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Christopher Ferris

Christopher Ferris CEO

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 "The Gauntlet"

During the 18th century, visitors to Abenaki Motors’ showrooms in the northeastern USA often encountered stressful shopping experiences. The reins of each customer’s equine trade were routinely tossed onto the roof of a village lodging hut after the used horse manager had taken Sea Biscuit for a quick spin around the forest. Before each customer could state the current status of his search for new transportation, he was most often forced to run the “gauntlet”, which race entailed jogging between two long lines of Abenaki braves armed with war clubs.

As the anxious customer reflexively raised his arms to protect himself during this dealership-mandated run, he was whacked in sequence by “Meet and Greet” (the chief’s favorite son), “Trade Appraisal”, “Early T.O.” (the chief’s wife’s second cousin), “Demo Drive”, “Write Up”, “After Seller” and “Closing Champ”, just to name a few of the gauntlet’s key participants. Most customers who survived this type of gauntlet run signed a P & S and took delivery, just to escape with their lives. They were often too exhausted to care that the Abenaki Motors’ back office, working in harmony with “Closing Champ”, routinely diverted factory CSI surveys to a post office box owned by Early T.O.’s brother-in-law. (What a system! What the heck, it put horses on the board, right?)

Fast forward to Clint Eastwood’s classic 1977 film “The Gauntlet”, in which he starred as a police officer tasked with shepherding a star witness (actress Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Attacked along the way by mobsters, bad cops, good cops, a biker gang and a corrupt police commissioner, Eastwood and Locke ran a 20th century gauntlet and got shot to pieces in the process. Of course, the thousands of rounds of ammunition expended by good and bad guys failed to knock down the heroic Eastwood and his female witness. In the end, Eastwood and Locke prevailed. However, one wonders how Eastwood and Locke would fare in a modern day auto dealership’s showroom.

Consider for a moment that the current, well established “road to the sale” process makes excellent business sense from an internal industry perspective, but that many customers regard this process as something both mysterious and nausea-inducing at the same time.

How many times has one of your dealership’s well meaning modern day gauntleteers, probably either “New Bee” or “Burned Out”, said to a fresh showroom customer, “Hey, we got this system here, so I gotta put you into a computer first, or my boss is gonna make me recon canoes for auction, understand?” or “Hey, what’s your e-mail address? My boss makes us ask everybody, but you don’t have to give it to me right now, you can give it to me later along with your cell phone number after we have tortured you for a while. Speaking of torture, we offer complimentary water boarding as part of our elite VIP package, and the after effects are fully covered under warranty for four years!”

Don’t laugh. Well, you may chuckle softly if you so desire. But as you do so, admit that there are many customers who consider entering a dealer’s showroom to be a fate almost worse than death. These customers sense that they are going to be compelled to endure pain in order to effect the purchase and delivery of a new or pre-owned vehicle of their choice. Yes, the perception out there is that a gauntlet of some form, shape or type still exists in every dealer’s showroom.

Why? Because some “modern” dealers, closet fans of the cool 1987 science-fiction film “The Running Man” (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), may prefer to load their stunned showroom customers into bobsleds (see photo below) and rocket them at neck-snapping speed into the clutches of Buzzsaw, Fireball and Subzero, all of whom are well trained deal writers who know the exact sequence of steps that must be taken on the infamous road to the sale.

 

"Do you know who I am, Schwarzenegger? I starred on Hogan's Heroes!
Who do you think you are, the future Governor of California? Now, sit
still, shut up and follow our sales process! A demo drive is the next step!"

 

Such “modern” dealers will state, unequivocally, “Hey, we’re new school, not old school, everything is automated, our CRM tool is the best, we’re fast, we’re motivated, we’re movers, we don’t waste our customers’ time. We get it done.” (Too often, “all done”, as in “you know who won’t be coming back again” done.)

I can hear howls of (legitimate) protest from certain intelligent, savvy dealers who may rightfully maintain, “We don’t have gauntlets in our showrooms. We are modern. We are future focused. We are forward thinkers.” Fortunately, more and more progressive dealers out there truly understand the need to acknowledge customers’ real fears about our industry’s selling processes. Such reflective dealers render their internal “road to the sale” processes flexible (within reason) to meet each customer’s unique needs and thereby to exceed his expectations.

What’s the fear factor in your customers’ eyes? What’s the fear factor in your customers’ body language? What’s the fear factor in your customers’ words? Evaluate the existing “gauntlet factor” in your showroom. Be brutally honest. Check with care for the presence of hidden war clubs, Running Man bobsleds and employee attitudes that reveal enjoyment of the presence of a gauntlet of sorts. Retrain your sales team as necessary to instill a sense of clear, deep understanding about the need for consistent, inherent flexibility as customers move with either alacrity or hesitancy along the path to a new or pre-owned vehicle purchase. Get gauntlet-free. Do it today. You will be glad you did. More importantly, so will your growing, relieved customer base. The good word will spread about you. Fast.


(Special historical note to readers: this specific satirical interpretation of an Abenaki "gauntlet" does not represent a true depiction of Abenaki culture in any way. The great Abenaki nation (still existing today) pre-dated the arrival of settlers by thousands of years. Google "Abenaki" to learn more about these proud Native Americans.)

 Christopher Ferris   c 603.233.8759   ferriscc@comcast.net

 www.drivingsales.com/blog/chrisferris

 

 

Ryan Lucia
haha Jeff! I can only imagine what brought this on. I remember when I got in the business...I was 19 years old and was already successful in the past however, was going through a hard time. When I got hired I found that 80% of the people I worked with were x convicts or currently on probation. The best salesperson I ever meet was addicted to crack. He taught me well though. I worked at the same dealer for 6 years. The first dealer I started at. Most of us stayed for that amount of time until the owner came in and cut everyone after our best month in company history. You want to know why? Pour management! Guys are promoted because they could sell not because they are good managers. The reward for working hard and selling a bunch of cars is you get to sit on the desk and scream at sales people and pencil deals. Eventually the owner will come in and cut or fire everyone and bring in a new crew. For the more established dealers....It's not conducive to peoples personal lives. The schedule, hours, and constant fighting for money. Dealers don't set themselves up for success. I just had my first ever review. That means that 8 years in a dealership most as a manager, I never had a review. Really? We don't run dealerships like professional businesses. Therefore you can't expect your salespeople to be held to a standard they feel their managers and owners aren't held to. In Texas you can only be open one of two days (Saturday or Sunday). I believe every dealership should close on Sunday and no one would miss out. As a matter of fact I may one day fight for that. Good luck and you have to choose to make it a career and you will see your numbers go up.
VJ VJ
BRAVO Jeff, as I had stated before: You hit the nail on its head, right on. You won’t believe how many Real Estate Agents or Mortgage Brokers I had seen “flying by” the dealerships. Answer: “Well I need to make some money until the house market is back-up again”. Are you kidding me, what do you think car dealerships? May be a Starbucks or Crazy Wings Cafe, where normally part-time students bumping up their living standard for $8/hour? We suck (as stated absolutely right in the post) because we are not taking proud in what we are doing. Alright! Here now is my story: I came in 2001 to the U.S. to marry my American Soul mate and to execute some consulting business for a German subsidiary. This was early September 2001. Then 9/11 occurred. The world seemed to be on a stand-still and my coaching-consulting assignment was cancelled. Wow, no American degree, German accent, newly-wed and living in Michigan – sounds like a jackpot to me… After a couple days of thinking I decided to make my biggest weakness into my strongest asset. I called up Williams AutoWorld in Okemos, MI and told the President of the company “Mr. Williams – I think it makes sense to have a real German guy, with a real German accent selling your real German cars (BMW, Mercedes, Porsche). It worked and after 8 months I received the honor to be Top-sales person for the Auto Group and be named in the Top-20 for CSI in the Market 42. I had found my passion, selling cars and decided from there on to focus on handling things like “Internet inquiries” (which by the way nobody of the sales staff wanted because in their words “they are time-wasters). My book of business grew rapidly over time, I changed dealer groups due to relocations and I honestly can tell you that no car dealer I’ve worked for ever let me down. My recipe is – Be happy and appreciate that you are able to handle, show and demonstrate pretty things (a car), see how your customers are happy and feel good about their decision to have bought form you (CSI), following up how they are doing with their new ride and if they had earned compliments (referral), and stay in touch not only to at Christmas time (repeat business). When you don’t feel a passion about the things you do, you need to change – not the attitude but your employer and field of work. Believe me the success will come, when you are fully dedicated to your dealership and your job. Focus on your job with the promise a) to make someone coming in your dealership happy – every day – b) become an expert on your particular Make you are selling – c) when Internet sales, commit to be different than your competition, study the competition, find their strength and observe and last but not least build your strength on their weakness. Please, decide to make the Automotive Retail World a Better World and commit (German free translation: “Komm mit” – which means “Come with me”) to your career. Yes, CAREER – I never in million years would have thought that I will be in the U.S. and selling cars. I knew about the reputation of car sales people but I decided to put my head down and work, didn’t allow listening to any bias and knew that I will be one day one of the Best in my field. Huge thanks to America, which is really the land of opportunities and a big Thank You to the American Car Dealers, who have given me the opportunity to be successful. Last advice I like to share: When you show you can do it and you are successful more opportunities will arise out of it. Believe, I am just experiencing it.
Stan Sher
Ryan, funny I too found at 19 when I started that there a lot of ex- convicts working with me. I was at a shady store, lasted a month made some money, ripped off some people (well my managers did) and then I left to go work in a great ethical store filled with giveaway artists. It was there I was able to use the strength that I gained at a rip off store and leverage my great personality to give the consumer the best experience ever while asking for the money. I was not gross king but I sold cars, some homeruns and some flats. It was a great experience. I grew to love the business and the money. I grew to make new friends and connections. I am glad to be a part of this. If I ever switch careers, I have a lot of skills gained from the car biz...
Paul Rushing
I got in the business at the dealership level 20 years ago. I have tried to run away from it a few times and always found myself back in the game. Even when I left for almost a decade I was still selling or managing sales organizations for larger ticket items, homes. Everything we do is a sales job and there is no better place to hone your skills than the auto industry. Do well at it you may stick around...
Sarah Duggins
Volker that was a very inspiring story and filled with such great advice. Thanks for sharing it!

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