Columnists, Thom Finn, V2I5

Coaching Your Dealers


The word “coaching” is often used to describe any profession that mixes training, counseling, and advising for business, leadership, or sports. “Coaching” can also refer to a management style of how you communicate with all the people around you.

The opposite of the coaching style of management is the directive style of management. For directive management think, “The building is on fire and you directly tell everyone to get out.” But sometimes this type of command-and-decree communication can really rub others the wrong way, especially if they are not your direct employees.

Over the years in coaching shed builders, I have suggested they use more of a coaching approach with their dealers rather than either ruling it out or avoiding it all together.

Instead of telling them what they should do, you first seek to understand their goals. Once you have a good understanding of their expectations, look for what you and they have in common and begin guiding them toward reaching their goals.

Coaching involves asking questions twice as much as giving directions. There is no assuming in the coaching management style. You may be pretty sure your dealer would like to sell $250,000 of buildings in a month, but he could have a different primary goal in mind. You can’t discover what that goal is unless you ask.

New coaches and advisors learn the hard way (like I did) that if you try to impose your goals on another, they will resist, resent, and run the other way. Neither you nor your dealer will have achieved what was wanted and the relationship will be damaged.

The chances that you and your dealer want the same thing are pretty high. So once you know what the general location of the goal is (increased sales) you can coach the dealer to get more specific. For example: “What would be your specific goal? Is it X number of sheds this month? Y number of sheds this year? An average selling price of $Z? A final yearly sales figure of $X?” These are all good examples of leading questions that will help get a dealer on board. Since dealers are in business for themselves, and from my own observations, this approach works much better than the directive, tell them, approach.

Once you have decided on a specific goal the next thing will be to determine a strategy for reaching the goal. In the case that your dealer wants the most common goal, more revenue, I try to select one of the four main paths for more sales:

1. Increase the number of incoming leads, whether it’s site visit, phone call, or web visit.
2. Increase the percentage of closures or conversions from lead to sale.
3. Increase the average transaction sales per time.
4. Increase the number of times each customer buys.

In my humble opinion, the fastest way to more sales is focusing on number 1, number 2, or a mixture of both. By narrowing down which strategy you will use to reach the goal, both your and their efforts will be more focused and leveraged. You will find yourself discussing or brainstorming specific actions that clearly fit into your strategy.

The coaching method tells us the next phase is to select the actual tactics. “So Thom Dealer, you said you wanted more revenue and you are going to focus on converting more leads. What are three tactics you could use to reach this smaller goal?” Notice how we are leading the horse to water and not grabbing by the mane and shoving them in the trough, which makes for an annoyed horse.

Depending on how much influence you have with your dealer, you could end your coaching there, and you will have made some impressive progress. You will have taken the dealer from a static state of no action to now having 1) a specific goal, 2) identified which of the four main strategies they will use, and 3) which   three tactics he will execute to see the results. That’s not bad for a one-hour phone call.

I’m always thinking of the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule. The way it was explained to me is that hundreds of years ago some Italian dude was strolling in his garden when he realized that only 20 percent of the plants bore 80 percent of the fruit. Or maybe it was vegetables. Anyway, he then went on to say that at the time 80 percent of the wealth of Italy was in the hands of only 20 percent of the people.

We can see the Pareto Principle all around us. Probably 80 percent of the headaches come from 20 percent of your dealers. Also, 80 percent of the sales come from 20 percent of the locations. Maybe it’s not exactly 80/20, but the idea is a good one: Stuff is not spread out evenly.

With this in mind, I’d say only 20 percent of your dealers would be eager to move to the next level. And probably 20 percent are so far below the line that you can’t even bring up a conversation with them before they are immediately shifting to blaming others, avoiding responsibility, and making excuses.

Focus on the cream of your crop. Most sales managers will focus their time and energy on the weakest performers. But the better sales managers follow the Pareto Principle and focus 80 percent of the energy and time on the top 20 percent because the opportunity for growth lies with them.

Now I can move onto the next step in coaching: accountability. I have this pretty award in my office that acknowledges having some of the best client results in the world, but I really should break it into hundreds of small pieces and give one to each client past and present. It is their willingness to accept accountability that has brought them the results, and me this glass award. If they had not asked, allowed, and sometimes welcomed accountability, they would have been exactly where they were with no results.

If you have the rare man who wants to improve but doesn’t have a boss anymore, or anyone to hold him accountable, you can really achieve some massive results.
So, if you have dealers who are made of this better stuff, ask them if you can help by holding them accountable, and then make a specific list of agreed upon accountability items.

“Okay, Thom, so you want me to hold you accountable to three things. First, you are going to start measuring your conversion rate using a key performance indicator (KPI) Sheet. Second, you are going to create a well-written script for what you should say each time. Third, you are going to use a PMS sheet for follow up. Is that what you want?”

Hopefully Eager Dealer nods his head yes. Then you ask for the specifics, “Okay, what date should I hold you accountable to have these three things done?”

Then make a note and schedule your next call or visit.

I have worked with enough dealers to know that the ones who will accept this level of accountability are rare. But you can get some incredible results from those few who do.


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