Best PracticesDealership Operations & Processes

Removing Sales People and Utilizing Product Specialists at Your Dealership

Before pricing information websites, salespeople were the gatekeepers.

When it came to vehicle features, availability and negotiating, it was a dealer’s market. However, today the playing field has changed immensely.

Many prospective car shoppers walk into a showroom already armed with all the information they possibly need, including the car’s invoice price, dealer inventory listings, competing dealer bids, color options and even any discounts they are eligible to receive from manufacturers. According to a study conducted by J. D. Power, the average car shopper spends more than 14 hours online researching cars before making a purchasing decision.

Studies show that buyers already know what they want and how much they want to pay well before they step foot into your dealership. This shift in thinking has led many dealers to eliminate commissioned pay incentives altogether and instead price new vehicles closer to cost and reward their staff members for generating higher sales volumes.

The era of the old-school car salesperson has come to a close, and in its place begins the era of the “product specialist.

A product specialist’s role is to provide information and insight about each and every vehicle line, as well as present themselves as a resource if customers have any specific questions. They are the first point of contact for a growing number of businesses and help create a low-pressure atmosphere, while coming across as both helpful and knowledgeable.

The Effect of a Product Specialist

Customers aside, dealership staff is also benefiting from this sea change. When sales associates become product specialists, they no longer have to spend their time focusing on playing middle man between customer and manager; instead, once they get someone interested, they pass them off directly to the sales manager closer. This allows them to go back out to the showroom and continue to educate anyone looking for help.

As far as pay is concerned, bonuses are given out every time a product specialist successfully connects a customer to a sales manager, instead of direct commission, which alleviates the “hard-sell” pressure.

This shift in thinking has helped yield positive results. In 2014, notable Florida dealership JM Lexus saw a sales increase 27 percent between 2012 and 2013 after eliminating the sales associate position and instead replacing them with product specialists. Other dealerships have followed suit and have adopted the product specialist model to help provide their customers with a smooth and transparent sales experience.

A Different Candidate

For owners and hiring managers unsure of where to begin searching for these candidates, it’s important to know what to look for. The primary role of a product specialist will be aiding customers as they bring their web-based research to the showroom floor. Ideally, these candidates should not only be friendly and personable, but they should have a high emotional intelligence, presenting themselves as a credible, trusted advisor. Their main concern becomes the customer’s needs – not maximizing the dealership’s bottom line. When that relationship is established, the whole sales experience becomes smoother and easier to navigate.

The change in dealership structure is also affecting the way these dealerships recruit and the types of candidates they are attracting. According to Automotive News, the average novice product specialist can earn up to $60,000 a year, which can be very attractive to new college graduates.

This trend has made it so that staff members are younger and easier to immerse in a particular dealership’s culture. Owners can create career paths tailored to newer staff and help foster growth within the organization.

Getting Started on the Right Foot

To find the right product specialists for your dealership and keep them there for the long haul, it’s critical that the recruitment and onboarding process is working from the start.

A great onboarding program is designed to educate and engage your employees so they can become productive members of your organization. Since a lot of product specialists are typically inexperienced hires, your dealership’s onboarding program is essential to your success, allowing you to instill the best practices of your dealerships quickly and effectively.

Have you considered replacing your traditional commissioned sales professional with a product specialist? 

Let’s continue this conversation over in the dealer forums….

Adam Robinson is the co-founder and CEO of Hireology – the leading integrated hiring and retention platform in retail automotive – working with ov...