Why Sales Cadets Fail

There is no doubt that most dealerships would prefer to grow their own sales talent, rather than recycle experienced sales staff from other dealerships. It makes sense to develop your own sales staff and shape their skills to suit your specific business needs and processes.

But the big stumbling block, if you have decided to take this path, is why the attrition rate of new sales cadets is still so high? Developing and retaining new sales staff is an area that most dealers tend to struggle with. 

There are only two real causes to this problem:

First, maybe the issue lies in the recruitment and/or induction process. Or second, often the issue arises due to a the lack of support and on-going skill development offered once a new sales cadet starts their career.

From our experience, having worked with many dealers over twenty years, it is most likely the second. New sales cadets are hired because they (hopefully) possess transferable skills, they impressed during the interview process and displayed the right attitude and motivation to succeed. So, what went wrong when it comes to translating potential into performance?

Let’s think about the development pathways for most new cadets. They go through the standard onboarding process with HR (if the dealer has such a department), they are introduced to key company policies and practices and get to meet different people in different departments to become familiar with the business.

But it’s what happens next that makes all the difference.

The entire development of the new sales cadet is (most likely) left in the hands of the Sales Manager who is the direct supervisor for the new employee. Of courses this is also logical, as the Sales Manager understands the specific processes, product knowledge and customer experience requirements.

However, the ability to perform in the sales environment requires skills that allow the cadet to understand and execute each of those steps with quality. Think of all the new skills and knowledge a cadet needs to execute a process successful- rapport building, consultation, product knowledge, vehicle presentation, closing, negotiation, follow up, telephone, internet inquiries, time management, teamwork…the list goes on!

This then requires significant leadership and mentoring skills by the Sales Manager. Do they have the time or ability to know which topic to tackle first and the best way to develop the skills in a systematic manner?

Implicit in this is that dealers are expecting their “gun Sales manager” to also be a competent educator and training program developer as well. A little unrealistic for many, we would suggest.

Consequently, development pathway of the new cadet becomes an fragmented approach at best. Sales Managers are also busy making sales happen, and finding the time to dedicated to proper training and coaching of staff is a juggling act at best, and a HR disaster at worst.

The Sales Manager may give them a map, but no compass, no underpinning knowledge, and no real understanding of how to negotiate the terrain.

It’s not the Sales Manager’s fault. Generally, dealerships lack an effective structure in developing the skills and knowledge that cadets need to translate their potential into sustained performance. Often the most structured component of the training is the initial onboarding process (often done by HR), which has little or no impact on making cadets job ready and able to perform in the sales environment.

Product knowledge is mostly delegated training offered by the dealer’s OEM brand partner (if they have a program).

The Sales Manager provides fragments of development in between managing deals, inquiries, planning advertising and ordering inventory and then leaves the cadet in the “capable hands” of other sales consultants to fill in the gaps. This creates a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality also ensures that the bad habits of others are transferred to your new cadets.

One great ingredient about automotive sales is that regardless of your specific processes and requirements, the sales process differs very little from one dealership to the next. So competencies such as time management, business practices, teamwork, customer and selling skills can be delivered externally to the dealership with no detrimental impact on your business.

There often is this reluctance by dealers and their managers that “no one can leave the showroom in case they miss a sale”.

The reality is, the faster and better a cadet can be trained, the faster and better is the ROI on the recruitment.

Investing in a core skill development program for your new cadets allows your sales manager to “fine tune” the foundational skills to reflect your specific business needs. A structured external training pathway delivers the knowledge your new cadets need- leaving your sales manager to use their time more effectively in “polishing” the skills gained.

Our experience, over 20 years around Australia, tells us that if you equip your new cadets with the right foundational skills within the first 60 days of their employment, their ability to perform develops rapidly and your chances of retaining them long term grows exponentially.

The simple fact is there is no way your sales manager can do all of this within the first 60 days- it’s an unreasonable expectation and the fundamental reason why new cadets fail. In fact, the new employee didn’t fail- the dealership failed in translating their potential into a successful career.

The unwillingness to invest or explore structured training alternatives is why many dealerships are left on the recruitment “merry go round” looking for new staff to fill the gaps. Not everything can be done “in house”.

The talent pool for new cadets is becoming shallower every year. Dealerships are competing with more desirable jobs available in the marketplace, so the retention of new cadets should be a priority one- they are critical to the long-term future of your sales operations.

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