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2022: Lead the Way, or Get Left Behind

The automotive industry has changed and your success will be dependent upon your ability to adapt and change along with it. 

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Dan Barker is the chief operating officer for Wikimotive.

The Auto Industry Has Changed. Is Your Team Ready to Lead the Charge?

The rollercoaster ride that started as a pandemic in 2020 has evolved into an inventory crunch, the likes of which have never been seen in our industry. No matter which position of leadership you hold within your dealership, you have been asked to adapt to rapidly evolving changes — ranging from masks to mandates to an economic game of chess played out on a global scale. You’ve never had less time, fewer people or fewer cars.

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So, congratulations … you’ve made it through 2021! Now what?

The automotive industry has changed, maybe for good, and your continued success will be dependent upon your ability to adapt and change along with it. The good news is, you’re reading this, and that action, along with the willingness to search for answers to problems you’ve identified, is why you will continue to be successful. The bad news is there’s no shortage of problems you’re facing, and none of them are going away anytime soon.

Fixate on the Present and You Will Forfeit Your Future

I’m fortunate to work and interact with a large number of dealers from across the country — from single rooftop independents to large automotive groups — and it has been fascinating to watch the response over the past 15 months to our current situation. Each and every instance I’ve seen where a dealer thrives in these times of chaos is because they’ve had a sole focus on the long game. They’ve built a brighter future by understanding what they currently can’t control, allowing them to invest their energies in what they can.

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A quick example that comes to mind is a pair of dealers in a similar market midway through 2020. Dealer A let most of his sales staff go in order to ride out the wave. He pulled his entire marketing budget and neglected to continue pursuing inventory because that moment’s sales had slowed. Dealer B pivoted his sales team to work within the confines of touch-free delivery offerings. He strategically adjusted marketing budgets to focus on market share gains in the long term and aggressively pursued inventory that matched with his specific brand and dealer demographic. 

Dealer A was significantly more profitable in the moment, but which dealer would continue to be more successful in the long run? It shouldn’t surprise you that a year later, Dealer B has successfully maintained a skilled group of engaged employees, managed inventory levels to remain competitive and highly profitable and has increased market share over 30%. In contrast, Dealer A lost all of their top-performing employees to competitors, now finds themselves buried in rapidly aging inventory that doesn’t align with their market and no longer has the internal team or the budget to restart marketing efforts. The road to recovery for Dealer A will be a long and expensive one as employees, public perception and market share have all been seized upon by the competition.

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So, how was one dealer able to answer the problem at hand so right and the other miss so badly? The answer is simple: people.

Grow (Your People) or Die 

A common thread among those dealers who have succeeded to this point within the pandemic and subsequent inventory crunch is that they have developed or refined their process for growing their employees. Dealerships that are succeeding right now are doing so because of their people. Those that have failed to take notice are quickly being left behind, maybe for good.

Cultivating Growth

When was the last time your team attended a conference or read an article or a book on their area of expertise? When was the last time your managers took a leadership course or seminar? When was the last time you asked them to?

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I realize that, to many, these suggestions may seem audacious or even asinine. As an industry, we have been programmed to focus solely on the here and now: that next walk in, that next lead and that next sale. We do this so much that we are watching the future pass us by. Start focusing on your people right now, in any way you can.

Not sure where to start? What about maintaining bulletin boards for your marketing team that display current industry trends in social media or changes in Google algorithms, followed by team brainstorming on how they can be applied to your dealership? What about weekly sales team meetings where new model information or specifications are presented by one salesperson to the entire team? What about assigning your managers a book on leadership to read and discuss as a group? These are all small asks, and the team members who can see their immeasurable value are the ones who are up to the challenge of building your dealership beyond its DNA.

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Sell Your Team on a Culture of Learning

With 2022 right around the corner, there is no shortage of challenges awaiting your dealership. Your strongest weapon? An informed and empowered team that you can depend upon day-in and day-out, allowing you to focus on the big picture. That said, their willingness will depend on your approach. It may be the hardest sale you have ever made, but make no mistake, it just may be the most important deal you will ever close.

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