Why Every Dealership Needs an Onboarding Strategy

When you hire a new person, do you have an official onboarding process? Many dealerships don’t. The first day is simply filling out some HR forms, introducing them to co-workers and letting the manager take it from there.

Depending on who that manager is or what your culture is like, this can be a big mistake. Read these quotes from a recent blog post by a sales trainer:

“Being in sales is a lot like being in a fraternity. There can be lots of drinking, partying and hazing going on. The new guys have it the hardest, and there’s a prank or joke around every corner. Sales is a tough job, so us old-schoolers do our best to make it fun. Hazing the new guy is a big part of that fun.”

“I went through it, so the new guys have to go through it, too.”

“It’s all a part of perpetuating the torment. If the new guy can survive the hazing, he’ll make a good addition and a good hazer when the next new guy shows up.”

Do you want hazing to be part of your onboarding experience? Setting up new employees for failure, disappointment or embarrassment and then mocking them may be fun for the “old-schoolers” but it is not preparing the new employees for success. It’s no wonder there is 72 percent turnover among new sales consultants in car dealerships with some attitudes out there like this.

I know this isn’t the norm, as I have spoken to car dealers recently who are so incredibly passionate about their dealership cultures and truly understand their employees are their best asset. Despite your best intentions, if you don’t create an official onboarding strategy, your employees may create their own. If they do, they may not have the new employee’s best interests in mind.

The first day at a new workplace is a lot like the first day at school for a new kid. The experience can either instill confidence and set them up for success, or it can create a sense of dread as a result of having to go to a place where they don’t feel like they belong, or even worse, feel bullied.

To ensure that your new employees are starting out on the right foot, develop an ongoing strategy that includes the following steps:

Communicate and reinforce your mission, vision, values and culture. Your employees learn little about your culture simply from filling out HR forms. On their first day, take the time to introduce them to your dealership’s mission statement, vision, values and culture.

Make them feel like part of the team. Have their workspace already set up with a name plate on their wall to make them feel welcome. Introduce the new employee to every department in your dealership, not just the one they’re working in. Find out a few tidbits of personal information (former employers, spouse, kids, hobbies) and share it with their new peers to help them build a rapport. Don’t forget to cover the little, yet significant things, such as where to get coffee.

Set clear expectations. If you don’t already know, take the time to find out what your new employee’s expectations are for the job. If commission-based, how much do they expect to make in their first, second and third months? Make sure their expectations are realistic. I see so many sales consultant job ads that state new salespeople will make $100K+. Yet, according to the NADA survey, only 14 percent of sales consultants actually hit that number. Overselling and under delivering on compensation expectations will cause new employees to sour quickly.

Also, be sure to clearly state what your expectations are for them. Review what their roles and responsibilities will be in detail, and how you will keep them accountable.

Have a training plan in place. Training involves more than just showing how to work your DMS and/or CRM. Most new employees lack at least some of the skills they will need to be successful. Create a training program that incorporates both process training and skills training.

Consider a mentorship program. Some dealerships have had great success with mentorship programs. Choose mentors based on character and leadership qualities displayed, not on years of experience or success in their current role. Mentors provide guidance, give feedback, share experiences and resources, and help employees avoid failures. Mentorship programs have been proven to increase on-the-job success and overall retention.

Ensure that employees are comfortable coming to you with questions. A rigid chain of command is not necessary, nor even a good idea, in most business environments. If an employee has a question or doesn’t feel comfortable discussing a problem with their manager, they should be able to go to anyone in the dealership. Consider establishing an open-door policy so that any employee can go to any manager.

Promote team-building activities. Give your new employees an opportunity to form bonds with coworkers outside of the traditional work environment. These can be as simple as an organized lunch or happy hour, or sending a team on a paid volunteer day or field trip somewhere. We have had great success sending teams to mystery / escape rooms where they have to work together to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape the room. Team building activities are one of the most effective employee retention tools.

Hiring a new employee is a big investment. If you want to maximize your return on investment, set employees up for success with an official onboarding strategy.