Paul Weitman, president of Royal Automotive Group in Tucson, Ariz., hired experienced car salespeople in the past, but believes he could probably count the number of times on his hands.
'We seldom hire people who have sold cars before,' says Weitman. 'We hire people who we think IBM, Xerox, or other corporations would want, professionals with good, solid work histories. Those are the people who are looking for a long-term career.'
Retention of sales staff is the result of careful hiring and intense preparation, according to the dealership philosophy. If new employees don't know a custom package from a crank shaft, Weitman and his managers are unfazed. Royal Automotive Group, one of Tucson's largest and most successful dealerships, has a comprehensive sales training program.
'First, you recruit the right people: those who show an aptitude to learn, are flexible and can meet the physical demands of the job,' says Weitman, who handles Buick, Isu-zu, Kia, Suzuki, Jaguar and Lex-us. 'Then, you give them a track to run down and the means to be successful.'
BLUE JEANS CORE
The training is intense. For the first two weeks, salespeople never see a customer. They undergo basic training, starting with what the dealership calls 'blue jeans core,' getting a lay of the land.
The new hires start by working with the new and used inventory and the make-ready people to learn how inventory arrives, is checked in, prepped and displayed. The purpose is to make sure that when they begin selling, they are know where everything is and who to go to for help.
Next, they undergo intensive sales skills training, customer care training, finance and insurance training and product training for new and used vehicles. They engage in situational role playing, and learn how to follow and stay in touch with customers.
They are also expected to become familiar with Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. By the time they hit the showroom floor, Weitman says, they are confident and ready to excel.
'We pay them for the time spent in training, of course,' says Weitman. 'Not just the initial training, but the training that occurs throughout their careers.'
Royal sales professionals have twice-weekly general meetings and attend periodic seminars. The automakers provide Product Knowledge Exams, with monetary awards for successful completion.
Weitman holds department heads and finance managers responsible for the success of the new hires. The managers help with the on-the-job training and work directly with the new hires.
At the same time, the salesperson works in an environment in which 'fear has been removed' according to Weitman. 'No one who works here is afraid of being fired,' he says. 'Mistakes are allowed. We want to empower the salesperson to be successful. That means reciprocal loyalty, helping them when they need it and treating them with dignity and respect.'
Weitman makes sure the sales staff is well compensated. Pay is salary plus a unit bonus. Incentives include cash for certain levels of sales, plaques and special parking spaces. Weitman and General Manager Peter Gough take the Salesperson of the Month and his or her spouse to dinner.
The retention efforts appear to be working. General Sales Manager Tom Wolken has been at Royal Automotive 22 years. Many of the sales team have been on board six to 15 years. Nearly all the managers have been promoted and trained from within, a factor that Weitman sees as a key motivator. He believes it is almost impossible to have good salesperson retention without good management retention.
'We're not perfect, but we are always continuing to fine-tune, and we have developed a culture that we believe promotes sales success,' says Weitman. 'We treat our employees the way we would like to be treated, and the results are sales retention, customer retention and satisfaction.'