The key to a successful sales team is to train and coach them to be transparent, forthcoming and listen, says Jennifer Carroll, who oversees a sales staff of 60 and 30 more in the finance and delivery departments at Trophy Nissan in Mesquite TX. “We coach our staff on how to make accurate thoughtful responses, not some generic lame response. A lot of our customers now Google you and then hit on the click button to call you directly. Most of those customers already have their information and they don’t want to play games.”
After listening and getting what the customer needs and wants, it is important to react accordingly and not have a standard response. “We do a lot of coaching on how to listen at whatever stage the customer is in with the sales process. We have some customers who come in and want to buy right then and there. Others want to ask questions and be educated. Others are coming in for a test drive and will be going to Toyota and Honda so it’s our job understand that and provide them the information that will help them in that test drive decision. Our coaching is aimed at listening to where the customer is in the buying process and then be equipped to handle that customer at every stage.”
Carroll has been part of Trophy Nissan since 1996 when she walked into the dealership and asked for a sales job. “I was 18, going to school and working for Glamour Shots. We bought our cars at Trophy. I didn’t know the the difference between as six cylinder or a four cylinder. I knew nothing but I could talk. Everyone at Trophy laughed at me but gave me a shot. They actually didn’t think I’d last six months, but I’ve outlived several of those people.”
The general manager is Bill Adkins and three years ago the dealership was one of 75 dealerships owned by the Van Tuyl Group, the fifth-largest auto dealership in America with $9 billion in sales. It was sold to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Group in 2014. Carroll said that managing the staff through the uncertainties of a sale was a non issue.
“I know it could have been a nerve-wracking experience with people worrying about jobs and everything, but honestly, we didn’t find out until it was all said and done,” she says. “We’re a couple years into the sale and it’s the same. The higher-ups said they weren’t going to mix things up so it’s all good and we’re fortunate. Other than the name change and we now get paid on the fifth and 20th instead of the first and 15, we’re cool.”
Importance of a Brand
Trophy Nissan opened 48 years ago and today has 243 employees and in 2001 and 2002 was the number one Nissan store in the nation. It has since yielded that honor to others but it still sells between 550 to 650 cars a month. “Five hundred and fifty is a good number,” she says. Of those, 300 are new cars; 250 used. Currently the Nissan Rouge and Sentra are the best sellers.
Trophy used to be one of the few Nissan dealerships in the area, which helped contribute to their top-selling status. But things changed and it affected the dealership and the sales team. “Nissan saturated the market the last five years and now customers have several choices,” she says. “That’s what makes your brand very important. People want Nissan but they can go to several places. Our brand stand on its own.”
The heart of the dealership an Carroll’s message to her team is building long-term relationships. “Sure we have struggles with customers and some don’t like us but we pride ourselves on working with every customer. If you enjoy what you do, you figure out a way to mow through the grass and turn something negative into an opportunity. It’s really only day-to-day obstacles; it’s not earth shattering.”
Customer Service: Do You Really Get It?
Part of that attitude came when the dealership battled through the recession of 2008 and 2009. “We, like everyone else, struggled and some of the struggles we faced weren’t about the economy, it was about the care we were giving our customers. I don’t think we truly understood the value of customers then like we do today. I think it really impressed on us the importance of taking care of customers long-time. It’s not longer how much money can I make today. It’s about relationships with customers. We had the attitude of wham! Bam! Next customer! We really didn’t understand the concept of customer service.”
Today, Carroll makes sure that the importance of having a long-term attitude permeates through her departments. “We see dealers in our area who will take a $4,000 or $5,000 loser and sell it to customers. Sure, we want to be as profitable as we can but that’s not the way. In our finance department we won’t put a customer in an 84-month lease because we know we won’t see that customer again because they won’t be trading out that car. We want to sell a car every two to three years to a customer. We want customers to come back as often as they can. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
All of her finance team has “grown up through the store” and when they’ve hired outsiders, they find it “hard to withstand our culture. They don’t understand why we do what we do and why integrity is so important. They’ve all been working with customers for years and they know what’s at stake — the importance of a repeat customer. They’ve seen customers buy five different cars and they expect to be seeing that customer five years from now.”
Trophy works with banks for people who have bad credit but Carroll says they are careful not to exploit their situation. “My grandmother instilled in us the golden rule and we live by that here — from the top to the bottom. We’re not going to set anyone up for failure.”
The long-term thinking extends to the service department, which many surveys show is the best way to maintain customer relationships through the life of the car sale to the next. “We have a phenomenal service department. Several service advisors have been here 20 years; mechanics, 30 years. Our customers know that and they buy with us because they trust Pansy Freeman or Danny in our service department. They know and want integrity as well as a world class exceptional experience.
School of Hard Knocks
Carroll says it is easier being a woman today than when she started out. Back then the husband and wife would come in and the wife wouldn’t talk to me because I was too pretty, or whatever,” she recalls. “Now, 21 years later, most of the women are making the buying decisions and I’ve survived in a man’s world.”
She credits her success to having “amazing teachers” along the way and the realization that everyone you come across is either meant to teach you something or you were meant to teach them. She says her best feature is also her worst — the gift of gab but sometimes speaking without thinking — and she learned some hard lessons as a result.
“I was that hot head who never wanted to follow the rules. I was always being written up and called to the mat. Finally someone said to me that I was the problem. I had to face that and the lesson I learned was that when I became a general sales manager I would have someone who would be just like me doing the same stupid things. I figured out that I would have to manage them and show that person why we do things a certain way. It was a life lesson.”
When she hires, she looks for charismatic individuals who have “spunk and are aggressive. Some people have the concept that the car business is easy but you get a lot of no’s before you get a yes. You have to persevere.”
She says each sales person works with a trainer until the person is ready to be “released into the wild. I want to invest in my people and pay it forward. I want to move up and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I don’t have a person on my staff who can take my job and another to take that person’s job. We constantly should be growing our sales people — really all our people.”
Her team, by the way, includes her husband, Bryan Fratar. “We’ve worked together longer than we’ve been married so people didn’t know any difference,” he says. In fact, customers like it. “They know if they can’t get a hold or Bryan, they can go to me. Yes, I hold him to a higher standard than everyone else and his career path was a bit slower because I didn’t want it to seem like nepotism. But again, it’s not just his career; it’s mine.”
Carroll has her eye on the top job. Her “ideal” dream is to become the general manager of Trophy. Her second place dream would be to become a sales manager within the Nissan family. Her success, even today, comes with “being in the trenches. I’m not afraid to go on the line and help find that car or go into the finance department and talk to a customer. If you’re not working as hard as you can, how can you expect your team to do that?”
Carroll, who is the first female graduate of the Berkshire Hathaway Dealer Academy, isn’t ready to have a dealership revolution and take over. She knows she’s not ready. “I’m learning and when the opportunity is right, then ultimately I’ll be rewarded. But I’m still providing myself but I’ll be ready when it comes.”
Until that time, she enjoys her job and works hard with her staff to provide the long-term relationships necessary to stand out in a crowded field. Of course, sometimes a dealership just decides to stand out a bit more. In the ’80s, the dealership was known by its ‘80s hit rap song, “Trophy-Trophy-Trophy Nissan!”
Today, it holds the Guinness world record for the longest car parade. Turns out the record was held by a British dealer and Trophy wanted the trophy. They invited past Nissan owners who showed up in new cars as well as cars that were 10 and even 30 years old. The Nissan parade of 250 vehicles was two miles long.
“How many dealers hold a Guinness World Record?” she asked. “It’s just cool. We had all these Nissans in one location and the same time and it was just cool. There’s always a way to have fun.”