As this country becomes more diverse, more polarized, and more tribal, hiring an effective workforce has become a major challenge many are not overcoming. If you’re a car dealer, the issue is even more magnified because it’s so hard to find talent to begin with. Assembling a group of employees that can harmonize with each other like instruments in a symphony and reflect the prominent demographic groups in their PMAs isn’t all that easy. Someone is always out of tune and that affects the overall performance of the company.
There are few teams, companies, or organizations that don’t have a proverbial cancer in the locker room, or malcontent in the workplace. Bad vibes spread like all waveforms inevitably do. Some resonate at a higher frequency than others, some have detrimental effects, and some lead to positive change and better harmony. The challenge is in managing the physics of energy and understanding how human interactions are affected by that energy and differing cultural belief systems.
Cultural Elements Should be a Major Consideration in Team Building
Smart hiring practices begin by understanding the cultural demographics and variants of your primary or designated market area. It’s essential to find sales and service talent who reflect the cultural and demographic makeup of your market area. Having the luxury of being able to cherry pick sales and service talent is rare unless of course you’re a dealer selling high-end. Rusnak Porsche for example, is outstanding at promoting from within and maintaining a dedicated employee base with a low turnover rate. They cater to wealthy Porsche owners in a majority white neighborhood and their forward facing staff reflects it. A steady, stable demographic in Westlake Village, CA area is reflected in the faces of the dealership’s staff and they do very well.
If I’m in an Asian or Spanish neighborhood, I have to take a serious look at who I’m going to hire to cater to that customer. Like all ethnic or like-minded interest groups, people “tend” to want to buy from those they feel most comfortable with. This can mean that language, and shared culture or beliefs play an important part in a customer’s comfort level in buying from your dealership.
Of course, understanding the nuances of each Asian or Spanish culture is essential when considering hiring strategy. Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Colombian all have many linguistic nuances and dialects. Just “speaking Spanish” helps but without that culture-specific link, it’s not as effective. My wife is a Korean and Japanese mix. When she visits a market and starts to speak in Japanese to a Japanese person, she gets a discount or extra quantity added to her purchase. The same can be said when she speaks Korean. Both cultures tend to look out for one and other. However, when she speaks english those benefits do not manifest. We went to a car dealership years ago and she was attended to by a sales guy from a middle-eastern background. This sales manager was aggressive, pushy, and condescending in her view. In my opinion, he was just a stereo-typical, type-A car salesman that had no idea how to change his tact based on the potential for the inevitable culture-clash that eventually transpired.
He was unable to shadow her effectively to win her as a customer. She ended up throwing her sweater at him in full rage mode. Would that dealership have had a better chance of closing a deal with a Korean or Japanese salesperson? What if they had a female salesperson, or perhaps a well-trained person who understood the nuances of selling the right way? Maybe “selling” is the wrong approach to begin with for certain cultures.
The Concept of Tribalism is at Play
There are 40 Asian countries and all except Singapore, speak their own language. All the factors of tribalism are at play between many of them. In the business world, it’s largely unspoken, but as mentioned before, people of similar background tend to favor one and other. This goes for interests as well. Being an Ohio State Buckeye, who would I rather buy a car from a former Michigan grad, or a fellow Buckeye? If you’re conservative, how would you feel about walking into a sales office festooned with pictures of Hillary Clinton?
What if I were Muslim and the sales rotation synched me up me with an Orthodox Jewish salesperson or visa versa? How smooth would the sales process go if someone from Texas was approached by a fast talking New York sales jock? In those 4 examples, you have to admit that the chances for a deal closing are handicapped at the very least. The natural inclination for most buyers is to find a point of reference, common ground, or an angle of negotiation when money is to be transacted. It’s not just price for some, rather it’s an emotional reflex that’s the deal maker. Many of us don’t judge people, but it’s also a fact that many of us do, and we trust our own.
Would the chances of a transaction be better if there was a better match between backgrounds? What if sales staff or service advisers had a better feel for cultural or ethnic nuances. What if they could better mirror the people they come in contact with on a daily basis, would that improve their chances to win customers who can relate to them and thereby trust them?
You Can Never Have a Diverse Enough Staff to Cover All Bases
It’s tough enough finding good sales and service staff to begin with let alone a team that perfectly matches the ethnic and cultural diversity of some PMAs. Add tribalism and personal politics to the mix and you have an even greater challenge. Although people instinctively gravitate to people they can relate to, there is a way to overcome these natural and acquired biases, and optimize your business performance without having to interview hundreds of candidates.
The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. There are a lot of amazing sales training consultants in the automotive industry. None that we know of offer training of any kind regarding the potential challenges of matching buyers with those that best reflect their backgrounds, belief systems, and even biases.
In lieu of finding the perfect date for everyone that walks into your store, there are things you can do to make potential and current customers and staff get past their natural biases.
Focus Externally, Not Internally
Keep your staff focused on team goals, not on each other’s personality quirks, cultural traits, political beliefs, or ethnicities. Everyone isn’t going to get along. Have a low tolerance for gossip, dissent, and back-stabbing. The key is to establish a focus that is external, radiating out into the community and not into the inner workings and politics of the store. The dealership should have easily attained goals with some form of payback that rewards staff for unity and group effort. Use the diversity within your organization to school the others how to best relate to their specific background or belief system. Always be learning, always be closing.
Encourage your team to venture out to meet people and experience diverse activities within your PMA that helps them create bonds, or points of reference with people from other walks of life.This can be an Oktoberfest, Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting for a new, minority-owned business, or involvement in an ethnicity or religiously-based charity campaign of some kind. Most communities have plenty to choose from.
Learn the language of your markets predominant minority. You don’t have to be fluent, but to simply learn the basics of a 2nd language impresses native speakers a lot. I did this with Japanese and it’s always met with a smile and appreciation. Showing that you can relate to those within your PMA and developing those crucial points of reference, even if you look and think differently, will eventually endear you into the communities that are likely to shop in your store. It’s a process of acculturation, and it works.