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Keep ’em in the Dark!

For years now, we’ve been operating under the dangerous assumption that keeping our sales staff in the dark will somehow protect the “sacred cow.”

Dumbing salespeople down and keeping them in the dark was viewed as a benefit, not a disadvantage—a shrewd move on the behalf of dealerships to keep the front-line sales team undereducated on the intricacies of sales and lease terms, all for the support of a fatally flawed belief: that too much information is a bad thing. After all, selling cars is tough enough! Why give them more than they can handle?

Why It Hurts a Dealership

The problem with this thinking is that it hurts an auto dealership. We now know that keeping a salesperson in the dark may not be the best way to go, especially considering that customers today have access to so much information online. The last thing anyone should want is for the customer to know more than the salesperson with whom they’re consulting. It’s an act that could cost your dealership untold lost sales and finance opportunities.

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Before the internet, things were a lot easier for the average auto dealership. Back then, dealers were in full control of how their customer bought their cars. Those days are over. Today, customers have an incredible amount of information at their fingertips, and the advent of online dealerships means that you have to work extra hard to catch up with modern technology. Otherwise, those online retailers will be more than happy to take the burden of addressing specific customer questions off your shoulders—and the profits right out of your pocket.

Stated simply: Keeping your sales staff in the dark is no way to be competitive in this market.

Too Much Information is Never Badin the dark

Ironically, I have been guilty of this same thinking. For years, I subscribed to the belief that giving sales teams too much information was a bad thing. Why overburden them with information better left to the F&I department? Wasn’t a thorough product knowledge enough for them to handle? It was simply not possible, I thought, to trust them to use the information wisely. I figured the more information they had, the greater the opportunity for them to make a mess! But after years of experience, I’ve come to believe that trying to keep that delicate balance going can cause more harm than good.

With online competitors offering a free pass to consumers—a no-hassle, fully transparent buying experience from cradle to grave—it is foolish to not provide sound training to sales associates. At the very least, they should be given word tracks that help overcome customer objections and aid them in answering the most basic questions. They must have a concrete knowledge base that enables them to address specific inquiries regarding financing, leasing, and ancillary product offerings.

The sales associate today has a higher level of responsibility than at any other time in the past. As a result, they must be trained on how to present dealership product options. Consider this scenario: your dealership is delivering the car to the customer’s home, as many online retailers do, with a seven-day money back guarantee. In this situation, the sales associate will also be responsible for presenting a digital menu at the customer’s home prior to the customer taking delivery. Some digital menu providers offer a complete checkout process, including e-contracting capability. Without proper training, the sales associate can’t perform this critical task.

If you think your dealership can survive without offering this option, think again: it is essential to offer the customer the flexibility of a non-intrusive checkout option. This process will assure a better CSI and keep the customer financing within the dealership.

A Seamless Process is Essential

Sales managers must also be trained on how to efficiently present the menu in the event the F&I Manager is not available to do so. Creating a seamless process that gets the customer in and out of the dealership is essential. Time is everything today. Sales managers must be equipped to not only present the menu, but they must also be knowledgeable about the variety of product offerings. This cannot happen if a dealership’s sales staff is kept in the dark.

It stands to reason why F&I wouldn’t want sales managers to present menus—they’re notorious for giving away the farm! But sales managers must be held accountable to the same set of standards as F&I. It’s too easy to point the finger at F&I and put all the blame on their shoulders. As much as F&I performance is tracked, the performance of sales managers must also be tracked, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Front-End Gross
  • Trade Gross
  • Product Index (even if that means the F&I person presented the products)
  • Money Down
  • Term In – Term Out
  • Payment In – Payment Out

If you are going to hold your sales managers accountable for performance as you do your F&I department, be sure to institute a pay plan that is fair across the board for all involved departments—whether that’s on a per-unit sold basis, or a month-end bonus payout. Ensuring pay plans are equally balanced between departments can create an environment that fosters group effort, rather than a competitive, “us vs. them” environment. It’s only when all players are treated equally that a dealership can truly thrive.

In the end, we come around to the issue of education. When done properly, educating your sales staff in areas outside of their immediate purview should not be seen as a bad thing. It should instead be looked on as an opportunity to capture more sales—giving dealerships a chance to maximize their earnings and continue to better serve the community of consumers around them.

Becky Chernek
Becky Chernek
Rebecca Chernek has nearly three decades of consulting experience in the automotive retail industry. She started her career by working with her father at their family-owned auto dealerships in Have De Grace, Maryland. She gained hands-on skills and experience in almost every aspect of the automotive sales process: new used cars and trucks sales, F&I, Director of Finance for volume operations and general management. Rebecca has helped hundreds of automotive car dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada streamline their processes and closing techniques and significantly increase profits.

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