Is it time for a health check for employee development?

Dealerships made a dime a dozen on record demand coinciding with the new-vehicle crisis. When business is booming, it’s easy to put employee training on the back burner. After all, you may be making your highest profits from consumers willing to pay top dollar for pipeline, special orders, and used items. Yet ongoing employee training is an essential part of any corporate culture.

Now, when profits are high, is the best time for an employee development health check. Here’s why.

Today’s market

Record profits raise the question of how long these conditions can last. No one has a crystal ball, but eventually supply and demand will be in balance again. There will be a reset. Will your salespeople be ready to actually sale again and not just taking orders?

This is an important question, given how digital retail and the pandemic have changed shopping behaviors. Consumers today spend more than 18 hours online doing their homework before visiting a dealership. Historically, the model was to drive consumers to the store. Now it’s about bringing consumers to your website, helping them navigate the digital retail process, answering any questions, and engaging them to drop off that vehicle deposit (it worth mentioning that the sales model of ordering a vehicle, in addition to having some stock available, is likely to remain).

Now is the time to invest in training, because managers and salespeople have more free time. Consumers come to them. There is less, if any, lead research, price haggling, and field engagement. Take advantage of employee downtime while you have it.

train the coaches

Do your managers understand this evolution of the market? Are they ready to train employees and make learning a priority? Management may feel like they have great people with great skills when in reality those people don’t fully understand how to interact with today’s consumers. This leads to staff turnover, frustrated customers and lower sales.

Trainers must first be trained in the new processes. Prepare for some resistance. Many managers will not think the training is necessary. Prepare them by explaining how the market has changed, how you want them to lead, and how you want processes to unfold in the future.

This gives purpose to the training program and helps managers understand why training is important. It also indicates that you view these people as leaders in the organization and that you rely on them to help you achieve your business goals.

Many dealerships invest in training only to find that there are too many distractions in the store for managers to focus properly. For this reason, I recommend sending managers and influencers to the sales floor and to BDC offsite for training. In addition to keeping them away from distractions, they will be surrounded by peers with whom they can share ideas, exchange strategies, etc.

Look for training focused on changing the market; how to serve, not sell; and advanced ways to resolve differences in price, payment, credit, and trade value. I highly recommend the ADKAR training method which prioritizes clear objectives, measurable results and a unique framework for everyone involved in the change.

Bring change at home

A challenge with any training is that new concepts won’t be applied consistently and effectively across the store. You’ve cleared the first hurdle when you send managers on training and they come back excited with new concepts and ready to share. The next step is to bring a coach on site to train your staff with managers acting as leaders and role models.

Reinforcement after in-store training is essential. Studies show that without constant reinforcement, people retain only 15-20% of what they learn. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to plan to set aside 30 minutes each day, or three times a week, to facilitate small lessons or activities that support learning.

In the case of sales or BDC, it can be as simple as listening to a customer call and giving feedback on what’s great and what needs improvement. Remember you always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so lead with praise.

Buying behaviors have changed; employee training must also change. Use this time when managers and employees aren’t engrossed in finding leads and negotiating prices to do a health check on employee development and address training needs. This will give your dealership and staff a head start when demand and supply are balanced again.

Lawson owen (photo, top left) is the founder and CEO of Proactive Dealer Solutions, a provider of lead management and conversion services to the automobile and motor vehicle dealership industry.