winning team

Cultivating a Winning Sales Team

by Fleming Ford

When your dealership hits its sales goals, profitability and morale run high. Life at your dealership is energized, employees are engaged and looking forward for the future. Success like this doesn’t just happen by accident. It occurs through intentionally hiring and developing a top-notch sales team. It happens when you have the right salespeople in the right roles with the aptitude and propensity to perform in the fast-paced retail environment in a thriving culture that supports their success. Let’s explore how to cultivate the sales team you need for your store to enjoy lasting prosperity.

The Cost of an Ineffective Sales Team

Before we dive into the strategy to assemble a winning sales team, we need to face a hard truth. An ineffective sales team will keep you from reaching revenue targets and could ultimately devastate the dealership financially. Failing to sell enough vehicles or RO’s obviously hurts the bottom line - and is, sadly, more common than you may think. According to HubSpot, two-thirds of sales associates miss the mark. But did you also know that your company will spend an average of $65,000 and six months on replacing each sales consultants or advisors that leaves the dealership?

In general, most sales representatives wash out of your dealership because they lacked one (or more) of several things: motivation, connection, sales skills, training, recognition, guidance, or product knowledge. Here’s what you can do about it.

Establish a Sales Culture

There’s a lot of literature out there that supports the benefits of a good dealership culture. Your sales team should have its own. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A short statement of the values your team shares works just fine. Be sure it’s not just words on the training room wall. Engage your sales team in identifying and agreeing upon which values matter most to them and what behaviors support them. You’ll want to all agree and uphold the values with standards and expectations that differentiate your dealership’s brand, the client experience and ultimately support the vision of your future success.

sales meeting


Your sales culture will help align everyone on the team and keep members motivated. The shared values and defined standards will ensure a more consistent experience for your customers. You and your team should do everything in accordance with the sales culture you establish, and members of the sales team should share openly and hold each other accountable to your established values. When stress piles up, and numbers are hard to hit, values are often pushed aside; especially if they’re viewed as just words on paper. As the leader, set the tone to make it OK for all to hold each other accountable for upholding these values and speaking up when things go off track.

Hire Intentionally

Using your sales culture, think about the ideal sales representative. Write your job description and advertisement based on that ideal. Of course, you may need to be flexible so that you’re not endlessly chasing unicorns, (you know the one – that twenty-car guy that is miraculously available). Hire with intention and with a plan, so there’s a greater chance of culture fit and sales success.

As you consider what your next hires need to look like, take a close look at your existing sales team and your customers to determine what gaps you need to fill. What personality traits or specific skills will take your team to the next level? I encourage all my dealerships to use a hiring assessment to accurately gauge fit and get a look under the hood. I recommend The Omnia Group’s hiring assessment. They have a suite of automotive job profiles that assess candidate fit and help you avoid bad hires. 

John F. Kennedy once said a rising tide lifts all boats. He was speaking about the economy. I believe this applies to sales teams too. Every person you hire should bring something new to your mix that takes the whole team up a notch, this may mean giving up on what I affectionately call the “Retreads” and the crazy flooding of the floor. Let’s all recall the famous Albert Einstein quote about the definition of insanity and stop doing it the way you’ve always done—it’s time for some innovative hiring strategies.

Onboard Thoroughly

Your new sales consultants will need lots of personal attention early on to set them up for success, especially in today’s market. Customers are coming to the dealership wielding a ton of knowledge, so don’t send your sales rep to the gunfight with a just butter knife. Equip them with the skills and confidence to best represent your store. Besides the typical HR steps, your onboarding should include:

  • A review of the sales culture, values, and standards and how it impacts the sales process
  • In-depth training on the brand, vehicles, CRM, DMS and processes
  • A discussion about their individual goals and clarity around the proactive daily activities that will help them achieve results
  • Introductions and personal connections to ensure they feel comfortable and part of the team
  • A cadence of scheduled check-ins with their manager to provide on-going support once they are active on the floor

A thorough onboarding helps new sales associates feel welcome and engaged. It also gets them familiar with what they’re selling and how they’re expected to sell it.

Provide Ongoing Training and Mentorship

All that time you spend onboarding your new hires can quickly go out the door if you don’t provide an on-going method for training, skill development and coaching. 84% of sales training is forgotten in the first 3 months. Robust onboarding lays a solid foundation, but it’s not enough. You must provide ongoing training and mentorship to keep your sales team growing. Your training and development plan should include:

  • Group training to reiterate basic but essential sales skills - and introduce new ones.  
  • Improve learning with DAILY simulation practice of inbound and outbound calls and sales situations to ensure the word tracks are natural and you are not losing any opportunities. (Bonus: Drastically increase conversions!)
  • Private 1:1 coaching to work on specific sales situations and issues and provide feedback. 
  • Mentorship opportunities for seasoned players to share best practices with new members of the team, make this a part of the career path to management. 
  • Encouragement to seek development opportunities outside of the dealership, either through your manufacturer, vendor partners, workshops, or many of the online courses available.

Establish a cadence of daily sales huddles to share wins, discuss challenges, and set short term goals and focus points. Also, take the time to hold regular cross-functional meetings with sales, BDC and service advisors to discuss upcoming customer appointments, how to optimize the experience and acquired more trade-ins to support inventory deficits. Providing an environment of on-going communication and cross development gives everyone an opportunity to grow in their role, while building a team climate of shared goals and focus and eliminate our infamous department silos.

Give Regular, Detailed Feedback

Your sales associates need to know what they’re doing right so they can do more of it - and what they’re doing wrong so they change it. That insight comes from your regular, detailed feedback. Make it a point to speak to each sales representative on a set schedule of one-on-one's and build plenty of opportunity for sales call observation and review. Build out time in one-on-one's that goes beyond reviewing deals and pipeline health. Use these meetings to also establish and review development goals – both personal and professional. This is your time to get to know what inspires and motivates every sales rep and can also help uncover what’s getting in their way whether it be a skill or mindset gap.

Recognize Accomplishments

When an individual sales associate or the entire team does well, celebrate it. Show them that you're proud of them and appreciate their contribution. Recognition will make them feel good and motivate them to replicate that feeling by achieving more success. Be sure to understand what type of recognition motivates each individual. Some reps are motivated by group praise and all-company recognition while others would rather shrink under a rug if that happened to them. Sending a personal handwritten note can go just as far with one individual as a shout out during the morning meeting

sales success


Final Thoughts

Your sales team drives the financial success of your dealership. To have an effective selling machine, you must identify the right talent, put it where it will thrive, continue to develop it and engage their very best performance. The leader is the thermostat that sets the climate for the sales team, cultivates the growth of the team and the inspires the success of each sales rep. Commitment to establishing these practices creates the soil and foundation for your team to hit goals and thrive together now and far into the future.


Fleming Ford

Fleming Ford is President of ESI Retail Leadership Academy. Fleming cares deeply about creating progressive automotive leaders who can embrace challenges because they have the tools, mindsets and emotional skills to grow and engage all-star teams that achieve remarkable results. With 20+ years of experience coaching retail automotive leaders and HR Execs, she ignites positive transformational change with concrete ways for leaders to enhance the employee experience and drive better business outcomes.


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