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Four Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Mentoring Program at Your Dealership

You see it at the dealership all the time. That new salesperson far exceeds everyone else’s numbers at the store during the first month. Then, the sales start to slip. By the fourth month, the person gets fired for not meeting his or her numbers.

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Todd Smith is the president & CEO of 360Converge

You see it at the dealership all the time. That new salesperson far exceeds everyone else’s numbers at the store during the first month. Then, the sales start to slip. By the fourth month, the person gets fired for not meeting his or her numbers.

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What happened? These “green peas” come in with little-to-no sales experience, ask questions and put in the work. But then, they get comfortable — and they stop asking questions. Then, your bottom line suffers. Your employee retention and morale suffer, too. The thing is, with some guidance from a mentor, that hire who showed immense potential could have grown into his or her role at the dealership.

I’m a firm advocate of mentorship in any business that wants to evolve with the times. But before you start pairing up veterans with rookies or taking a newbie under your own wing, here are some essential things you need to know before you start mentoring at the dealership:

Your Dealership’s Organizational Culture
The most successful companies in the world regard mentorship as a competitive edge. When I think about mentorship programs, my mind immediately goes to Google, Facebook and Apple. Yes, these are large tech companies, but they all share a culture of learning and progress. The leaders of these companies engrained growth and development into their mission, vision and values, and it made all the difference.

Likewise, your dealership’s leaders need to support a mentorship philosophy to achieve an optimum and lasting return. When dealership executives believe in and promote mentoring, employees will follow, and the company culture will shift.

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Inversely, note that mentoring will impact your dealership’s culture. You’ll see the effects of mentoring in increased employee engagement and productivity, and that will significantly change the environment at your dealership to one of trust, empowerment and progress.

Establishing Clear Mentorship Objectives
Not setting clear objectives before launching a mentorship program will almost ensure the initiative fails before it ever takes off. Not only that, but it will be quite difficult to measure success if you don’t know what you were trying to achieve in the first place.

For mentorship to be successful at the dealership, leadership needs to discuss the purpose of the program. A few questions to consider during the objective-setting stage are:
What are your organizational needs? Where is the car business going?
What’s the mentee’s background? Does he/she have any transferable skills?
Now, where do these two conversations intersect?

The point where the employee’s skills and interests meet the dealership’s and industry’s future is the sweet spot for mentoring that serves your business in the long run.

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Getting Buy-In from Your Employees
The old “if you build it, they will come” adage does not apply to attracting mentorship participants. You need to yell it from the rooftops. The more you promote, explain the value of, and encourage participation, the higher your turnout will be. Here are a few ways to get mentorship buy-in from your staff:
Announce the program — Emails, meetings and handouts will be some of the most effective ways to explain the mentorship program.
Address potential concerns — People will bring up issues like time constraints. Be sure to consider possible hurdles and how to overcome them.
Promote the benefits — Create an elevator pitch of the program by listing the top five reasons to become a mentor or mentee.

Once the program becomes a bit more established, you’ll also want to get success stories and even encourage past mentees to become mentors themselves.

Finding Potential Mentors and Mentees
When it comes time to choose mentors and mentees, you need to keep this in mind: Not all high-performing employees make good mentors. And not all potential mentors are the best match for specific mentees.

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Mentors need to first and foremost be attentive and invested in the progress of the mentee. The mentor should also be close enough to the mentees functional area that understanding the mentee’s challenges and goals is easy. Most importantly, the best mentors:
Are forthcoming about their own successes and failures
Give actionable advice the mentee can apply right away
Don’t generalize how to implement strategies and tactics

Mentees should be open and honest. For a mentor to help the mentee, the latter needs to be able to provide deep context about their problems and vulnerabilities, as well as their metrics, goals and anything else that will help the process.

The Four Key Takeaways
The key to creating a successful mentorship program at the dealership is to be more thoughtful in the planning stages. Before starting a mentorship program, here are some things you need to keep in mind:
1. Implementing a mentorship program will impact your dealership culture and vice versa.
2. Failing to set clear goals before launch will doom your mentorship program.
3. Getting buy-in from employees at the dealership is a process in itself.
4. Pairing mentors with mentees should never be an afterthought.

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Dealerships get a bad rap for having high turnover. But the truth is that the car business is one of the best places to work and build a career. As a car guy myself, I can’t imagine having taken a different path. And I couldn’t have gotten this far without the help of seasoned veterans in the industry who mentored me.


Click here to view more solutions from Todd Smith and ActivEngage.

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