Best Practices

How to Hire Great Salespeople

Great salespeople deficit? 

I give our industry a D+ when it comes to the hiring process and a frequent complaint right now is “I can’t seem to hire good salespeople.”  Joe Webb nailed it when he made this video: The Job Interview.

So where do we go to find good people?  Posting an online ad is often not very effective and may result in quantity, but not quality.  Your current employees and customers are a great place to start to find new employees.  A recent Inc. Magazine article written by David Lewis, CEO of Operations Inc. indicates:

  • 50% of the most successful companies have given up on job boards.
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are cheaper and more effective.
  • People hired by referral are 47% more likely to stick around after three years, compared to 14% for job-board applicants.
  • Cash bonuses are the best way to get current employees to refer others.  $1200 is the average referral bonus across all industries for full-time hires.

When you are ready to make a hire, start by notifying current employees.  If the job pays well, employees will often brag about how much they love their work and attract others to your business.   I have used this strategy for the last three years when hiring coaching staff for Phone Ninjas, and I often have qualified applicants waiting for a job.

If your dealership has Facebook presence, this is also a great way to inform people of your intentions to hire.  You could also offer a bonus to customers who refer others.  Everybody knows somebody looking for a job.

Here’s an example of an ad that you might place on Facebook:

Leading Automotive Retailer Seeks a Hungry Tiger!

Our top performers earn 100K yearly!  Even if you have little or no automotive experience, our training program will teach you the skills required for success.  Our dealership offers: (briefly talk about what your dealership offers existing employees).

We are looking for the following qualities:

  • Goal oriented person with a history of achieving success
  • Professional appearance
  • Ability to work with a computer
  • Professional phone skills
  • Ability to write professional e-mails

To be considered for this position, please follow the below directions:

  • Send your resume and salary history to: (e-mail address)
  • Included in your e-mail, please tell us in 100-200 words why we should consider you as an applicant.
  • Make a video with your smartphone or video camera and sell us an object such as your vehicle or an item in your house.  We don’t expect it to be perfect; we just want to see your creativity and passion.

All qualified applicants who complete the above steps will be rewarded with an interview.

Let’s digest the highlights of the above ad.

  • Start with a positive upbeat subject line that will catch their attention!
  • Take the average pay of your top two performers and use this number.  Hopefully that number is 100K+.  If not, your dealership is definitely in need of some new talent.
  • I am not a fan of hiring veteran automotive salespeople unless you are certain they have not been rejected from other dealerships.  Salespeople making good money tend to stay put.  I do use the term “little or no automotive experience” since many dealerships don’t take the time to properly train new staff.  In 1985, I was a classic example of a bad hiring experience.  My first job at a dealership lasted a month because I was never provided with proper training.  Fortunately, my second automotive sales position came with lots of training.
  • Talk about the positive things your dealership offers to its employees.
  • Give a brief description of the qualities you seek.  The ones I listed above are a good place to start.
  • Ask your applicants to follow a very strict application process like the one outlined above.

Look for a salesperson with the qualities needed to work all aspects of this business.  In the email look for quality writing skills, the same ones needed to be effective when replying to Internet leads.  In the video, consider passion, personality, and creativity.  If someone can make a video, they should be capable of making one to respond to Internet leads.   The last bullet point will help weed out unmotivated people because if they don’t perform these steps to get the job, they certainly won’t do them once they have the job.

When dealerships implement a better hiring process, they will attract quality people capable of working floor-ups, phone-ups, and Internet leads thereby reducing or eliminating the costs of operating a business development center.

After you review your applicants, it’s time to start the interview process.  First, send your favorite applicants an e-mail and ask them to call you at a very specific time and make sure you are available at that time.  Start with a 5-10 minute conversation to get a feel for their phone skills.  If they call you at the scheduled time and the conversation goes well, then it’s time to invite them to an in-person interview.

When interviewing, remember that you are also being interviewed, and dealerships often fail to prepare.  It’s important that applicants walk into a professional setting.  This means no salespeople loitering at the front door.   Your dealership should look like a well-oiled machine with professional salespeople at work.  Most importantly, be ready for your interviews!  Making a person wait is not a good strategy.  Here are 15 must-ask interview questions:

  1. Take me through your work history and tell my why you left each job.   Those with a job jumping history should have a good answer.
  2. Did you play sports in high school or college?  Competitiveness is one of the best traits you can find in a salesperson.  Competitive people are the ones you will find at the top of your sales board.
  3. Why do you want to be a salesperson?  The right answer is financial motivation.
  4. How much money do you need to make monthly in order to maintain your current lifestyle?   The higher that number, the more I like that person.
  5. Tell me about your greatest accomplishment in life?  Look for passion and excitement as they talk about their accomplishment.  If they can’t get excited talking about themselves, they certainly won’t be that way with your customers.
  6. If I asked your current boss what he or she likes about you, what would the answer be?  This question will indicate strengths in your applicant.
  7. What would your current boss say are your weaknesses?  These answers could be potential red flags.
  8. What have you done in the last year to fix those weaknesses?  Look for people who are adaptable and focused on self-improvement.
  9. What is the last educational book you read and what did you learn from it?  Look for people who are constantly trying to improve.  These people are trainable.
  10. What qualities did you like about your last or current manager?  Look for answers that indicate an applicant’s willingness to take direction.
  11. What qualities did you not like about your last or current manager?  People will often unknowingly reveal their weaknesses when answering this question.  If an applicant is willing to trash talk their current or previous employer, move on.  Avoid future drama or confrontation!
  12. Is there any question I haven’t asked you that I should?  This is a perfect opportunity for your applicant to sell himself/herself.
  13. I am not quite sure you’re the right person for this job.  Help me change my mind.  Typically I’ll even leave that last sentence off and see if the applicant can handle my objection.  Objection handling is a big part of our business and I want people who won’t take “No” for an answer.  This question alone will tell you if you’re interviewing a pushover or a closer.  Closers will challenge this statement and tell you why you should hire them.
  14. How do you think you did on this interview?  I have just given the applicant the perfect opportunity to close me.  Look for closers.  “I think I did well” is not the right answer.  They need to follow up by asking me for the job.
  15. Do you have any questions for me?  Remember that quality candidates are interviewing you as well, and their questions will give you the opportunity to sell them on why they should work at your dealership.  Poor or no questions can also indicate the candidate is the wrong person for the job.

If at any point you don’t like the answers you are hearing, go right to question #13 and end the interview.

Never make a job offer after the first interview.  If I like a candidate, I will ask him or her to come back soon to meet with one of the other managers and assign a project.  One of my favorites is to send the candidate home with a phone script and ask them to study it because part of their job entails answering incoming sales calls.  When the candidate returns for the second interview, I will conduct a role play session.  Those who know it get the job and those who don’t certainly won’t learn it after they have the job.  Provide your business card in hopes that they thank you for the interview via e-mail and or by phone and demonstrate good follow-up skills.

One more thing I would like you to do before letting the applicant leave is to hand them off to another manager for a tour of the dealership.  However, do not tell your applicant this person is a manager.  Instead, tell them that you’re going to have one of your salespeople show them around before they leave.  You’ll may be surprised at what a person will say and ask when they think they are conversing with a peer.

Hiring quality people is one of the most important aspects of your business, and making a bad decision can cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost opportunity. When you surround yourself with great talent, it’s easier to attract talented people and you should always be on the lookout for great talent.  Sometimes it is found in the most unexpected places such as Best Buy, Verizon Wireless, restaurants, hardware stores, and places where you are in the role of a customer.

I once hired a young man from Burger King just because he greeted me with a smile and great attitude.  He turned out to be the dealership’s number one sales rep. Your next superstar is waiting to be found and groomed.  Your success or failure as a manager is defined by the people you hire.

How are you finding and hiring your next NEXT great sales person?

If you enjoyed this article – use the “print button” and leave a comment below!

  • J
    Joe Webb
  • June 19, 2013
There is some awesome information in there, Jerry.  (And I just picked up my copy of Inc. today).  Dealers simply don't know what qualities they should be looking for when hiring new candidates.
  • S
  • June 20, 2013
Joe Webb Actually I think they know what they are looking for Joe, they just don't know how to find them. Loved your video!
  • K
    Kay Romprey
  • June 20, 2013
Jerry, AMAZING post and information for dealers. I hope everyone is bookmarking or printing this off for future reference. You have laid out the interview process for the "New Sales Professional" for ALL Dealerships. 
"Make a video with your smartphone or video camera and sell us an object such as your vehicle or an item in your house.  We don’t expect it to be perfect; we just want to see your creativity and passion." 
Allow me to add - dealers should be hiring ALL THE TIME. Or should I say, at least interviewing ALL THE TIME. You're chain/team is only as good as your weakest link/person. You need to always be looking (as Joe Webb pointed out) for 
The obstacle most dealers face is attracting these potential GREAT sales people. It's rare for someone to say "I want to sell cars when I grow up". It's unfortunate that our industry attracts people that are "passing by" - "I needed a job so I figured I would sell cars for awhile". People view selling cars as a JOB and NOT as a career. 
Sales IS a career. Anyone entering into this business needs to understand this. PLUS - It's one of the highest paying careers in the States. 
When I was a trainer for a larger group - during the new hire training I would emphasize this to each in the class - You're not here to be a car sales(wo)men and if that's all you want to be, then go find another "job". You're here to become Sales Professional - no matter what you're selling. And if you can master the art of selling cars (truly master), chances are you can sell anything, BUT you have to commit to the art of becoming a true Sales Professional. 
I'll stop here because I would rant on for several more paragraphs. :)
  • A
    Aaron Wirtz
  • June 21, 2013
Not to be a parrot, Jerry, but this article is so, SO good. Thank you for all of the practical, useful information included here. I'll be sharing this often.
  • A
  • June 22, 2013
A lot of good information in this article. I once interviewed for a Financial Advisor job. They made each candidate come up with a list of at least 150 people they know and their contact information. You also had to interview a few of those people who are not family. A lot of dealership salespeople don’t focus on who they know when selling, imo. I think this would also eliminate a lot of the candidates who are looking for a job and not a career.