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Back to the Fundamentals of Selling, Post-COVID

Jul 25, 2023
Dealers, Sales, Training

by Ian Vandenbark
Training & Development Specialist

I recently had a dealer partner describe the effect of the last three years on their sales team as creating a “COVID-lazy” mentality. Due to inventory shortages, selling a vehicle mostly came down to having a vehicle to sell — effectively changing the primary role of the salesperson to simply facilitating the transaction. Pair that with the industry’s higher-than-average employee turnover, and the result is concerning. 

The reality is that most salespeople today have never sold or learned to sell in a competitive environment where they must compete to earn customers and their business. Therefore, we must ask the question: How do we solve this problem effectively? The answer, of course, is training.

Lay the Foundation of Process

To lay a strong foundation, the best approach is uninterrupted, formal training, with the ideal training environment being outside of the dealership in order to minimize distractions. Formal, written curriculum with training books and materials, as well as the ability to take plenty of notes, is critical. However, the most important aspect of training is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable by role-playing the techniques being taught. It is important not to shortcut this kind of training, as it is the foundation upon which everything else is built, and it is especially important for those coming out of a COVID environment who need to get on track with selling skills.

Daily Sales Meetings - Implementation and Reinforcement

Now that the team has been exposed to the training, it’s time for implementation. This is where daily sales meetings come into play. It is the store leadership’s responsibility to help everyone on the team be as successful as possible, and one important element of that is creating the culture of a growth mindset.

Daily sales meetings are not just for discussing store matters and celebrating yesterday’s victories. They also provide the best opportunity to train as a group, focusing on developing skill sets. Some examples of this might include the following:

1. Role-playing the customer greeting, paying special attention to how the customer was acquired (in-store versus phone or email) and how that might affect the salesperson’s approach – This is an important step that impacts the customer’s first impression.
2. Role-playing various responses to online inquiries – This can also establish a first impression of both the dealership and the team.
3. Role-playing a walkaround and tailoring the same vehicle to differently motivated buyers (for example, appearance versus economy) – The value behind vehicle features highlighted should change depending on customer buying motives.
4. Role-playing the introduction of the first proposal – A lot of compliance regulations center around this topic, so it’s important to have a consistent approach, not only from a strategic standpoint to feed profitability but also from a compliance standpoint. This is the peak of anxiety for most salespeople.
5. Role-playing how to best handle customer concerns and objections, including examples such as “What is my rate?” and “How did you arrive at the trade value?”

The Value of Role-Play

The consistent theme in all of this is the use of role-play. Role-play is one of the most effective ways to ensure training techniques are well-learned and retained. Not having the team role-play is equal to having them practice on paying customers, leaving too much room for error.

It’s true that there are many who don’t like role-playing and may even push back on these group sessions, especially after the three-year COVID “break.” The primary reason for this is usually a lack of confidence and/or a desire to stay in their comfort zone, which can slow or even prevent growth. But it is leadership’s job to help the team become comfortable doing uncomfortable things. The use of role-playing helps with accountability and alerts leadership to those who are absorbing the training and those who aren’t.

Role-play is imperative for effective training and continual development, but for those who don’t enjoy it, find it stressful or intimidating, how can leadership get them to look forward to it? One way is to be positive and encouraging — but also, make it fun! When a colleague nails it, celebrate it. When a colleague is struggling, put a spotlight on what they are getting right. The dealer might even tie in spiff money to increase participation. These training sessions should be fun, upbeat and motivating. The tone of these meetings will determine the tone of the day, so use this time accordingly and the team will start progressing with momentum and confidence.                                

*This article originally appeared in AutoSuccess on July 25, 2023.