It’s not working. So it’s ineffective.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Maybe they even get to know the manager, or the manager gets to know the salesperson too well, and it’s difficult to still maintain that level of, “Hey, I’m the trainer. Listen to me.” And it’s like, “Dude, I was out having beers with you last night.”

Brian Finnegan: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: “What do you mean, I have to do this?”

Brian Finnegan: Yeah, these groups that have hired an ingroup trainer, that’s exactly what happens, is he becomes part of the problem.

He ends up running for lunch and taking care of … He fills in whenever somebody is sick, so again, the training department just fell apart right there. The training that is needed, it’s not online training. That’s all these kids are getting. They are very good at their product knowledge, they just don’t know how to implement it. They don’t know how to execute it.

They need for someone to actually coach them on the floor. Role play with them, make them do it. Training is very simple, you tell them what to do, you show them how to do it, and you make them do it, right? And that’s why I’ve said, I’ve always said, the desk is the ultimate trainer.

I can tell them what we need done. I can show them how to do it. I can role play with them and get them to the point where they can execute, but if the desk isn’t going to make sure they keep doing it, then it’s going right down the drain.

The desk is the ultimate trainer. But yes, to your point, you almost need to bring somebody in from the outside to do that kind of grunt, hands-on work with them.

And no, it doesn’t need to be an ongoing thing, a weekly thing. Depending on the turnover in the dealership and how these kids are doing, maybe you do it two, three, four times a year.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Do you think that the huge turnover in the industry, that’s somewhat north of 70%, has anything to do with the lack of training that we’re providing these individuals?

Brian Finnegan: Yeah, it’s a self-fulling prophecy.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It is, isn’t it?

Brian Finnegan: It really is, yeah. We don’t train them, they don’t do what we want them to do, and so we say, “Well, they were no good. We got to replace them.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Then you get dealers that will say, “Well, I’m not going to train them unless they … I’m going to put them out there, see what they’re made of, and if they’re here 60 days or 90 days, we’ll go ahead and spend the money on either sending them to training, or having somebody really shadow them and train them.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s crazy, right?

Brian Finnegan: I was going to say, the dealer who sells himself that concept, I don’t want to do any training for him. That’s not going to work at all. No, you’ve got to make the investment when these kids are brand new. Otherwise, what happens to them is, they struggle, they fail, they lose their confidence.

Confidence is still a big part of it. You’ve got to be out there really feeling good about everything. If you put these kids out there for two months without that kind of training, the odds of them doing well are slim and none. Let’s face it, eventually that’s going to affect not only the bottom line, but your CSI scores.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Absolutely. What do you say to the dealer that says, “I hear what you’re saying, Brian, but we sold every … we hit all the numbers, and our Toyota number this month, and we’re making it on the back end and we’re doing a great job in service, and we just don’t subscribe to the ongoing training you’re talking about. Everything’s internet now.”?

Brian Finnegan: Next. You’ve got those dealers, but they’re really thinking short term. We’ve all seen dealerships that they’re doing great, and then for some reason later, five, six, seven years later, they’re struggling to stay alive.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. Or maybe the captain of the team leaves and takes all those guys with him, right?

Brian Finnegan: And that does happen, doesn’t it?

Jim Fitzpatrick: It does, it’s a reality.

Brian Finnegan: But if I’m a dealer today, and I’ve been a General Manager, I understand you have to think down the road. Who are my desk people two years from now? Are they out there on that sales force? Are we developing them to become managers?

We have a weakness in management as it is, Jim. You know that better than anyone. Our managers have never been trained to manage. I’ve often told the story, when I first became a manager I was up in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, the dealer walked into the office one day, into my office one day, I was in F&I at this point in time, and he said, “Brian, how would you like to be the sales manager?” And I’m thinking, demo, office, right? Yeah, I’m in. Right? He said, “Fine, fire Vic and you can have his job.” Seriously.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure.

Brian Finnegan: I went home that night, and all of a sudden I started realizing I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.

I went to the dealer the next morning, and said, “Frank, if you just maybe kind of give me some guidance as to what you’d like me to really focus on and what my responsibilities are going to be.”

He said, “How long you been here?” I said, “Almost two years.” He said, “Just do what Vic did.” I said, “We just fired Vic.” I’m doing what Vic did, right? Unfortunately, our managers have not been trained to be managers, and they’re certainly not trained to be leaders. That’s one of the things that we really need to focus on. That’s the kind of training that I think the dealers need to put some thought into also.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. There’s an old saying in training, what we allow, we teach. So if you’re allowing salespeople to act a certain way, or to not focus on the things they need to focus on, you’re actually teaching them to do that, right?

Brian Finnegan: That’s what I mean by the desk is the ultimate trainer. If you don’t train them on good process and keep them on it, you’re training them not to do it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. We spend so much time in dealerships now focused on the digital aspect of the industry. How many third party leads came in, and how many internet leads came in, and what’s the BDC doing, and what’s happening with the phone calls, and so on and so forth, that it seems to me with the number of dealerships that I’ve been in, and the people that I’ve spoken to over the last six years with CBT, it’s kind of a forgotten group.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That salesperson that’s on the showroom floor that’s going, “Hey, when somebody walks in and …” Yeah, they might have some information with them, or they take out their phone and say, “Hey, I want to see this car. It’s right here.” Rather than just darting out to that particular car, and saying, “Okay, here it is. You saw it on the internet, you want to go write it up?”

Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re hard pressed even to get offered to drive the car nowadays.

Brian Finnegan: Well, you’re right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Again, not all dealerships.

Brian Finnegan: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: But we’re talking about the other group.

Brian Finnegan: But I’ve sat through a bunch of needs analysis. The interesting part to me, and you know me, I’ve been in the car business for 45 years, right?

I was trained to greet, do a needs analysis, pick out a car, drive it, bring it back, sit them down and ask them to buy it. That’s the same thing these kids are doing today, for the most part.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It can’t be be, Brian. It can’t be.

Brian Finnegan: The only thing that’s really changed is the negotiating part, right? But I sit through and just kind of observe salespeople, new ones when I’m training them, and it’s amazing. They don’t even know what a needs analysis is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Why are we doing a needs analysis?

Brian Finnegan: They think it’s just figure out what car to go get and pull up. Well, the customers got the stock number, there’s not much to figure out. There’s no rapport, no relationship, not understanding how they’re really going to use the car, and that’s why the closing percentage is the way it is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well, Brian Finnegan, President and owner and CEO, and- You’re the top guy. But, Advanced Dealer Concepts, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on the CBT. This has been very enjoyable. Hopefully, we can have you back to talk about some more of these issues, because dealers that are listening are definitely shaking their head and going, “I got that problem in my store. What do we do about the training?”

Brian Finnegan: Well, I appreciate you having me. I’ve enjoyed it.

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