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Ian Coburn

Ian Coburn Trainer/Speaker

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Learn From a Dealer Who Lost the Industry 6+ iGen (Gen Z) Staff

This is the story of my nephew's experience working at an auto dealer and what actionable items we can take away from it in any industry, particularly in the auto and truck ones.

Marcus was excited to land a job as porter for an automobile dealership, which spread its fingers across suburbia Chicago via nearly a dozen locations, representing several OE brands. For six months he performed the menial grunt work of this role without hesitation or complaint, often praised by customers for his good cheer and focus on them. (So much for myth #1 about iGen and Millennials--they don't want to pay their dues or work hard.)

Finally, the day he had hoped for, but had known was never guaranteed, came: Marcus was promoted to the role of sales associate. He was excited and eager to learn more than he had already picked up watching and speaking with sales reps during his tenure as porter. After all, he loved cars and trucks, and wanted a shot at a high, steady paycheck. A sales role at a dealership surrounded him with what he loved all day long, while giving him an opportunity to earn a large salary that many other roles couldn't offer him without a college degree. (Myth #2 debunked--iGen and Millennials are only interested in getting college degrees and the jobs that require them. Actually, more and more, iGen move in the opposite direction--they feel a traditional college education is not conducive to their success, especially given the great expense. In fact, Marcus, who is quite intelligent and well-read, opted to earn his GED instead of a high school diploma, as he felt that was a faster, better route for him.) He was puzzled, however, and somewhat alarmed, when one of the reps congratulated him, then added, "You work among a den of thieves and you're one of them." (Red flag #1--positive, supportive culture is important to iGen and Millennials; a veteran, seasoned sales rep just threw the culture of the dealership, and industry, into the trash, by putting down himself and the entire sales staff, including Marcus--brand spanking new to the role. "Welcome; congratulations . . . on becoming a thief.")

On his first day as a sales associate, Marcus, excited for his first sale, approached the sales manager and relayed, "I'm ready to sell some cars. What tips and training do you have? I'm an open slate, ready to learn." The manager replied, "What do you mean training? Go sell some fucking cars." (This, in case you are uncertain, is not a proper onboarding or training program. Red flag #2--iGen and Millennials expect organizations to invest in their success by providing them information and tools to be successful, requiring a minimum of an onboarding program and trainingRed flag #3--iGen and Millennials want a supportive boss.)

Marcus, becoming more alarmed, kept his youthful chin up and decided to forge his own learning path by learning from the rest of the sales team. He quickly found their advice and methodologies incomplete, contradictory, and that they often flew in the face of the few recommendations provided by the OE regarding sales. For instance, one top rep told him not to bother to learn anything about the vehicles; that he, "Couldn't tell you one damn thing about any of these cars," while another top rep told Marcus to, "Learn everything you can about the vehicles on the lot and coming out soon." Slowly, via books and extracting what he deemed to work well while tossing other practices aside, Marcus developed himself. The process, though, was clunky, inefficient, and not what the franchise deemed appropriate, he judged based from team meetings. While Marcus navigated all this, the dealer doled out a paycheck to him of $20K, annually. "Quite frankly," Marcus remembers, "it was painful and should have been entirely unnecessary."

While both the dealer and Marcus prefer he be paid by commission, Marcus stuck with his salary for 8 months, as it made more sense for him to split sales with other reps, who then paid him chunks of their commissions under the table, earning him more money while providing him a safety net he deemed necessary because he wasn't getting any training or support from management. It quickly became clear to Marcus that managers, whether sales or general, did not care about the sales of individual reps but rather only about the sales total for each month. Instead of spending a significant amount of their time coaching staff, managers spent a significant amount of it refereeing between staff about who-earned-what in the commission of a sale. (Red flag #4--iGen and Millennials want to be part of team while also feeling like individuals. Marcus felt like management thought he and the rest of the sales team were as disposable as "daily contact lenses.")

Marcus and the sales team did receive training from an outside vendor at irregular intervals. These lessons tended to come every 6-8 weeks, for an hour or so on Saturday mornings. While he felt the content was good, management did not attend, let alone support it, and most of the staff was already ingrained in what they did, so the content typically wasn't implemented on the job. The trainer did not provide a method or support for the use of the content he taught. Also, attendance fluctuated, meaning not everyone got the same training. It felt like the dealer was "checking a box," he recalls. While Marcus liked the training, he didn't remember much of it after the fact. He wondered "why the hell are they not using eLearning for any of this, so I can review it whenever I want and don't have to wait six weeks for the next topic; I can take it at home on my own whenever I want?"

After 8 months on the job, Marcus switched to pay by commission. It was a move made more by need than desire. Just before he hit his 8-month mark, the sales manager gave the dealer two weeks notice he was leaving to be GM of another dealership. Management asked that he leave, immediately, which he did . . . promptly taking the top 50% of sales reps with him, as well as 2 finance staff and several service personnel. Marcus was invited to join them at a celebratory party that night but declined, as it would require he move to a smaller city nearly 3 hours from Chicago--not much for a 21-year-old to do there. He quickly found his pay drop, not only because he no longer had productive reps to split with, but also because reps with fewer sales often reneged on promised splits because they ached badly for the full commission. (Red flag #5--how bad can a company be to see such high turnover in a matter of minutes? Red flag # 6--the team could no longer be trusted, meaning it was no longer a team.)

2 months into commission pay, Marcus was told by his manager that he was going to be given a tremendous opportunity; that, as the newest member of the team (only because newer hires quit after 1-2 months), they needed him to "take one for the team" and relocate to their used car facility, where he would substantially grow his skills. (Red flag #7--imagine asking someone you have treated like a cog to "take one for the team." What team?)

Upon arriving at the used lot the next day, a longer drive from his home, Marcus promptly learned that both used sales reps had quit the previous day to go to another dealer. (Red flag #8--management flat out lied to Marcus about the reason for relocating him; it was entirely for the company and not his development at all. Red flag #9--more staff quitting in unison.) Marcus took it in stride and decided to push through, absorbing blow after blow as a learning experience. One of the blows was that he was moved to a set salary without any bonus or commission. Another was that he could not earn enough on salary to survive without putting in lots of extra hours each week. A third was that he was very limited in what he could sell due to a small, mostly undesirable inventory. Yet a fourth was that most of the leads who came in had a better chance of pitching for the Yankees than they did of getting approval for a loan to buy a vehicle.

After 3 months on the used lot, Marcus visited his original location and his manager, who had not visited or reached out to him once while he worked at the used lot, and inquired about how long he would be at the used lot, whether he could split some hours to work at both lots, and inquired about his role moving forward. His manager didn't have any answers for him, requesting that he "hold tight." He also declined to answer Marcus' question about when he would have some answers. Marcus resigned on the spot, leaving the door open to return once management had a plan for him. His manager didn't thank him or wish him luck; rather, he simply shrugged, nodded, and mumbled something about Marcus lasting longer than most. (Myth #3 debunked--iGen and Millennials aren't willing to work with the organization; they simply make demands and expect them to be met.)

As I often emphasize, contrary to the popular saying, it's what we don't know that often hurts us most. Marcus has 5 friends who were eager to join the industry by working at dealers. He was their resource for determining if it was a good move for them. None of them plan to work for dealers or in the industry in any capacity. Marcus' dealer lost 6 hungry, willing iGen for the industry . . . and countless others they could have recommended join the industry.

Marcus and his friends are part of a powerful group, of which we have never seen the likes before--iGen outnumber Millennials, who, in turn, now outnumber Baby Boomers, and iGen utilize both tech and social media to drive culture. They use sites many of us rarely think of or know exist. Forget Facebook ("That's for old people," says Marcus); they constantly share rapid fire messaging across platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and half-a-dozen others Marcus named that I have since forgotten, real-time via phones and tablets. Why read an article like this one when you can actually follow Marcus sharing his first day as a sales associate, live throughout the day, complete with images, videos and links? And they can do it all, privately, without a dealer or OE ever knowing what they are communicating. They mobilize quickly, efficiently and are able to pull masses of people together unlike anything we've seen, previously, often simply by sharing and resharing--for instance, organizing high school and college walkouts protesting gun violence across the nation, even the world, and not only compelling people to run against unopposed politicians they disagree with, but even driving some of those said politicians to quit... in a state from which they live 1383 miles away! They even effectively change business protocol by organizing boycotts on brands that piss them off.

So when we, as an industry, alienate one iGen, as either staff or customer, it's quite possible that, in a matter of minutes, 35,000 other iGen know about it; in an hour, 600,000; in a day, 1.3 million. You get the idea. Of course, the dealer could have a very different story than Marcus' recollection; however, it's a mute point, as it is Marcus, not the dealer, who is Tweeting, Instagraming, Snapchatting, and so forth. (I'm not sure if the preceding verbs are words, so don't use them with iGen, as you might be mocked...)

What's alarming about this story is that it isn't alarming. While it's certainly not indicative of every dealer, it is far from uncommon in the dealer world. (And, in Marcus' mind, it is indicative of every dealer. He doesn't look at anyone in his experience, unfavorably; he simply believes it is the nature of the industry as a whole, and, thus, won't be returning to it.) In speaking with 3 OE's, ranging from auto to heavy duty truck, the average attrition across their dealerships is 114%. All told me it was fairly common for someone to leave a dealership for another and take a large portion of the rest of the staff with them.

Marcus makes it quite clear that he doesn't blame managers for his experience, noting, "They didn't receive any training, either." In fact, as is often the case, when 1/2 the sales staff left the dealer to follow the sales manager, several sales staff, all underperformers, were thrust into management roles. So you don't have to be good at sales to become a manager. In fact, your strategy could be the opposite--be just good enough to keep your job, biding your time until the talented sales people leave for greener pastures, so that the dealer is forced to put you, due to your tenure, into a management role. Does that make for a qualified, quality manager?

The soft skills challenges dealers face--onboarding, training, customer service, time management, etc--have been challenges for ages. Unlike previously, though, tech continues to create a job market where virtually no iGen or Millennial have to work at a dealer. Dealers, and the industry as a whole, can longer afford to overlook soft skills. (Oftentimes, dealer ownership fall into the category of their staff--they weren't given direction for acquiring, let alone directly receiving, soft skills training.)

The good news? Soft skills, which create an inviting, customer and employee-focused culture (we must have this culture to implement our strategies; poor cultures simply swallow strategy after strategy), are easy to teach. Need some help? Reach out to me and I will get you all set up.

If you want to go it alone, start with onboarding. Not sure what that is or how to go about setting it up? Here is all you need for a good onboarding: Draw a simple Process MAP and follow it, as noted in the next paragraph. (Despite thoughts to the contrary, onboarding is effectively integrating new hires into both their roles and the daily ebb and flow of your business; it is not a welcome party, socially interacting with the rest of the team, a bunch of "fun" ice-breaking activities that have nothing to do with your industry, etc.)

A Process MAP is simply a diagram of an entire process. In this case, it would be a MAP of your desired customer flow--from finding you online, to initially contacting you, to coming in to seeing a vehicle, to buying the vehicle, to bringing it in for service, etc. Everyone involved in the process should be included in the MAP. If you'd like, reach out to me and I'll send you a few you can use as samples to reference as you build your own.

Creating a Process MAP can be a little daunting and challenging, so take it slow. If you need help, again, reach out to me and I'll help you. The important aspect is to capture each step in the process. Once you have your MAP, you give it to your entire team and new hires, showing them where they fit on the MAP, why their role is important, and going through all the steps of the process. They then quickly see how they integrate and feel valued as a team member, because they understand how everything fits. (Reviewing Process MAP's helps to knock down silos between departments.)

Having different departments speak, briefly, to their steps in the Process MAP, is all you really need to have in an onboarding. (Keep in mind, onboarding is ongoing--make sure staff get continued access to each other, particularly if they have questions about a step(s), which they will.) Meeting different departments helps with integrating new hires, too.

Want to develop training? Again, keep it simple. Take a step in the Process MAP, like "Receptionist answers incoming call." Determine how you want that action to look--how should the caller be greeted? Where does the call go when the receptionist is at lunch or can't answer it? Look at the next step: "Receptionist transfers call to proper party." What is the protocol you want followed to transfer a call? Write it out, make sure everyone knows it and has access to the protocol as an easy reference--perhaps by every phone? Keep doing this little by little, maybe just 1-2 steps a week, and, before you know it, you'll have a complete training program you can drop into a binder for new hires. (Of course, at the onset, you'll need all your current staff to go through onboarding and training.)

While there are other aspects ideal to add, such as training delivery methods, the above is more than enough to get you going and far better than not having anything. If you prefer to work with something that already exists, built and refined over more than 20 years, and is proven, simply reach out to me and we'll look at your options. Again, it's why I'm here.

Please, though, whatever you do, don't do this: Nothing.

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