How to Find and Retain the Right Sales People for Your Auto Dealership

Jennifer L'Estrange
December 5, 2022

Are you struggling to recruit and retain salespeople for your team? Auto dealerships have traditionally struggled with employee turnover across the board, especially in sales, where it hovers above 50%. That’s an entirely new sales organization every two years. That amount of turnover is exhausting. Here we offer a few alternative approaches to hiring to help improve your success in finding and keeping people who will thrive in your organization.

Focus on the Individual More Than Their Experience

If you can identify the values and supporting behaviors needed to be successful in the sales role and fit into the culture, then the skills and experience are secondary. In fact, if you have a very specific way you want your sales team to interact with your customers, then why would you look for a candidate who was trained in someone else’s inferior process? Often it’s easier, and more effective, to build talent from the ground up. Look for candidates who have the right behaviors or attitude to do the job well – and train them on the rest. 

Consider Your Auto Dealership’s Company Culture

Company culture is articulated through the values, behaviors, and actions of the people in your current organization. There is no dealership training for culture. The behaviors demonstrated by the people you put in management roles become the de facto example for the rest of your organization. If your sales manager demonstrates your dealership’s values through their actions and decision-making, then the rest of the sales team will do the same. Culture is difficult to change, and when you’re looking to hire new salespeople to join the team, it’s important to consider not only their skills and experience, but also how they will fit into, and add to, your organizational culture. But if culture is so hard to pin down and really describe, even to your own people, how do we evaluate if a candidate is going to fit in and align with “how we do things around here”?

Ask the Right Questions

Contrary to popular opinion, biographical or theoretical questions won’t tell you whether the candidate will be successful in the job. Forget about asking what they ‘would’ do in a certain situation or telling you about every job they’ve had since high school. Instead, focus on targeted behavioral questions. Some of these questions are focused on the behaviors needed to be successful in the job; others are aligned with the core values and culture of the dealership as a whole. 

How you ask the question is just as important as the question itself. Banish the word “would” from your vocabulary. No more questions that start with “what would you do if”. You’re asking them to find the “right” answer to the question rather than telling you how they are likely to behave if faced with similar circumstances. Instead, ask them to give you an example of something that already happened. Rather than trying to find the right answer, now the candidate is telling you the story of what really happened. And if it worked for them last time, chances are, that’s exactly what they will do the next time. Statistically, it’s a better predictor. 

For example, if you want to find out whether a candidate is able to overcome customer objections, you can ask, “Can you give me an example of a time when you were talking to a customer, they were interested in buying a car, but were hesitating in some way? What was the situation, and what did you do specifically to make the sale?”  

Or, if you’re interested in finding out if your candidate is able to build a relationship with customers, rather than someone who is solely focused on selling cars, you can ask, “Can you give me an example of how you have built a long-term customer relationship? What did you do specifically to encourage them to keep coming back to the dealership?”  

Implement a Trial or Training Period

Trial or training periods give you the opportunity to observe someone’s performance in the job. The duration depends on your dealership and the role. As a general rule, a training period shouldn’t be longer than 90 days and focuses on the technical aspects of the job and the behaviors and cultural aspects that are critical for integration into the organization and long-term success. If you’re working with a vendor partner for your CRM for example, you could integrate a training program as part of onboarding.

If you don’t want to implement training or trial periods, you might consider a trial interview. This is where you have the candidate “try” or sample the job under supervision for a day before making a final hiring decision. You have the opportunity to observe their work and get feedback from colleagues on how well they did. It’s often a better predictor of success in the job than interviewing alone. Keep in mind, however, that you must pay candidates for the time that they have worked.

Overall, the goal is to hire the right people for your dealership – and keep them. Bad hires cost money, as does high employee turnover. Cox Automotive conducted a study a number of years ago and was able to quantify employee turnover by department. The cost of employee turnover has gone up substantially since the study was published – but the overall principles still hold true. Bottom line: you’re better off taking the time to hire and keep the people that will thrive in your dealership.

Our HR Team Can Help You Find the Right Fit

If you’re looking for HR support in recruiting the right people for your sales team, we can help you review and update your interview process, train managers on how to interview more effectively, and help you implement appropriate assessments to guide your decision-making process. Contact us to learn more.

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