The interaction between your salesperson and your customer is where auto sales are made. Hiring employees with developed communication skills is an essential part of improving the performance and overall success of your dealership.
But while this sounds simple in theory…
In practice, there's more to it.
Communication preferences differ widely among customers of different generations and making the sale may require a match between your sales staff's approach and the audience's expectations. A 25-year-old first-time car buyer may want completely different things from your dealership than a retiree who has been car shopping many times over the years.
Building an effective sales staff means reaching both those audiences and everyone in between. Your recruiting and retention efforts should take generational preferences into account, to ensure that your dealership can deliver the kinds of experiences that will please very different groups of customers.
When you're determining what kind of skills to look for in dealership sales staff, you should make sure your conclusions match what customers will actually want to see from your team. In other words, it pays to look at audience research rather than using your gut about preferences.
Millennial buyers bring a different set of values than Generation X, and members of Generation Z are fast rising to car-buying age, bringing yet another perspective.
Top priority: Reaching millennials
Millennials have become prime car shoppers: According to AutoTrader, car ownership has hit 84% among older millennials, while 73% of young members of the generation plan to buy cars soon. The average millennial spends over 17 hours on research when car shopping and 71% of these buyers research every available vehicle fitting their needs, outstripping both Generation X and baby boomers.
Nearly half of millennials, 46% are willing to pay more for features that suit their image, much higher than 20% of boomers - this combination of research and interest in upgrades means your staff may be doing more reselling than introductions to new vehicles when dealing with millennial shoppers.
Hiring to counter stereotypes
A Deloitte report noted that the popular image of auto sales practices is weak today. Fewer than half of consumers have a positive view of auto salespeople, and while millennials are more likely than other generations to feel that auto sellers are treating them fairly and respectfully, 50% don't hold that positive outlook.
Counteracting the stereotype of auto dealerships as a place where aggressive salespeople will attempt to trick consumers is a top priority for your team. According to Deloitte, you can accomplish this in a number of ways, including by hiring greeting staff who have product knowledge but don't make sales, easing consumers into the dealership experience. Deloitte noted that specialists skilled at accessing information on mobile devices are also effective modern employees.
Giving a great experience
Greeters with a positive attitude and specialists who can provide product details can make a great impression on millennials - and that might make all the difference in the world for your dealership's performance.
The Deloitte research explained dealership experience is three times as important as vehicle features to millennial shoppers. Creating a friendly environment, one where people are treated well and given attention on par with any other boutique retail sector is definitely a way to win.
How can you recruit and retain employees with the right skills?
Your best bet when it comes to hiring and retaining employees who have the friendly manner and device skills that will help them reach millennials may involve targeting potential applicants of all generations.
Who better to understand Generation Y than fellow members of that generation?
There can be challenges with this approach, according to The Wall Street Journal. Young people don't often consider the possibility of working for a dealership, and it's incumbent on you to change their minds.
Breaking the recruitment barrier
So what's keeping millennials from applying for sales jobs in the auto space?
Interestingly, the problem may be the same stereotype about an aggressive and pushy attitude that has worn thin with customers in recent years. Generation Y job seekers don't enjoy the prospect of haggling with customers or driving prices down. Creating a more friendly atmosphere for staff and employees alike, and letting this become a visible part of your dealership's brand, may help you bring on team members who will appeal to young buyers' preferences and need.
Another reason for millennial hesitation (a.k.a., another aspect ripe for a change) is the old-fashioned commission model. When haggling over price was more common, shrewd negotiators stood to make large bonuses, and that could be an appealing part of auto industry employment.
In an era of online research, when shoppers are weary of extended arguments over price, The Wall Street Journal reported that the classic model is now past its prime. You can potentially offer a flat per-sale commission to spread funds to your salespeople while acknowledging that cutthroat negotiation is not an ideal approach to sales.
Making retention work
Hiring is just step one.
If you can't retain staff members, any attempt to improve the dealership experience will be plagued with frustrating setbacks as longer-tenured sellers leave. Endless training of new recruits doesn't allow you to create a consistent or friendly feeling on the sales floor. The Wall Street Journal reported Nissan saw a 100% sales staff turnover over the course of a year, creating knowledge gaps among the new people brought in to fill the talent gap. That lack of experience is potentially frustrating for customers who have done their homework on vehicle features.
Some of the same practices that attract millennials to car sales jobs in the first place - creating a friendly environment without haggling, for example - could also help them stay happy enough to stay over time. The stability provided by staff members staying on, with their well-developed soft skills and hard knowledge defining your business's customer experience, can improve the business overall.
New generations of customers are still forming their opinions of the auto industry. Giving them a new experience, powered by clear communication and pleasant interactions, could be a positive differentiator for your dealership.