Ever think about the number of components that are required to work seamlessly together in order to simply start your car and drive it to your destination? Recently, I was considering all of the important and essential components which were working together in keeping my vehicle going down the interstate at 78 mph. An immense amount of electronics, engine components, fluids, tires, etc., all working together and each very important. Then I asked myself the simple question, “Which component is most important?” Quick answer – all of them. If any fail you most likely become disabled.
Similarly, in a dealership there are a multitude of components that keep the store climbing towards a growth-oriented success plan and often, if even one of these is not in place a dealership can begin a rapid descent. It seems that when things are rolling along lots of dealers tend to overlook the critical elements that a) got them there and b) that will keep them there. Sometimes just when things are rolling along smoothly, the bottom drops out when; employees leave, lose deals to competitors, inventory problems, low gross products, etc. Often the greatest opportunity comes at a time of shortage and it is a good idea to consider revamping things to create a breakthrough that will sustain the store in good times and bad. Start telling everyone in the store a breakthrough is coming because we are going to pay close attention to what makes the store and its team members consistent performers.
I have listed below a few of the critical components required to maintain a steady course towards total dealership growth.
Generating the business plan direction for the store and implementing how the team is going to hit the business altitude the dealership desires to reach is a role played out by the Leader. In today’s market, a leader’s followers no longer want to accept the old-fashioned methodologies, full of authoritative or bureaucratic ideas or leaders who impose here today… gone tomorrow techniques. Your ‘position’ does not create followers. Followers decide to follow you.
Today’s followers want leaders with well-rooted human values, character, integrity and who will respect and acknowledge the talents and contributions given by others. People want leaders who can identify and create an atmosphere of team work and creativity as they seek to match the best production levels for themselves and the dealership. Failure is contagious but success is infectious. Say: “I’m proud of you.” “You’re a bunch of winners.” Reinforce success. You must reward success. Expect some failures. Remember you’re dealing with human beings. Give the people the latitude to learn and watch them soar to new heights.
Your “pre-destination” check list has to contain certain leadership initiatives in order to gain proper altitude for sustained flight into the new levels of achievement. Make certain you give them clarity as to what the mission is. Remember, when the shepherd sleeps, the sheep wander. Stay on your game, be alert to what is going on and be the catalyst to inspire greatness in every person on your team. Again, the Directional Leader’s primary role is to lay down a long-term performance improvement strategy and then with clarity, implement it throughout the dealership.
Most organizations are still struggling with this challenge –74% of U.S. employees are not engaged at work, as measured by various surveys of employee engagement. These surveys also have clearly proven that a more engaged employee is also a more productive employee. The research proved that a more engaged employee is also a more profitable employee, a more customer-focused employee, a more motivated and safer employee, and an employee who is more likely to withstand temptations to jump ship.
Many of us have long suspected this connection between an employee’s level of engagement and the level and quality of his or her performance. This research laid the matter to rest. Engaged employees reject intimidation and manipulation, and want to be recognized as an important integral part in these changing high-flying times. We must get them involved and make them a part of the design and planning for the growth of the dealership. This way they have a sense of ownership of the plan instead of just being told what to do. We want our employees coming to work with their hearts and not just their hands. When they love coming to work it no longer is work, it becomes their passion for success.
Total “Customer-Focused” Business Strategies:
Every customer touch point has to have the customer’s best interest in mind. Starting with developing customer-focused business strategies—also known as the step we most want to avoid, because it’s all about planning. Who has the time and patience for planning? Any store that wants to be successful, that’s who.
The object of planning customer-focused business strategies is to find win-win opportunities with customers. Do more that benefits them so they’ll do more that benefits us—like buy more from us and stay with us. The “customer relationship development” planning approach is relatively simple. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. See through their eyes. Discover what they want and how they wish to be treated.
Even anticipate what they don’t want yet, but will. And when you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to identify the best mutual opportunities for your customers and your dealership. Then, you can prioritize these opportunities, pick the best and put them into play. Obviously, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it.
You must always be looking for improvements in the way you do business vs. the way your competition does business. Your store must become customer focused, professional and do the little extraordinary things that the ordinary dealerships are not willing to do. Remember, you want to develop Loyal Customers not just Satisfied Customers.
A loyal customer deserves all the elements that go into a wife/husband relationship (i.e. remembering special occasions, respect, good communications, notes, cards, phone calls, listening, caring, gifts of perceived value, etc.). A satisfied customer remains satisfied for around 90-120 days then, as the invoices keep coming in they may become dissatisfied if they are not shown continued appreciation from the dealership. So, regularly love on them by staying in touch to maintain the development of this important relationship.
Solid and Consistently Maintained Processes:
For a store to grow, it must have a top-down approach to adhering to solid process skills before they can grow their people or the store. And, this applies not only to sales but service, parts and administration. You see, sticking with processes needs to be an all-inclusive dealership campaign. The tone of the store’s culture however starts at the Top. Conversely, without effective top-down leadership it becomes like a rudderless plane going in any direction without any control.
Ok, so where do we go now? We start again at the top. Top-down strategy simply means that everyone in management must be committed to the business strategy, design elements, planning, implementation, managing and leadership of all processes. This includes the dealer/principal. This first process is the relationship with the management team. They must work together by looking in the same direction toward the same dealership goal attainment. Getting them involved in the process and letting each member know that they are playing a very important part in the building project is a good start.
Keep the management team in the loop and you are more likely to engage them in the process long term. Constantly remind them that they are valuable and essential to the project’s success because, quite frankly, they are. When the rest of your store sees this team working together as one team, it sends a signal that there is buy-in at this level and therefore it must be something good.
The business process at this juncture involves not the transactions, but people and the top-down leadership business relationship between with them. If you do what other dealerships won’t do, you will have what they will never have. If you do not develop good processes for every customer touch point it, will be as confusing as attempting to move the lot inventory around with blind folds on your employees. Don’t give into compromise which becomes average. Stick to the processes and watch them grow the store.
Individual talents of your employees are nothing compared to summation of the talents of a team working as one team. Have you ever witnessed a champion sports team or a well-rehearsed Cirque du Soleil performance and then felt the commitment and energy the team demonstrated? What you saw was more than just teamwork – it was team synergy, a phenomenon that occurs when a team achieves greater results than the sum of its parts. Using learning instruments, hands-on activities, and interactive team exercises, teams gain a clearer sense of direction, clarify roles and responsibilities, improve operating processes and bolster both interpersonal and inter team relationships. And, what a difference it makes in a dealership. Employees are happier, managers are happier, customers are happier, production increases and the business grows. Team synergy looks like this:
Team synergy essentially is the ability of a group to outperform even its best individual member’s efforts. Make sure you are fair and balanced with your team taking care not to play favoritism because this will create cracks in the framework and diminish the synergy needed for smooth aerodynamics.
Well Prepared Employees:
Zig Ziglar said it best when he said; “There is only one thing worse than training employees and losing them, and that’s not training them and keeping them.”
There are lots of new leading-edge communications, relationship development and sales technique tools out there which conform perfectly to today’s marketplace. Ask yourself this, “What have I done in this area for my employees lately that is different from what I have done in the past?”
Numerous studies over the years indicate that if you hire someone, don’t train them and they leave in 120 days it could cost you upwards of $50,000. How you ask? By brooming customers because employees don’t know what to do, training time, damaging your reputation because of their frustration being taken out on customers, administration time required getting them on board, employment advertising costs, managers spending unproductive “maintenance fix-it” time instead of on productive tasks and finally creating a morale problem to mention a few. Lots of money gone down the drain. And, if you would have just invested a small percentage of your ad budget this person could be contributing to the overall growth of the store instead of making it slide backwards. The lack of training is also commensurate with high attrition problems.
Would you agree that your greatest assets are your people? If so, invest in them and your ROI will be multiplied several-fold month after month.
I can walk into any dealership and immediately determine the personality complexion of the employees which in turn permeates the customers. Does the store and its employees radiate a comfortable, professional, organized, secure and confident environment or does it radiate the common haphazard-crazed approach? One of the primary reasons for the latter is that the employees are not given enough positive, motivated attention and/or they are not trained well enough to feel competent at their job. Your store does radiate one of these two.
The question is, which one? Look around. Are there papers laying in a mess on employee’s work areas? Are there dated posters hanging in the waiting area? Is the coffee area messy? Is it time to paint the walls and clean up the boxes laying around the showroom. A clean, efficient-looking work environment sends a signal to your customers and your employees that this dealership takes pride and care in everything they do. Make certain that everyone who works in the dealership greets every customer, whether it be their customer or not, they cross paths with a simple “good morning or afternoon” and a smile. We like to practice this with employees greeting each other as well then it becomes second nature.
Cultivate accountability because it creates motivation. We must hold people in the same roles accountable for the same performance outcomes but challenge each person to reach these outcomes by capitalizing on his/her unique talents. We must teach managers accountability in how to distinguish between talents — which cannot be transferred from one person to another — and skills and knowledge, which can. We must build performance management systems that label a person’s talents his “areas for development” and that encourage him to “work on” strengthening his talents with the relevant skills and knowledge. And we must stop promoting people out of their areas of talent, and instead build paths that encourage them to grow within their areas of greatest talent. Accountability should be on everyone’s job description. For it is through accountability that things get done.
You cannot allow some employees to not be accountable and then insist that others be accountable in various day-to-day tasks or you will destroy team synergy and working relationships within your team. When you wait – you lose, when you act with accountability – you win. As a leader, do what you say you will do. If you, as the leader, emulate accountability the team will follow suit. Consistency is the key to accountability.
Just like the components in a vehicle are equally important for driving, the above nine areas of dealership building components for your store are equally important as well. These are critical elements required for accelerated business increases. Which one or two of these do you feel your store could eliminate committing to? Most likely, your answer would be none of them. So, begin today to take your store to a new comfortable cruising speed.
Please send me an email with any thoughts or questions you may have on this discussion. I would like to hear from you regarding your thoughts on building a rock-solid dealership.
Author: Chuck Barker
CHUCK BARKER is President & Founder of Impact Marketing & Consulting Group, located in Virginia. He has assisted Dealers & Corporations across the country in Sales & Service Development training programs, Management Leadership Workshops and Business Improvement/Analysis Consulting. He is a pioneer in BDC, CRM, Best Processes and Team Member Development since the early ‘90’s. Chuck has held Automobile, Corporate and International Executive positions for over 27 years. Chuck has been a monthly author/contributor for Dealer Magazine for over 11 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.