“I know we are bad on the phone but I never seem to get around to fixing the problem.”

Catch 22  (noun)

         1. a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.


The first in our series on the dire need in the car business for telephone sales training.

Traditionally telephone sales training in the auto industry has not been a top dealership priority for salespeople. It is amazing in this day and age that a dealership will allow a brand new salesperson to take an incoming sales call yet they won't let that same salesperson work with a customer that walks into the dealership without some formal classroom training, watching videos, or at the very least shadow another salesperson for a few days. What’s the difference?

Maybe new hire phone training is ignored mostly because the average tenure for a new person is something short of the lifespan of your common housefly. And what about phone training for the veteran salesperson? You know the one, the guy or gal that’s been around a few years that needs “To go touch the vehicle, or put their hands on it” before they can invite the customer into the store; the proverbial old dog that cannot be taught new tricks. 

Of course if there is an attempt made to offer these old school folks phone training, it is not very well received to say the least.  Their most common question during training tends to be “Are we done yet?  I've got cars to sell.”

So how much more important are the phones today than in years past? I just recently had a group of managers in a room and I asked them a simple question. “How much of your business is influenced by the phone?” The blank look on the manager’s faces said it all to me.  Finally one of them said “Well, the incoming sales call.” He answered the question in a way that implied that my question had an obvious answer or it was just plain stupid. When I followed it up,  “Ok, what else?” The blank looks reappeared.

I went on to ask about Internet leads. “Is not one of the goals to get your Internet leads on the phone as quickly as possible?” They said yes. “Ok, how about showroom traffic that does not buy?” (80% of your walk in traffic and that’s if your really good). The managers again said “Yes.” So, after I was finished with this line of questioning, I again asked, “So, how much of your business is influenced by the phone?” The light bulb went on. I went on to explain that the Internet lead is just a phone up going in the other direction and that the same skills and behaviors that you should possess for the incoming calls are applicable for the outgoing. Great phone skills are more important today then they ever have been but they are a lost art that we need to find again.

I can't tell you how many times we have heard managers or dealers complain, “I cannot afford to train my sales people.  I'm not selling any cars.”  Huh?  Does that make any sense?  That is the epitome of a Catch 22.  The thing is we can't afford to not train our salespeople on proper phone skills because they do influence at least two thirds of our customers. 


What our goals on the phone should be

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Comment by David O'Brien on January 10, 2017 at 2:15pm

Hi Steven - I think you have some great points. I would add to the thoughts by suggesting that there does not have to be one size fits all for a dealership solution. Different stores, different sizes, different demographics can allow for flexibility in the approach. We have clients who are being really successful (in measurable ways) using the Marcom approach Chuck has outlines. We have seen the process work for clients with a straight BDC approach but most successful where the BDC was at the location where they could learn the used vehicle inventory. We have seen in smaller stores where the BDC is really a specialized group of salespeople that they can achieve strong appointment and show ratios.

Whether is is a BDC person in the store or a salesperson - there needs to be a commitment to good strategy, knowledge of the inventory, connection and commitment at all levels of management. The problem does not get solved by saying only one approach can work but rather by saying there is a framework for success that can be sustained in either environment. Yes there is an every changing environment around lead sources - text, chat, email, direct submission - but the phone is ringing more now than ever thanks to click to call on dealer and third party sites.

Great conversation and good to see folks committed to creating process and accountability for dealers!

Comment by David O'Brien on January 10, 2017 at 2:06pm

Comment by Chuck McGraw on January 9, 2017 at 7:47am

Hi Keith it has been a long time, hope you are doing well!! :-). Totally agree with you on where the BDC's got their beginning. I also agree with you on the military example as well but its not just about training; training is only the start of the process and it’s really not even the first step. The point you make about singing is a talent works against most BDC personnel as well, to prove that point just listen to a BDC person take that the call of customer interested in a 1 ton dually or is looking to see what Leasing specials are in place. Salespeople are certainly best qualified to handle the incoming calls but it has to be more then just training. When you work with the customer especially today's customer on the phone the "Right" way you build a business relationship that carries over to the floor when that customer comes in. If a BDC (Singer) takes the call and passes it off you take that really important phone call and turn it into a floor traffic customer from a closing % standpoint.


The best thing about the phone is that you can more then eyeball it you can listen to it. When you can hear how the person is asking questions, listening, and building value you can begin to use training to effectively change the behavior of people and make a real difference. Dealerships have been unable to do this in the past for a variety of reasons but today they can. They can get their salespeople "Brilliant at the basics" which makes the salesperson not only better on the incoming call but also makes them better at all the aspects of their job. Lets face it we both know that dealerships threw up the white flag on salespeople a long time ago but they no longer have to do that if they don't want to. The BDC's are extremely important for many different reasons but when it comes to taking the incoming sales calls a dealership is better off not taking the short cut.

Comment by steven chessin on January 8, 2017 at 6:40pm

Keith   ---- Yes, but it need not be a choice between better closing stats OR more leads -- it can be both. 

Comment by steven chessin on January 8, 2017 at 4:55pm

The importance of phones skills for selling cars was known 100+ years ago --- they know. You correctly remind them of HOW VERY IMPORTANT when you identify the full-spectrum of touch-points :  “So, how much of your business is influenced by the phone?” The light bulb went on. Practically all of it.


But your approach assumes that every sales call is worthy of a salesman's valuable time and advanced training. Hell no !  BDC is a very careful filter that brings too many leads down to a manageable, filtered number. The response by Mark Handlon addressed that very well :

"dealers have BDC handle the incoming calls (leads) knowing that they will get logged in the CRM as well as followed up until the customer has purchased."

There it is.But there is more. Much more. Mark also mentioned this one critically important point :

"you never get a second chance to make a first impression".  YES YES YES !!! 

The first impression IS NOT the salesman's strong point. They are salesmen not first impression specialists - bdc reps are 1st impression SPECIALISTS. That is exactly what they are.

My reps are  INTENTIONALLY style and not substance. Are you going to ask her the best price ?!  You know she has zero authority to address that  - but - she can schedule your appointment. And she can also show you the car AND introduce you to a salesman. She can do it with LIVE STREAMING VIDEO and video email. She is the appointment fronter. The meeter-greeter. The first-impression-maker. She will absolutely enter your info - and  - follow-up, She provides excellent customer service AND excellent appointment assistance to sales exactly where they are weak. Salesmen specialize in content-facts - figures ------  reps specialize in warm fuzzy feelings of sincere customer service. Their sincerity is true and customers get that. This is what makes them perfect at this initial point---not "a terrible business decision". (when done right)  However many appointments they make the better. They filter-out non-customers -- schedule the ones that don't need a certified and licensed salesman's limited time to make an appointment - and - T.O. those that do.        

And if (when) deals fail she follows-up and attempts to find-out what went wrong.   

YES OF COURSE HIS PHONE SKILLS DO NEED TO BE EXCELLENT ....  but applied as needed. Her skills are equally important to insure him of more opportunities. Please do not deny how much skill a "rep" has  .... neither you nor I can do what she does BETTER than any salesmen. A good rep is pure gold !        

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 8, 2017 at 4:18pm

Hi Chuck! Long time no talk to. :) The idea of the BDC grew from the realization that, for decades, salespeople on average fail on the phone. And Internet leads just made that average worse. Taking the proper actions from training is difficult--no other than the US Army spends a huge amount of time training, because people forget. Sales is a talent, not a training: What I mean by that is that, with some training, believe it or not most people can carry a tune and sing a little. To make a living at singing, well, that's not a training but a talent issue. And, if the singer has to dance, sing, and also act, well, the level of that kind of talent is still very rare even today. However, the sales process ONCE THE CUSTOMER IS IN THE STORE *can* be trained because it can also be constantly eyeballed by the management staff. THAT's why BDCs were conceived, because instead of trying to sing, dance, and act, all the BDC has to do is sing. So you hire singers. And then let the floor with oversight work on closing the traffic. And so many decades and decades dealerships have left sales training so far behind that the average time employed by a salesperson these days is under 18 months. I can train for phone and sales, pretty well. However, unless dealerships want to reverse a trend in place for many decades, I know what they WILL spend money on: Getting more traffic. Rather than improve the closing ratio, they will invest in more traffic--kind of like 20% of 500 UPs is 100 cars, so let's go get 1000 Ups. It goes on every day in the USA, and I don't see it stopping. When I was in retail, I thought my dealership group was in a fog. When I worked in two CRM companies, I found out across hundreds of dealers that the same problems exist. Training isn't going to fix a dealer who sees it the 500 so lets get 1000 UPs way. And, to my experience, most see it that way. Thanks

Comment by Chuck McGraw on January 6, 2017 at 12:33am

Steve Chessin, would love to have a lively debate with you!!. We have listened to over 500,000 calls this year with human ears and to hear a properly trained salesperson that gets it is truly something special.  Let me know a time and place and lets debate, we will probably find that our philosophy is not much different just how it is applied may be different.

The problem with most management teams is that they have given up on their sales team to take sales calls and give them to their BDC which is a terrible business decision. 

Comment by steven chessin on January 5, 2017 at 10:48pm

Chuck -- We could have a lively debate because I disagree that salesmen should take "sales calls".

They are .... appointment calls. The question of "sales-call jurisdiction" gets settled by one factor --- lead quantity. Any store with few enough leads for salesmen to be handling them has a larger problem ! 

Comment by Chuck McGraw on January 5, 2017 at 4:19pm

Steven Chessin, agreed we need to train, measure, hold accountable, instill consequences and then repeat the cycle everyday. That will only work if its from the top down. Thanks

Comment by Chuck McGraw on January 5, 2017 at 4:16pm

Mark Handlon, could not have said it better myself, Salespeople need to take incoming sales calls because they have the skills necessary to really provide the level of service customers expect today as well as customer's begin the business relationship with whomever they speak with on the phone. If BDC people take the calls and the customer is then turned over to a salesperson you turn the quality phone call with a higher closing % into a floor up,

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