Modern Dealership recently reviewed “Perfect Dealership,” a book written by industry veteran Max Zanan, who wants to help dealerships not fall victim to the consumer mentality that Amazon Prime shopping is the norm. In his book, as well as in a column he wrote for MD magazine, Zanan goes over several strategies to help combat this challenge and make the buying experience at dealerships better for customers. He also discusses how to change dealership culture to enhance the selling experience as well. We recently caught up with Zanan, and went over some of the key points he stressed in his book.
The Internet is often considered a dealership’s enemy. How do they make it their friend?
Max Zanan: Car dealers have to accept that e-commerce is here to stay, and they need to adopt it in every way possible. For example, at the very minimum, customers should be able to buy parts online, make service appointments, schedule test drives, and that’s just the beginning. Very advanced dealers should incorporate a complete digital-retail solution into their sales process and let customers buy the car whatever way they prefer. Zappos.com proved that transparency, convenience, and superb customer service is the name of the game, and consumers are willing to pay for that.
You write a lot about the customer being in control. As a salesperson on the floor doing the day-to-day grind, how can you prepare for this reality and still sell cars?
Zanan: Superb product knowledge is the answer. Salespeople have to know every intricate detail about the cars they are selling. This is the only way to build value and justify dealerships’ existence. A lack of product knowledge is immediately apparent and one of the main reasons consumers are doing so much research themselves. In addition, superb product knowledge is the sign of a true professional, and salespeople have to take pride in learning about their products. Car dealers should hold walkaround competitions and display the best ones on their websites.
What is keeping dealerships from embracing employee training?
Zanan: An old-school mentality and a lack of professional training at the senior level are the main reasons. Here is what I mean by old-school mentality: In the not-so-distant past (before the Internet), dealers had all of the information, and therefore, were in control. There was no need to have product knowledge or perfect sales techniques. Unfortunately, a lot of car dealers still think that it is 1995, and they haven’t made any effort to change their sales processes or recruitment strategies. Progressive companies, such as The Container Store and Zappos, showed that investing into training and development really pays off in terms of employee loyalty and morale, as well as customer satisfaction and retention.
Dealer principals should invest in training of all employees, including sales, management and leadership, compliance, and safety. Basically, they need to professionalize their workforce in order to survive in the 21st century. Just to put this whole thing in perspective — Jiffy Lube provides over 120 hours a year of training to their employees, and it is in the business of oil changes.
How can salespeople best collaborate with the service departments and not have an adversarial relationship?
Zanan: It comes down to the senior management being on the same page. The dealer principal and/or general manager must make sure that there is an open dialogue between the sales and service departments. Through communication the two will realize that they have a common goal and should work together closely. Excellent experience in the sales department is the reason for customers to visit service, and vice versa. Selling cars in the service drive will really improve the relationship between these two departments.
What advice would you give to someone considering car sales as a career?
Zanan: Buying a car is one of the most exciting experiences a person can have, or at least it should be. If you are willing to deliver happiness to customers, there is no better way to do it than selling cars. A combination of social skills, follow-up, and product knowledge will immediately set you apart from the competition and provide for a satisfying career. The Internet will not eliminate salespeople. Not everyone wants to buy a car online, but if dealers do not adapt to new realities, they will force people into buying cars online.
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