Preface: Nearly a year and a half ago, we had reached out to automotive industry experts around the nation asking what they look for when hiring consultants. Joe and I began to work on a this as a whitepaper, that was to become an article. For some reason it that got shelved. We have our suspicions on why it didn’t get published, but that’s the past. Either way, we think it’s never too late to share.
Read on to see what Ralph Paglia, Tracy Myers, Eric Miltsch, Dale Pollak, Tim Jackson, Kevin Frye, Ed Brooks, Kelly Wilson, Bryan Armstrong, and Jim Bell (as well as Joe and I) have to say.
Your business needs some help. There are areas in which your dealership could improve and you have realized an outside agency might be your best bet for some quick solutions. You need a fixer.
However, finding that fixer can turn out to be even more overwhelming. Finding a consultant or training partner can be incredibly difficult because there are so many offerings (with variable quality) that it can be difficult to make a selection. Worse yet, is that many dealerships don’t find out they’ve made a poor choice until it is too late. We decided to create a guide on how to make an informed decision based on the wisdom of retail automotive veterans, as well as actual dealer personnel who employ expert help at their own dealerships.
Our biggest problem within the consulting segment is that there are no prerequisites to be a consultant. Anyone who has read one blog post can declare themselves an expert (term used loosely here), and peddle their services to a vulnerable dealer. This creates a disruptive rippling effect, creating a future of distrust and skepticism for dealerships that still need help. So we’re clear, there are:
- No tests to take to prove, as a consultant or trainer, that you are worthy of the title.
- No governing bodies conducting background checks on new consultants.
- No coalitions of recognized leaders overseeing the creation of a curriculum that provides certification for Internet marketers when they want to begin serving dealers in a consultative capacity.
- No groups stopping these out-of-work Internet managers from calling themselves trainers and taking advantage of dealers’ lack of Internet understanding
- NO PREREQUISITES TO DO WHAT TRAINERS AND CONSULTANTS DO. ZERO.
Despite the creation of countless other professional organizations, automotive Internet sales and marketing do not have a recognized governing body, and that is a huge problem.
Let’s get one thing straight: we’re all for competition. There are 18,000 dealers in this country, 17,000 of which, don’t know what they are doing online. There is plenty of business to go around for all consultants. The cause for concern is the incorrect message that is irresponsibly dispersed. Too many consultants spreading the wrong information will only take us backwards as an industry. The last thing we like doing is cleaning up others’ messes. We really hate it.
With the lack of a governing body, there should be an experience level one needs to have achieved in retail before one goes on to teach dealer personnel the best practices of retail. Otherwise, dealerships simply hear the same regurgitation of someone else’s beliefs.
A quick story from Joe:
Thankfully, my successes were well documented while I was climbing the corporate Internet ladder at my last dealership, but at one point, I still thought I should seek out additional training for my BDC team.
I approached the owner of my dealership and stated that I wanted to bring in an outside party to assist in phone training. He immediately asked me why. He said, “we are ranked as one of the top BDC’s in the nation, what could someone else teach them that you haven’t? What if they throw a wrench in what we have going?” These were all valid questions, but I still wasn’t so cocky that I thought I knew everything. An outside perspective might be helpful, regardless of how well my team was currently doing.
So I did my homework. I looked to see who had written some material out there. I checked out some relevant searches on Google, reviewed their websites, and then made a call to one person. I was pleasantly surprised that I was phoned back within 10 minutes. However, that was the only thing this person did right.
I could hear them walking and talking through a busy city, bragging about themselves and how great they were. Throwing out ridiculous numbers of growth rates and how their training was the best. We shared a few minutes of philosophies and I very kindly told them I would call back. When I got off the phone, I said to myself…well this guy is totally full of sh&$. Unfortunately for him, one of the things that has made me successful is that I am fairly straightforward, but have been blessed with the uncanny ability to tell when people are being less than genuine. I know when I am being fed crap. I can smell it, and this person was selling it.
After doing some research, I learned that this person had only spent a few short years in retail before publicly announcing his celebrity geniusness of all things Internet. Now, I am a big believer that you don’t need to have spent decades in retail to prove that you know the industry or are any good at it, but I refuse to believe you can train Internet sales, BDC, or digital marketing best practices when your only experience in it was back when automotive Internet was brand-spanking new. Everyone had high closing ratios in 2000 because not many people (dealers and consumers) knew what they were doing. You could send out an email and, so long as it had a price attached, the customer would come stumbling in with checkbook in hand. Based on my quick conversation with this trainer, it was abundantly clear that they haven’t grown since then, but simply taught those same antiquated tactics that had worked for him. While this evaluation happened 6 years ago (now 7), their training has still not progressed…since 2000. Even worse, this trainer is still training these techniques to this day. I think we can all agree, this is a problem.
Back to the point:
There is a new breed of consultant entering the market; wreaking havoc as they lay waste to all dealers they serve. We’ll refer to these people as the unproven consultant. There are resource sites in our field (DealerRefresh.com, AutomotiveDigitalMarketing.com, DrivingSales.com, DealerElite.net) where great leaders in our industry provide best-in-class content for others to adopt. These sites are visited frequently, daily, by hundreds of Internet sales specialists around the nation. However, with the ease of access to such information, comes the ease of understanding all of the best practices in the industry. Many such readers feel that they are an expert solely because they have read someone else’s words and agree, never mind the fact they haven’t actually put any of these tactics to work in any of their stores. There are many Internet managers that are hamstrung by their owners, want to be forward-thinking, but cannot act on what they feel to be as true. So, they quit and simply consult on what they’ve read. They sell themselves into stores by stating buzzwords that perk up the ears of dealership operators. This is a problem.
We are not the only ones that see this disparity in proven talent versus deliverable information as an epidemic. When we reached out to several proven industry experts to get their opinions on what a dealer should really look for when partnering with (read: hiring; spending money) a consultant or a consulting firm, we had no problem receiving an outpouring of support. They fight the same uphill battle we do every day.
As we read through these amazing pieces written by some of the great leaders in our industry, as well as the recognized, up-and-coming professionals still in automotive retail, I see one true theme that all believe is of chief importance. That is EXPERIENCE. If we were back in retail – and for our whole team, that was not too long ago, we might add – we believe there should be ten steps to ensure that the consultant/trainer we would choose for our store would be the best fit. We’ll share these steps at the end.
Before you take the first step:
Our first recommendation is to NOT hire someone. First, look in-house. Make sure there is not someone who already has the knowledge, know-how and passion to deliver the right information and suggestions for your dealership. Don’t overlook your own Internet manager’s recommendations just because she/he was born and raised in your store. After all, you might be better off with their advice then some of the so-called consultants in the game.
Before you take the second step:
Still don’t hire a trainer or consultant. Do your research on best practices, not quick solutions. Experiment with a little trial and error. If there is a hole in your boat and it is leaking profit, see if you can stop the sinking yourself. Put it on yourself to right the ship, first. If you can arrive at your intended goal through your own hard work and knowledge, we promise it will make you so much stronger in the long-run. It’s always best if YOU are your own consultant. We recognize that some dealers don’t have the luxury of waiting. In order to quickly turn their Internet operation around to be more profitable they need to seek guidance. Let’s share some of the advice of the most respected names in the business so that you can easily get the help you are looking for.
Ralph Paglia | President | Automotive Media Partners
Characteristics of Top Performing Internet Sales Trainers and Digital Marketing Consultants
Since 1998 I have personally delivered Internet Sales Training and Digital Marketing Consulting services to over 1,000 car dealers and at least 6 car companies. Between 2001 and 2010 I recruited, hired, trained or supervised over 200 Internet Sales Trainers and Digital Marketing Consultants… While managing the services they delivered to dealers and car companies. As I am sure you can imagine, along the way I have acquired some very developed criteria for the background and skills that can be directly associated with the people who will do a good job assisting dealers in their Internet Sales Management and Digital Marketing strategy, tactics and operational management development. So what are these criteria that I personally associate with the people most likely to make a positive difference at a dealership when it comes to selling cars and service using the web? Joe Webb asked me to list them in a manner that he can include in a document designed to help car dealers make better decisions on who to hire as an Internet Sales Trainer or Consultant, so let me itemize what I consider to be the Top 5 ways to select an Internet/Digital trainer or consultant in a prioritized list based on each item’s rank in order of importance:
1. Experience – How many dealership Internet Sales Departments has the trainer or consultant set up, built, managed, designed and monitored? In many ways, when a dealer hires a trainer or consultant what is actually purchased is that person’s previous experience in both success and failure in the various aspects of creating and operating Internet Sales Teams, Digital Marketing Strategies and related operational aspects of making these people, processes and technologies work for dealers in regards to selling cars, parts and service business. Les experience should cost less and more experience is worth more to the dealer hiring an outside trainer/consultant. Also, as important as it is to hire trainers/consultants who have had BOTH sales and management experience in dealerships prior to becoming a trainer/consultant, it is important to point out that 48 weeks on the road as a consultant installing Internet Sales and Digital Marketing strategies and tactics in 24 different dealerships is probably equivalent to 6 years of experience working as a manger in a car dealership. As a dealer, when you hire a trainer/consultant who has done similar work in dozens of different dealerships you are acquiring a broad base of experience that increases the likelihood of success in your dealership. Let me describe a graphic and personal example… I have personally installed over 100 Business Development Centers in Ford dealerships. I know which of my first 100 dealerships subsequently either disbanded those BDC’s or simply let them decline into non-existence. Of the 60 that are still in operation 7 years later, there are common element in their design and implementation that can be associated with their long term success and profitable contributions to the dealership’s they serve. Likewise, of the 40 BDC’s from those original 100 I installed that no longer exist, there are common elements to the way they were designed, set up, staffed, physically located and managed. It is safe to say that I know what make a BDC more likely to be successful. Likewise, broad based experience working with many dealerships and in different parts of the country is more likely to result in a better trainer/consultant for any dealership considering who to hire. Lastly in regards to experience, this is the essential ingredient for success with “Situational Management”… As opposed to implementing robotic, one way to do something processes in any dealership, the implementation of results based processes is far more effective when it comes to sales, customer retention and efficiency. There are very few tasks that can only be executed in one specific way in order to experience the most success for your dealership. The sign of a truly experienced and wise trainer or consultant is that they know how to achieve the dealership’s objectives in a variety of ways and are not dependent on one way to get something done… If that one way doesn’t work, the experienced trainer/consultant will know how to get it done using another method.
2. Work Ethic and Productivity – Since hiring a trainer/consultant usually involves the dealer paying for units of time, how much actual in-dealership face-to-face training and consulting time will you get for the money being spent and how many dealership employees and their ability to implement and execute processes will be positively impacted? What are the “deliverables” that the consultant will produce and deliver within those same units of time? Will they deliver a documented Action Plan each time they visit the dealership? Will the trainer/consultant follow up on whether the assigned dealership resources have completed those tasks prior to the next visit to the dealership? Will the trainer/consultant prepare performance reports and assessments for management and dealer review? All of these tasks are certainly in the realm of capability for every trainer/consultant worth considering, but how much is done within a billable time period is a sound basis to use in evaluating their productivity. How much output in high value deliverables is also a function of basic work ethics inherent in the trainer/consultant personal profile.
3. Passion, Persuasion and Communication Skills – I debated whether to list this as #2 or #3, but let’s just say that these are VERY, VERY important skills (character traits?) for any trainer or consultant a dealership is considering… How effectively can that person express themselves to a variety of different people in your dealership? How well will their message resonate with your team? Is the trainer/consultant passionate enough about the work they do to have their enthusiasm become contagious and infect your dealership’s employees? The ability to both communicate what needs to be done on a daily basis and persuade your team that they will each be more successful by doing these things is paramount to whether or not a dealer gets the most bang for the buck when hiring a, Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant. There are several ways to evaluate these types of skills… Watch the trainer/consultant on video, read the articles he/she has written and published. Look at the quality of training materials they use, speak to them by phone and ask the trainer/consultant to convince you to do something an Internet Sales Manager, BDC Rep, Marketing Manager, Sales Manager or Salesperson should be doing each day as part of their work flow process. After all, if the trainer/consultant cannot convince you as the dealer or GM that something should be done, how the heck are they going to convince your employees?
4. Dealer and/or OEM References – Before you sign any contracts or pay any money, speak to at least two people who have hired and used the trainer or consultant you are considering… As they say on Wall Street, “Past Performance may not be an effective indicator of future performance” but checking references is certainly a prudent step to execute in evaluation a trainer or consultant and falls under the category of Due Diligence. What are some of the things to ask about a trainer/consultant? You should ask if whatever they did effected the behavior of the dealership’s employees after the trainer/consultant left the facility. How long did their visit to the dealership, or the remote work they did for that dealer continue to have a positive effect on the dealership’s operations? What should you watch out for? I have heard dealers describe many horror stories, such as paying a trainer/consultant in advance and then having difficulty getting them to visit the dealership on a date that worked for both parties. Or, having paid for one trainer/consultant only to have somebody the dealer never met or heard of show up to deliver the services. However, there is one issue I have noticed over the years that may sound bad, but is actually indicative of the very best trainers and consultants I have worked with… Have they ever been kicked out of a dealership? Some of the best and most effective Internet Sales Trainers and Digital Marketing Consultant have been asked to leave a few dealerships over the years. This is what happens when a passionate, highly skilled change agent works in a dealership that is determined NOT to change; almost like an unhealthy body rejecting a healthy organ transplant! Bottom line, always contact 2 or more dealer references when considering hiring any trainer or consultant.
5. Do They Walk The Talk? – Whenever considering a trainer or consultant who specializes in any aspect of web based marketing, sales and communications, you should check on how much they practice what they preach. So, for example if an Internet Sales Trainer tells you he or she believes in prompt responses to Internet Sales Leads and customer emails… Send them an email message and ask for their phone number; then take note of how long it took them to respond. If a consultant professes to being able to help you improve your dealership’s various website Search Engine Optimization (SEO) implementations, do a Google search for their name or the name of their business and take note of how well they show up and how many listings are sites or accounts they are in control of. If a trainer/consultant tells you they will help your team send better emails to your dealership’s customers, ask them to send you examples using your name as if you were the prospective car buyer or service customer. The trainer/consultant claims to be able to make sense out of using social media to enhance your dealership’s sales and marketing? Then, get their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Ning and WordPress site or profile addresses and go check them out online… How do they look? Are they practicing what they preach?
I hope these five evaluation recommendations help you make a better decision when considering brining in an outside Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant, but let me include a final bit of very important advice… If you are not prepared to implement that vast majority of a trainer or consultant’s recommendations and operational processes, then your dealership is not an ideal candidate for these types of services. Having assisted many dealerships over the past 13 years, after managing dealerships and departments for many years before that, it is always a little surprising to me when a dealership embraces all that I give them and actually does it! I love it when this happens, but more often than not, dealership management teams will pick and choose the items a trainer or consultant gives them and only implement those items… This does not always provide the best results. However, every dealer I have ever worked with that reinforced the implementation of the vast majority of what i recommended, then enforced the discipline to make sure the dealership employees executed these processes every day, has been VERY successful in achieving the Internet Sales and Digital Marketing objectives. So, the lesson learned is that if you do what the trainer or consultant you hire tells you and your team to do, your dealership will experience success… But, if you choose partial implementation by picking and choosing which items to implement, you will get only partial success, and maybe none at all.
For the past four years I have made myself available and accessible to members of the online professional network I set up for dealers and their employees at www.AutomotiveDigitalMarketing.com and look forward to seeing you there!
Tracy Myers | Dealer Principal | Frank Myers Auto Maxx
5 Keys to Choosing the Right Digital Marketing Consultant for Your Dealership
Few auto dealers have the time and resources to become experts in all the strategies and technologies of Internet Sales and Digital Marketing as these are changing constantly. Yet the growing importance of online channels means getting the right guidance and advice about the best way to profit from the internet in your dealership is crucial. Hiring an outside Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant may well help you get better results but it’s important to make the right choice.
Being the owner of a several successful car dealerships and having assisted many other dealerships in their quest to be “the best” over the past 18 years, I believe these are the five key attributes you should look for before taking on an Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant.
1. Previous Experience: What have they done before and what have they done lately?
When you hire any kind of consultant, you are paying for their past experience.
That experience can come through the work they have done as a consultant/trainer or it may be from previous roles. That’s why you want to know as much as possible about what they have done – who they have worked with, what projects they have completed and what results they have obtained. For example, you should ask how many Internet Sales Departments they have been responsible for creating or managing.
Ask about their involvement in setting up the processes and technologies that help dealers in the sales, parts and service parts of their business. Find out about the successes and the failures as each of these can help them get better results for you.
The more experience the person has, the more valuable they are to you. As well as their consultancy or training experience, look for someone who has a background in sales AND management in dealerships before becoming a trainer or consultant. Someone who has spent several months as a trainer or consultant, working in many different dealerships, will have built up expertise that would take much longer working in just one business. But having practical experience in sales and management themselves gives them a better understanding and perspective of the issues involved. The more experience they bring to the process, the greater the chances of them being able to help your dealership to get better results.
To give you an example from my own perspective, I installed one of the first used car dealership Business Development Centers in the country back in 1999. Over the 12 years since I was initially involved in that install, I know what processes we used to be successful and have identified the common elements in design and implementation which contributed to its success. Equally, I have identified the common elements in its processes, design, set up, staffing, location and management that failed and drawn important lessons from that. Therefore, if someone was to hire me today to set up a Business Development Center, they would benefit from all that knowledge and experience I have built up.
So, in hiring someone to assist with your Internet Sales and Digital Marketing Strategies, you want to find someone who has extensive experience working with a wide range of dealerships around the country. The broader their experience, the more likely they are to be familiar with the issues in your dealership. Someone who has broad experience is less likely to implement processes in a fixed, robotic way. The issues that arise in every dealership are different and you need advice that is flexible enough to find the right solutions for your situation. An experienced trainer or consultant will find the best way to achieve your objectives and will not just rely on one fixed way to get things done.
2. Persuasion and Influence Skills: Can they help you get the best out of your team?
One of the most powerful benefits an outside Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant can bring to your dealership is the ability to convince your existing team to make changes. That means being able to convince them that changes which will be introduced as a result of this process will benefit them as well as the dealership.
A trainer or consultant who can do that will be passionate about their message. This will resonate with your team so that they also become enthusiastic about doing things differently. You want someone who can communicate effectively with a range of different people in your dealership. They need to be able to persuade the team that the changes they are bringing in are not a threat and can help them do their job more effectively as well as serving customers better. They need to be able to explain things in a way that motivates people to take action and do what needs to be done.
You will learn a lot about the trainer or consultant’s communication skills in discussion with them. They have to be able to persuade you that they can persuade the team.
But make sure you check out their skills in other ways – watch their videos and read their articles. How effective are they at getting their message across? Will it work with your team? Ask for copies of their training materials and have them explain something to you the way they would do so with one of your marketing managers, sales managers or salespeople. This will help you decide if they have the communication skills needed to deliver change in your dealership.
3. Productivity: Will you get good value from their time with you?
When you hire a trainer or consultant, you are usually buying their time – whether you buy a specific package or pay by the hour. That means you want to ensure you get the maximum value out of the time they spend with you. So you need to focus on how to get most value out of that time.
Ask them to clarify how much consulting time or face-to-face training is included, for example, and what that will cover. In face-to-face training, how many of your employees will be covered and what exactly will they learn? How will that improve the service they provide and how efficiently it is delivered?
You should aim to get a clear definition of the “deliverables” that the trainer or consultant will provide. In other words you need to know exactly what you will see for your investment. These deliverables could include:
- Documented Action Plan following visit
- Follow-up process to ensure tasks assigned to your team are completed
- Providing performance reports and assessments for review
Some of these elements may be part of the specific package you commit to and some may depend on the personal approach of the trainer or consultant. So it’s important to find out exactly what you should expect.
4. Past References: Have others had good experiences working with them?
It’s good practice before you hire any outside adviser to talk to some people who have used this person before. While references have their limitations – people can often be too nice or too vague in their comments – asking a few of the right questions to a past client can tell you a lot about a trainer or consultant and can help you make your decision.
When your aim is to find out how effective a trainer or consultant performs, it is best to make the questions you ask as specific as possible. For example, you could ask for examples of what changes happened in the behavior of employees after the consultant visited the dealership. Or you could ask how long the dealership felt they benefited from the work done.
You want to try and find out how easy the person was to deal with and whether they were flexible in arranging visits and training sessions. One thing to be careful of is choosing a trainer or consultant because of a specific individual – and then finding that someone completely different, usually with much less experience, shows up to do the work.
However, I’ve found from experience that it’s best not to take all the feedback you get at face value. Sometimes people will give you very negative feedback about a particular trainer or consultant and that feedback may reflect as much on the person giving the feedback as on the trainer. I’ve often found that the very best trainers and consultants are passionate about delivering change. This means that, when they come up against someone in a dealership that is determined NOT to change, that person will react badly to the attempts to change them. So bad feedback can sometimes mean they are actually very good at what they do! That’s why it’s crucial to get feedback from at least two dealers before deciding to hire a trainer or consultant.
5. Practical Examples: Do they practice what they preach?
One of the big advantages of hiring an Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant is that it’s quite easy to check out whether they actually “walk the walk” or just “talk the talk.” Here are some ways you can check that out:
- Send them an email: A trainer may talk about the importance of responding promptly to emails so send them an email with a simple enquiry and see how well and quickly they get back to you.
- Search for them in Google: If someone talks to you about the importance of website Search Engine Optimization, try searching for them using their own name or business name and see how well they are in control of their own listings.
- Check out their social profiles: If someone wants to tell you about using social media to boost your sales, check out their blog, their profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn, their Twitter profile and their YouTube channel. How do they look, how well are their profiles updated and what is the quality of the content?
If someone wants to teach you about the benefits of an approach, it’s reasonable to expect they are practicing what they preach.
Playing Your Part: Are you willing to implement their advice?
I have one more secret I want to share with you about hiring an outside Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant. But this time it’s nothing to do with choosing the right person. It’s about how you make use of the advice from the person you choose.
Too often I find that dealerships go to the trouble of selecting the best trainer or consultant. But then they pick and choose which pieces of advice to implement – as if it was the menu in a restaurant. Too many people want to pick and choose which recommendations they implement. That means they lose out.
I can say that every Business Development Center employee who has been trained by me, worked for my Team and implemented the vast majority of my advice has had great success in achieving their Internet Sales and Digital Marketing objectives. If you are not prepared to implement the advice you get from the trainer or consultant you hire – or you try to cherry pick those items you want to implement – you will achieve limited success and you will be wasting your time and money. If you are not willing to take the advice you get and implement the vast majority of it, your dealership may not be ready to work with an Internet Sales Trainer or Digital Marketing Consultant. However, if you are willing to take their advice on board – and you follow the above tips when selecting the best person for your business – you could take your dealership to new levels of success.
Eric Miltsch | Director of Product Strategy | DrivingSales.com
Criteria for selecting a training consultant
Selecting a sales training consultant for your dealership needs to follow a very disciplined approach. Your final decision will obviously have a far reaching ripple effect on your staff, your production and your overall internal dealership community.
Today’s training consultant should be positioned as a partner – one selected from a selective process by the primary decision makers for the dealership. These decision makers may consist of the dealer principal, general manager, GSM and the BDC manager.
The initial selection categories may also include:
Area of specialty & discipline:
What is this training known for? Closing skills, BDC Phone skills, fixed operations, special finance, Internet strategy, social media, etc. Match the consultant with the area you need most. I believe we’ve moved beyond the days of one consultant having a lock on all of the knowledge across all skill segments.
Match the consultant’s style with one that matches your staff and your managers. Active participation, classroom style, testing, video observation, take home materials, etc. This element shouldn’t be shock to everyone when the program starts. Know the program beforehand and set the expectation for your staff to ensure the proper mindset. (Consider those items that didn’t work for your dealership in the past.)
Measurement & Metrics:
Know what’s going to be measured, how it will be reported, who will receive it, how often and what the benchmarks are for your segment being trained. Know how you’ll gauge what is successful and the ROI associated with the efforts. Also, be sure there is a checks and balances element to the reporting; your managers need to be trained and held accountable for the data being reported. If you’re not going to measure the efforts, then why do it at all?
Unbiased, objective reviews from other clients, from within your markets and beyond. Feedback from the participants and the managers involved is needed. Check industry sources as well, such as the DrivingSales Vendor Ratings for additional support.
Industry Participation: This category will quickly help you identify who the knowledge leaders are and may even help speed up the process. Who participates in the largest industry events? Who contributes an endless array of unsolicited support and resources? Who is deserving of the flood of word of mouth endorsements? Visit the industry evens and see who makes you leave saying, “I need to hire that person for MY dealership!”
Your selection needs to include several categories of activities, experiences and philosophies to ensure the relationship remains as solid as possible from the day one and beyond.
Dale Pollak | Founder | vAuto
1. Assess your need/define your goals. Hiring a training or consulting company should be driven by a distinct business need that you and your management team haven’t been able to successfully address on your own. Similarly, this needs assessment should also pinpoint the outcomes you’d like the vendor/trainer relationship to achieve and how you plan to measure progress toward your goals. (Note: The goals and related milestones should be tangible, specific and tied to your store’s principal business goals.) This step is important to ensure the vendor/trainer partnership focuses primarily on addressing the most critical need and achieving the goals you want to see.
2. Check the consultant/trainer’s track record addressing your dealership’s specific needs. The key here is to understand whether your dealership needs match up directly with the services the consultant/trainer offers. Upshot: You don’t want to be the “guinea pig client” the consultant/trainer uses to cut their teeth on a particular problem.
3. Drill deep on client referrals. It’s not uncommon for vendors to serve up client referrals. You should contact these individuals to gauge their experience and results working with the prospective consulting/training partner. This dialogue should address what they liked most and least about the experience, and how they managed the relationship to achieve positive results. Then, ask the vendor-selected referral for other dealers who might offer additional perspective. These second- and third-tier contacts can often provide more true-blue accounts of the vendor’s track record and ability to make a positive difference at your dealership.
4. Know your day-to-day contact: Chances are, the person selling the consulting/training services isn’t the one who’ll be working directly with you/your team. To the extent you can, find out who will serve as your trainer/consultant and set up a meeting with you/your management team to vet how their personality, experience and approach will fit with your dealership culture and goals.
5. Review progress/success regularly. The key here is to ensure the consultant/trainer relationship is yielding results that fit with the milestones and goals you initially outlined. If the expectations aren’t being met, work with consultant/trainer to determine what adjustments to the program may be warranted. Note: Sometimes a lack of progress isn’t the consultant/trainer’s fault; rather, the problem results from resistance within the dealership or “drift” in the relationship to other areas of the business.
Tim Jackson | President | Colorado Auto Dealers Association
Given the fast-paced advancements in Internet marketing tools, tips and techniques for auto sales, dealers face a plethora of opportunities and an amazing number of choices for which to mselect and activate. With those opportunities come challenges:
- What technologies work best and how do you make that determination?
- What vendor(s) are best engaged to achieve or exceed dealership’s goals?
- What processes are available to assist in selecting best vendor and/or services?
These are just a few of the all-important questions dealers must ask themselves and key managers in order to stay abreast of the latest and greatest resources necessary to effectively compete in an industry that gets more and more competitive by the day.
Here are Tim’s “Top Ten Tips” for dealer selection of service providers and vendors:
- Establish ongoing processes to ensure senior staff stays current on emerging technologies and trends
- Attend and send key staff to ongoing industry education seminars and forums (NADA Convention, Digital Dealer, Driving Sales, dealer association events)
- Actively participate in scheduled 20-Group meetings.
- Assign senior dealership managers to specific areas of technology focus and charge them with maximizing selection and implementation.
- Stay on top of key industry issues in publications, such Automotive News, Ward’s Dealer Business and others.
- Utilize the services and reviews by Driving Sales
- Keep abreast of updates on Dealer Refresh and similar sites
- Utilize ‘bidder conferences’ when seeking information and bids on particular products or services (more information available on request) wherein several service providers/vendors hear the details or specs in RFP in single setting.
- Rely on your most-dependable, most-tested, service-providers to recommend other vendors for other services.
- Watch for recommendations by your local or state dealer association often included in their list of ‘endorsed vendors’ or ‘endorsed service-providers.’
When a dealer principal and/or general manager access and utilizes the resources that are most often at hand, the likelihood of successful vendor or service-provider selection is enhanced greatly. The only thing worse that not having an opportunity is having many opportunities yet failing to take advantage of then, such as selecting vendor or service-provider without the multitude of resources that easily accessible and readily available.
Kevin Frye | eCommerce Director | Jeff Wyler Automotive Family
What Auto Dealers are Looking for when Considering a Consulting Firm/Trainer/Training Company
Without question, we are looking for EXPERIENCE when considering any outside consultant or training company. If the consultant does not have real work experience in what they are consulting or training on, where is their credibility?
Automotive is a performance based industry, where each of us is measured (and compensated) on how well we perform. With this in mind, we want to closely look at the past performance of outside trainers and consultants within the automotive industry and whether their performance was exceptional enough to consider hiring them.
Why do I say “exceptional performance”? A dealership is always going to be hesitant to hire anyone on the outside to share ideas and training with them if they feel they can do it themselves. However, if a trainer or consultant can bring something exceptional to add value to the dealership, something that the dealership cannot do themselves, then there is an opportunity for the dealership to greatly benefit from the services offered.
The second area we will look at is the results that prior clients have seen after hiring the consultant or outside trainer. Did the services offered by the trainer result in improved performance for the dealership? Did they see hard dollar results? Remember – as a performance based industry, hard dollar results have the great relevance in the consideration of hiring an outside trainer.
And finally, it comes down to basic sales fundamentals. Do we like and trust the trainer? If we like them and trust them, we will likely buy from them. Of course, it is a big challenge to sell to someone who is in sales for a living. If a trainer/consultant is as good as they pitch, then they should be able to overcome this challenge.
Ed Brooks | Sales Director | vAuto
The Real Decision
The first real decision isn’t which consultant to hire; it’s how willing you are to be challenged – to be told that you’re wrong about a few things. Maybe a lot of things. That level of willingness to hear and listen to that which may be distressing will be a real deciding factor in which consultant and what type of consultant to hire. Here are some prevalent consulting “types”.
More energy drink than Mick Jagger, but really a combination of both. The Rockstar is the perfect solution for those times when you really don’t want to change a thing. The Rockstar will only spend a day or two at the store – not enough time to diagnose or even look for the real problems. He’ll have a number of boiler-plate platitudes and anecdotes at the ready; a number of fit-any-problem solutions. And just like the energy drink he’ll give you a short-lived boost of energy, but doesn’t really solve any problems.
You finally find your dream car; a 1951 Jaguar XK120. Yes, maybe the techs in the back COULD work on it, but it’s your baby. It’s fundamentally sound, but you know it has a few problems. You’re even pretty sure what those problems are. You find a specialist. A mechanic that knows this model, knows its quirks and knows how to keep it running in top shape. The Mechanics of the consulting world will roll up their sleeves and get to work on your problems. They need a client willing to face the truth and work with them on turning the beast into a well-oiled machine. And like the Jag specialist, when you find one you can trust, you’ll want to continue working with them to keep everything tuned-up.
Think Dr. House from TV – a diagnostician. You know you’re really sick, but neither you nor anyone else knows what is wrong. Just like on TV, the process won’t be fun. House’s patients often don’t like him, but he gets the job done. Sometimes they get sicker before getting better. They almost always hear things they don’t like. They often lie to their doctor about things that would embarrass them. But in the end, a diagnosis is made and a treatment is begun. Hint: It’s never Lupus.
Kelly Wilson | Internet Manager | Oliver C. Joseph
After assessing your dealership to find both a need for and willingness to accept training, you must then select a trainer. Evaluate their reputation in the dealer community and how it will affect you as a client. Are they current, active, respected, and referenced or are they an eschew vestige eager for work? Understand the culture you have or want to achieve and how their theories and processes complement your message. You don’t want your staff to revile their mentors nor to instill a contradictory ethos. Given the particulars of your situation, insure simple and assessable methods of collaboration between trainer and staff. Interview them as a potential staff member. The right trainer should be able to provide you with information on their best and worst stores-what works, what doesn’t, and changes underway; cite their current endeavors-conferences, publications, studies; and demonstrate how they implement their processes in their own business. Paramount is the demonstrated ability to set and achieve goals, remain flexible with the changing market, and quantify results.
Bryan Armstrong | e-Commerce Director | VW Southtowne
How to determine the need for and proficiency of a Consultant
Before anything can be done to solve a problem, there must be a way to understand and measure it. Upon determining the metrics that must be improved look foremost to whether it is a problem of process or of people (if it is people then it reverts to a simple question of whether they are trainable or expendable). After defining the problem, then look first to your immediate resources: current and former employees, on-line forums and networks as well as current and former 20 group members and associates. It may be the secret to raising your CP on the Service Drive is to have your best Finance Manager, who understands menu selling and walking the fine line between retaining value in your product and selling additional services, go over your last 30 R.O.’s. If after thorough examination you determine that outside help is needed, and it is not a simple matter of inspecting expectations more thoroughly, start your research and the vetting process.
Checking their on-line reputation, website and DrivingSales rating should, by now, be a given. So here are a few more Rules of Pre-Engagement.
#1: Is the consultant actually a vendor in disguise?- Yes all consultants are vendors, but are they simply representing their own products and telling you the key lies in diverting more of your resources to additional services they happen to provide? Though this may in fact be the case, a good vendor will always look towards maximizing your current spend before asking for more.
#2: Follow the money. – How are they paid? Will it be for a “one-hit wonder” that infuses your team with enthusiasm but doesn’t yield sustainable trackable results or are they looking to build a partnership of joint success.
#3: How do they advertise? – Are they constantly self-promoting or do they recognize other professionals and give merit to conflicting theories. Beware the consultant who denounces all others as heretics. Also how do they contribute to the Community at large? How are they personally continuing to improve? Are those that endorse them credible or is it a “tit-for-tat” relationship with “+k’s” being exchanged out of courtesy?
#4: Get a list of their last 4 clients as well as their 2 longest clients. – Ask the first group whether they’d have them back and the second as to why they’ve kept them. Ask them who they consider to be their closest competitors and why. What benefits do they offer over their competition?
#5: Ask for a written plan of action and a timeframe for improvement. – Agree upon what metrics will be measured and a reasonable time frame in which to expect improvement. I suggest 90 days. Also determine what level of control you are going to have to concede and what the reporting/accountability process will be.
#6: Is what they offer proprietary? – Can you only receive what they have to offer from them or are they simply regurgitating others ideas and content. Would you be better served to send your people to educational events, conferences and seminars to create an in-house expert? This is a slower process and has the added under-current that unless you get involved as well those people will be better than you at their job. Coincidentally they should be, put your ego aside.
#7: Take Responsibility- Realize above all that no one from the outside can change your business paradigm without 100% of your support and buy-in. If you are unable or unwilling to enforce the recommendations you paid for you have nobody to blame for a lack of improvement but yourself.
Jim Bell | Marketing and Internet Performance Director | Don Ayres Honda
There are a lot of great trainers in the automotive business today. So how do you choose who or what is the best company best for you and your store? Something that has to be evaluated within the store is what needs to be the focus. Does it have to be the phone up process, the Internet process, or is it everything? All of the trainers out there have different focuses that they excel in. That will have to be the determination on who you go with.
So what do you look for in a trainer? I was not personally involved in our choice, but I do know that he came with high recommendations from other dealers. We, as dealers, do have to talk to other dealers and ask around. Just like there are reviews on us as dealers, there are reviews on all of the major trainers on websites like DrivingSales. In no particular order, here is a short checklist that I would use.
- What kind of dealership experience have they had so they know what we as dealers are facing on a daily basis?
- How they have grown different departments in different dealerships?
- Who are their rock star dealers and talk to them (if not in the same market).
- What kind of tools and reports they have to help us track effectively?
- How many clients do they have and do they have the support to take on more to stay effective to take you to the next level?
- What are their basic steps in helping in the training process? (What is their process?)
- How often are they visiting the store to keep you as a store accountable?
You’ve heard from your friends, peers, and mentors in the industry. Now let us share our take:
1) Confirm you have the need.
Maybe you aren’t doing as poorly as you thought. Reach out to these automotive resources sites and 20 groups and find out the metrics you should be achieving. Dive into your CRM, locate the discrepancies in the data, and determine if you are reaching the goals you set online.
2) Visit the search engines.
Does the consultant practice what they preach? Heck, do they have a well-optimized website? We’ve actually seen an SEO company selling SEO services to dealers that didn’t even have their own website to optimize. Ensure that they are just as good with their own business as you expect them to be with yours.
3) Look on the automotive resource sites and check with your 20 Group.
There are reputable resources out there where many of your peers share information. Go to these sources. Look online at DealerRefresh, Automotive Digital Marketing, DrivingSales, DealerElite, etc. Who is sharing content? On DrivingSales, in their vendor ratings section, who is rated well? Are they Internet speakers, or are they actual Internet trainers? Do they look like they are winning the popularity contest or are they the real deal? And check with your 20 group. Do any of the better dealers utilize a consultant? If so, who and why?
4) Visit their website.
Just like a consumer looking at your website, look to see who this person or agency is? Do they have a “face”? Not stock photos of people in suits, but are they confident enough in what they’ve done to show who they are on the About Us or Team pages?
5) What are their deliverables and do they match your needs?
While on their site, do they have a program that fits your needs or is their website content just filled with buzzwords? Find out what they offer and if their core competency is your core need?
6) Do they have EXPERIENCE in retail?
Time spent consulting, writing, or vending doesn’t count. For a consultant to have an impact in your online efforts, you are going to need to place some trust in them. There is no better way to trust that you are dealing with a reputable trainer than their EXPERIENCE and results. Have they actually done for their previous dealership what they are claiming they can do for you? Experience in retail is what you should be looking for – as they are, after all, consulting for a retail operation. Otherwise, it means that they can just sell ideas, not cars.
7) Do they put out unique content?
On their website, on the automotive resource sites, in magazines. The true industry leaders in the consulting segment share information with the dealer public. They create original content and don’t just post positively on others’ creations. Do they have a clear voice and vision or do they simply regurgitate/re-purpose material from third-party sources? A true consultant gives best practice tips, tactics and strategies to the masses and is recognized as a subject-matter expert by the automotive community.
8) Ask for Multiple references and call them
You need to hear from a consultant’s current client base. You need to hear how they serve their current clients and if they are pleased with the relationship as well as their growth since bringing them on as a trainer.
9) Speak to the consultant/trainer
You’ve been successful in building your dealership for one primary reason…you have a skill for reading people. Take that same talent and apply it to this interview. Simply put, do you trust them?
10) Review their proposals
Once you’ve determined which consultant to go forward with, take a close look at their proposal. See if it is just a one-time on-site action or if there is any ongoing consulting. The Internet is growing… evolving… rapidly. And what may be relevant today may not be in 6 months. Ensure that their training is going to help your dealership transform, not just in one day, but as the Internet dictates.
In the end…
It’s about creating a process. These are the steps that we would take if we were looking to bring aboard a consultant. One of the reasons we’ve been successful in training is because we always think as if we were a consumer first, dealer second, and consultant third. Take the same approach. Take the time and the necessary steps (read: precautions) to ensure that the industry trainer you are aligning with is the best fit for your organization.
It very well might not be us. It might be any one of our great competitors (but hopefully none of the not-so-great ones). Nonetheless, many dealers realize that they can’t go down this road alone. You might want to start improving your efforts in this major profit center sooner rather than later. If so, you need help. It is how you go about finding it – and who you find – that will determine how successful you become.