Training for Growth

Lyle King and a panel of experts advanced the discussion of dealer development by tackling advanced topics such as middle-management training and whether to record F&I transactions
By: Tariq Kamal

Training for Growth

On Monday, March 10, day one of the fourth annual Agent Summit concluded with “Training for Growth,” a panel discussion led by Lyle King. King is a founding partner with Forth Worth, Texas-based Auto Group Services. He started the discussion by assuring the crowd that the panel would not discuss “basic training,” choosing instead to focus on topics that would help attending agents bring value to their dealerships.

“If you are in the agency business, you are engaged, in one way or the other, with F&I training,” King said. “Whether it’s in the classroom, in the dealership, in the hotel next door to the dealership … it’s a basic tenet of what we do.”

King was joined by Craig Almon, a partner with PRO Consulting LLC in Tukwila, Wash.; Mike Marchione, the Washington, D.C.-based corporate director of training and development for Interstate National Dealer Services; Tony Troussov, director of training for Automotive Development Group (ADG) in Bloomington, Minnesota; and Chad White, national training director for Lee’s Summit, Missouri-based Mechanical Breakdown Protection Inc. (MBPI).

Management Training

King started the conversation by addressing an often-ignored facet of dealership development: participation from middle management; specifically, sales managers, general sales managers and F&I directors.

White stated that, as the market began to recover, mid-level managers complained about their struggles to hire and retain talented salespeople. White said he took that as a challenge and began to focus on teaching managers how to find and keep their best producers. “Dealers talk about ‘customers for life,’ and I think if we focus on getting managers to retain their best people, ‘employees for life’ falls under that as well. … We’re getting more deals back to F&I because we’re selling more cars.”

Marchione identified a systemic problem: Dealers send salespeople to sales training and F&I managers often attend F&I school; both groups are more likely to be sent to training in the early stages of their careers. When they become managers, their own education often stops, and they find themselves managing groups of students — but not their own students.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t understand and have not been exposed to the process we just trained their salespeople or their F&I folks on, how do they coach and counsel, and how do they police those activities on a go-forward basis?” Marchione asked. “The sales manager, the GSM [and] the GM ultimately become the trainers when we leave. … The more training you have at a dealership, the more tenured people you will have, because they feel that their employer is making an investment in their growth and their success.”

Almon agreed, noting that dealers trust proven processes but often lack the tools to reinforce them. By involving managers in sales and F&I training, he said, agents can help them prepare their staff to respond properly to customers’ objections. “You like to hope that, once you train them, well, that’s it; they’re good to go. The reality is, there’s an instantaneous disconnect, usually at the first ‘No’ if they’re in F&I. In the sales process, it’s the customer who says, ‘I don’t have time’ for a test drive or the walkaround … That’s a key component to the big fix.”

Troussov added that service managers should be involved in training as well. Dealers are increasingly dependent upon revenue from fixed operations, and Troussov believes the same disconnect between staff and managers is prevalent in that department as well — and some dealers simply don’t invest in that type of training. “There’s this big gap of actual sales process training. There is definitely an opportunity [for] agents or trainers to step in and be of value to the dealer,” he said.

White recalled a meeting with a dealer and mid-level manager that took place in the week prior to Agent Summit. After deciding on a steps-to-the-sale process, the trio created a self-assessment sheet. “I’ve had a lot of luck with this, because … when they don’t sell a car, too many times, they leave and they don’t learn from it. It allows the salesperson to assess themselves and to take it back to that mid-level manager for a great one-on-one conversation.”

Troussov advised agents to develop recruiting and hiring training for mid-level managers as well as a written “onboarding” process for new hires. “What are we doing to help our dealers change that trend and be more effective in retaining the best talent?” he asked.

Marchione challenged agents to attend training themselves. “Most dealers don’t sign up because the product is better. They’re buying your experience [and] your ability to help grow their business. I would have you all ask yourselves, ‘When was the last time I sat through training? Is there a new slice of bread out there that I haven’t heard of?’ You gotta do your homework to role-play through presentations better than anyone at that store,” he said.

Delivery Systems

King asked the panel to list effective methods for delivering training, listing in-dealership and offsite sessions as examples. Almon said that, no matter the method of reinforcement, “it’s got to start face-to-face and one-on-one.” Marchione stressed the need to teach more than the process and emphasize the psychology behind each step, especially in off-site training, noting that helping students understand why a process works helps the training stick. “If they buy into the ‘Why’ … they’re more likely to go back to the dealership and utilize it.”

“The classroom is important. I think it has to be engaging and it has to be what we call ‘scrimmaging’ rather than role-playing, where people actually practice and work with each other and learn from each other,” Troussov said. “But, ultimately, it’s still that one-on-one involvement and follow-up coaching and training at the dealership.”

White shared a trick for getting managers involved in the reinforcement phase. “We have them write down all their salespeople’s names. I know that seems real simple, but you’ll be surprised. Sometimes those managers will say, ‘What’s that one guy – the goofball – what’s his name?’ It happens. And go a step further. Have them write down personal things they know about that person … Wife’s name, kids’ names, ages, because if they don’t know their people, and can’t understand their people, they can’t motivate those people.” Whether in sales or F&I, he added, training must be ongoing to be effective. “Whether we’re in the stores working with people or in the classrooms or in the online videos, we have to follow up.”

Marchione said he prefers live, offsite events in which trainees are away from the dealership and can absorb the information, role-play and review videos without distractions. “The question then becomes, ‘What type of video training do we use on a daily basis back at the dealership?’ … It can be on-demand-type training and it can be at the dealerships, if you do it weekly or monthly … But really, there’s no medium that you couldn’t use to do training. I think the disconnect is always that there’s no accountability.”

“So if a live event is our preferred method, how can we work video into how we deliver training?” King asked.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep their attention on the task at hand, which is learning, because there are all kinds of distractions,” Marchione said. “I think that if you’re logistically challenged with dealers agreeing to send their people away — and we recognize that can be a challenge — you want to say, ‘Mr. Dealer or Mrs. Dealer, why don’t you let me take the next day and half and work with so-and-so and so-and-so in a back room somewhere and there will be no distractions whatsoever. They’re mine for the next day and a half.’ … And videotape them while they’re going through each stage in the process.”

Game Film

The conversation then turned to video training and whether dealers should record every actual F&I transaction and archive the recordings. Troussov said he was working as an F&I manager in 2002 when his Minneapolis-based dealer group began recording his meetings with customers.

“I tell you, I fought that tooth and nail,” Troussov said. “Being a finance guy, I don’t want anybody to see what I’m doing, you know, get my magic.” The turning point came, he said, when he realized that the recordings were to his benefit, because customers were unable to claim he or his colleagues had misled them. “During my time with that dealer group, I can tell you that on many occasions, [the recordings] actually saved those dealerships a lot of money.”

Marchione said there is “zero value” to F&I recordings that are archived but not reviewed. “If they’re watching them on a regular basis, both from a compliance standpoint and a skill set-growth standpoint, coaching and counseling, using the videos is a powerful tool.”

“We utilize it specifically as game film,” Almon said. “If you have a dealer group with multiple F&I people, pull everybody together, and then ask for a best and worst video for each finance manager.” He recalled one “best video” in which a customer blanched at a monthly payment inflated by the addition of several F&I products. The finance manager offered to recalculate the payment with an additional $2,500 down, and the customer agreed. “If you’re going to talk development, straight development, in any context — even in your golf game — then videotape is key,” Almon said.

When he worked in retail, White said his employers introduced DMS-integrated video recording, a move that caused dissention in the ranks. “We lost a lot of employees. I mean, people quit. They didn’t want to be videotaped. We stepped back and looked at that and realized those were probably not the people we wanted in that F&I office.”

Ultimately, White said, the risks were outweighed by the benefits, including a pronounced effect on training. Today, White said he reviews videos before visiting clients. He said that it helps him to engage in more effective “target training.” However, he warned, recordings could become a liability for dealers who haven’t invested in a robust compliance program. “If you don’t have those things in place … I would probably tell you not to record.”

Accountability and Desire

Marchione said that when properly utilized, video helps promote accountability among managers and staff. But he reiterated that agents themselves must be accountable as well. They need to know the presentations better than anyone so that when they point out weak spots in the video presentation, they can then turn around and role-play what it should sound like.

White said he is working with a 20-store dealer group that doubled their dollar per copy after sending their F&I team to offsite training and adding cameras. “If sports teams analyze game film to get better, why wouldn’t we want to analyze what we’re doing to get better?” he asked. “If you’ve got good training and you get the guys that buy into it, it’s … helping our dealers be more profitable. And they need those profits nowadays, obviously, more than ever.”

Almon brought up “The Challenger Sale” (Penguin, 2012) by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Almon said the authors theorized that, after the Great Recession, in business partnerships, “relationship became less important than results.” He said that, in recent years, his company has earned appointments and conquest business because “we could bring the rain. We could make it happen. The overarching theme of training in general, is teaching. And teaching gets people to a level of belief that then creates the next connection to desire.” He asked the agents in the crowd to think about the best finance manager they had ever worked with and ask themselves what set that person apart.

“Some of it is force of personality,” Almon said. “Most of it is tenacity, and really, for all intents and purposes, they’re just not going to be denied. It’s that person that says, ‘Tell me what I can do better.’” He said the economic downturn forced the entire industry to think in terms of dollars and cents and applied that to his initial-training strategy. “I usually start a training class by saying something like this: ‘What kind of guy are you?’ … And they say, ‘What do you mean?’ And I convert that into, ‘Are you a $30 an hour guy? A $40? A $50?’ If you don’t know, $50 an hour is roughly $100,000 a year. ‘Are you a $100 an hour guy, a $200, a $300?’ Think about it in terms of yourselves. Where are you at in relationship to your time? … If you’re not thinking $500 an hour, go rethink it. … I’ve found that it’s the beginning of that thought process that puts people on the path,— and I believe wholeheartedly — of wanting to know how to get better. And without the want-to, the how-to doesn’t matter.”

With time waning, King asked the crowd if they had any questions for the panel. A gentleman in the audience came forward. After commending the panel for a “great job,” he offered his own take on training and accountability.

“You were asking the question earlier about how can we use the technology [in] training the people today. As they mentioned, the weakest link in every dealership is middle management. You send the salespeople to training, they come back, and the first thing the sales manager says is, ‘Man, you don’t need to be doing any of that. Sell some cars.’

“The problem with most managers is, they make it about them, not their salespeople. If you’re going to become a great leader, and a great manager, the first thing you gotta do is make it about their benefit, not yours. Do you all agree with that?” The members of the panel nodded in agreement. “So the way you use the technology, from my experience, sit there with your salespeople … Play that DVD for 10 minutes, stop it, find out what they’ve learned from it, and rehearse and practice, rehearse and practice. Just like the gentleman said, if you’re going to train your salespeople, you’d better be better than any of them. If you’re going to ask them to get uncomfortable in front of the customer, you need to get uncomfortable as a manager. Yet 85% of the managers out there think their job is penciling a car deal. It’s nothing about leadership. So it was a great panel.”

This article was written by:

- has written 38 posts on Agent Entrepreneur.

Tariq Kamal is an editor and contributor for a number of auto industry publications, including Agent Entrepreneur and P&A as well as Auto Dealer Today, F&I and Showroom and Business Fleet. He also serves as an organizer and speaker for Industry Summit, Agent Summit and Compliance Summit.

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