During my time at DealerKnows, as well as the years immediately proceeding, I’ve heard the same story from Internet sales personnel all across North America. It’s one of pain and suffering. It’s also one of heroism. After some recent conversations, in-addition-to seeing some recent performance results, I think it’s high-time to write something about it.
I’d love to share these stories individually, in all of their profanity-laced entirety, however I’ll sum things up to keep it G-Rated. For the last six years, or so, sung from the mountain tops we’ve all heard “the number-one salesperson throws a fit if they are not involved in Internet operations,” then closely followed by “they don’t know what they’re doing, and they just get in the way” (I have to admit, it sounds more dramatic with the expletives). You would’ve thought that this phenomenon would have gone away, but I think it’s getting worse.
Contrary to popular belief, the Internet didn’t revolutionize retail automotive. For a scant few, it changed things overnight. For most, it has been driven by a traveling wave of consumer demands, starting on the coasts, sweeping through the major-metro suburbs, and now pushing across the heart of rural America. The changes some of us have been slowly dealing with for fifteen-plus years are all being shoved into the laps of those who have been shielded by those demands, all at once. This creates enough friction to start a fire.
During that same time-period, any dealership USA dotes on it’s favorite son or daughter. I’m not talking about Junior who works in the parts department while attending Northwood. No, I’m talking about that sales person who has been at the dealership for the last 20 years. The one who makes their own schedule. The one who goes golfing with the owner on Saturday while everyone else is tying balloons to antennas. The one who averages 23 cars a month without ever picking up the phone. The one management has to check with before they make decisions. The one who doesn’t use the CRM because they say they don’t have to. We all know that person. Let’s call them the Chief.
So what happens when the Internet wave converges onto dealerships ruled by Chiefs? Disaster.
The Chief demands everything sales-related as a birthright. When the Internet leads start flowing in, the Chief demands only the best leads – the trucks, the minivans, the new game-changing sedan – only the stuff that sells. When an OEM/vendor/trainer suggests changes to processes and templates, they have to be blessed (then ignored) by the Chief. When an owner comes back from a 20 Group and mentions phone training, the Chief waves their hands, exclaiming they’ve been an expert since the introduction of the private phone line. When the sales manager asks the Chief about an article he read about metrics, the Chief reminds the sales manager that he or she sells 37 cars a month (actually 23), with only a desk calculator and (gonads). Everyone loves the Chief, or at least that’s what the Chief says during his or her Zig Ziglar daily mirror-affirmation.
Meanwhile, in everyone else’s reality, the Chief is the tallest, gnarliest, most impenetrable, barrier to success in the known universe. Management gave up on the Chief a long time ago because the Chief is unmanageable, unchangeable, and untouchable: he just acts as an ATM. The bulk of the sales, service, parts, and office staff are only borderline cordial with the Chief because the Chief stopped thanking people a long time ago. Customers reluctantly go back to the Chief because he/she is at the only (insert OEM) dealership in town, even though it still takes six hours to buy a car. Finally, there’s a legion Internet sales people, all now working at competing dealerships, who despise the Chief for making their lives so miserable. They’re now commuting an hour to work, siphoning customers off their past dealership…winning.
Clearly I’m exaggerating to make a point, however, in varying degrees, this is true for many up-and-coming Internet superstars. Finally, they get recognized by management as someone who can take on extra responsibilities, add value, and take the dealership into the future. But just as they’re getting their new PC setup, up walks the Chief, saying “did you bring that computer in yourself?” To which the newly minted ISM replies “Golly, no Mr. Chief. (The owner) got it for me. I’m handling the Internet leads now.” As if doing a favor, the Chief says “hey, you can take my old computer. It was top of the line just a couple of years ago. I’ll take this, what is it, um, Dell off your hands. I’m sure it’s the cheapest one (the owner) could find.” And thus, it begins.
However a dealership wants to structure it’s Internet operations (A-Z, BDC, Showroom Hybrid, etc.), it has to be about the team. Every lead has a built-in timer. Every customer is number one. Your dealer’s website is only one of 18 places the customer has gone. The best Internet operations in the country know this already: you are only as strong as your weakest link. Having a strong team ensures consistent success, no matter what circumstances may arise.
There is no room for ego. There is no room for hoarding leads. There is no room for ignoring voicemails. There is only room for the customer. There is no room for the Chief.
A long track-record of success in the showroom is something to be applauded. But, it does not automatically guarantee success online. If the 20 year veteran wants to be successful online, they need to be prepared to give up many things they are used to. They better be ready to work late into the night. There won’t be much time to golf on Saturday because they’ll be glued to a keyboard most of the day. They may no longer sell 23 cars a month. They will have to religiously use the CRM. They’ll have to implement, then follow OEM/vendor/trainer phone scripts and email processes. They’ll be held accountable to metrics. They’ll come to depend on management, service, office staff, and most importantly, their Internet teammates, as if they were family. They’ll have to treat every customer like gold, because these customers have plenty of options. If they can do this (and more) for more than six months, then they have a chance. If they can’t, they should stop screwing it up for everyone else.