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Shop Talk: Superstar?

I was doing some final edits on this month’s article when my cell phone beeped the ESPN music. Distracted, I picked up the phone to read that basketball great Kobe Bryant had just died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others. Full disclosure, I’m not much of a pro basketball fan, but I am a huge admirer of elite athletes. And Kobe Bryant was on a level above elite.

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There have been many top competitors in all sports that had record breaking seasons or a few years of greatness. Kobe Bryant was amazing for decades and played at an elite level up to and including his final game. What made him so different? And why do I even bring it up here?

Some of you may have a “superstar” selling for you. But, are they really? Can they perform month after month? Most importantly, a quality of world class athletes, do they make the team better by being part of it? Kobe certainly did that and much more. Granted, he was a rare talent that comes along once in a generation, but what he has in common with other successful people is what this is about.

His talent on the court is indisputable. But to leave the game that had been his life, write successful children’s books and win an Oscar in his first attempt at film making is extraordinary. Why him? What separates him from so many talents that came and went throughout his career? There are two key elements: his willingness to practice relentlessly and his openness to coaching and improving over time.

Those two critical qualities are often lacking with any consistency in dealerships. Coaching can happen in meetings, at seminars and most importantly, during a customer interaction. Practice should be occurring constantly with the staff so that your team can react properly to a customer the instant something happens. It’s called muscle memory.

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Having your people work “practice” deals where you use real objections or other common sticking points will help them be natural when transitioning from the customer controlling a situation to your salesperson regaining control and guiding the transaction to a successful end. But this will only work when you practice it over and over. And over!

Having the right answers, knowing the right process and taking customers through the right process takes time and effort. No one is a natural superstar. No one is born to process. However, anyone who can put forth the effort, trust the training and commit to that process can succeed on a consistent basis. You’ll see it when top salespeople can tell you what they expect to earn this year, what they plan to sell and even how those sales will breakdown between repeat customers and new customers.

The committed are professional. As I’ve said in previous articles, there is a huge difference between a professional and an amateur. The professional has no fear of getting help, training to be the best and following the leaders who know what to do. Amateurs can come in and sell a ton of product right out of the gate, but often their best month is their first month. You can recognize them because they are either just getting ready to quit and go to “greener” pastures, or they just got to your dealership and have started burning up.

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Everything I just wrote applies to managers as well. You can’t commit to making your sales team better and assume that managers just get it. They need training as well, even if it’s a review to let them know that they are on the right path. How else can you expect anyone to improve other than swings in the market? Consistent improvement can be the difference between profits or closing when the market gets tight. What are your plans to improve?

One last thing, if you have a superstar, you really need to take a look at how they stay on top. There are two ways to be the top dog. First, you work, study, train and commit, and the result is consistent top-level performance. Or, you make sure you keep everyone around you held back or held down so that you are on top of the pile by default. 

A true story: Back in the 80s, I had a superstar. I was the sales manager and I just didn’t like this guy. The GM kept telling me to get over it as the guy was a constant 25 unit a month producer and that was my paycheck. I tried but couldn’t figure out what it was that rubbed me the wrong way. Then, it showed itself. He didn’t show up to work for three days because he was a substance abuser and was out on the town.

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I wanted to fire him the minute he showed up, but the GM said we needed the units. Honestly, that made me question whether I belonged at this store. Fortunately, the GM had won a cruise due to our success and was leaving for two weeks. The day he left; I fired our superstar. I had enough and I didn’t run a store that tolerated his behavior.

Well, the GM returned, and when he found out what I did, he demanded that I rehire this person. I refused and told him that if we didn’t do better this month without him, he could hire him back and I would resign. I felt that strongly about my decision. Glad I did. He was selling more units by being a cancer that brought the rest of my team down. Many would give up after the first week of the month and just go through the motions.

After I fired him, the team realized two things: one, I cared about the dealership and how it performed and two, if I was willing to fire the top gun, anyone was fair game. The results, I had two of the team hit 25 units, the total was 15 units more than our best month that year, and morale was at an all-time high. Long-term, I ran that store for another 18 months without a single person leaving the team.

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John Fuhrman is the senior trainer for Performance Road Agency. He has trained over 15,000 sales, F&I and management professionals for retail operations and dealerships across the U.S. They are the first agency offering subscription training to all dealers. If you’d like to ask him a question, or discuss your dealership situation, email him at [email protected]

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