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Remember that the right culture creates awesome dealerships

March 22, 2019
For dealers who have been selling cars for more than 25 years, they started 10 years before Facebook or Twitter appeared on the scene, and nearly 20 years before Instagram.
To go back even further, in 1990 the first web page was published over the internet, something mysteriously called the World Wide Web (cue "Twilight Zone" music). By 1996, the internet had more than 10 million users. Today, it’s estimated in excess of 4 billion.
That Memory Lane refresher serves as a reminder that selling cars today is unlike what it was just a quarter century ago.
Granted, said David Adcock, the executive vice president of Binary Auto Solutions, a leading provider of customized programs for dealerships, most dealerships are all-in with digital marketing. They maintain websites, post inventory on multiple third-party sites, follow industry recommendations for search-engine optimization and so on.
Certainly, those all are smart things to do. But those actions are technological and mostly tactical in scope.
The basics of the business haven’t changed: Salespeople still greet and qualify customers and conduct walk-arounds the same. But the way salespeople differentiate themselves needs to evolve. They still block and tackle the way they’ve always been taught, but now they need to run the play a little differently.
One way to run the play differently starts with culture, by answering a simple question: Does the store’s culture satisfy the needs of today’s workers and customers, or is it stuck in the past?
 
Solving the culture problem
It’s probably unrealistic for a car dealership to model its culture after technology companies such as Google or Facebook. Part of what passes for culture in those enterprises might be better described as perks, from foot massages to free lunches to open work spaces. But that’s not what’s important in a dealership or to car buyers.
So, what is culture in a dealership? According to Great Place to Work, "Culture is the pervasive beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company. In a great company culture, employees trust leaders, have a sense of pride in their work and enjoy their colleagues – and the culture serves the strategy."
Yet as a business topic, culture can seem overwhelming. Conducting a Google search on "company culture," might lead to surprises with how many hits it leads to (hint: a lot).  Here are four steps toward creating a culture to fit today’s expectations:
 
1. Define
Simply put, culture is your dealership’s personality. Do what it takes — hold offsite meetings, brainstorm, bring in a consultant — to agree on a common definition of the dealership’s culture before trying to implement it.
Is teamwork more important than individual accomplishment? Is the store price-driven or value-driven? (Tip: Be value-driven.) Does the dealership bring together the best of traditional and innovative technology? A good place to start is by identifying three to five of the company’s core value propositions. 
 
2. Promote
Once the culture is identified, don’t stop there. Promote it daily in every way, and not just with colorful posters. Consider forming a committee to champion the culture or assign someone the role of supervising its execution.
Create a mantra that captures the culture. Remember the mantra from the popular TV show "Friday Night Lights"? "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose." Make sure the culture is present in the store and appears not only on the website, but across the lot, from car stickers to hanging banners.
Don’t overlook training. Yes, employees should be trained for culture. And not just once. Otherwise, whatever is expected will not be happening. Train on the culture as often as is needed to ensure it weaves itself into the fabric of the staff’s daily activity.
3. Reward
If superior service is part of the culture, find a way to reward the service team for excellent contributions. If helping others is a core value, then acknowledge employees who volunteer after-hours or who assist co-workers or customers. If innovation is important, reward those who suggest practical ways to make the business more efficient. 
The reverse is equally true: Train those who may not be living up to the promise of the culture. After all, actions speak louder than words.
4. Live it
This is the "walk the talk" part. It must start at the top and ripple throughout, every day, even when nobody is looking. Teamwork. Transparency. Innovation. No matter how one defines the culture, it needs to be evident to employees and customers. Managers are role models, cultural ambassadors.
 
Dealership culture often is assumed, overlooked or misunderstood. Some might feel it is too difficult to change their store’s culture. Or that their culture is baked into the dealership. Or that it simply doesn’t matter.
 
Culture does matter, from the employees who are hired to the behaviors that are rewarded to the customers attracted. Studies show that employees are more productive when their values are aligned with a company’s.
 
 

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