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The Year of the Ox for Automotive

Now is the time to apply to prepare your team for any headwinds that might come their way.

David O’Brien is the president and CEO of Quantum5, a social advocacy learning company delivering an entirely new way for companies to train and build community with their teams. He can be reached at [email protected]

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2021 is the Year of the Ox, a symbol of prosperity — prosperity gained not through trickery or luck but through hard work and honesty. The ox stands firm in the face of adversity and, by doing so, can control its own destiny. Put another way, when the going gets tough, the ox keeps going. 

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I like to think of the automotive industry like the ox symbol. Technology advancements alone will not create more sales in the showroom or the service drive. While the importance of frontline roles remains, those roles will need to adapt to fit the times. 

While digital retailing is the current buzzword in our industry, I like to think of it simply as “modern retailing.” Only after we teach our sales and service staff to meet individual customers where they are in each of their own sales journeys, will we be ready to really embrace the “I” in omni-channel. 

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I also think it’s time to stop bashing sales managers and begin setting them up for success. We need to acknowledge that they did not sign up to be a trainer and that adding it to their plates has never worked well. People under the age of 35 learn differently. Learners today have been impacted by how technology has shaped our patience, attention span and need for stimulation. Watching a 30-minute OEM video or listening to a person talk for two hours is not their idea of learning. 

In order to meet these and other challenges, I’ve distilled five simple, easy-to-use skills your salespeople, business development center (BDC) reps and service advisors can employ to meet the coming challenges while maintaining their focus on results:

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1. Build a relationship virtually. Buyers are no longer only walking onto your lot or into your showroom. Today, they are often entering the negotiation process through emails and phone calls as well. Its important today’s dealership staff members know how to read cues on both calls and through digital means for selling success. 

2. Know which questions to ask to uncover customer motivations and needs. Your team must know which questions to ask as well as when and why to ask them. Asking the right questions to uncover needs and motivations will help cement the relationship up front. 

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3. Connect value — don’t just talk about features and benefits. It’s essential to figure out what a customer truly cares about and desires. Describing a product won’t create lifetime value with customers, but showing them how what you are selling plays into their values can. 

4. Transition prospects by building “next steps.” We are no longer in a “business as usual” phase. Today’s dealership team needs a new, frictionless way to transition customers from one stage to the next and to handle challenges and resistance. 

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5. Go beyond customer relationship management (CRM) to cement lifetime value. Although CRM is a much-needed database, it can’t create a personal connection between your team and your customers. A CRM may give you data points about your customers, but only your team can truly listen to and understand those customers.

Your team can adapt, as long as it is properly trained, and such training is neither expensive nor difficult. Here are three training steps to help your team succeed in this new omni-channel environment: 

Step 1: Assess the team. Ask team members for examples of how they are doing things. Don’t judge what they show you — ask them how it is working. Ask them to describe the challenges they are experiencing and what they wish they could do better. 

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Step 2: Work with the team. Yes, the average sales or service manager is terribly busy with customers, OEM, CRM, customer service index (CSI), profit, COVID and other responsibilities. As Michael Bungay Stanier says in his book, The Coaching Habit, the key to helping your team is to make it a five-minute everyday activity. Every manager has five minutes to coach a person on the team who needs skill improvement. 

Step 3: Reward training and practicing. The concept of a lead measure and a lag measure is common in the automotive business. How well a salesperson, BDC rep or service advisor did taking a call is the “lag.” How many times they role played answering a call the right way is the “lead.” If they practice twice a day for three minutes each time, the odds of call success increase. If they do that for three weeks, then call success becomes even greater. If they never practice and just tell you they will “do better,” then don’t expect their performances to change. Offer them a reward that is tied to a three-week continuous streak of training twice a day for three minutes, and watch how hard they work!

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Adapt in 2021

The auto industry is the most resilient and adaptable business anyone has ever seen. Now is the time to apply that adaptability to preparing your team for any headwinds that might come their way. 

I can’t think of better character traits to help dealerships achieve great success during these tough times. I’m bullish on the ox this year — and just as bullish on retail automotive.

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