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Online sales: Should dealers retrain or replace staff?

the ability to deal face-to-face with customers is still crucial, and the advent of new skills, while important, is not the be all and end all Guy Liddall,  Motor Trade Selection

The motor retail sector has been talking about ‘the death of the salesman’ for many years, but they are still very much alive and kicking.

While the commission-based model still reigns supreme, dealers are increasingly appointing so-called product geniuses, a new breed of showroom employee, who provides customers with information as required.

Dealers have been adapting their operations to an increasingly digital retail experience – Capgemini’s 2017 Cars Online report, which questioned 8,000 consumers worldwide, found 42% of consumers were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to buy a car online in the future.

As a consequence, sales executives have had to acquire new skills, from suppliers such as automotive trainer Martec Europe, whose ‘driving online performance’ course is designed to help sales staff manage virtual conversations.


‘It’s essential dealer groups retrain’

Elaine Ashworth, a former director of the AM Award-winning Peter Vardy Academy, who now runs her own consultancy and training company, Automotive Business Results, said dealer groups should retrain staff in preparation for further digital changes.

“A greater proportion of the transaction is now completed digitally or over the phone, with customers doing research, conducting online chats, speaking to online advisers and so on. The skills needed are not ones that traditional ‘sales people’ in the automotive sector have, so it is essential that dealer groups retrain existing sales people, redefine roles and re-think the recruitment profile and structural strategy.”


New models for new staff

In many ways, dealers have already adapted to the new digital era. Most recently, sales executives have had to learn video skills to fulfil customer demand for visual communications.

Video platform providers CitNOW provides on-going training to its clients. Nick Pratt, global academy director, said: “The training required for online sales depends largely on the skills of the individual. The newest generation of sales staff, leaving school and college to enter the motor industry, are likely to have a sound knowledge of how to use a smartphone, but confident presenting is a skill that grows throughout someone’s career.”

At Rockar, the digital automotive retail business partnered with Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Jaguar Land Rover and which has recently teamed up with Ford to take space in high street fashion store Next, store staff called ‘angels’ are recruited with an emphasis on personality.

Martin Sewell, Rockar’s managing director, said: “We are looking for ‘people’ people, who are great communicators and engage with customers, however they choose to connect. After this, most importantly it’s the speed of response. We want people who will respond quickly to enquiries.”

When recruiting angels, Rockar purposefully appoints non-industry people and does not pay commissions and bonuses. It has attracted a completely different profile of employee.

Sewell said: “We have had student doctors and lawyers working in our stores and their communication skills are extremely good. I think dealers today need a mix of people, so you have those who come from a traditional background with those who have the digital skills modern automotive retailing demands.

“It’s not just about the people. It’s understanding your customers. We are living in a 24/7 world, but manning your digital retail operation round the clock isn’t practical. The analytics will tell you the peak times, which means dealers can target their resources accordingly.”

Guy Liddall, the managing director at recruitment agency Motor Trade Selection, said the issue is recruiting high-calibre people in the first place: “For many dealers, the ability to deal face-to-face with customers is still crucial, and the advent of new skills, while important, is not necessarily the be all and end all.

“Many dealers report difficulty in recruiting the right staff in any case, so adding another difficult skill to the mix does not necessarily make recruitment easier. Having said that, there are some very good examples of dealers who have rapidly adapted to this changing technology and are being highly successful.”


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