One of the biggest challenges facing the automotive industry at the moment is a huge skills gap, with a shortage of new blood coming into careers in car sales and a general sense of it been a difficult environment in which to work, with old-fashioned values and high-pressure management demands.
It’s a situation that delivers a challenge at the higher end too, where fewer recruits coming in to start new jobs in the industry leads to a shortage of skilled and experienced sales personnel to take on jobs as dealer principals or directors further down the line.
A dealer group that is bucking this trend is Eden Motor Group, which has 24 sites in the South and South West of England. In 2021, the group promoted three of its key sales staff to new Operations Director roles, responsible for groups of dealerships and managing larger teams.
All three of the recruits came from within the business, learning the majority of their skills whilst working for Eden.
Among them is Mike Earle, who joined the group in 2012 as a junior sales executive.
“I was never really an academic.” said Mike. “So when I started my career, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do.”
“But I always enjoyed interacting with people and talking, and I’ve always liked cars, so I figured that an automotive sales job might well represent a good opportunity for me. I was delighted when Eden took me on.
“Not only that, but over the next few years I realised that the culture within the company was one where they nurtured talent and nine years later, I found myself in a role that I never, ever would have imagined myself doing when I was younger.”
Mike puts management culture very much at the centre of how companies can plug the skills gap by making the working culture more attractive.
“I think if companies keep a more open mind, they’ll find a lot of untapped potential within their organisations, especially in a sales environment where one of the core parts of the job is interacting with the public, winning their trust and being someone they want to do business with,” he added. “That’s not a skill that requires a huge bank of qualifications, but it does require a very specific skillset and it’s one that we actively look for when we’re recruiting ourselves.”
One of the biggest challenges facing car dealers when recruiting new staff is a perceived image of high-pressure sales and hard selling, which those who work in the industry know is no longer the case. The days of maximising profit per unit and rewarding dealers on a profit share basis as the only way of doing business have long gone. But it was that bottom line approach that may have given the car sales industry a bad name, and that’s why many dealer groups now incentivise their staff with volume bonuses rather than margin-based schemes which don’t work as well for the customer.
And that’s where upsell opportunities such as Autoglym’s Lifeshine come in, as they give sales staff an additional way to improve their incomes while at the same time delivering added value to the customer.
For future candidates looking to immerse themselves in the world of car sales, Mike comments “If I were to give my advice to anybody coming into the industry right now – or a young person thinking of a car sales job as a career – it would be to be transparent from the outset about their ambitions. If someone has the right attitude and makes their employer aware of the fact that they want to grow and they want to develop then the sky really is the limit. I only have to look at what I’ve achieved to see that, because when I first started in car sales, I never envisaged going on to have a role as a senior manager in a multi-million pound business. Yet here I am.
“If people coming into the industry get to see that level of reward and realise that they, as ordinary young people, can go on to thrive, then the industry won’t be staring at the recruitment crisis it faces today. Companies need to do their research, look at what’s putting people off and change their cultures to make life in the car sales industry more attractive to all.”
What the Eden example shows, and others can learn from, is that the right corporate culture can attract the right type of sales staff. And as well all know, that’s more important now than it ever was.