Is experience indispensable?
It has become a frustrating riddle for new job seekers and career changers: the entry-level job they want requires experience, but entry-level candidates have little to none, or they would not be entry-level.
For many employers, experience is indicative of competency and aptitude, but (like most things) hiring the right person is not that simple.
Auto sales in particular is an extremely attractive field for motivated sales professionals trying to get their foot in the door, but the prospect of hiring a candidate with no experience is too scary for some dealerships to stomach.
Are they right to be afraid, or are their fears unfounded?
How valuable is experience in auto sales?
Auto sales is a lucrative career field with a comparatively low barrier for entry.
Typically, auto dealerships do not require that their salespeople have education past high school, so it is tempting as a recruiter to ask for experience as a way to weed through an overabundance of applicants.
However, asking auto salespeople to come to a dealership with experience might actually work against you if you want to build the very best team you can.
In car sales, if an established salesperson is performing well, the last thing he will want to do is change dealerships. Success in this industry is dependent on an auto salesperson’s reputation and name in the community.
If he is performing well with plenty of local connections, recruiters should seriously consider why a candidate would want to give that up and start from scratch in a new location. Every person’s situation is unique, but when looking to hire an experienced candidate, we need to proceed with caution.
The primary reason that recruiters and sales managers shy away from inexperienced sales candidates is that they are unproven.
What if they cannot sell? What if they are attracted to the promise of money but lack the Drive to perform well for the company?
New recruits may lack polish, but they are moldable in ways that veterans are not. If an inexperienced candidate possesses the critical characteristics of Drive: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism, he is more likely to be successful and should be considered for an auto salesperson role.
However, it is important to keep in mind that other factors, such as management style, compensation and company culture may affect the candidate’s overall performance. Be sure to vet the candidate thoroughly during the behavioral interview process.
The benefits and drawbacks of inexperienced car salespeople
- No bad habits. It does not take long for a salesperson to figure out what corners he can cut to make his job as easy and lucrative as possible. If you hire a candidate with prior experience, you have no way of completely knowing what steps he likes to skip or which leads he will drop like hot potatoes when the going gets tough. Inexperienced sales hopefuls will accept the process you present without questioning why your company does it differently from their last workplace, because they will have nothing to compare it to.
- No pre-established preferences. An inexperienced candidate will not know if he prefers phone leads to web leads or walk-ins, so you can assign him to help with whatever it is your dealership needs without worrying that he will try to pawn off his least favorite responsibilities to another employee right away.
- No baggage. Auto salespeople with experience can come with sticky pasts and soiled reputations that might work to your disadvantage. Fresh candidates have no reputation to speak of and will be motivated to build a positive one (monitored and managed by you) as quickly as possible.
- They need an investment of time and training. It is unrealistic to expect that a completely inexperienced salesperson could hop on the sales floor at a dealership and sell a car on his first day with no help. Brand new hires will need to be trained in the very basics of sales and be allowed to watch a successful salesperson work, possibly for a while, before they will be ready to take on their own clients.
- They do not know their strengths and weaknesses. Not every salesperson with potential will be great at every aspect of managing clients and closing deals, so any dealership considering hiring an inexperienced candidate will need to pay attention to their new hire, help him determine which skills need work and give him support to develop those skills.
What is needed to make inexperience an asset?
So now that we realize that inexperience is not such a scary thing, we need to think about how we can set up new hires for success by providing proper training and support.
A great sales manager is vital in training and supporting new salespeople for success. It is also important to consider the best way to utilize new salespeople’s time while they are in their training phase of employment.
Practicing phone skills, following up on recently failed sales or having them compose personal email responses to web inquiries can give new salespeople practice interacting with potential clients without the pressure of real in-person buyers (and all their questions and concerns) while they learn.
Inexperienced hires will ultimately need to be able to shadow a successful salesperson at the dealership before they can be trusted with their own clients, so have your top salespeople think about how they can utilize a trainee’s help in a way that will be beneficial for both the trainer and the new recruit.
Developing a good training process, managed by a great sales manager, is the best way to ensure that your auto salespeople are prepared to perform.
Aptitude is key
In order for new salespeople to be worth your investment of time and training, they need to have the same essential characteristics of any successful salesperson, including Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism.
The best way to determine if a candidate has the essential traits for success in sales, regardless of their experience, is through sales aptitude testing.
If a candidate does not have the essential Drive and personality traits required for success in sales, no amount of training or incentivizing will make him perform in this tough industry.
Whenever you set out to hire new salespeople it is important to consider why you are hiring. If you
wait until you are desperate for bodies to fill the dealership, you will be more likely to make bad choices and unwise rationalizations just to bring people in.
Building a great sales team takes time, and being smart about training and retaining great salespeople is crucial for any business to thrive.
If you think about hiring new salespeople as an investment rather than a quick fix, you will be in a better position to hire only the candidates that have true potential and be patient enough to train them properly for success.