It has come to my attention recently that several stores retain an in-house trainer, which I initially thought was pretty awesome. After learning more about these trainers, though, my thoughts went from those of excitement, to those of disappointment. The first thing that popped into my head was a doctor prescribing bloodletting.
When striking up a conversation with these learned veterans, the conversation is eerily similar. They start by talking about their extensive OEM experience. Then they start to rattle off a litany of names, some sounding made up, while others are the names of those who retired when the Chevette was new. When asked about the more contemporary issues that plague most dealerships (e.g., social media, reputation management, navigating the never-ending landscape of search), and the somewhat less contemporary issues (e.g., CRM, trade valuation, advertising), these veterans start to stammer and squirm. Then, they rapidly change the subject to how much money they’ve made. The laurels they’ve been resting on so long are no longer so…um…”laurelly.”
I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who are able to be valuable to their company for more than twenty years. I really do. As Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools learn in no other.” Experience is indeed the best teacher. However, what if the experience being shared is completely out of context?
Let’s put this into perspective: Who would you trust more, a medical doctor who hasn’t practiced in 30 years, or one who just finished their clinical residency? Most would knee-jerk to the doctor with experience, but a lot has changed. One practiced during a time where lobotomies were common for those with depression, the other will practice during a time of various reuptake and oxidase inhibitors, as well as tricyclics, and can tell you how they’ve performed clinically over the past twenty years. One practiced during a time where Thalidomide was given to pregnant women for nausea, the other knows about how the drug caused horrifying birth defects. While one may have more time on the clock, who do you want writing your prescriptions? I’ll listen to the new guy every time.
Thankfully, most doctors are required to participate in continuing education courses, while some even perform post-doctoral research. The same can’t be said for dealer management, let alone the trainers they hire. Like witch doctors, shamans, and fortune tellers, they’re content to stick with their old ways, prescribing treatments and medicines that are outdated. When things go sideways, they pull-up the tent stakes, and throw up a shingle someplace else.
We live in an ever-changing world. Internet sales techniques change fast, Internet sales tools change even faster, and consumer research techniques change the fastest. Are you going to put your Internet operations in the hands of someone whose computer experience started with mainframes, or are you going to ask for a specialist who has spent their entire career working on Internet sales? An apple a day doesn’t cut it.
Thirty years experience can mean two things: You’re really good at what you do, or you did just enough to not get fired. Like the medical treatments of yesteryear, old school showroom and engagement methods don’t pack the same potency in the Internet age. When searching for someone to revitalize your team, it’s best to consider the person most steeped in today’s automotive technology rather than those mired in the archaic methods of the past. Just because they call themselves a trainer doesn’t mean they have the best material. Just because they call themselves a doctor doesn’t mean they prescribe the right medicine. After all, you don’t need to be a doctor to sell snake oil.