I get phone-calls and emails almost weekly from new commercial vehicles salespeople. Many of them are near the end of a three- or six-month draw against commission and are looking for answers on how to survive when their draw disappears and their income becomes based on commission. I typically ask the same questions — and receive the same answers:
Q: “What has been your main prospecting activity?”
A: “I was told to knock on doors of local businesses.”
Q: “Have you attended any trade associations or group functions?”
A: “I only go to the Chamber of Commerce events.”
Q: “Doing those activities, have you had meetings with decision-makers?”
A: “Very rarely. How do I get those appointments?”
You get the idea. Only a small percentage of these new hires make it past the guaranteed draw period, much to the frustration of the commercial sales manager. What sets apart the dealerships that seem to consistently find success when building their team? In my view, the answer lies in developing and implementing quality hiring, training, and management practices. Here are 10 tips (3 tips on hiring, 5 on training, 2 on management) to help you build the best dealership team:
1. The Right Job Description: I seldom see a great commercial sales job description posted by dealerships. An effective job description should specifically outline the type and quality of expected activities per month, including the expected number of scheduled appointments, expected number of right-to-quote agreements, and expected membership/attendance/participation in local groups/events/meetings. The job description should also outline expectations regarding organization and follow-through.
2. The Right Interview: The best interview utilizes key questions, the answers to which help unveil the central traits, experiences, and patterns of conduct which can predict sales success. (We’ve previously outlined those essential talents and behaviors HERE.) One major point of emphasis in the interview should be the extent to which the candidate has pre-existing relationships with local companies who utilize work vehicles and may drive future sales. Outside salespeople, even if they’re not intimately familiar with commercial vehicles, are usually a great choice, because their relationships and networks set them up for success (it’s much easier to teach a new-hire about trucks and vans than it is to expect them to find and build in-depth relationships from scratch).
3. The Right References: Always ask for permission to contact the applicant’s last two or three employers. During these conversations, remember to focus on both what is said and also what is not said. If your candidate did a great job, the previous employer will make positive comments. If the candidate was not exceptional, the previous employer will seldom say anything overtly negative, but they also won’t go out of their way to say anything positive. It’s important to keep in mind that companies may have different policies on what they are allowed to say about former employees, but if all you get is a variation of “He/She left on good terms,” that could be a red-flag.
Businesses often help new employees learn relevant terminology (GVRW, cab to axle ratios, etc.), but few commercial dealerships put the new-hire through extensive sales training, which focuses on the number and quality of contacts made. The fastest way to develop new relationships and shorten the sales cycle is through networking that creates referrals. In training, be sure to cover:
1. Expanding Personal Networks through group organizations and functions, such as trade associations (Home Builders Association, Associated General Contractors, National Association of Fleet Administrators, etc.), business-to-business networks (Business Network International, LeTip, etc.), and civic groups (Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary). But more than membership, you need to train your salespeople to be actively involved in such organizations, demonstrating themselves to be authentic and helpful participants. If they don’t engage, prospective clients won’t know they exist or think they provide value, which defeats the purpose of building a network of genuine relationships.
2. Developing Relational Leverage, which salespeople can exert to gain referrals and increase their chances of securing an initial appointment when they call on the prospect. You can read our article on Referral Leverage HERE.
3. Warming Up Cold-Calls via strategic preparation, which increases a salesperson’s chances of speaking and meeting with an actual decision-maker. You can read our article about Warming Up Cold-Calls HERE.
4. Planning Ideal Sales Days, including utilizing anchor appointments that guide the day’s referral requests and cold-calls, and taking advantage of small encounters that can grow into big opportunities. You can review our Ideal Sales Day Agenda HERE.
5. For More Resources, you can provide our 10 Quick Tips for Sales, available HERE.
There are 2 main points to management that I want to mention: being active and rethinking pay plans:
1. Active Management: Dealership management should meet with a new hire no less than weekly to review activity levels and the quality of contacts. This can be a GM or GSM if you don’t have a true commercial manager. Every salesperson is accountable for their activities, but if you expect results without providing ongoing guidance, I blame management more than a new salesperson. You can read more of our tips for actively boosting team productivity HERE.
2. Rethink the Pay Plan: Traditional draws against commission are typically 6 to 9 months, after which a salesperson’s income becomes more fully based on commission. It’s a common pay plan, but may not always be the right system for the commercial side of a dealership. Unlike the retail side, where customers often make event purchases based on emotion, commercial sales is a process of connecting with businesses who buy based on need. So while a new salesperson may do an incredible job of building relationships, prospects may not be ready to buy for another six months or more. This means a new-hire who has laid extensive groundwork for future profits, but has not yet secured many sales, will likely see a sharp decrease in pay and may have to look for new work.
In the example above, your dealership could not only lose a great employee, but also the relationships and sales that salesperson was working towards. This is not an uncommon scenario in commercial sales, which is too bad, because employees who are creating real opportunity for your business are worth keeping around and should always be paid. My advice is to rethink the pay plan for outside commercial sales and consider seriously expanding the draw period. Note: This does NOT mean you have to wait a year or more to know if you’ve hired the right person; if you’re actively meeting with the new-hire, you should start seeing hard evidence of relationship-building and right-to-quote agreements (in which a prospect commits to giving the salesperson a call for pricing when they need a new vehicle) within the first 30 days.
In management, it’s important to remember the old adage, “You get out of anything what you put into it.” Quickly hiring just anybody and then leaving them alone will not produce consistent results. But if you take the time and energy to engage in quality hiring, training, and management, you’ll build a valuable dealership team that produces strong results. Here’s another familiar saying that I live by: “The road to the extra mile is never crowded.” Go the extra mile for your new-hires and you won’t be disappointed.
About the Author
As the Founder and President of Commercial Truck Training, Ken has consulted, coached, and trained commercial dealers on individual, regional, and national business levels. Known as an industry leader, Ken has worked with companies like General Electric, General Motors, FCA, Ford, Commercial Truck Trader, and Equipment Trader.