"THAT GRAD WON'T SELL" and why it's a BIG PROBLEM

It was a beautiful commencement ceremony. The speeches were entertaining and inspirational. Each graduate’s name was called and their family members all stood cheering with pride and enthusiasm. It really was a wonderful day!

Tassels are turned from right to left in unison followed by a thunderous ovation. The master of ceremonies then took the microphone for the final moments and said…

“Now… who’s ready to take an up?

Silence ensues and the face of every fresh graduate is now plastered in a look of utter disgust.

Perhaps the scenario I just painted is a bit far fetched. But the fact that graduates consider careers in the automotive industry as attractive as the opportunities awaiting them in waste management and retail is an issue that we ALL must consider.

I know what you’re thinking. Recent graduates have a reputation of being entitled, spoiled, hard to manage and have a poor worth ethic. While these may be traits of some 21 to 25 year olds, they are no more prominent in the members of the class of 2015 than they were in the class of 1980, 1987, 1993 or 2005. The problem is not with the graduate… the problem is the graduates perception of the auto industry. And as the years pass, this problem (and I know it’s not a new one) continues to worsen.

Dealerships across our entire nation are consistently in search of good salespeople. Ask any General Manager or General Sales Manager the question “Do you need salespeople?” and the answer will always be “Do you know anybody?” Combine the shortage of qualified candidates with the shift in consumer shopping behavior and the need for “new minds” is heightened to a level never before seen. Unfortunately, most salespeople with 20+ years of experience are now dinosaurs and are watching meteors pierce the atmosphere.  Armed only with high pressure closing techniques and the unfortunate habit of answering any objection with a rebuttal that starts with “If I could…” the days of “If-ing” and going for the pressure commitment (“If I could get the payment down to $299, do we have a deal?”) are over.

Now take the graduate’s situation into mind. 71% of grads leave school with an average of $31,000 in student loan debt and only 17% have a job lined up before they leave their dorm room. Yet, a career in the automotive business (namely auto sales for this article), or at least one starting their career in this field is looked at with the same distaste as a “job” at Forever 21 or Target. 

“I’m just going to work here till something better comes along where I can use my degree” are the words most recent grads say to themselves to help muster up the strength and bury the shame necessary to make their 5:30am punch-in time. Is there a better alternative?… of course there is. But it’s up to US to inform and educate it to them. 

When I personally recently asked some members of the class of 2015 and 2016 about auto sales, I was told (on more than one occasion) that working at a car dealership would be “beneath them” and that they wouldn't even consider it. What a shame.

In another survey I recently conducted with adults in careers in management or entrepreneurship, 90% of participants agreed the automotive industry provided the “real world” education required to be successful in business. Specific lessons learned and mastered included…

 

How to give an effective demo

True “one on one” communication

Persistence

Patience

 

Overcoming fears

Building self confidence

Negotiation

Networking

Identifying a person’s need or problem

Presenting solutions

 

These are all lessons that any truly successful business person MUST master to be effective and successful. The problem lies in the fact that graduates equate wearing plaid suits with paisley ties and changing their name to “Vito” or “Rocco” (nothing against all you guys named Vito or Rocco) with selling automobiles. It’s up to US to change that image and present real world examples of how auto sales benefits the graduate, giving them real world experience that they will use for their entire career. 

Dealers need to set up REAL training programs for new hires that includes certification from the manufacturer. They need to be invested financially and provide a lucrative pay plan with an earnings guarantee for a set period of time (a position in commissioned sales is frightening to most if not all grads). Most achievers will over-earn their guarantee, so there is minimal risk for the dealer and removal of anxiety for the new hire. Bonus’ based on generation of positive customer reviews, manufacturer certification levels and advancement in sales training will be attractive as grads want to “continue their learning” and be in a position to “make a change for the better.” 

What could be better than being a part of changing the way people buy automobiles, thus changing the perception of the auto industry as a whole. What’s better than being the remedy for the anxiety and nervousness that comes with just the anticipation of having to buy a car. Nearly everyone drives, so the reach is limitless.

The time is NOW my Dealer, General Manager and General Sales Manager friends. The herd is dwindling fast with even the strongest either retiring or leaving for greener pastures. Salespeople are our most prized and integral staff members. It is truly in EVERYONE’S best interest to appeal to the young, sell them on our mission of change, sell them on what’s “in it for them” and let’s staff our sales floors with salespeople that are “like minded”… not necessarily with us, but with our customers. Let’s allow them to sell some cars, gain some skills, make some money, and in the end, we will all benefit from it.  

Be Both The PRICE And The PLACE!

“ Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. Trouble is, I don't know which half.”  —John Wanamaker

The quote has been copied, repeated and misquoted countless times in its 135 year life. It has been used by business owners and marketers alike to “justify” the fact that not all advertising is effective. It has also been used as an excuse to maintain the existence of bad marketers since the day Mr. Wanamaker (not Mr. Penney as I recently heard he was mis-credited for this quote) said it back in 1880. Automotive Dealers and Marketers have also used (or utilized, depending on how you look at it) this quote as much as any other industry. But the time for excuses and misquoting has come to an end.

As of this May, NADA reports that auto dealers across our country are averaging an investment or spend (once again depending on who is quoting the statistic) of $619 per new vehicle retailed towards advertising. This combined with the currently steadily rising costs of digital marketing and we are once again faced with the question “What Works?” But at $619 a car—there had better be more than half of the cylinders in your marketing engine firing.

Analytics from our own websites and those supplied by third party vendors will give us an idea of traffic behavior, but it’s growing more and more obvious that what happens after the click is what counts the most. This brings us to the question—Be the lowest price, or be the place to shop? My answer… be both!

Every day, potential customers visit dealership websites looking for the vehicle they desire at the lowest price. But most importantly, the people who are looking to sign on the bottom line are hoping for a buying experience better than the one they just had at their dentist during a recent root canal. They are searching (literally searching) for their place— the place that gives them the price and experience they are going to be happy to tell their friends and neighbors about. 

A recent study revealed that less than 1% of recent shoppers and buyers chose the current buying process as their ideal experience— a stat that we all knew to be true, but really haven't wanted to do anything about. While most dealers are currently “letting it ride,” the smart money will be going “all in” on a new marketing initiative built around a preferred customer experience. 

“Yea Bob, I got her at XYZ Motors… those guys are great!” Those are the words customers want to be able to say. And who doesn't want a customer talking about them like that? It’s much better than the alternative.

What is that elusive Holy Grail of a customer experience that future buyers and authors of 5-Star Google reviews are looking for?  Potential customers are right there sitting at their keyboards or with iPhone in hand, looking to start the process on their own terms. That’s why they all start on your website in the first place. This is the chance describe the benefits of your buying process. How you are going to save them time by having your vehicles prepped and ready to go. You’re going to tell them about your extensive staff that is ready to leap into action the moment they say “OK I’ll take it” to get them on the road in their new vehicle in “90 minutes or less.”

Your website is going to be littered with custom quotes taken from reviews left by recent customers (30 days or less) that when clicked on will bring the customer to the actual review site whether it be on Google, Dealer Rater or any other popular review website (in a new window of course) where they can verify the review was left by the customer. It’s one thing when you say buying a car is quick and easy… its another when a previous customer says it on their own in their own words.

Then you are going to show them the tangible benefits customers receive after the sale. You have no idea how appealing complimentary oil changes, tire rotations, loaner cars and car washes are to a customer who doesn't get them now. They are even more appealing to the potential buyer who recently forked over a significant amount of money to another dealerships service department only to find their vehicle dirty-er than when they dropped it off. And a loaner car… 

“What?… dealers give out loaners??”  Yes Virginia, some dealers give loaner cars… just not the dealer you bought from. And keep in mind customers who currently enjoy these benefits have no intention of giving them up! 

“So change my marketing and stop being the “Low Price Leader” or the “We Beat Any Deal Guy?”   YES- PLEASE YES!!!! Being the “Low Price Guy” makes you nothing more than the low price guy! Customers are going to shop price- It’s going to happen and to be honest, they should! When you move from the “Place to shop” to the “Place to BUY,” the sale becomes yours. Being the “Place to Buy” will get you more opportunities to beat a competitors price. Being the “Place To Buy” moves you farther away from being a competitor and closer to dominance.

The choice is yours- Be The Price or Be The Price AND The Place. I promise you this- Choose “Be The Price” and the only business with rising profits will be the ones that sell you leads and the one that sells you Sharpie markers because all you are going to be doing is working customers that force you to race to the bottom on the four square faster than you can get their paperwork done or car cleaned for delivery. 

Why Car Sales Should Be Your First Job After Graduation

    The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) projects that nearly 2 Million students will be graduating at the bachelor’s degree level as the Class of 2015.(FAQ) Consider the fact that nearly 71% of graduates this year are bringing home an average of just over $31,000 in student loan debt and only 17% of last year’s graduating class had a job lined up before graduation. (The Class of 2015…)  To put this in terms we can all understand, almost every kid that graduated this year is leaving their commencement ceremony personally upside down.

    In spite of these astonishing statistics and the promise of classroom educated candidates who need to obtain employment, nearly every dealership across the country is in search of aspiring, intelligent, and ambitious salespeople. Ask the General Manager or General Sales Manager of any dealership: Do you need salespeople? and the answer you’ll receive more often than not—and without hesitation—will be: Do you know anybody?  This problem continues to worsen for both graduates and dealerships year after year. 

    The auto industry single handedly cannot find or create a job for every graduate, but one would think the law of supply and demand—which most of these graduates should have learned before graduating—should rule over this problem. Unfortunately, it does not. A big WIN is waiting for any recent graduate, especially those with a B.A or B.S in Business, to obtain the real life experience needed start their career, and it’s waiting for them on the sales floors of dealerships across the country. This idea is actually a WIN-WIN for the graduate and the entire auto industry.

    Many of you reading this worked your way up through the dealership ranks, more than likely starting in sales, or possibly like myself, as a lot boy at an age where obtaining drivers license was not legally possible. Yet the majority of you we’re not imagining who your first up was going to be as the band played Pomp and Circumstance at your graduation. Then as you grew, the skills you learned within your first six months of working the floor are the same ones you honed and mastered as you advanced the ladder of success. They are also the skills you now use, every day, to effectively carry out the position you currently hold.

    We learned how communicate effectively and efficiently with both customers and management. The lesson that effective communication is essential in selling was one that was quickly taught and learned. Without knowing what the customer is looking for and, just as importantly, what of that your manager needed to know, you got nowhere.    

    Our fears of having a conversation with total strangers was quickly conquered. Not because we wanted to be the most popular person in the dealership, but rather, if we did not quickly learn how to approach and speak people we did not know, we would undoubtedly die. Quickly taught was the lesson that there is no place for shyness on the sales floor, or in the business world for that matter. These new relationships helped us hone our networking skills, as the art of cultivating and obtaining referrals quickly became an additional source of opportunity. If we stayed in the business, which all of you reading obviously did, we quickly learned the value of a repeat customer, whom many of which would return to buy from multiple times over.

    We learned to demo. While focus on the demonstration seems to have faded as of late, all the best CEOs of the world today are the best at demoing their own products. We built value in vehicles we sold and we quickly learned that it was just as important to sell ourselves and the dealership as it was the vehicle. 

    Negotiation skills were also taught, and quite quickly as a matter of fact. No vehicle has been sold without the exercise—either long or short—of negotiation. Even our referral and repeat customers would ask for something during the sale, and it was our job to quickly satisfy the customer while holding gross for the dealership.

    Patience, persistence—so many other valuable business skills were taught during the first six months of our employment, and the same skills are still taught by this business to its participants every day. So why wouldn't someone who just a month ago shed their cap and gown be eager to drive straight from their commencement ceremony to the employee lot of their local dealership? Because graduates feel that selling cars is beneath them.  They feel it's the equivalent of working retail at their local mall. They see it as a failure—a waste of their years in college. The message that these life long skills are taught by the organic nature of our business is one that is priceless to both us and recent graduates.

    In the eyes of a 21 to 24 year old, the entire automotive industry gives the perception of only being able to offer jobs and not a career that leads to the fortune and fame they were promised in college. To them, dealerships are staffed by guys who wear plaid sport coats with paisley ties or dress in monochrome and start every sentence with Yo! or Listen Here!  Starting salary and the amount of vacation time they get in the first year are of greater concern than the amount of money they can earn based on their ability and eagerness to grow. Not to mention, most don't even want to hear you say the word hustle.

    At times, we in the industry look at graduates as more of a nuisance than an opportunity. As most do, we take the path of least resistance and actually go against every best practice and consider hiring a candidate whose resume of past dealership jobs is so long it has to be printed on legal paper, double sided. This same candidate was also taught to sell cars in an age when the internet did not exist, using teaching tools such as vulgar threats and screaming at decibel levels louder than those produced at a NASCAR event. For some reason, dealing with this seems more appealing than the arduous task of hiring, training, and dealing with a green pea.

    But please, hear my cry! Let’s work together to recruit students from local schools. Let’s reach out to them and talk about the fact that first there is a lucrative career waiting for them on our showroom floors and in our BDC departments. Let’s send our best employees to talk to them to dispel the myth that only guys named Rocco and Vito work for us (Nothing against guys named Rocco or Vito). Let’s explain to them that salespeople—and by the way, lets get back to actually calling them what they are, salespeople, enough with this product specialist and brand advocate stuff—need to be trained and certified by the manufacturer and more often than not, a part of their compensation comes from them in the form of rewards for high levels of customer satisfaction. Lets bring in a new generation, teach and train them the right way to sell cars and reduce turnover back to normal levels.

    Let’s put together pay plans that include a base salary that is higher than current standards with incentives based on certification levels, customer satisfaction ratings and advancement in sales training programs that we endorse and pay for. Resist the urge to cut pay plans and reduce or even eliminate base salaries when things get good, only to reinstate them and beg candidates to stay when things get bad—I know there is going to be push back on that statement, but regardless it’s true.

    Let’s reach out to our manufacturers, state and national dealer associations to develop and promote a recruitment campaign designed to speak to recent graduates. The stereotypes that were cemented by our predecessors will only be smashed and replaced by the jackhammering message of opportunity, continued education, competitive annual salaries, and a professional working environment. The days of change are here and we should be shouting it from the rooftops of every dealership in America. 

    Dealers have invested in newer modern facilities because they were forced to by manufacturers. They have embraced newer technologies and an entirely new buying process because they were forced to by the marketplace. The time is now to embrace the new generation of workers entering the job market on the terms we set forth that are beneficial for both us and job seekers—before they are forced to do that too.