Author: Neil Pursell (pictured) is the managing director of Martec Europe, which provides specialist automotive retail sales training.
"In 20 years of sales training, there have certainly been changes, some dramatic – the internet, obviously, but the sales process itself has remained effectively the same.
Until now, that is.
We are on the brink of creating a new automotive retail model, although currently, there are practically as many ideas as to the form it should take as there are dealers and no one dominant approach.
I haven’t felt the same level of excitement since the day I sold my first car.
From a training perspective, we have become more disciplined, focused and targeted as well as technologically advanced with our training delivery and materials, whilst the customer experience now dominates the agenda.
However, to look at how sales training has evolved over the past 20 years, we must look at what has changed in the sales arena itself.
There are four distinct influences which have shaped the face of sales: the intervention of the manufacturer; the internet and the explosion of accessible information; the new, informed and less loyal consumer; and the arrival of Generation Y in the workplace and the market.
One of the biggest changes over the past 20 years, has been the involvement of the manufacturer in the customer experience and the purchase journey and as such brands insist sales consultants in their network receive their own training.
In the desire to create a consistent customer experience, the manufacturer has made the dealer’s business very much their own and their presence pervades every element of the sales and aftersales process.
The internet has given customers access to a wealth of information making them the most knowledgeable than at any point in the past. They know everything about your business, your brand, your models and the competition.
Adding to the mix both as customers and employees, Generation Y (those now aged from their early 20’s to their early 30’s) or Millennials have very different expectations.
The modern day consumer
Consumers have more rights than ever and they know them.
They compare experiences before they buy and share their opinions via blogs, review sites and social media. They now have a much louder voice and retailers have no choice but to listen. Unconstrained by geography and with no such thing as a ‘bad’ car, there are many more factors which encourage disloyalty rather than loyalty.
The evolving sales environment is reflected in the ‘classroom’ with new technology, a new approach to training Gen Y and an understanding of a much longer sales process.
With the flipchart almost a thing of the past and PowerPoint rapidly evolving to incorporate video and a more interactive way of delivering information, the humble sales training session has been transformed into a sensory experience.
In the same way, we are adapting our sales process to meet the demands of a new generation of customer, our approach to sales training has been driven by the changing delegate. We now find ourselves in the situation of the training being delivered by an Xer (aged in their mid 30’s to late 40’s) to independently minded Millennials.
Having gone through an education system which is interactive and has taught them to question, the trainer is constantly being challenged.
We have to convince them of the logic of our training whereas in the past they did what they were told.
Whilst working in such an environment is demanding, it is also stimulating and energetic.
Our knowledge is always on the line so complete confidence in our content is imperative.
If we are constantly being questioned as to why, we have to know why.
However, attracting candidates to the industry is, as ever, an issue.
Sales and aftersales staff can expect to earn in the top 25% of salaries with some breaking into the top 10% yet we struggle to entice the high calibre applicants which most other industries offering similar salaries receive.
Gen Y expects a better work life balance and if we don’t ditch our old fashioned ideas and switch the emphasis to productivity rather than hours worked, we will continue to fail to attract the kind of candidates the industry needs to succeed.
Of course, these younger employees are often managed by those of us who are now more likely to be in our 40s, who, typically, still expect people to work long hours, want to see them in the workplace and do not expect to be questioned.
It’s an interesting dynamic and one most workplaces are facing, but remains unresolved.
Millennials are also nomadic; they don’t expect to stay with the same company for years on end, doggedly working their way up the career ladder.
Like the modern day customer, they have much less loyalty and expect to stay in the same job for just a few years before moving on.
Interestingly, the established older worker adds another dynamic. With an impressive sales record and reputation, they often expect a certain level of special treatment which is not in tune with their younger colleagues who question the status quo or the demands of the modern consumer.
Unsurprisingly, it is the customer who is driving the new sales agenda, they are a precious commodity and whilst they know it, many in the industry have still to make that transition.
The industry is facing a whole set of new factors which does not fit in with the old model of selling or working.
All these dynamics have now come together, forcing us to develop a new sequence of events when selling a car.
It is time to think outside the box to invent a new approach to sales, sales management and training if we are to attract and retain a new breed of employee and consumer."