The Two “Secrets” to Driving Growth – What I Learned from 10 Years of In-Dealership Consulting

sleazy car guy

(Forgive the long post, but there are some important lessons in here. If you don’t have the patience to read 3,200+ words, then you’re going to have to learn to be happy with treading water this year. However, feel free to skip the first 300 or so words and jump to The Two “Secrets” … that’s where this lesson really begins.)

The Two “Secrets” to Driving Growth – What I Learned from 10 Years of In-Dealership Consulting

Near the end of 2009, I left the Asbury Automotive Group to create and build my own business – a combination of consulting, training, and tools designed to help automotive dealers and other industries drive and close more opportunities.

After ten years, we’re still building tools and I’m still consulting and training. In fact, 2019 was our best revenue and profit year ever with every available consulting day booked.

Because I suspect the same will be true this year, there will be dealers, OEMs, and vendors who would like to book me for consulting and training, though my schedule simply won’t accommodate all of them. (This was the case in 2019.)

While I don’t enjoy turning down business, the thought of adding “junior” trainers to my team has never appealed to me. There are too many variables with each visit to leave these to someone with limited skin in the game. Moreover, my reputation is too important to me to gamble with it for a few extra bucks.

With tens of thousands of potential customers, I’ve always maintained an abundance mentality – that is, there’s enough business out there for everyone. That’s why I don’t mind giving away my sales training videos, or documenting everything you need to know to sell today’s connected customers in a 400-page book, or writing free posts like this one that reveal the “secrets” to driving growth.

The Two “Secrets”

Hint: Neither of the “secrets” has anything to do with AI, digital marketing, or which website provider you use.

Beyond an abundance mentality, the other reason I don’t mind sharing for free (or $50, in the case of my book), is that the primary issues in your dealership (turnover, flat sales, declining grosses) are not the result of not knowing what to do.

Your team already knows what to do… they’re just not doing it.

In the ten years I’ve been consulting with and training dealers, managers, salespeople, and BDC agents, I’ve noticed there are only two “secrets” the best stores employ that the others do not. These secrets? Attitude and Activity.

Although, I’ve previously written about how attitude and activity are the difference between 8-Car Alans and 30-Car Theos, this post is intended to educate dealers and managers on the importance of their involvement in cultivating the proper attitude and driving the right activities that create lasting success.

Secret #1: Attitude

With the economy humming along and unemployment at record lows, the time has long passed when your dealership could afford to hire a bunch of new salespeople and just throw them in the deep end of the pool. We’re way beyond sink or swim with new hires.

Plus, Millennials and Gen Z’s won’t work for assholes. They don’t need to; there are too many other opportunities out there. Moreover, great salespeople aren’t as willing to eat shit sandwiches like they were 20 years ago.

Your attitude affects their attitudes. In fact, your attitude affects everything. Let’s compare the attitudes of my best clients with those of the average underperforming store.

“I Love What I Do”

Managers at the best stores truly love what they do; and they feel blessed being in their current role. Conversely, no one seems happy with their vocational choice when I visit underperforming dealerships.

Of course, you’re probably thinking that managers at top stores love what they do because they get to work for a top store. Not even close. Their stores outperform precisely because these managers come prepared with a great attitude every day.

The positive attitude of the dealer drives the positive attitudes of his/her managers.

The positive attitudes of the managers drive the positive attitudes of their salespeople.

Moreover, those at the top of your organization choose to be positive or negative – the rest of the team then becomes “infected” by whatever choice you and your managers make. Both positivity and negativity have the capability to shape the hearts and minds of your team. And, as you know, you can “buy” a salesperson’s back, but you must win his/her heart and mind.

Regardless of where you work or what you do, loving what you do is a choice. Your choice. Choose wisely.

Free and Premium Automotive Sales and Marketing Training

“Everybody’s a Buyer”

Truer today than ever before: everyone is a buyer. They really are. By the time the average consumer sends in a lead, picks up a phone, or walks on your lot, they are ready to buy… they just need someone to help them buy today.

There is a pervasive attitude in the stores growing market share. That is, to a person, they will do what it takes to make the deal. This doesn’t mean their grosses suffer – to the contrary; they also happen to hold more gross than the average dealer.

It simply means that from top to bottom, the entire team agrees that everyone’s a buyer who wants to buy today. More importantly, they approach every opportunity with this belief.

Once your salespeople believe everyone’s a buyer who wants to buy today, the faster they’ll respond to internet leads, the better they’ll handle their phone ups, and the quicker they’ll pull customers through your road-to-the-sale. They’ll also approach these tasks with more confidence.

However, if this attitude is not driven from the top, your managers will kill more deals than they save.

When desk managers believe everyone’s a buyer who wants to buy today, they’ll greet every guest before the demo drive (called Early Manager Introduction); they’ll ensure 100% of the Ups are properly logged in the CRM; and they’ll conduct proactive TOs (because they know when a customer has been on the lot for two hours without seeing a pencil).

Why wouldn’t they do all this? I mean, if you were certain someone was buying today… someplace… wouldn’t you do everything you could to ensure they bought from you?

Of course, the minute you believe someone is not a buyer, you’ll be 100% right.

Buy Assumptive Selling Now

“Their Success is My Success”

Believe it or not, I still run into managers who resent the success of their top sellers. You read that right: automotive retail still has its share of old-school managers who either because of envy or fear (or both), begrudge the accomplishments (and the paychecks) of their best people.

Not surprisingly, these top sellers often leave… or worse: settle into the mediocrity that is celebrated by their underperforming managers.

Dealers and managers who understand and truly believe that the success of their team is their success are almost there when it comes to attitude. Their next step is simply to redirect their encounters with these teams from “chastising and mandating” to “coaching and mentoring”.

Think about it. If 90% of your subordinate interactions consist of you bashing them, why in the world would they want to outperform for you? (This includes owners speaking to their GMs, GMs speaking to their sales managers, and sales managers speaking to their sellers.)

The Attitude Checklist

Consistent across all my top performing clients is a simple, unwritten attitude checklist in the minds of every manager in the store:

  1. I love what I do, and I’m blessed to be here today.
  2. Everyone is a buyer who wants to buy today.
  3. I want every person on my team to succeed.

Conversely, most managers at underperforming stores believe just the opposite.

Of course, attitude is only half the equation. I’ve worked with owners and managers who have terrific attitudes, yet their dealership is still just treading water. Why? Simple; they’re afraid to drive the activities that deliver results.

Basically, they’re a bunch of really nice guys and gals who allow mediocrity.

Secret #2: Activity

Look at any true top seller – those who sell twice what the average salesperson in their store sells – and you’ll see someone who is always active.

Simply put, if they’re not in front of a prospect, they’re on the phone, they’re writing an email, they’re mailing a birthday card, or they’re promoting themselves (and generating new business) through other means (Social Selling, for example).

Unfortunately, most top sellers are anomalies. They’re unique blips on the chart of sales results. They’re self-driven to succeed, and they’re never satisfied. They are their own worst critics, and they provide their own motivation. Like marathon runners, they get up and practice their craft even though they’re already performing at their best and their body tells them to stay in bed.

Of course, the average salesperson is just that… average. They’d love to make more money, but they’re pretty comfortable where they are. For the most part, nothing is really ever their fault, and they don’t believe in self-motivation (if it means more work). In many ways, they are the couch potatoes of the business world.

For your store to consistently grow market share and grosses, you need a team comprised primarily of top sellers. A team of motivated overachievers who are never satisfied. A team that will get up and practice their craft even when they’d rather stay in bed.

A Team of Superstars?

If you desire to field a team of genuine superstars, you have a choice. You can continue to throw money at your recruiting and hiring efforts trying to find the anomalies in the sales world, or you can develop the team you currently have into true top sellers.

By the way, the former strategy has never worked over the long term. Why? Because even if you were ever lucky enough to hire a bunch of superstars, your average managers would either drive them away or grind them into mediocrity. (Admit it; we’ve all seen that movie before.) Plus, with unemployment at record lows, it’s becoming miserably unprofitable to not develop your existing team.

Coincidentally, the secrets to turning average sellers into superstars are the same as driving sustained growth: attitude and activity.

Naturally gifted performers come equipped with a great attitude and drive their own activities. Once you’ve mastered the attitude checklist – and infected your team with your newfound positivity – turning your average players into true superstars requires only that you drive their activities… every minute of every day for the rest of your working life.

Driving Activities: The Best Thing Managers Can Do for Their Team

Driving activities is not the same as running a sweatshop.

Driving activities is also not ensuring your team is busy – I mean, everyone’s “busy” in the car business, right? Driving activities means ensuring your team is constantly and consistently productive, efficient, and effective.

It’s not about screaming, “Everybody better make 50 calls today!” It’s about making sure they complete their “money” calls for the day; that they’re always working on one of their “moneymakers;” and that they’re using their time wisely in (and sometimes out of) the dealership.

Driving activities is the best thing you can do for your sellers.

Let me repeat that with some emphasis so you’ll know it’s important: DRIVING ACTIVITIES IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR SELLERS! Period. End of story.

When you drive activities (the right ones, of course), your salespeople sell more cars, they make more money, their workday goes by more quickly, and you keep them engaged. The opposite? Well, salespeople who are not productive or engaged only think about survival and about how much this place sucks.

Productive and engaged employees, not surprisingly, don’t quit.

Leaders Deliver Results

Leadership is not about making friends, doing your subordinates’ work for them, or having everyone sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya.

Leadership is about delivering sustained results through the actions of your team. Of course, it’s preferable that everyone is happy about helping you in this quest to succeed – managing satisfied employees makes leading easier – but it’s not a prerequisite.

Don’t get me wrong, employee satisfaction is critical to long-term success. The problem for most managers and owners is they associate employee satisfaction with a near zero-rule environment – often afraid salespeople would quit if they enforced even good business rules and processes.

Satisfied employees are not created in a free-for-all, no-rules workplace. In fact, top salespeople want structure and guidance, and average sellers need structure and guidance.

Genuine employee satisfaction is driven by several factors, including money, accomplishment, pride, engagement, company culture, trust (in their boss), and a sense of self-worth. Providing structure and guidance (a.k.a. driving activities), coupled with a great attitude, can deliver all of these.

If you “live” the attitude checklist presented earlier, you create the right culture, build their trust in you, and give your salespeople a sense of self-worth. Once you begin driving the right activities, you check off virtually everything else that produces satisfied sellers.

The Active Desk Vs. Passive Desk

Of course, in order to drive activities, you must be active. For owners and general managers, this means a lot of MBWA (Management By Walking Around); and for desk managers, this means running an active desk.

Historically, most desk managers successfully ran a passive desk. Like a service advisor, they waited for the business to come to them. The passive desk strategy was successful because the Up Bus was on a regular schedule and filled with people.

Today, the Up Bus is irregular and often empty.

Free and Premium Automotive Sales and Marketing Training

As the industry pulled out of the last recession, many managers believed running a passive desk worked. To be clear, when times are good and the market is growing, passive desk management “works”. I put works in quotes because “works” is a relative term. If you were running a passive desk from 2010 to 2018, yes, your sales were up; but no, this was not the result of great sales management skills.

If you were running a passive desk, you were growing sales but likely losing market share. In other words, you were not growing; you shrank. Now that the market has flattened, your store is not only no longer growing, you’re shrinking. You’re losing sales because you continue to lose market share; in a flat market, that means lower unit sales.

With the average buyer visiting fewer than two stores before they purchase, running an active desk has become a necessity for those wishing to capture their share of walk-in business. Today, you must close most of your Ups on the initial visit, as you can no longer rely on tomorrow’s save-a-deal meeting and/or a strong be-back process to grab these buyers. (Both the quantity and percentage of be-back opportunities is greatly reduced when buyers visit fewer stores.)

What’s an Active Desk?

Basically, an active desk is one where managers create business today (rather than waiting for salespeople to bring the buyers to them). To make this easier to comprehend, here are some traits of an active desk:

  • Managers proactively meet all prospects prior to the demo drive
  • Managers ensure 100% of the Ups are entered in the CRM
  • Managers periodically check to ensure the road-to-the-sale steps are completed and recorded in near real time in the CRM
  • Managers touch base with salespeople when it looks like the road-to-the-sale has stalled with a given prospect
  • Managers get a recap of Phone Ups from the salesperson within minutes of most calls
  • Managers drive quick responses to all internet leads (by living in their CRM)
  • Managers oversee the internet sales process to ensure calls are made and other tasks are completed properly
  • Managers personally confirm all set appointments

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work!

Actually… running an active desk is not hard, and it takes less time per deal than running a passive desk. With an active desk, your prospects buy after fewer pencils, you enjoy more sales per salesperson, your CSI increases, and the store see less turnover. (Imagine how much time your sales managers would have if they didn’t have to constantly recruit, hire, and train new sellers?)

But I’m a Desk Manager!

If you believe that your job is to manage a desk and not to actively manage people and process, I’m sorry to report that your days are numbered. Pricing transparency and digital retailing are reducing the effectiveness of traditional desk managers. (I wrote about this in 2016.)

Today’s buyer has all the information they need to make an informed decision before they ever step foot on your lot. While many great desk managers can still show terrific PVR gross (when compared to average desk managers), the truth is your total gross is much lower than it could be if you’re not running an active desk.

Running an active desk does not mean your grosses take a hit – you’ll still get your occasional five and ten pounders. Running an active desk means your team will lose fewer deals (because you’re actively managing the road-to-the-sale), make more gross (because more buyers will take your first pencil when they’ve already met a manager), and sell more vehicles (because you’ll get all Ups in the CRM and legitimately enjoy nearly a 100% demo drive rate).

Combine this with your newfound great attitude, and you’ll find yourself managing a team of true superstars who wouldn’t dream of quitting.

Stay in your Lane

But… stay in your lane. Owners drive the GMs/GSMs. GMs/GSMs drive the desk. The desk drives their sellers. When owners or GMs are the only ones driving attitude and activity, the results suffer and turnover increases. You cannot and should not do it all. Otherwise, why do you need desk managers if you’re the one doing all the leading?

Leadership is about getting the most from your team; and a general manager will not enjoy sustained success if he or she is the only one driving the activities of the salespeople. Drive your sales managers to drive the sellers. There’s only one of you and many more of them.

Plus, if your managers aren’t on board with the program, the minute you stop driving everything, then everything stops.

good news great news

The Good News & The Great News

As I’ve written before, the good news is that if salespeople always did what we needed them to do, we never would’ve invented sales managers. The great news is that as a sales manager you only need to train and reinforce best practices every single day for the rest of your working life.

You see, not everyone on your team will progress at the same speed. Most of them will often take one step back for every two steps forward. It’s your job… strike that… it’s your duty to keep them moving in the right direction; growing their skillset; increasing their sales; making them successful.

When sales managers have a great attitude that they instill in their sellers – coupled with being active managers who also drive the activities of their team – great things happen. The greatest, of course, are that turnover declines while sales and grosses increase. Congratulations; you’re living the two secrets to driving growth… and all without spending an additional dime on digital marketing or chasing the latest AI “solution”.

Good selling!

Buy Assumptive Selling Now