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How important is culture and brand to getting the right automotive staff?

Imagine a world where there was just one type of everything: one brand of cola, one variety of smart phone, and – here it comes – one type of car.

And what would that car look like? A sporty two-seater? A people carrier for the bigger family? An SUV, an MPV, an electric run-around?

We know it simply wouldn’t work. We are all different, with different tastes and opinions. As the saying goes: one person’s meat is another person’s poison.

So into this melting pot of ideas, loves, hates, and opinions step the manufacturers and marketers, and as a result we have the familiar battle of Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus Microsoft, Foreman versus Ali … you get the picture.

Brands stir powerful emotions in their audience, even negative feelings among their detractors and, tribal as we are, we nail our colours to the mast of our favourites.

In the arena of cars, manufacturers are more adept than most at using their brands – that is their name, their marque, their image, the emotions they stir up – to attract and retain their customers. And you can bet that even if under the bonnet and paintwork cars were identical in every respect, once in the hands of the brand experts they’d come up with USPs to win over an audience.

So brand is powerful with the car-buying public. But is it the same for your staff? Does the brand impact on the people who sell cars – whether that’s new cars, or pre-owned and pre-loved cars - in the same way?

If you look at the turnover of sales staff in the industry, which can run as high as 60%, you have your answer. This figure suggests that staff sales teams may change completely every two years – less, in fact. So that’s a big clue: staff are not staying loyal to a brand – to the dealership brand, or to the brand of vehicles sold.

While dealership staff hop from job to job, customers are far more likely to remain loyal to a brand they like. Which means if they acquire a new vehicle on a three-year cycle they have almost zero chance of seeing the same person twice. That can’t be good for building relationships with customers.

This is not America but the USA National Automobile Dealers’ Association, NADA, publishes an annual Dealership Workforce Study which gives us some comparison and insight to our own challenges. In 2015, the role of car sales consultant was the only key position to exceed the national private sector pay average but had an annual turnover among staff of 67%. Non-luxury sales consultant turnover was 72%, while luxury was 48%.

We don’t have such precise numbers for the UK but our own experience tells us that attracting and retaining staff in retail positions is a challenge.

A colleague of mine was in a dealership recently to purchase a new car. The salesman had been there for two weeks, having come from another retailer, and he was being shadowed by an assistant who’d started that day, having spent less than three months in his previous role at a rival business. This type of scenario is not uncommon.

So how do you, as the manager or owner of a car retailer, engender the same loyalty to your brand among your staff, as the manufacturers seem able to do with their customers?

You could, of course, try paying them over the odds, but far more has to go into getting the right team members and earning their loyalty than a big pay cheque.

It starts with creating a recruitment and retention strategy which harnesses the power of your brand.

Step one – recruit brand engagers

Work out your ideal employee – who do you want, who are you looking for – then identify where they lurk and go after them. Social media is fantastic at this, LinkedIn in particular. You can use LinkedIn as a communication platform to get across your brand values, information about the manufacturers you represent, and exactly what you are looking for among your team. Use your brand values, and the ones of your manufacturers, to engage with the right people.

Step two - develop brand advocates

So you have some new staff, hopefully people with the right mindset and attitude to fit with your brand. But how to you keep them? You need to use a brand advocacy programme to really engage them with your brand and the brand of your manufacturers. The more they love your brand, the more they will want to stay. Let’s be honest, if you love Coke how would you feel if you could only ever get Pepsi? But if you’d drunk Coke only once, then switching probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

Step three – get your dealer culture right

This can be difficult. Businesses invariably grow organically, cultures evolve naturally, the norm is made up of habits that have come about by accident rather than design. To be successful, the culture needs to be designed and actively driven. So look at what is and isn’t happening and see what should be changed. It could be simple things like regular team meetings, rewards, letters of thanks for a job well done, lunches with the MD … How the management behave will have a huge impact on how the staff behave. Lead by example. And getting the culture right has a fantastic impact on customers. We know some dealerships where customers pop in for a chat and a coffee, browse the auto mags and have a look at new models just because they enjoy being there.

Step four – know the cost of getting it wrong

Have you worked out the cost of failed recruitment? At a conservative estimate, losing and replacing a sales executive can cost you £50K when you factor in recruitment costs, lost productivity, training and the development time required to get them up to speed. If you fall into the trap of ‘recruiting, losing, recruiting, losing’ it costing many thousands. Factor into this the effect on your remaining team, on morale and on your customers and you have a recipe for disaster.

Step five – look beyond the horizon

Don’t limit yourself to recruiting staff from within the industry. Look first to the type of person you want, who fits with your culture and values. This can be more valuable than their industry experience. And if the cycle of inheriting staff who move from brand to brand isn’t working, this is a sure-fire way of breaking that cycle. Bringing new talent into the industry enhances it, as the new talents brings a fresh approach, and new ideas, and they aren’t set in their ways.

The power of culture and brand isn’t just the province of the manufacturers. Your showroom, dealership, car shop, call it what you will has its own brand and values. Get them right and use them as a marketing tool to get the right staff and loyal customers and success will follow.

ABOUT MALCOLM MILLER

Malcolm is RTS Group’s Managing Director so he oversees everything in the company and spends a large proportion of his time on new business development. He joined us initially as an associate, setting up the Mazda Academy, and became MD in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry.

Malcolm’s background is as a freelance trainer, largely in the automotive sector but also within the finance industry. His first ever job was as a paperboy – he delivered 40 papers a day from 6am, and was paid double on a Sunday because of the weight he had to carry!

He admits he has a somewhat untidy desk and should probably get the coffees in a bit more often, but his good humour and go-getting approach means the team let him off. In his spare time, Malcolm is a rugby referee travelling across the south of England, and he has three grown-up children. Malcolm describes himself as “curious” which makes him the perfect person to explore new opportunities for RTS Group.