8 Steps to Clarifying Your Dealers’ Training Needs
8 Steps to Clarifying Your Dealers’ Training Needs

Nearly every agent I speak with recognizes the need for training in their dealerships. They all know the importance of having highly trained individuals on their team and the difference in productivity and profitability a highly trained team can make. The problem is figuring out the “what” to train.

Many dealerships’ training programs consist of a hodgepodge of pseudo-solutions. Vendor webinars, online tutorials, videos, F&I agents, daily sales training with a manager and, occasionally, an outside trainer. The issue is that each solution covers a narrow spectrum of training needs. In most stores, no one is making sure that the right people have the right training to succeed. This issue leads to turnover.

Every day in dealerships, sales teams conduct customer needs analyses. Often, they must work through the customer’s wants to get to the needs and, ultimately, the end goal of a deal. The same process has to apply to dealership training.

What a dealer might want is an average of $1,500 per vehicle retailed in back-end income, but what the dealer needs is to have highly trained F&I managers excelling in the sales and closing process, all while being compliant.

So how do you as an agent partner help your clients succeed? Help by creating a training needs analysis for their F&I team which will lead to effective training plans. Let’s look at how you can do that in eight steps.

Step 1: Compile a List of Players (a.k.a. Employees)

Get all the players on the board. In your role as an agent, start with all of those individuals connected to the finance office. List every position in it, along with who is doing the job.

You need two additional pieces of information on your players. When were they hired? And how much auto experience do they have? We will talk more about this later.

Keep this simple and use a basic Excel file or Google sheet. Headers are department, position, name, hire date and years of automotive experience.

Step 2: Compile a List of Job Duties for Each Position.

The one thing I have learned over the last few years is that many automotive job titles don’t tell me everything I need to know. I need job duties. Here’s the best example of this: A dealer calls me and says, “Harlene, I need to hire a general manager.” My first question is going to be, “Fabulous, how long has the current service manager that this new general manager will be managing been with you?”

Often, the dealer tells me the new general manager won’t be managing the service manager. That means you aren’t hiring a general manager. They are looking to recruit a variable operations manager or a general sales manager, but they are not looking for a general manager.

Focus on the core job duties of the position, not everything they might ever do. If poorly written job descriptions exist, now is the time to update them.

Use other sources of job description validation like surveying the employee as well as their supervisor. I’ve seen stores where the employees’ perception of their job duties and the employers are worlds apart. Something else to keep in mind is how old the job descriptions and the employees are. I don’t mean the literal age of the employees; I mean their age in their current role. I’ve been in stores where the same job description has been used for six years. An employee who has been with the store for several years is likely not doing the same job as when they started.

Additionally, job shadowing will allow you to document job duties. Take your original spreadsheet and add a column for marking “Yes” or “No” to “Have complete job description.”

Step 3: Compile Each Position’s Expectations and Current Performance.

How is this different from job duties, you may ask? Managing the sales team is a job duty, whereas the performance expectation may be to maintain a team of six sales team members capable of selling 70 vehicles per month. This step, like the last, will take some time to flesh out on paper.

If clear expectations do not exist, measuring performance is impossible and training needs cannot be assessed. Accountability requires clearly defined job expectations.

Once the expectations are on paper, evaluate the current performance of those in the role. If all existing performance expectations are being met, stop now, as no significant training needs exist. The odds of that happening are probably a billion to one.

When performance expectations are not being met, record the employee name, the expectation, and current performance. No need to delve any deeper yet. Use a different spreadsheet at this point, because there will likely be several expectations per employee. This file should have the department, position, employee name, and current performance.

To keep things in perspective, include the time on the job and in the industry. It’s not likely that the same expectation exists of the individual who is two months into the industry and two months on the job as the one who is three years on the job.

Step 4: Compile a List of the Equipment Needed to Meet Expectations.

This step is significant as frequently neither job duties or expectations can be met without the aid of equipment. Equipment training shouldn’t be ignored just because it doesn’t take much time. Additionally, lack of knowledge and understanding of software systems can significantly impact both efficiency and productivity, and it takes time to be done properly.

Survey employees as to what they use in their role to help with this list. Everything — from key storage units to printers and copiers to tire-alignment equipment — goes on the list. Additionally, all software utilized in the store goes on the list, but break down the software into its modules or usages.

Here’s a sample list.

Equipment or software Use User (by position or department)
HP 6030 Copier Sales copier All variable ops
Key Box Vehicle key storage Variable ops and fixed ops
Dealertrack Finance portal Finance manager, SM, GSM, GM
Dealertrack Cash receipts functions Cashier, F&I managers, A/R, controller, office manager
Service lifts Safely lift vehicles All fixed ops
Timeclock HR tracking Everyone on staff

Step 5: Compile a Complete List of All Internal Training Options.

Create a list of everything that can be used to train internally. Your dealers will often have many resources which get overlooked. This is one of the most useful training lists created in any business.

Start with product vendors. Many vendors provide free training on the use of their products and services. Some have instore, fee-based training. List the source of the training (e.g. CRM provider), the fee (if any), the type of training available (video, Wiki, phone, webinar), the content (email usage, how to create CRM templates, cashier introduction), and the positions in the store that would need the training. Make this list as detailed as possible. It has the biggest payoff for long-term usage.

Make sure to include any services you provide to your clients on the list. Look for and ask about any products the dealership is already paying a subscription for; they often get overlooked.

Last, but certainly not least, is to identify any internal training provided by the dealership team. Get them on the list too.

Step 6: Identify Needs.

Now that steps one to five are complete, start working on the analysis. By looking at what is wanted, which is the job duties and expectation, and subtracting what exists, which is the current performance of the employee, you get what training is needed now.

Focus only on identification at this point, not solving the need. It may be that the GM likes to hire salespeople with no auto experience, therefore what they want are highly trained product specialists, but what they have is a sales team that can’t tell a customer if a vehicle has seat warmers. This uncovers the need for product training.

Identify and list all performance needs of those being evaluated. This step is by far the most difficult because we have to dig for the root deficiency cause, the real need.

Here’s an example: Mark’s vehicle service contract penetration is only 10% instead of the expected 30%. (Yes, this expectation varies widely based on the store.) However, that is not the deficiency causeBurgiss, Mike (CAI - Atlanta) <Mike.Burgiss@coxautoinc.com>. If we dig into Mark’s performance, we find the deficiency cause could lie in one of two areas. He may not be making presentations of products to 100% of the customers, or the sales team is selling too much vehicle to allow him enough room for back-end product. Determine which it is and put that cause/need on the list. You must get to the root cause.

At this point, you should have added a column to the spreadsheet: “Possible cause of performance deficiency.” If more than one cause is identified, record them all.

Step 7: Determine Whether the Need Can Be Met With Training.

Steps One to Six were all the puzzle pieces and now you get to put them together. There are three questions to ask at this point, of all items identified as needs:

  • Question One: Is the performance deficiency a skill (knowledge) or a will (motivation) issue? Training can fix many skill or knowledge issues. It rarely fixes a will issue. I tell dealers every day: You must hire “trainable” employees. An employee isn’t going to be fixed if they are unwilling to adapt or learn regardless of how much training is provided.
  • Question Two: Can it be trained internally? If it’s F&I related, this is where you can step in and help. Many product or process training can be handled internally, and internally should be the first choice. The Step Four and Step Five lists are the go-to lists to match up need with training that is already available internally.
  • Question Three: Is training available externally? If no internal options exist, look for external training options to meet the need. This may mean recommending an external trainer or workshop to a dealership.

Now prioritize the issues that can be solved with training based on return and cost. Focus on those that will cause the most impact as quickly as possible. Don’t ignore any needs. Just make wise decisions on the priority of them. Sometimes, just solving employee frustration items can have a big payoff in productivity. Tackle those as quickly as possible.

Step 8: Create Individual Training Plans.

The last step is to develop individual training plans. A training plan is matching the need with the right training solution. The written training plan consists of who, what, how the need will be trained, why, where, when, and the goal of the training.

Who will be trained? What training will be provided, and how? Maybe it is the proper disclosure process taught through video. Why training will be provided. In our case of Mark earlier, he will be provided menu presentation skills training so he can be more confident in presenting all products to all customers to improve his penetration level. Be as specific as possible on the why. Where and when are easy. Will it be in the dealership or elsewhere and over what timeframe? Various skills take different times to train.

The last item to answer in the training plan is the goal of training. Be as specific here as you can. Write a SMART goal by stating the purpose of the training and the desired outcome from it.

Make sure the employee understands and agrees to the training plan by signing the plan. Space prohibits me from delving any deeper into the plan but I encourage you to use these eight steps and see how many training needs you can help your clients solve. You might be surprised.