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Is The Road to the Sale Obsolete? by Jim Ziegler

Is The Road to the Sale Obsolete?

A lot of conversation these days by 'New Age' - 'Next Gen' - car people saying the 'Old School' sales processes are no longer valid with today's consumers.


Just the reference to the term  'Old School Car Guy' is an insult designed to  conjure up mental images of an extinct Mastodon being sucked down into the tar pits after eating the last brown shriveled leaves off of the trees. The hidden message in these terms is that you're stupid and we're smart... an intimidation by negative labeling.


In truth, the retail car business is forming sides in the turf wars between the techies and the traditionalists. AND, nobody is giving ground.


I have just returned from an extended 'road trip' of twenty-three cities in fourteen weeks, coast to coast, actually working in dealerships... speaking at major conferences... and performing consultancies. In other words, I am seeing a lot of best practices - what does, and more importantly, what does not work.


To quote myself here: "Average People with great processes will produce incredible results."  You can't manage a high-production dealership with an army of 'Prima-Donnas' all doing their own thing without structure or management.


Even though I have embraced technology as part of the sales process; it is not the entire process.  Automobile Sales still have to have a structured process from 'Meet and Greet the Customer' through 'Deliver the Vehicle and Follow-Up'.

I don't believe there will ever be a day when technology will entirely replace the human relationship in car sales. The things we do and the words we say are our toolbox.


Time after time, I've experienced dealerships' transformations to much higher volume sales and much higher profitability when the management installed and enforced a "Sales Culture' with defined step-by-step, measurable and accountable sales processes.


Unfortunately, most dealerships have never quantified exactly what they expect sales persons and managers to do and say as they interact with your customers.  Oh, we have a vague idea BUT very few managers can tell me their exact process... and very few can honestly say their sales professionals are doing it the way they describe it.


That's why I consider myself extremely fortunate that my career began as a car sales professional and that my first management position was as an F&I Manager. If I owned a dealership today, I would require that all of my Sales Managers had F&I experience.  A great F&I Manager is a master of  'The Process' and has to be a precision closer with a stop watch running.


Is it any wonder the sales department is always amazed when the Finance Manager repeatedly 'bumps' the customer after they thought they had all the money. Perhaps, processes and training had something to do with it.


I've always said that F&I Managers have more skills, more schools and more specialized training than anyone in the dealership except the technicians.


Jokingly, I've always said... "Most Sales Managers learned their job by watching somebody who got fired."

We have the tools today to achieve 'super productivity'.  There are great CRM programs available to organize, measure, and manage sales and follow up BUT, these programs are only as good as the managers who are responsible for the results. Technology is an enabler and a productivity accelerator but it is only works if competent sales management  is on top of it.


So in other words, there is no 'Old School' or 'New School' ... there are only processes that incorporate both. 'The Old Car Dog' that resists and fights everything new, or the 'Next Gen' with no track record who believes they know it all...both have to bend and adapt to 'The School of What Really Works'


One characteristic shared by virtually every successful dealership in the country is that they have well-defined sales processes and that they require every sales person to follow these processes without exception.


So, the original question was Is The Road to the Sale Obsolete?

The answer is emphatically... NO

AND the answer is also ...YES


The trick is teaching managers to be managers and sales professionals to be students of their profession... and for both to be masters of the processes.


Keep those emails coming... JIM

Views: 3827

Tags: Jim, Ziegler, automobile, battle, industry, internet, management, plan, sales,


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Comment by Tom Gorham on November 25, 2011 at 6:30am

10-15 years ago, manufacturers began dreaming that the Internet would allow them to cut out the dealer completely.  They were wrong and they were stopped by the "road to the sale".  It seems nice to be able to look back and say, "We told you so."

But have the manufacturers really given up on that dream... or just stopped talking about it? When we look at

  • the growing commodicization of new cars
  • the dwindling gross profit
  • the gowing equality in product safety and quality
  • the manufacturers attempts to eliminate dealers
  • the increasing demands of manufacturers on their dealers (homogenized buildings)
  • the increasing manufacturer interference in day to day processes
  • government regulations hamstringing dealer financing
  • online customer reviews and sites that create bidding by dealers for anonymous customers
  • and on and on

Is it really far-fetched to see the day when the road to the sale is killed or co-opted by a combination of other options created by manufacturers, government, technology and consumers?

I am not hypothesizing that this is what we have to look forward to, but only cautioning about a possible future.  Dealers need to take control of their fate through stong organization and State legislatures.  They cannot just try to "hold onto the past" but must try to shape their own future.

Hope this was not too off-topic.

Comment by James A. Ziegler on November 24, 2011 at 6:48am

Leave it to the ubiquitous Dee Rawls to post something that causes me to think until my head hurts. deciphering this posting and evaluating it is more of a process than I am prepared to comment and create a situation he would answer that would cause me more painful thought overload on this holiday of football, turkey and other restful activities... JIM

Comment by Dee Ramonte Rawls on November 23, 2011 at 12:34pm

Although the traditional "Road to a Sale" of Auto Retail Past has absolute and exact steps, the evolving "Road to a Sale" of Auto Retail Future is chock-full-of-options.  Among these options exist various ways for sales professionals, managers, and consumers alike to approach auto retail transactions.  A constant in each of the approaches is 'the handshake', and the fact (as Alpha-Dawg has stated) that Internet has affected the people in our industry, BUT Internet CANNOT REPLACE THE PEOPLE IN AUTO RETAIL TRANSACTIONS.  In speaking with any number of you guys in the beginning of the year when Google was asking me about "Social Media for Auto Retail", I have relayed that while Internet can replace people in some online consumer transactions (such as consumer electronics, fashions, books, and other nic naks), we are still generations away from that being the case in Auto Retail.  Auto Retail Future demands that we work to optimize the value proposition for the consumer, and that we learn to leverage a virtual space in so doing.  At the end of the day, a car does not zoom into one's driveway and keys plop into his/her pockets because they find an unbelievable deal and swipe their debit card online.  The auto retail transaction still requires a people dynamic.  As the "Road to a Sale" dictates, as soon as rapport is built through the handshake/meet and greet, then the real nitty-gritty begins in the qualification interview.  At this point, it isn't that the process is being rendered obsolete; it is just that professionals who deal with consumers prepared to buy a car must dedicate themselves to intensely discovering their true value pursuit.  Then, and only then, can the deal be made - after following the rest of the "Road to a Sale".  The best managers don't rely upon their technologies, but instead upon their rapport to achieve A Big Championship Trophy Hoist for themselves, their dealers, and their teams.  Anyone of the pro's, trainers, or Zieglers in this thread will agree people still buy cars from PEOPLE they like and trust.  As Scott Painter began his ZAG product deployment back in the 90's, he used an approach that dealers had readily accessible to them - he found the auto consumer in the place where their comfort zone already existed.  He went to banks, credit unions, insurers, etc and leveraged the value proposition that car buying could made easier when initiated from within these networks.  His TrueCar model is indeed discount-intensive, and (with all other discount driven models such as Groupon, ScoutMob, and countless other daily deals services) eventually will wane in value and/or existence because merchants including car dealers will determine they want to keep more of the profit margin for themselves.  In the meantime, we must be vigilant about learning how to overcome the obstacles that Internet savvy consumers pose as resistance to doing the deal, now.  And, the "Road to a Sale" is a solid foundation upon which to accomplish this.  And, the Internet is a tremendous space for your properly trained dealer professionals to pursue 'the handshake' that ultimately leads to more opportunities in the sales funnel without physical boundaries.

A final note to Mr. Ziegler about the "legacy" that will outlive the rotund temple we all must someday let go back to whence it had come.  Apply these three affirmations to your works daily, and keep pushing up the sky! 


2)"Appreciation Rules Creation..."

3) "All In=All Out."

Comment by Walt Kustra on November 22, 2011 at 3:02pm

"the retail car business is forming sides in the turf wars between the techies and the traditionalists"

Not to be repetitive, but so true in many cases and does not have to be.  I have worked on both net sales and traditional floor sales teams (as a rep and manager) and can say I have the utmost respect for both ways of getting the job done.  They both work, and both require a certain skill set as well as talent.  There are just two types of shoppers out there right now and eventually there will be only one as all customers get more and more engrossed in information they find online.  We have to prep our new people to handle this new customer, as well as train our seasoned sales people to be effective moving into the future.

Dealers whose staff respect both sides of the coin will be the ultimate winners here.  Seasoned sales people training new net greenies on the sales process and how to write up a deal etc, and also net people training those seasoned vets on how to use new BDC/CRM tools to better prospect their already awesome owner bases.  Once we all get past the egos and work together I am sure many dealers will find they have awesome resources that can benefit from the specialized knowledge that each individual can share. 

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 21, 2011 at 4:08pm

Jim, I would venture that you've already achieved much, if not all, or your goal.  It's a wonderful goal.

Comment by James A. Ziegler on November 21, 2011 at 5:22am

You got that right Tom, 

Randy Travis, the country artist had a song a while back and some of the lyrics were...

"It's not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it's what you leave behind you when you go"

I've said this before but it's worth repeating here...after 36 years in automotive retail, I've set a few records, and traveled a lot (really a lot) Met a lot of people and made a lot of friends...  My goal at this stage of my career is to leave a meaningful legacy to the business.


My friend Jackie B. Cooper died March 26th, 2001... and, even though he was probably the greatest trainer in our industry's history, I was the only one to mention his passing in a National Industry Publication.

I wish I had been a better friend and had been around him more than I was, it was a business friendship like I share with so many of you...then he was just gone. he was the overwhelming influence that caused me to leave retail and start up Ziegler SuperSystems in 1986.

My intent is to leave an enduring legacy, where, when people mention me 20 or 30 years from now, long after I've left the stage, I want it to be positive and warm.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 20, 2011 at 3:43pm

Thanks Jim... it's the grunt work that counts every time.

Comment by James A. Ziegler on November 18, 2011 at 6:06am

In my travels it is amazing to see how disorganized THE MAJORITY of dealerships have become in the sale process.  Oh, we talk a good game... and everyone knows what we're supposed to be doing BUT, in reality; it just ain't happening that way. When I was in retail, my success as a manager was NEVER because I knew so much more than everyone else... BUT RATHER... my success was always because I did those things in reality that others only professed they were doing. In other words, The Road to the Sale lived and breathed and my sales people really did what we said we did with real customers, every time, without exception.


HERE'S A ZIEGLERISM... "Most dealerships do not have a knowing have a doing problem"


Comment by Aj Maida on November 18, 2011 at 5:55am


Comment by James A. Ziegler on November 18, 2011 at 5:46am

Wow! This thread has 'legs' and is gaining some momentum now. Maida, that's a first I've ever heard anyone referred to as a "QUIET ZIEGLER"  :) smiling now. The very phrase is a contraindication of itself. :)


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