Hiring the right salesperson is hard. Keeping one can be harder.
But the extra effort means healthy business at Overland-Park Jeep in Overland Park, Kan., according to its president, Frank Thompson, a 48-year veteran of the automobile business.
Thompson believes that carefully chosen salespeople, proper training and support and fair compensation pay off in the long run.
The ideal salesperson profile? 'We want someone who is motivated to make money and really needs to work,' he says. 'We do not furnish demo cars because then you get someone interested only in having a free car. We want a better grade of person.'
Age can be a factor, but willingness to change is even more important. For instance, salespeople have learned to use computers and the Internet in ways that benefit the dealership. Each salesperson inputs his daily customer information so the manager can use it as a tool to help the person plan the next day's strategy for following up on potential customers.
TRIED AND TRUE
The dealership has developed its own hiring and training program with tried-and-true methods that Thompson says lead to a high retention rate of quality people. Sales applicants are interviewed by four management-level executives, who then compare notes.
The people chosen work closely with management for several weeks before they ever wait on a customer. Picking good entry-level people means that most management openings are filled through promotions.
'All of my sales managers were originally salespeople here,' Thompson says.
Thompson says he pays people well and provides incentives for them to sell more vehicles. New employees are paid a salary during training so that if a manager feels the person needs extra time to learn the job, he is not hurt financially. Salespeople have retirement and profit sharing plans.
'I pay 3 to 5 percent more commission than any dealer in the city,' Thompson says. 'It cuts down on turnover. A lot of dealers change their pay plan from month to month because they resent the salesperson making money. I do not resent them making money. I encourage it.'
Chrysler supports the dealership by requiring that each salesperson be recertified annually in product knowledge. Training videos and other materials are supplied to help employees learn the vehicles from top to bottom. Salespeople who are not up to date on their certification are not eligible for any Chrysler sales incentives.
On the local level, Overland-Park Jeep provides a cash award to the salesperson deemed the most pleasant and helpful by a mystery shopper at an annual auto show.
The pressure to perform can create a lot of stress, which sometimes requires extra dealer support.
'We talk to the salesman about each car deal, coach them and do everything we can to make a deal,' Thompson says. 'If a car is here too long, we put a bonus on it.'
If a salesperson's production is not on track for the month, the dealership works with the person to find ways to improve performance. 'We never criticize or talk to them in front of others. Instead, we spend a lot of time with them discussing specific strategies,' Thompson says.
Overall, he says the Overland-Park Jeep employee strategy is working.
'You make some mistakes in hiring, but usually not,' he says. 'We analyze our program and change it as needed.'