Interestingly enough the same problems still infect and remain in dealerships as they did 2, 5, and 10 years ago. But, the common excuse is; “but this is the car business”. Break this slogan down and what it translates to is; “yes, we are a corporation with a P&L statement, balance sheet, HR department and sometimes shareholders to report to along with all the assorted corporate stuff. But when it comes to disciplined accountability, leadership and developing a Seal Team 6 of our own, “Yea, I know, but this is the car business”. Like this is a hall pass for not doing the correct things to grow people and the store. You also have to know, stupid is not illegal but it sure is expensive! And, one of the biggest problematic issues facing a lot of dealerships is ‘ignorance arrogance’ when it comes to management. Some managers just seem to know it all (ha) and as a defensive mechanism, become arrogant when presented with new leading edge principles which totally short circuit their rule set comfort zone or understanding. It is time for a new business culture paradigm shift in this industry. New is in and old is out.
I have spoken previously about the importance of visionary leadership in your store. Why is it this industry largely doesn’t grasp the concepts that successful companies embrace regarding the adoption of a corporate vision for growth? Ready, shoot, aim seems to be the mantra. This will give you progressive deterioration if left unchecked along with high attrition, lost deals, team disintegration and employees wandering lost in the desert. When the shepherds sleep the sheep go their own way. Put on a new pair of glasses and enhance your vision by taking your team to new heights of skill achievement. Do not confuse short term motivational ‘raw raw’ locker room sessions, product or technical skills with proper team and individual development enhancement.
Having vision is the cornerstone for true leaders because leaders cast out their sight way beyond the reaches of mediocre shortsighted managers who wait for opportunities and/or problems to occur so they can pounce. These are the fixers and they usually bring people down with the store. Too little too late. No, true leaders reach out to the future and envision ideas for improving business, their team getting stronger and envisioning a dealership synergy that bonds the team together like Bondo. This is when everyone looks in the same direction instead of each other with finger pointing. When Helen Keller was asked what handicap could more debilitating than being blind, she answered; “O that’s easy, it is not having vision”. Poignant.
We must visualize our store and our people growing to the fullest potential. Then, constantly begin seeing the multitude of improvement areas to take them to new altitudes every hour, every day, every week, every month and every year. Your reward for this ‘corporate approach’ to running your business will be a galaxy of opportunities in so many measurable ways. This galaxy will surprise you with renewed business enhancement in every area of the store!
You know, major league baseball players make millions of dollars but still get into the batting cage, work on pitch techniques and take grounders or fly balls to improve their skills almost every day in and off season. They don’t wait for the BIG GAME to mess things up due to lack of conditioning and preparation. Instead they recognize the important requirement for success planning; practice, practice and practice. If you notice big league ball player at the plate invariably you will see no two stances the same. Why? Because each individual is just that, an individual. What works well for one does not work at all for another. Similarly, your entire team; sales, service, parts, F&I, admin. – everyone is an individual and their skill sets are in most cases different from one another. Therefore we need to identify strengths and weaknesses in each then capitalize on the strengths by feeding and developing those strengths. Sure we have to conduct broad training as a group but the batting averages go exponentially up when someone can interview your employees, identify individual strengths and weaknesses and develop a ‘tailored’ training program (like BP in the cage) for each individual. Most pro ballplayers, if not all of them, have personal trainers to fine tune individual abilities even further. But many managers are too busy counting deals, complaining about gross profits and then beating up the team for failing to fulfill the aforementioned instead of utilizing their leadership to envision there are better ways to grow their business and their people.
“Great leaders and salespeople have an edge because they are able to let go of obsolete ideas” – Donald Trump
Donald gets it and refuses to be pulled down by old school paradigms which are perpetuating the continuing madness in our industry. Everyone is saying the same things. Most web sites look the same. And, most dealers do nothing to improve the skill sets of their management team to promote solid leadership. Nothing limits achievement more than small thinking! When you start your car you should know the direction you are heading. Therefore, let your passion pull you forward and your planning give you direction for processes and development programs which endure the down times as well as the up times.
It takes time and effort to heal a sick or wounded dealership work environment. In laying the groundwork, a leader must first recognize that a commitment to making improved changes is critically important. Without this, nothing happens and everything naturally defaults to business as usual very quickly and you then lose credibility. I do not agree with the notion that in order to create an improved effective change in the way you do business takes a long time. In fact it can occur very quickly given a few cornerstones like empowering your people, sharing the plan with the team and giving them the economic results as they occur. Empowerment should be part of your overall business strategy. Secrecy breeds fear and worry. It sends a signal to your people that you do not trust them or think they are incompetent in absorbing the information. Next is investing in your people by investing in their skill set development which ultimately makes you more money (duh). Spending money on your people over an extended time frame says to them “you are important to me and a valued asset to this organization”. The moment you clearly recognize that you really do achieve a competitive advantage through your people; everything else falls in place nicely. Loyal customers are incubated through loyal work forces who are exhibiting the new relationship building techniques which energize them towards customer-centric selling skills.
A dealership can, unlike the Titanic turn things around for the better much faster than most actually believe. How many times have you seen a sports team like the Cardinals in game 6 of the World Series way behind in the game only to shock everyone by coming back strong when the chips were down to win the game? The patience element comes into play because you have to first give your team constant encouragement, planning, provide pasture running room to build their skills and then continue to allow them time to build strength. If you corral them by micro managing them, they will get unused organs atrophy and never run again because you crushed their spirit. I have found that almost every sales consultant I have ever spoken with would eagerly accept the opportunity to grow and be challenged through affective new sales training strategies instead of the old tired sales technique videos. Sadly, most never receive the good stuff as they eagerly await for the next job opportunity.
No Dealer or GM starts out intending to build a lousy store culture, or even a just an average one. Would you get excited about going to an average restaurant with average food and service? How about hiring an average heart surgeon for your critical required operation? Maybe, but most people I know look for the best. Most dealers would like their team’s productivity to be born out of passion for the job and team synergy. Yet in this maddening marketplace, many dealers drastically fail to see the value they (and the team) can receive from well conditioned, prepared and trained people. About the timing, I guess the question you must ask yourself is when do you want to see and experience a positive difference? If later or next year is ok then that is your mission time horizon course of action. If you want to make it happen right now then now is it. Now is always better than hemming and hawing around “until next quarter” because the stores that choose to implement now will blow right past you. Start a new agenda at the beginning of next month. Start your commitment plan for doing so now! The job never started takes the longest to finish. The biggest reason for failure to succeed is never starting. Just don’t get fooled into thinking like so many in waiting for the preverbal vacation spot – Someday Isle. Yea, someday I’ll start something new around here, someday I’ll look in to some new methods, someday I’ll train my people in new measures for success, etc, etc, etc. For most, Someday Isle never comes. Be the entrepreneur you are intended to be and do it now. You people are looking to and at you for the fresh air to begin to blow. Breathe new life into the dealership and your people. Plant the seeds now for growing a harvest of opportunities down the road a bit.
Having faith that you can do something without action is useless. In order for the action step to succeed, the aforementioned steps need to be handled first. No more ready-shoot-aim. No, you are now taking all the planned steps to reap an abundant harvest of increase so get out the Leopold scope and draw a focused bead on improvement areas. Of course, to win the battle you have to have good well equipped solders. Winning is virtually impossible if your solders are weaponless, cold and starving. Three things have to occur for any great action achievement; purpose, persistence and patience. One tiny spark can ignite a raging forest fire and you can ignite enthusiasm for individual and sales team growth the same way. If you take actionable steps to make improved changes to your store you will reap the benefits from doing so. If this is not a priority it will be like having a flat tire; then one day in the future you have to take care of it at a most inconvenient panic stricken moment.
Here are some beginning action steps I would initiate running any dealership:
- Provide a long term company outlook to every employee; Make your dealership the dealership where people enjoy coming to work because they see security and growth potential.
- Abide by the golden rule; Builds team unity, growth and an awesome overall morale.
- Create an atmosphere where the business is like family; Comfortable environment allows for natural talents to become better. Let them know it is ok to screw up but provide them with the knowledge of how to do it right next time.
- Invest in all your employees through strategic training elements; Well trained employees perform better and are engaged in their work thus, productivity increases.
- Challenge yourself to be the best employer in your market place; this will not only dramatically reduce attrition (huge savings) but attracts the best future employees.
- Develop a pattern of leadership consistency; Here today and gone tomorrow initiatives confuses employees. Consistency gives employees security and a willingness to follow the new initiatives.
- Finally, you have to monitor results closely not only internally but externally. Internal results will show up in the form of morale, processes and numbers. External being a little tricky should be administered by an outside reputation management company like CarFolks. As the saying goes; you don’t know what you don’t know. Get yourself in the loop with every aspect of running a strong business.
If you would like a refreshing approach plan to starting a total new store culture direction shoot me an email requesting “action” and I will send you a plan. Go to www.impactgroupcrm.com/impact-summit/.
By Chuck Barker