The automotive industry is notorious for turnover in their sales departments, which makes retention of good salespeople a critical concern for sales managers, general managers and dealer principals. In fact, it's such a major occurrence that it has come to the point where attrition has come to be just part of dealership life, well I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way!

Think back over the years at all of the sales people that have come and gone. Sure, some of them you were happy to see go, but others... not so much so. What if you could create your "dream team" so to speak, a sales team made of all the best closers and prospectors that have worked for you in the past, where do you think your sales would be today?

It All Starts With the Selection Process

It's important, for long term sales force retention that you hire the right salespeople from the very beginning. It's a sad truth that most employees are in the wrong job. In fact, a recent study suggests that only 25% of the work force in the United States are in the right job, according to skills, interests and/or job satisfaction.  What that means is that 75% of your sales force is in the wrong field! Those are the 75% that are costing you real money, a loss in productivity and wasted time in development and training, not mention sales, sales and more sales! A sales person can cost you upwards of 3 times their salary to hire and train their replacement, that's a lot of lost gross!

Here at Automax we have a sales talent screening process, keep in mind though that we aren't necessarily looking for past sales experience, instead we are looking for sales talent. Below you will find a few key components to creating your own sales talent screening process:

1. Create a Top Sales Performer Profile. Most industries, the automotive industry included, go to great lengths to create a customer profile. They know down to a T what the average age, sex, income potential and just about everything else there is to know about their customer but they lack the ideal employee profile.

In the profile make sure to list in great detail all the positive characteristics of both your top performers and the sales people that have been there the longest. After careful study you will start to see certain characteristics that make up the personality of your top performers, put these in your Top Sales Performer Profile.

Lacking a fully designed Top Sales Performer profile is the single biggest reason why you are hiring the wrong sales people. This profile comes in handy when you are doing the hiring yourself or have a recruiter, such as Automax, doing the recruiting for you.

2.      Devise a Standard Set of Interview Questions. Now that you have a Top Sales Performer Profile ask questions based off that profile. It’s best to have these questions created before the interview; in fact you should use the same questions each time. Be sure to take notes and write down the answers to all questions. Keep in mind that these questions are not devised for right or wrong answers; they are designed to see if your potential employee’s thought process is congruent with your Top Sales Performer Profile.

When devising questions make sure to ask questions in scenario form. For instance you can ask questions such as, “If a customer walks on the lot and says they are just looking, what would your answer be?”

Be sure to also ask questions that allow you to see what your interviewees are made of, questions like, “If you were allowed only one possession in the world what would it be and why?”

3.      Have Them Write A Short Paragraph. Written communication isn’t a lost art like some people would like to believe. In fact it’s alive and well, we have just traded the pen for the keyboard and in today’s day and age the keyboard truly is mightier than the sword.

Have your prospective new hires write a short paragraph about why they would be successful in the car business. Have them include what characteristics they posses that would help them be successful. What you are looking for here is somebody who can communicate their thoughts in the written word, after all email is an important tool in the sales arsenal these days.

4. Put Your Expectations Out There. It’s best to weed out the people, right up front, that don’t have the mental fortitude to get the job done. Right up front let them know what is expected of them, what the job entails and about the hours required to be a top performer, after all, that’s what you are looking for, right? Many sales people quit in the first 90 days because they find out that the car business isn’t what they thought it would be, don’t let that be a reason, it’s easily avoidable.

Create a Training Regimen and Stick To it

The first 90 days (Check out Craig Lockerd’s Podcast, From New to Pro: The First 90 Days On The Salesfloor) are important to the future success of both the automotive sales person and the dealership. It’s in those first 90 days that the new hire is set up for success or failure. Ensure that good habits set in and that they don’t take on the bad habits of your other sales people by training, mentoring, managing and leading them the right way.

Continue to inspect what you expect to ensure that good habits take hold. If you start to see bad habits like standing around talking about how bad life is or not following up with both sold and unsold customers then redirect, and redirect as soon as you see it. There is nothing worse than seeing a bad habit and not saying anything because it’s the first time you saw the infraction, there are no letting new hires off the hook, let them know what they should be doing instead of just telling them what they shouldn’t be doing. If you want long term sales people then hire them and train them that way. Training is an ongoing process, they moment you let up you open yourself up for your people to quite on you.

Training boosts moral, increases motivation, and improves retention. As an example Marriott hotels found that if they effectively train their entry level employees there is a profound effect on employee retention. The Florida Power Corporation reduced it’s annual turnover rate from 48% to 9% using a combination of both employee screening and training… you can and should do the same.

Consider these statements by William O. Umiker (professor of pathology at Milton S. Hershey Medical center):

  • Looking at both sides. Many industrial psychologists believe that failure to train staff members increases the likelihood that they will seek employment elsewhere.
  • Failure to train new supervisors in the principles of management and leadership often results in worker dissatisfaction.
  • Flawed orientation-training programs cause new hires to feel frustrated and ill at ease on the job.
  • Lack of training to promote career development encourages ambitious employees to find new employers who will provide such educational opportunities.
  • Effective, comprehensive training provides experiences that allow workers to realize success early on in their careers, resulting in increased morale and, as a result, improved employee retention.
  • Training in participative management, empowerment, and self-directed teams produces significantly increased job satisfaction. People who become members of semi-autonomous work teams are more resistant to turnover.

Sales People Don’t Quit the Dealership They Quit the Manager

There is nothing as detrimental to your sales force as a bad manager. Pay close attention to how you or your sales managers interact with sales people, poor interaction could be the single biggest reason for an increased employee attrition rate. It really is in the attitude, voice tone and whether or not the manager motivates with the stick or the carrot.

Keep in mind, when promoting from within, that a great sales aptitude doesn’t mean they have a great leadership attitude.

The best managers hold their sales people accountable, reward performance, train consistently, praise in front of everybody and reprimand in private. A good sales manager leads by example and isn’t afraid to get out there and close a deal. A good sales manager demands respect because they first give respect. Progressive leaders choose to inspire and empower rather than be directing and forceful. If you’re really serious about retaining your sales people then look closely at the leaders in your dealership, would you follow them?

Keep in mind, when promoting from within, that a great sales aptitude doesn’t mean they have a great leadership attitude. Also, just as with your sales people, sales managers must be on an ongoing training regimen as well.

Recognition and Reward

Always recognize top performers, do it often and do it publicly. In the car business we think that commission is a way to motivate, but keep in mind that the dealership down the street pays commissions as well and if you really want to set yourself apart and retain your top performers you should put an incentive program in place. To be effective, a sales incentive program should appeal to both top producers and the average to below average salesperson. Once a salesperson stretches to a new level of personal production, their self-confidence and expectations skyrocket! Not to mention they will stay around much MUCH longer.

Always keep in mind that your best assets are your people, the moment you lose sight of that is the moment your sales dip and sales people start to quit.

What are you doing to retain your top performers? Are you having trouble keeping sales people longer than it takes for them to burn through a few ups? If so lets talk about it, use the comment section below, I'd love to hear from you.