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Engaging Salespeople at Car Dealerships: A New Road

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Few industries revolve around old world employment models like car dealerships. “Sell or lose your job” still dominates the traditional dealership model. Yet everything else about the industry is shifting away from the traditional. And if you can’t engage your star sellers, you may lose them when you need them most. Here are five ways to engage your salespeople in the modern dealership.

Published on:
July 17, 2020
Illustrations by:
Written by:
Tim Lage

Few industries revolve around old world employment models like car dealerships. “Sell or lose your job” still dominates the traditional dealership model. Yet everything else about the industry is shifting away from the traditional. And if you can’t engage your star sellers, you may lose them when you need them most. Here are five ways to engage your salespeople in the modern dealership.

Young Car Salesman

1. Reward Rejections

This might sound like a “participation trophy” until you start looking at the entire modern car-buying process and realize that your salesman is just one cog in that machine. Every serious dealership, from the massive, multi-acre operation to the smallest corner used car lot, has an online inventory. That means your customer, who is about to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a vehicle, has done her research.

According to a study from Gartner, the average customer has already completed 57% of the buying process before making contact with the seller. This wasn’t always the case. Twenty years ago, most of the process would be handled at the dealership.

Clearly, the salesperson’s role has changed. He is no longer just a profit machine. He’s also now an ambassador of your company. Some of that 57% is the customer’s study of your entire dealership, also found online, and the salesperson will affect those reviews.

If your salesman’s only value is in selling the car, he’ll start to put extreme pressure on the customer. Meanwhile, the customer already has a car in mind, and if you don’t have it, the customer’s leaving anyway. He can leave to write a negative review about a pushy salesman, or he can leave to recommend your dealership to his friends for a positive experience, even if you didn’t have the car he wanted.

Rewarding rejections is a great way to make sure your salespeople are active in engaging people on the sales floor, building good behaviors and natural positive habits with less risk involved.

2. Fight the Sales Machine Mentality

You probably noticed, but before the general Covid/2020 disaster, there was a labor shortage, and it’s on its way back. Just as your customers have plenty of options for buying a car, your salespeople have plenty of options for places to work. If they can make as much money driving a forklift or running a security desk as they can selling cars, you might have to fight to keep them.

That means changing the dialogue around your people as sales machines. “Sell or be fired” was the old mantra, and it might have made sense in its era. But now if you hold that attitude toward your people, you might not get the chance to fire them. They’ll just leave.

Losing people isn’t cheap, either. In a 2017 study, the Work Institute found that replacing the average employee costs the company 33% of his or her annual salary, mostly due to lost productivity costs.

3. Motivate Training

If you have underperforming salespeople, make no mistake: sales can be learned. In the old world, it just took someone with a strong personality and good people skills, but we know much more now. Countless resources, seminars, and even podcasts exist to turn your employees into star sellers.

The advantage of our age is that your people can access these resources instantly during any length of downtime thanks to mobile tech. No customers on the lot? Have your people run through a few training modules, each at his or her own pace.

That’s two parts of the training equation. Now for the third: motivation. Instead of training, employees can make subconscious excuses to waste time on social media, hang out in the break room, or find easy, unimportant work to do during downtime. Furthermore, any sales staff you have who are more experienced (or think they are) will be reluctant to run through the training, finding it beneath their station.

It’s up to you to reward your people for completing the training. There’s no better motivation than a simple reward.

4. Focus on Achieving Goals

If your incentive program is a monthly plate on this year’s top-seller plaque, you’re missing out. Top Salesman of the Month isn’t motivational, especially to newer employees. Even if it comes with a bonus, that’s not the only factor in motivation. More importantly, it has a limited radius of impact. It can leave all but your monthly winner (who often wins several months out of the year), feeling like their efforts aren’t making a contribution to the company.

Those other factors in motivation include "knowledge of outcomes" according to researchers Greg Oldham and Richard Hackman. In their now famous book, Work Redesign, they found knowledge of outcomes to be one of the key motivational factors in work. First, because it lets employees know that their work has been a success. Second, because where there are areas that need improving, workers can see the impact of that need.

Talk with your team members to set goals. Achieving them creates that feedback. The sense of accomplishment they feel when they reach and exceed those goals will drive more consistent growth, and you can take the opportunity every month to talk through their progress.

5. Promote Healthy Competition

When everyone has a goal to meet, everyone who meets it can win. This doesn’t mean that competition shouldn’t exist in your dealership. But healthy competition carries a certain character. It doesn’t condemn the loser. It’s even fun. It shouldn’t be a source of corrosive contention among your sales staff, even if there’s a monetary bonus on the line.

How Arcade Helps With All 5

Rewarding Rejections: Obviously you can’t offer your people commission for rejections. But commission isn’t the only sales motivator anymore. With Arcade, you decide which tasks can be posted within the app to earn points. Employees can rack up points for every conversation started, redeeming them for real prizes.

Fighting the Machine Mentality: How do you prevent the mentality that tells people they’re more than machines? By reminding them that they’re human. Recognition is key to this effort. Arcade promotes a culture of recognition, giving employees a platform to be acknowledged for their achievements and met goals.

Motivating Training: Remember, you can set whatever tasks you like as points-earning games on Arcade. That includes training. Make it worth their while in rewards, and your salespeople will never stop learning.

Focusing on Goals: With Arcade, not only do you have a data platform for tracking your sales team’s progress, they can track their own progress toward their goals. Weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals are no longer just written on a form and forgotten under a stack of paper. It’s in the app, something each member of the sales team will see and work toward every day.

Promoting Healthy Competition: As mentioned, Arcade allows team members to celebrate each other’s work. So while competition still exists, you build this environment of “sportsmanship” around the store. Even if two salespeople are working for that top spot, they can still high-five each other along the way.

It is possible to engage your sales team with some clever rethinking of old world dealership methods. Check out Arcade today and see how we can help.

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