It was October when the economy suddenly caught up with some powersports dealers in the Northwest. It was like a faucet turning off, and Brian Nilsen, owner and general manager of The Brothers Powersports, knew he needed to make a change immediately.
Like many other businesses, he did what he could to reduce his expenses, working to cut fixed costs by getting better deals on things like insurance and focusing his advertising on enthusiasts. But that wasn’t enough.
With fewer opportunities to sell major units, Nilsen needed to get everyone on the same page, working together to sell all of the dealerships’ products and services.
“You can go to multiple dealerships and buy the same products we sell,” said Nilsen. “I challenged my staff to do better with customer service. That’s where people will go back to: The dealerships that provide a great experience. Let’s have that word travel through the enthusiast market.”
He started by getting all employees to commit to three things: 1. To greet everybody that comes into the dealership; 2. To be flexible yet consistent in following its processes and procedures; 3. To ensure everybody leaves satisfied. To fulfill those commitments, Nilsen says all of the dealership’s departments need to work together.
“Each customer is different, so we must train our staff to recognize differences,” he said. “It might take help from the other departments to close a customer. It’s a team effort. That’s what a lot of dealerships really miss. Each department is on an island.”
Once The Brothers Powersports’ staff was onboard with the commitments, Nilsen felt they were ready for the three sales training seminars he had designed, “Sales defined,” “Holding margin” and “How to handle and overcome objections.”
Nilsen developed the educational materials himself based on his sales experience and information gained through his 20 group. In addition, he personally trained every employee, leading them through the PowerPoint and role-playing sessions in small groups of less than five.
“As an owner, I resonate with employees more than their manager,” he said. “They don’t see me every day. They say, ‘The owner of the company is willing to take the time to invest in me. That’s a big deal.’”
A lot of employees outside of the sales department don’t think they’re cut out for sales, but Nilsen explains to them that anyone who is trustworthy, likeable, informative and has some emotion about the activity can sell a good product or service. He tells employees that sales isn’t defined as taking money in exchange for a good or service. It’s making guests comfortable in the dealership environment and building value.
“2009 has been a big slap in the face in terms of major units,” he said. “We needed to figure out other ways to get excited, such as by selling service hours, parts and accessories. So we’re training those people on how to sell. How do you hold margin? My salespeople knew how to do that, but my parts guys didn’t. We have to ensure the dealership will make money at the parts and service counter.”
The bottom line
The result was an immediate change in the way customers were treated on the phone and in the dealership, something The Brothers Powersports has been able to sustain through further discussion in weekly meetings.
In addition, the initiative’s success has shone through in the numbers. While the dealership’s gross dollar sales from major units was down 38.5 percent year-to-date through May, compared to the previous year, its parts, service, accessories and apparel businesses were down only 10 percent.
The Brothers Powersports experienced some other outcomes that it didn’t necessarily anticipate. One example is the firing of
a technician who demonstrated he wasn’t a team player and wouldn’t meet the new standards. “It’s one thing to nod your head,” commented Nilsen. “Living it out is entirely different.”
In addition, the dealership has hired a customer relations specialist whose job is just to greet visitors to the dealership, log them into its traffic management system and follow up with them afterward to thank them for coming into the store.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned,” said Nilsen, “if you’re going to commit to this, you’d better be willing to follow through and have the right people in the right places. I don’t think I would have done that eight years ago. But can you afford not to have someone following up with your customers? You can’t.”
— Liz Walz