Leadership General Fixed Operations

The Sales Obstacle

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In my first column, I wrote about how my managers and I sat down and wrote job descriptions and standard operating procedures for all of my departments. This time, I would like to discuss our largest obstacle to completing our daily tasks: our sales department.

In 2010, Derek Zeck, the owner of Zeck Ford, decided to change the way our sales department sells cars. He wanted to improve the customer experience and over the past seven years, our car sales have continued to grow, which puts additional strains on my staff. So far this year, our sales department has averaged over 450 vehicles sold per month. Great, right? Not when you fail to plan or understand the impact our higher sales volume will make on fixed operations.

I am sure most everyone would consider Leavenworth a small market area, so for our sales department to continue to grow, they need to pull people from outside our market area—even outside the state. At first, we were able to adapt to the higher volume of new and used vehicles that needed to be serviced. What we did not expect, however, was the volume of customers that drive past several independent service centers and a few dealerships to return to us for service and body work. These customers have created a backlog in both departments, with service scheduling about 10 days out and the body shop scheduling 2-3 weeks out.

So, how did we handle this growth? First thing we did was try to change how we viewed the used vehicles. Used vehicles were considered something that could be left until we were out of customer pay work. To try to combat the backlog, we split some of the service technicians and hired several new technicians to make an internal or used car service department. That helped take the stress of trying to inspect and repair over 400 used vehicle per month off the main service department. We set the expectation that we wanted all of our vehicles on the lot in 3-5 days and started tracking every step in the process to look for ways to improve.

After we had some consistent numbers, I started meeting with Gene Sirabella, our used vehicle inventory manager, to let him know how many vehicles we can get ready for the lot in a week so he can adjust his buying to keep a steady pace on the lot. With the volume of used vehicles that we needed to service, we had to set a limit on repairs. As long as the repair bill falls under this amount, we are OK to fix the vehicle and get it on the lot. But if the vehicle is in need of more repairs, we send an estimate to Gene for approval.

This created a different issue: trust. Gene has never done any vehicle work, so when a technician would find repairs outside the normal reconditioning process, he would question if the work was really needed to sell the vehicle. I have had to do a lot of explaining and educating with Gene about the repairs. I even switched our processes so that two different technicians look at each vehicle: one inspects the vehicle for repairs and another one repairs the vehicle.

We are not done once the vehicles are ready to sell, however. As many of you know, even if you do the best inspection and repair, if the vehicle sits on the lot for 6-8 weeks, there is a good chance something is going to squeak, grind, have damage that occurred on the lot, or not start when the customer come to test drive the vehicle. Unfortunately, with limited space and the volume of used vehicles going through our internal service department, we cannot slow down by trying to get this vehicle back to them. These vehicles have to be looked at and repaired either in the main shop or quick lane. To ensure that we give the used vehicle the priority it requires, our general sales manager came up with the plan that one of the sales managers brings the vehicle and all of the information to me or one of my service managers, who then triages and gets the vehicle in the shop when space becomes available.

However, here’s the problem with that plan: Every salesperson is doing their best to sell a vehicle and provide the best customer experience they can, so, often, they try to go around the process. When that salesperson brings a vehicle or customer to an advisor that started their day with 50 or 60 open repair orders and is having to call customers and explain that their vehicle will not be completed that day, they are a small portion of the people the advisors is trying to please. We are still in the process of find the perfect balance for all of our customers.

During my entire military career, the Army preached resiliency, the ability to adapt and overcome challenges. Every military operation I was part of continually changed as information was gathered. Now I have to continually preach that message to my managers. We are constantly working on ways to improve our process dealing with our sales department. It really comes down to communication and teamwork. We have started working on our communication, but a lot of the time, we only communicate problems. Teamwork between sales and fixed ops is hard when all you really have is a snapshot of what the other person is doing. It is my goal to continue to improve the processes between my departments and our sales staff. But I am sure that as our sales department continues to grow, more challenges will arise for us to face together.

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