By Chuck Barker, President & Founder, Impact Marketing & Consulting Group

Begin, start, commence, institute, inaugurate, initiate. Something’s refreshing and optimistic about these words, whether they refer to the dawn of a new day, the birth of a child, the prelude of a symphony, or the first few miles of a family vacation. Free of problems and full of promise, beginnings stir hope and generate an imaginative vision of the future. They set the stage for newness and excitement.

Unfortunately, not enough new beginnings are generated in most dealerships. Instead, it is the same thing day in and day out. No freshness, solid leadership, innovation, motivation, people development or direction. Thousands of people show up for work in dealerships across America every day with their hands ready to work but not with their hearts in the game. Employees exhibiting complacency, low motivation, not feeling valued, low or no goals are a direct reflection of lack of leadership and/or corporate directives formulated to encourage and grow people.

We should all recognize by now that there is a direct correlation between low CSI and attrition. CSI must balance equally with ESI (employee satisfaction index) if you wish to grow your business and develop long-term customers and employees. Yet, there appears to be a growing dull existence regarding morale due to non-engaged employees. Why?

One big reason is, as a dealer told me recently, “This business is now all about technology.” Really? Funny, but I have yet to see a dealership that has a showroom where customers can walk up and punch in the options for a blue truck they want to buy, get a value for their trade, submit buying criteria, get a receipt, and drive away with a new vehicle. Maybe they exist, but I have yet to find one. While technology is important, we are reaching an ugly level of compromise when we put technology ahead of our people and processes. Technology should be in place only to facilitate and support the actions of our people and our good processes.

If employees are well-developed, appreciated, and provided with proper educational tools, they become more productive and engaged, which also, in turn, reduces expensive attrition costs. If your processes are on target and upheld with a disciplined work ethic, the store and its team members become stronger. Without these, it’s like if you were to ask a service technician to perform a head gasket change while handing him a crescent wrench. Instead of talking about how big your problems are, start talking about how big your employee’s talents and dealership processes are. 

Do you have a detailed three-to-five-year business plan in place, or is it not important enough to plan for the future success of the store and your people? I take my hat off to the group of dealerships adopting the notion that ideas are the beginning of all great achievements for their initiative to begin a new and positive change.

Can you institute a dramatic change in your dealership? Some believe this is only for the ‘big guys,’ but think about Google, eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy, Instagram, and the other game-changers of the past few years and ask yourself how many of them were developed by big corporations. Zero!

When Napoleon Bonaparte described a leader, he said, “A leader is a Dealer in Hope.” You give your people hope that if they embrace the recommended changes, their lives will be enriched, and they are most likely to allow themselves to change. Stores have to be ready, willing, and able to become dealers in hope through strong leadership if they are going to climb the mountain’s success summit.

“Leaders are pioneers — people who are willing to step out into the unknown. They are people who are willing to take risks, to innovate and experiment in order to find new and better ways of doing things.” – Barry Posner

Why are some managers fiercely resistant to changing things up a bit by instituting a solid dealership development plan? Well, there are many reasons. Here are a few to look out for:

  • Don’t know how,
  • Laziness,
  • Waiting for their next job,
  • Afraid of exposing themselves and their lack of knowledge,
  • Don’t care,
  • Unengaged,
  • Ignorance, arrogance – know everything already,
  • Don’t think it will make a difference,
  • No confidence in their people to change,
  • Too weak of a leader,
  • Indifference,
  • And, the all-time favorite – complacency.

Real leaders transform the present into something better. They say, “Goodbye yesterday and hello tomorrow with an optimistic attitude.”

Sure, technology can help you get exposure and get folks in, but then people take over the process. When you open a bank account, what has to happen before you start using your debit card or writing checks? That’s right – you have to make a deposit. Similarly, when we deal with people, whether it’s employees or customers, we have to make several “emotional” deposits with them before we make a single emotional withdrawal. When I shopped a dealership recently, the salesperson walked up and said, “welcome to (dealership name), my name is Joe… and you are?” He then gets very close and sticks out his hand. This guy made three emotional withdrawals from my emotional bank account before he made any deposits.

While it saddens me to see the perpetuation of old-school techniques employed in today’s new consumer-oriented market, people simply don’t know what they don’t know, and if they have never experienced exponential team growth, they usually can’t imagine it occurring for them.

Invest some emotional deposits into your team and watch the difference it makes. Ok, sometimes they mess up. Instead of ruining their day and beating them up (which they pass on to your customers), identify the error, and let them know the next time you are sure they will get it right. Let them know you have full faith in their talents and know they will make better decisions in the future. This way, they can maintain their dignity and go out to pass on positive deposits with their customers. Remember, praise in public, reprimand in private.

Take a look at what I hope we can agree is true in the automotive industry:

1. Most consumers do not have a positive perspective or respect regarding the auto buying process. Gallup’s recent survey, which rated the honesty and ethical standards of various professions, ranked car salespeople at nine percent.

2. There’s room to improve current performance in several areas.

Do you have the right people on board to execute a value-added business strategy? For most dealerships, with the proper tools and training, that answer is yes.

And then there’s the big $64,000 question: Do we have the leadership and the fortitude to implement these changes to streamline, improve, and enhance the customer experience in our showrooms?

I have worked with both small, medium, and large dealerships in helping them identify multiple things we could turn into greater opportunities because we (the dealer and my team) worked together as one team looking in the same direction. The successes came about because the dealer wanted to improve and sent a strong signal downstream that we would all work as a single team to ensure those successes took hold for the long term. I know if you want to improve, it can be done because I have seen some great transitions over the last few years.

The single biggest preventative factor getting in the way of improvement is starting. You have to turn the ignition key to get the engine started, and the same is true for any success strategy you employ.

Your concern should be that if your store doesn’t implement these changes then some other dealership will probably see this as a great opportunity to initiate those changes, improve the buying experience, and by then it could be a disaster for change-resistant dealers as their business dims.

About the Author

Chuck Barker is president and founder of Impact Marketing & Consulting Group in Virginia. EMAIL:

Author: Contributing Writer

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