Training, feedback, and realistic metrics are key to employee growth and performance.
Over the past two years, the economic shakeup caused by measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 has left many industries, including automotive retailing facing a number of challenges. A key one is being able to effectively enhance the performance of the employees you have to ensure the business is able to deliver consistent and profitable results.
Yet when you’re faced with additional challenges, including a market situation where vehicle inventory shortages are the norm and customer expectations continue to evolve, how you approach employee performance becomes critical.
The right mindset
According to Jason Volny, National Director of Training for DrivingSales, while the number of tools and solutions available to help dealers elevate the performance of their staff has never been greater, to really succeed requires having the right mindset and culture within the organization—and from the top down.
Volny also says that while performance metrics have been around for years, focusing purely on the numbers is not always the key to success, particularly with your sales teams. “There really are so many different metrics to consider,” Volny explains.
While it is definitely helpful for dealers to measure against their peers to see how employees are performing via performance or 20 group meetings, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to measuring and enhancing employee performance. It comes down to the dealership, the culture and the individual employee. Volny says that one way in which dealers can really determine how staff are performing is by using a scale such as employee star ratings for performance targets. “What does it mean to be a five-star employee? What does it mean to be a two-star employee? When you identify what the scale is, from that point you’ll be able to track your staff’s performance and communicate with them whether they are doing a good job and/or where there is room for improvement,” Volny explains.
Communication is also critical. Susan Gubasta, President of Mississauga Toyota, says for employees to perform at their best, clear, concise communication is essential. “Communication is a requirement, not an option. You need to make sure your employees know what is expected of them, as well as provide them with structure and feedback so they can learn, grow and thrive.”
Jeff White, of Jeff White Dealership Training, who has spent a lot of his career as an automotive retail sales professional, says that today, for employees to succeed, the right training needs to be in place. He notes that for many dealers, the pandemic has seen significant changes in staffing as well as a need to adapt to new ways of working with customers. “Five to 10 years ago, if you were a salesperson and you were told you had to deal with your clients at distance, you likely froze, because you knew the profit you’d make would be a tenth of doing a typical face-to-face transaction.”
Today, however, technology has caught up. Customers and sales staff can interact via a whole range of different mediums, from text to email, to video conferencing and by phone. White recalls being able to chat with a customer via a video meet function and at the same time, provide a virtual walkaround of the vehicle they were interested in. “Prior to the pandemic that was almost unheard of,” he says.
While the changes in automotive retailing practices and customer expectations have been fairly dramatic over the last two years, historically, the industry has witnessed some drastic changes in its more than 100 years of existence. Jason Volny notes that dealers have always proved adaptive and extremely resilient to change, yet a key thing to ensure success is to take steps to future-proof your business. And that means having solid processes in place. “By doing so, you not only protect yourself against future changes in the industry and your organization, but you also provide the opportunity for people within that organization to change along with it.”
Volny says he can’t emphasize enough the importance of having robust sales and career development processes in place for your staff, especially in the current environment where dealers are struggling to find inventory. Because both new and used vehicles are in such high demand today when dealers obtain inventory they are in many cases, seeing record profits per unit. The problem; is that while their seasoned sales teams might be relishing the current environment and the high gross margins available, the situation won’t last forever. Inventory levels will at some point normalize and when they do gross margins will decline. At that point, if a dealership hasn’t taken the opportunity to future-proof its operations by providing solid sales processes and a defined career path for its employees, where they can be promoted and take on new responsibilities, a lot of them could start looking elsewhere for job opportunities.
Ultimately the success of employee performance boils down to mindset and management strategy. “The role of management is to drive growth and development within the organization, including that of their employees,” explains Volny. “I feel one of the biggest opportunities that dealers have, is to fortify their leadership and management teams by giving them the skills they need to help grow their people. If they do that, they will be prepared for the future, no matter what happens.”