In early 2013, Round Rock Toyota in Round Rock, Texas, ran a recruitment ad in a newspaper and online seeking two sales consultants. The responses were few and the applicants unqualified.
"It was awful the people we had coming in the door," said Caron Corzine, general manager of the store, located just north of Austin. "If you can imagine, we had applications with the spelling of night stocker as 's-t-a-l-k-e-r.' It was not good."
So Corzine stopped hiring people to fill sales positions. Instead, she created a new position: product specialist -- people who could be trained to convert Internet leads into appointments and then continue talking to those shoppers about the vehicle while escorting them through the sales process.
The results have been so good that Penske Automotive Group, which owns Round Rock Toyota, is taking the idea to other dealerships in Texas.
At the Toyota store, the specialists are an important part of the sales process. Not only have they helped boost customer satisfaction scores, but the specialist role itself attracts high-quality candidates seeking a career path in the sales department, which helps to lower employee turnover.
Indeed, the program caught the attention of Penske's headquarters in part because of the company's drive to keep its employee turnover rate at about 21 percent, said Penske President Rob Kurnick in January.
Kurnick called the concept "an important initiative ... in terms of making the customer experience better" while also offering "a better career track and enabling us to better attract some more talented people."