Controllers’ Corner: Empower Your Accounting Team to Build a Better Dealership
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Empower Your Accounting Team to Build a Better Dealership

Profitability, and profit retention, go hand-in-hand with an empowered and efficient accounting department.

By Karli DeVall, CFO at Tim Dahle Nissan and Red Rock Auto Group

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Dealers are great at finding ways to become more profitable. In 2020 alone, nearly three out of four franchise dealers added at least one digital retailing solution to meet the needs of a public more interested in servicing their car (or buying their next one) online. But they rarely focus on their accounting team. The consensus I hear is that dealers are simply too busy to be bothered, and, well, if it’s not broken don’t mess with it! But if you’re overlooking your accounting team — missing training opportunities or recognizing objections to progress — you’re headed for trouble. Profitability, and profit retention, go hand-in-hand with an empowered and efficient accounting department.

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Identify and Overcome Objections

There’s real risk in sitting back and settling for the status quo. It may be easier to focus on the quick wins and avoid disrupting the one team that always checks their task list. And change can feel disruptive, and scary, at first. But it’s worth looking at what may be holding you back.

  • They’re busy. But are they busy doing things that add actual value to your dealership? Or just busy doing busy work?
  • They get the job done just fine. Your competition does it faster, better and it results in a better customer experience.
  • They push back on new technology. So, what are you doing to help bring in tools, training and technology that makes their work more fulfilling?

The past 18 months have put a lot of stress on you and your business. (And you’ve handled it in stride.) Many dealerships have added tools and processes that have improved the way we communicate across dealership departments in ways we didn’t even realize needed improvement. We’re faster at what we do — and better off for it. Now, it’s time to focus on the team that provides critical information and insights to the decision-makers at your business. With the help of your dealership’s accounting tools — specifically your dealer management system — your accounting team can do so much more. 

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Prioritizing Ongoing Training

The vast majority of industry training and education is focused on helping the dealer principal and the general manager. Controllers and accounting teams don’t often get opportunities to attend conferences or get access to new learning and training events. They don’t get to collaborate with their industry peers to see what’s working and what’s not working at other dealerships. True to tradition, they’re usually back at the dealership, dutifully performing their tasks. But given how important a well-run, well-educated accounting office can be to dealership profitability, this has to change.

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Sharing knowledge is empowering, both for the sharer and the learner. That’s how accounting teams learn to take on new technologies and figure out new ways to do things, instead of just falling back on the way they’ve always been done. When we pulled together nearly 300 industry experts in one room for a rare Controller Conference, pre-pandemic, we almost didn’t need vendor trainers to help lead the group. The simple fact is, we learn better when we learn together and share what we know. And research from Harvard Business Review supports it. When we take an active role in learning (i.e. get outside our dealership comfort zones and talk with our peers), we internalize concepts better and produce better outcomes.

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Simple Steps, Big Payoff

Dealerships that prioritize and invest in staff growth tend to be both more efficient and more profitable than other dealerships. In fact, 74% of top-performing dealerships make sure that their employees are satisfied and well-trained in how to use new technology, according to Cox Automotive research. Consider the following practices when looking for ways to empower your accounting team to learn and grow. Your dealership will be better for it.

  • Go Forth & Learn: Learn about new technology by having your controller and the accounting office leaders attending tradeshows, provider-sponsored events, training seminars and other industry gatherings. Then invite them to share the information with dealer management to find ways to improve.  
  • Unmask the Superheroes: Identify “superusers” of your technology and rely on them to teach other team members how to leverage technology to your dealership’s advantage. Hold lunch-and-learn sessions across rooftops and invite these people to meet and mentor new team members.
  • Virtual Learning: Network online with industry peers, including those from accounting offices at other dealerships, through on-demand training resources like DMS360 and additional summits through your technology provider.

Understanding the ‘Why’ of What We Do

Accounting offices in car dealerships are rarely actually accounting offices. Most often, they are task-management offices, with hard-working, well-intentioned employees who have been taught to complete lists of tasks, without ever really understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing — the actual accounting at the foundation of their busy work.

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Among other implications, this lack of big-picture vision can be stifling for dealership growth. When new technologies are introduced — some of which are necessary to future-proof the dealership or to ensure increased efficiency in a competitive industry — the accounting employees are often the first to push back. They push back because they’re stuck inside their list of to-dos.

On the other hand, when controllers and accounting teams have a better understanding of their roles, and how they play an integral part in the dealership’s success on so many different levels, it becomes empowering. Employees see a greater purpose and find the motivation to improve how the entire organization operates, instead of just honing task-management skills.

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When accounting employees understand the balance sheet implications and the trickle-down effect of their tasks, they’re more likely to get on board with industry and dealership-level changes. The fear of change takes a backseat to the excitement for new processes and technology that can pave a new way forward. When they begin to see the big-picture and their importance within the master plan, they become more loyal and more connected, which can transform a traditionally “slow to adapt” team into one that embraces progress.

As you seek to empower your accounting team, take time to teach every member, from the controller to the most entry-level position, the “why” behind what they do. It will have a profound impact on your dealership in producing more direct results with more accurate information.

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Conclusion

It’s time to adjust your focus to see just how profoundly your accounting team can impact profitability. Empower your team with the educational resources, big-picture perspective and technologies to ensure that your dealership is operating efficiently and profitably, and you can begin to build a better accounting office and a better dealership.

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