Avoid Love at First Sight When Hiring Automotive Salespeople


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Dig Deeper for These Four Personality Traits

It’s a challenge every car dealership is familiar with: salespeople who make a great impression during the hiring process but fail to deliver once hired. They look good on paper and ace their hiring interviews, but the promised sales volume never materializes. Why should we be surprised? Salespeople are trained to sell and this includes selling themselves. The secret is to get beyond “love at first sight” and find out if potential sales staff possess the traits that really matter.

Hiring quality salespeople is an ongoing challenge for dealerships and keeping valued personnel is getting harder. Estimates place dealership turnover of salespeople at between 35-48% each year. (This article on AOL puts the average turnover rate at 46%.) It’s expensive to train new staff. While the cost of turnover varies by dealership, it can easily rise to over ten thousand dollars in terms of the time and resources it takes to recruit, interview, and train a new hire. (According to Humberview Group, a Toronto-based company with 21 dealerships this can cost up to $35k per employee.) These amounts are compounded by the fact that salespeople make up such a large percentage of staff at most dealerships.

The first step in digging deeper when hiring qualified salespeople is to know what to look for in terms of inherent personality traits or strengths. Our research into this area, guided by the work of recognized industrial-organizational PhD, Dr. Jerry Kehoe, spans 20 years and has been confirmed by data from clients who regularly hire staff for auto dealerships.

Our findings in this area show that successful auto salespeople exhibit high rankings for the following four key traits:

Ultra High Drive

Top performers make things happen, they don’t wait for sales to come to them. In classic sales theory, high drive is often found in the “hunters”—those who enjoy new ideas, excitement, and the thrill of the hunt. People with high drive are motivated toward their goals, sometimes to the exclusion of the goals of the team or others.

Ability to Influence Others

The ability to influence others doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Certain personalities are simply not equipped with the persuasive abilities necessary to get people to see their needs (e.g. buying a car) in a new way. A salesperson with this trait is able to connect with buyers at an interpersonal level to close a deal.

Risk Tolerance

As auto sales positions are largely or completely commission-based, it is critical for staff to be confident in their performance not be afraid of failure. They must be able to thrive in an “eat what you kill” type of situation and embrace this mentality as a driving motivator. This trait can measured in terms of risk tolerance. You want to see high levels in car lot sales staff.

Recovery from Setbacks

Even the best salespeople fail frequently. The most successful among them aren’t set back by this and take an “okay, what’s next” view. People who recover well from setbacks don’t dwell on failures and this allows them to keep moving forward toward their next sale.

These four traits are easy to understand and seem obvious once they are listed, but screening candidates for them takes focus. Hiring managers can start by looking for these traits using scenario and behavioural questions in interviews. For example, ask candidates for “real life” examples that show when they recovered from a setback outside of the sales lot. They can also ask a candidate’s references to rate the candidate on these traits from high to low, or share a story where they witnessed the candidate demonstrating them.



If this seems daunting, there are also easy-to-use online tools and surveys that can measure a candidate for these traits and compare their traits to those of a top salesperson. You can even have your top salesperson measure their own traits in a survey, and then use that as a template for hiring others just like him or her.

It’s easy to fall in love with a salesperson. We hire them for this ability—to sell themselves to us after only a few short encounters. But there are other traits to look for when hiring salespeople who will ensure they bring in the sales that they promised during their first interview. Once you understand what these traits are—and how to screen for them in each new hire—you will find salespeople that you will want to keep forever, you will see a shift in your sales numbers, and you will wish you had a cloning machine to make more of these people for your dealership or business.

Ben Baldwin is the Founder and Co-CEO of ClearFit, an online solution that provides the easiest way for anyone to find the best person for the job, by predicting their success. Over his career he has supported the recruiting and hiring needs of Fortune 500 companies and small to mid-sized businesses. He writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal as a business mentor.

Michael Bowen

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