Cutting time spent on a purchase is one area a one-person sales model can make a difference in, expert says. - IMAGE: Pexels/Pixabay

Cutting time spent on a purchase is one area a one-person sales model can make a difference in, expert says.

IMAGE: Pexels/Pixabay

As general manager of Schomp Subaru of Aurora, TJ Joyce oversees a unique operation, one where customers are promised One Price, One Person, One Hour.

The promise eliminates haggling over price at the Colorado dealership. It also nixes multiple people working with a single customer. Instead, customers are paired with a client adviser who stays with them throughout the sale process. Once a customer decides to buy, it means their paperwork and car are ready within an hour. 

In a world where many automotive professionals say that can’t be done, Schomp Subaru says it’s been at it for over 15 years and is therefore an example of how a one-person, one-price model can work.

“We bring integrity to the process,” Joyce says. “Having one price doesn’t mean it’s the best price, it means I’m telling you upfront what the car will cost. One person means you will not have to work with six people to get there.”

Josh Harnish is lead trainer for A2Z Sync, a company formed to help dealerships successfully transition to a one-person sales model. According to him, replicating Schomp Subaru's experience is possible for every dealership with the right training and policies.

“It requires a training culture and ongoing coaching,” he says. “Leadership must move from managing metrics to managing behaviors. Salespeople need to wear multiple hats. There are many steps to adhere to throughout the sales process.”

The Why Behind One-Person Sales

Dealer principals know that prioritizing the customer experience is a gateway to securing lasting customer relationships and sustained revenue. When customers leave satisfied, they often do more than drive off with a new vehicle but also commit to return visits for maintenance services, repairs and future vehicle purchases.

Unfortunately, lengthy purchase experiences are common complaints that can damage customer loyalty. The most recent Car Buyer Journey Study by Cox Automotive says vehicle buyers' top frustrations include high prices, limited availability and the time required to complete the sale.

While dealers can’t always address availability and price, Harnish says they can improve time spent on the purchase, which is one area a one-person sales model can really make a difference in, Harnish says.

“The bar is set fairly low for the client experience. Customers say they dread going to dealerships because they have to deal with multiple people and feel like they are being taken advantage of. A one-person sales model helps build a foundation of trust that can lead to an increase in sales and customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to more referrals and greater loyalty.”

Building trust and transparency starts when customers fully understand how the process works, according to Joyce.

When clients arrive at Schomp Subaru, they’re connected with a client adviser, who explains the sales process.

“We share with customers what One Price, One Person, One Hour means and how it will benefit them,” Joyce says. “Only then do we get into what they are looking for and how we can help them get into the vehicle they want and start moving through the rest of the process.”

Cultivate a Culture Shift

A change in dealership culture is a prerequisite to the one-person sales model because its success hinges on the full commitment of every employee, according to Harnish.

“Too often, you have buy-in from a general manager, but it hasn’t trickled down to the sales manager or salespeople. You need buy-in from everyone.”

When A2Z Sync works with dealerships adopting the sales strategy, it first meets with all managers. “We discuss what the process should look like, pay plans, departmental changes and staff changes,” Harnish says. “The processing department is a major focus of our discussions. Instead of having traditional finance managers, they will need more processors to help client advisers with paperwork. They will need at least one processor for every 40 to 60 deals done in a month.”

Joyce emphasizes the importance of leadership showing that the new model grants salespeople more control. “With a traditional experience, you have to bounce back and forth between a manager for pricing, then tee up the person in the finance box. That is very restricting,” he says. “With an A-to-Z environment, they control the transaction from the first point of contact to the last.”

The sales process can feel like a marathon, with many transitions on the road. Here, slow and steady wins the race. Training for salespeople should cover responses to transitions and all finance-and-insurance products, then be followed by accountability, Harnish says.

Adequate upfront training and continuous coaching play a crucial role in nurturing this culture.

“The client adviser must set the tone for how they conduct business from the initial handshake, email or phone conversation,” Harnish says. “Many salespeople do an excellent job of getting a ‘yes’ on the car, then hand it off. Now they need to know more than just the car. They need to know finance products inside and out.”

Compensation Considerations

Pay plans can vary with a one-person sales model, Harnish says. Dealerships have different payment structures—some offer a salary, others focus on a percentage of sales, and some use a points system. “We help dealerships decipher what’s going to be best for them.”

At Schomp Subaru, compensation is based on performance, not cars sold, Joyce says.

He explains that salespeople earn more money the more vehicles they sell via a tiered compensation plan. If a client adviser sells one to four cars, he or she makes one amount. The same client adviser earns a higher rate of pay if selling five to 10 vehicles over the same period, and even more when that exceeds 10 per month. Bonuses and other compensation for the F&I products sold are also factored in.

“When all that is combined, it adds up to pretty well-rounded pay,” Joyce says. “Other stores using this model pay a small salary and a lower amount per unit.”

Joyce emphasizes that a volume-based approach prevents salespeople from pushing customers toward higher-priced vehicles for personal gain. “We want them selling cars based on what’s best for the guest, not what is best for them. Our client advisers are not afraid to sell a preowned vehicle because they make as much money selling that $4,000 car as they do selling a $60,000 car. We take the focus off of what is going to earn me the most money to let’s earn the business of this customer because we got him into the right car.”

Joyce suggests that leadership should underscore the potential for growth and advancement. He explains that in a traditional sales environment, someone should sell vehicles for a few years before being promoted to finance manager. Working as a finance manager is a prerequisite for becoming a sales manager. Becoming a general sales manager requires working as a sales manager for a few years.

“We are teaching client advisers to do these things from the first deal,” he says. “They are experts on the phone, internet, walk-in opportunities, accessories, vehicle sales, new and used vehicles, contracting, finance arrangements and more. We accelerate our ability to create leaders and future managers with concurrent training and varied experiences.”

Consider Training and Coaching

“Sales managers must hold themselves and their team accountable for every step in the sale and coach them along the way,” Harnish says.

Training and coaching are essential. Once the process is developed, ensure tools are implemented and training is provided. The training program should start with a review of the new process followed by an education session with the finance product provider on products. In client adviser training, it's also vital to test knowledge and offer role-playing opportunities, Harnish says.

The next step is to implement regular coaching.

“You really need regular one-on-ones to manage a transition like this. It's not about micromanaging but about providing consistent coaching to ensure they can meet expectations.”

Managing metrics is a key part of the process but is no longer the only part, Harnish says. He emphasizes that supervisors are now providing coaching on behaviors. To excel in the role, they must clearly understand why their sales team operates the way they do. What motivates their actions and fuels their drive, ultimately guiding their attention?

“We have an exercise where we ask supervisors to look at someone’s skills versus their attitudes,” he says. “Maybe they have a subpar attitude or maybe they have a subpar skill set. Obviously, we need to train them. But we need to ask questions first. Why are they in this position? How do we manage [certain skills or behaviors] out? Once you do that, you can coach them and help them grow.”

Schomp Subaru reviews performance in coaching meetings, starting at the top line, for example, how many opportunities the seller had. How many the salesperson converted into sales. If closing was in line, the next step of the review examines F&I performance. If that’s good, coaching stops.

“But if we find someone has a closing ratio that is off, we start to dig in,” Joyce says.

“However, we don’t sit there and tell them they are not selling enough cars. We look back through the process and break it down into stages. If a closing ratio is low, we look at internet, phone and in-person opportunities. Is there a category that is dragging them down? Are they having the initial conversation but not getting them in the door? Are they getting them in the door but not getting them to test drive? Are we getting past those two things but not closing the deal? Breaking it down this way, let us find the hole in the process. When that becomes clear, our training can be more focused.”

Harnish stresses that weekly meetings, asking questions and showing a willingness to help salespeople grow and succeed builds a foundation of trust. “When leaders build trust with their team, they can drive open communication which contributes to greater success.”

He also underscores the value of daily team meetings that prioritize metrics. Managers don’t want to wait till the last week of the month to share that the team is behind on vehicle service contract penetration, he explains.

“They need to stay on top of those metrics and develop fun coaching opportunities in small-group environments,” he says. “Get the team together for 15 to 20 minutes prior to starting the day and go over metrics or a specific topic.”

Harnish also advises checkpoints during the day. It’s important for a mentor or manager to stay involved in the sale process. “We encourage three checkpoints throughout the sale to develop a game plan. For instance, before the test drive, going into base payments, and then prior to the menu.”

Playing the Long Game

“Switching to a one-person sales model isn’t easy,” Joyce emphasizes. “Thinking it will be easy sets you up for failure. But you have to evolve with the times. We have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves as dealerships and give guests a better experience.”

Despite the challenge, Joyce insists it's worth the effort. The process allows dealers to provide a better experience, make more money and save money too, he says.

The new process saves costs by cutting the number of high-paid finance managers and directors, despite the need for more salespeople and administrative staff at the dealership.

“You are also playing the long game,” Joyce says. “There’s an immediate improvement to the customer experience, which in the long-term will make customers more loyal too because the process was so easy.”

Increased profits may not happen immediately, so Harnish urges dealers to stay the course. In most dealerships, he says he sees profits increase on a J-curve, with an initial loss followed by a significant gain. “You will see an increase in your overall back-end numbers.”

Ronnie Wendt is an editor at F&I and Showroom.

DIG DEEPER: A Blueprint for Success in Dealerships