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Hiring a Sales-Minded Office Staff

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Salesmanship is a relatively new concept to the collision repair industry, says Larry Baker, president of Baker Collision Express in South Carolina, and executive facilitator for Axalta Coating Systems. In the past, shops experienced success simply due to supply and demand. There were more cars to fix than shops to fix them, and repairers commonly had weeks’ worth of backlogged work.

That’s no longer the case today, he says. Repair frequency has diminished, there isn’t enough volume to go around, and shops are fighting harder than ever to compete for the available work. That’s driving the need to have a front office staff filled with sales-minded individuals to capitalize on every possible sales opportunity.

But making a sale isn’t always a slam dunk, especially if your staff lacks certain sales skills and know-how to make it happen. Effective sales and communications characteristics can be tough to gauge during job interviews, and don’t always reveal themselves during 30-minute conversations.

That’s why administering personality profile assessments for sales positions—estimators, in most cases—is a step every shop should add to its interview process, says Nick Notte, president of Sterling Autobody Centers. It’s an opportunity to outline the specific characteristics each member of the sales staff should have, and identify job candidates that perfectly match those traits. The whole purpose is to proactively gauge the potential sales success of every candidate to prevent you from making a hire and simply hoping for the best.

“You have to have your best customer-facing people selling everything you do,” Notte says. “And you need to be sure they have the right skills to do it.”

FenderBender spoke to Notte and Baker to dig into their profile assessment process. They explain the personality traits they look for to match the needs of their businesses, and how the additional hiring effort has boosted closing ratios and revenue performance to all-time highs in their shops.

As told to Fenderbender staff

We wanted to improve revenue performance by boosting customer service and properly selling service offerings to potential clients. But we noticed a problem in the front office that hindered progress toward that goal.

We had one estimator in each store with a heavy technical background who was responsible for selling estimates and all customer communications. But those technical-oriented estimators aren’t the most “warm and fuzzy” kinds of people. Having them talk to our customers wasn’t a home run, and customer satisfaction index (CSI) scores suffered.

We needed to hire a different type of person—a higher-caliber employee who was more like a salesperson augmented with technical knowledge.

The Assessment: The Chally Group designed a personality profile assessment for Sterling in 2012 that’s tailored to match the new skills we wanted in the position. It’s a group of 288 questions geared to analyze the job candidate’s personal and worldly perceptions, views and outlooks, as well as interpersonal communication preferences, to categorize them into specific personality styles.

The assessment is administered following the candidate’s successful completion of a typical in-person interview and mock estimate-writing technical exam. The assessment takes roughly one hour to complete, and we receive a highly detailed, 10-page report within 24 hours. The results include 866 data points regarding the individual’s personal characteristics and performance we can expect based on their abilities.

Ideal Candidate: Analyzing the information is very easy. The results provide direct recommendations whether the candidate will be an effective salesperson, or if they would be better suited for a different position within the company. We look for four main characteristics in each member of the sales staff:

Communication. The candidate must be able to relate with customers in a friendly, professional manner. They must be able to actively listen to customers, understand their needs, and present repair plans that appropriately match those desires.

Technical translations. Salespeople don’t necessarily need direct experience as technicians, but they need enough technical knowledge to explain repairs to customers, and effectively conduct pre- and post-repair communication procedures. Salespeople should be able to summarize highly technical information in simple terms that any customer can understand.

Genuine desire to help. Salespeople in the service industry should be genuinely interested in helping every customer, and capable of adapting to his or her unique situations. They should have natural ability to express emotion and compassion during customer interactions to demonstrate care for clients and passion for the industry.

Interpersonal interest. Salespeople should thrive off interpersonal communications. Conversations should energize them, and they should have the ability to be highly engaging with every customer all day, every day.

Better Business: The personality assessment is now a condition of employment due to the results we’ve experienced. A few metrics:

CSI scores. CSI scores have never been so high. Shop locations that historically averaged scores of 9.2–9.3 now average 9.7–9.8.

Staff turnover. The turnover rate among our sales staff in 2013 was the lowest in company history. Turnover in 2013 was cut in half compared to the prior year.

Revenue. Revenue performance in 2013 hit record highs. Revenue percentage increased double digits compared to 2012.

Final Thought: Test Before Implementing. You should test the analysis with an existing employee first. Naturally, I was rather apprehensive about the assessments. I was skeptical about the quality of the information, and thought we might get results that weren’t exactly true. So I had several existing company employees complete the assessment to compare the results with what I already knew about them.

I read the reports top to bottom to make sure the assessment provider wasn’t just blowing smoke. The descriptions of every employee were spot on, and fit their personalities to a T. That’s an initial step every shop owner should take to build confidence in the information before implementing the assessment as a standard hiring component.

As told to FenderBender staff

Traditionally, our estimators were technically astute and detail-oriented individuals, but not strong salespeople. They were capable of writing technically accurate estimates, but customers weren’t attracted to the shop because the estimator couldn’t connect with them in a meaningful way.

Sophisticated companies have been giving personality assessments to prospective employees for a long time. It’s becoming more and more mainstream in hiring processes, and we decided to join the trend five years ago. In our attempt to put a stronger emphasis on sales, we now refer to our six estimators as “customer advocates.”

The Assessment: The assessment we use is a 150-question assessment that evaluates three things: It categorizes job candidates into one of four personality types (dominant, influential, steady or compliant), identifies their motivation, and describes their dimensional balance (the way candidates view the world).

The assessment takes about one hour for job candidates to complete following an in-person interview. The results are emailed back within five minutes in a 22-page report.

Ideal Candidate: The assessment report is long and extremely detailed, but shop owners can focus on three main components to analyze the results. The following key pieces of insight identify whether they will have success in sales.

Personality type: Strong salespeople typically have high scores in the “influential” personality category. They are highly extroverted people who have strong ability to talk to all types of customers like they’ve known them for years. They’re able to quickly relate with new people and develop relationships. For sales positions, you want to avoid the “steady” and “compliant” personality types because those tend to be introverted people.

We no longer need people who are highly technically accurate because our shop requires full repair planning and blueprinting to develop accurate estimates. We don’t put any emphasis on sidewalk estimates. When customers come through the door, our entire focus is to secure their work by making personal connections and establishing comfort with our facility.

Motivation: Great salespeople are highly motivated by social engagement, not necessarily money. They have a desire to help and make a difference in their society. In the repair environment, that trait translates into wanting to help customers. That’s a key characteristic for generating trust and selling repairs.

Dimensional balance. This refers to the way job candidates view the world, and the way they see themselves in the world. Good salespeople see the world as a good place, and have a healthy outlook on the path they have chosen in life. People with poor dimensional balance see themselves as being OK and the world as being screwed up, and should not be hired for any sales position.

Better Business: The personality assessments have proven to work well. We have not had a mis-hire since implementing the additional hiring step in 2009. Each of the 30 employees we’ve hired over the last five years have been the perfect fit.

It’s driving sales, too. The shop’s closing ratio increased 15 percentage points, from 65 to 80 percent. And that has increased revenue by $75,000 a month between our two shop locations.

Final Thought: A Wise Investment: This is another business investment, but the cost is well worth it for any shop location because you hire the right person on the first try. The business cost of a wrong hire is at least $5,000 due to time and financial investments for additional hiring and training processes, lost production time, and possible unemployment payments. In many shops, roughly 50 percent of hires don’t work out as expected. The $200 assessment investment to proactively evaluate skill sets is a drop in the bucket in comparison. 

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