Is your entire dealership team ready for a new way of doing business?
I continue to witness the automotive industry evolve, educate and optimize itself, yet I also see a myriad of bad habits refusing to go away. Returning from Digital Dealer 27 in Las Vegas recently, my general observations are that not much is really changing. Dealers, for the most part, are trying new technologies and processes to better their businesses. The vendors are continuing to build products in a fashion that allows the dealership teams to be more independent in their efforts and not rely so heavily on a third party for simple executions. While all of this is very good for automotive, I believe the thing we collectively fail to optimize or improve is our staff and our in-store experience.
Process, technology, and culture require 100% buy-in from all levels at the store. Ownership and management teams not focusing on the “optimization of their people” will keep running into the same problems repeatedly. Marketing and process products that seem like sure wins for the dealership in the demo stage fall apart shortly after onboarding in the store. Hours of in-store or virtual training seem to have an impact at first glance, but good practice falls away to old disruptive habits that affect customers and staff alike.
We build strategies out to the 90% mark and then allow our people to decide for themselves whether or not they will commit to the new process long term. Nothing you invest in for the dealership will ever truly succeed when this cultural phenomenon continues to happen.
Give ‘em enough rope
We give those employed the longest the most leniency when bringing in fresh thinking and new technology. “He won’t use it. He’s been here 15 years. He’s stuck in his ways,” says every manager, everywhere. This is the first leak in the dam—this is where store-wide adoption falls apart. This is on you, the manager, for allowing it to continue. People are making business decisions on behalf of the dealership because they “don’t feel like it.”
While we may think we are saving our sanity by not “forcing” our agenda on legacy staff, we are opening the entire store up to cultural issues that go far beyond the ability to hit a target. No matter what is evolving at the dealership, allowing the odd few to “go about their business” eventually kills the momentum of a new software onboard. It makes staff question new training techniques, discount new hires and devalue roles that the store never had before.
The staff that is allowed to continue doing things ‘their way’ hurts morale, affects performance in all departments and can create an environment where you find it difficult to hang on to new hires at all. But yes, let’s leave them alone because things are better this way.
Having the privilege to serve dealers as a vendor is something I’m truly passionate about—helping you evolve your dealerships through education and technology, while continually improving my offerings based on your recommendations and experiences. This is the responsibility of a vendor, to evolve the product so that dealers can do what they do best— build relationships.
Technology must be air-tight and ready for market; that’s a given. I have witnessed instances where platforms are rushed to market and technology lets us down. But more often, I am seeing amazing products arise in the auto space, with incredibly talented teams behind them. Even when everyone works tirelessly to keep moving the needle, somehow we find ourselves in client meetings being asked why things aren’t performing to expectation.
When the tech is doing its job, the biggest culprit for low return is a lack of staff optimization, not fully adopting technology and necessary process from the top of the organization down. This will kill any efforts to better the store regardless of the strategy, because we allow individuals to decide, on the store’s behalf, whether they commit to evolving themselves. Every time this happens the “I’m not changing if you aren’t” phenomenon occurs and we (again) sink ourselves.
Believe in change
I believe everyone is capable of change, and I believe we can learn something new every day. Dealerships need to live and breathe that philosophy. There’s too much happening in the industry where the focus is to remove the dealer from the equation. I believe that’s not ideal, and I’m sure you feel the same. Everyone, especially the dealer, is responsible for the absolute adoption of dealer-wide changes.
If we don’t optimize our people, we will keep setting ourselves up for failure. Our people are now the last line of engagement in some very technically complex strategies. We shouldn’t spend our money and invest our time if efforts only fall apart to old habits at the most critical stage of the buyer journey.
I ask this of all ownership and management teams—resolve to lead by example. Show your entire dealership that as a unit you are committing to strategies and practices and that the expectations will be the same, regardless of job title or tenure.
If you see people struggling to adopt, don’t simply send them on their way, but take the time to understand and mentor. Build teams internally where skill sets complement one another. Set people up to win, not fail. Invest 100% of your energies together. That should be your dealership’s universal goal for this upcoming year, and it should be brought up over the next few months as you plan for 2020.