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.