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EPISODE 196: GM’s Barbara Reznor Shares How The Leading Edge Sales Training Strategies They’re Now Bringing to Dealerships are Improving a Historic Challenge
BARBARA’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Your last best experience is now your new expectation. Be continuously learning so that you can continue to provide value.”
Today’s show was broadcast from the GM headquarters in Downtown Detroit.
Barbara Reznor is the manager of training for the GM Center of Learning.
The Center of Learning was a finalist for an IES – Institute for Excellence in Sales – Sales Excellence Award in 2019.
Find Barbara on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about what you do and tell us about the GM Center of Learning?
Barbara Reznor: First, thank you so much, Fred for having us here today. The GM Center of Learning is a department inside Retail, Sales, Service and Marketing. I think that it’s important to know this isn’t corporate training, this isn’t the training I would take. What we produce, design, develop and implement is training for our franchise operations for all four brands for General Motors. That’s Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.
Fred Diamond: These are for dealerships primarily, you’re creating curriculum to teach them?
Barbara Reznor: Yes, all really role codes within a dealership except for service technical. Service technical is a different group obviously for reasons that technicians go through really robust training, experiential training, fixing things and all that, we don’t. Everything but technical service, we touch in our department.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your background. How did you get to this particular place?
Barbara Reznor: I graduated from college and ended up in automotive as many Michiganders do and I have stayed in the automotive sector for a really long time, and I was in training to start with for Chrysler. Back in the day, it was customer training, treat customers right, it was called ‘Customer One’ and it was a long time ago and a good date myself. A lot of people in this market agency jump, so I went to this agency, that agency and I had always stayed in training. I worked as a supplier, an agency partner for Ford, Lincoln, and then my last favorite agency job was for Saturn, and that’s how I ended up in the General Motors family.
We were an agency of record at the company I worked for and I was the account lead for all training for Saturn. What a neat opportunity because of the franchise agreement that General Motors had with their Saturn retail facilities. I spent a lot of time helping with sales training there and service and we didn’t do product training, so sort of the opposite of what I started doing here. Then with the bankrupt announcement that Saturn was no longer going to be part of the GM family, the agency I worked for didn’t have a place for most of us so I went into some strategic learning opportunities in other areas. One was in an accounting firm and one was for an e-learning company.
Fred Diamond: It’s quite interesting. We’ve done over 200 episodes of the Sales Game Changers podcast and this is the first one that we’re doing in the automotive space. The concept of car sales comes up not infrequently in conversations, but the industry that we’re going to be talking about today has radically changed for a lot of the same reasons that other industries that we’ve interviewed sales leaders on the podcast have happened in technology and media. It really comes down to the changing nature of how customers get information. We’re going to be talking about that in detail. Why don’t you give us some more information on the changing nature of your industry that GM is looking to respond to?
Barbara Reznor: It is and it’s interesting that you say that because just this week we had a strategic planning session for 2020 and into 2021. Our empathy in our views and our design thinking, evaluations and talking to our dealership personnel about what’s working, what’s not working, where can we help. One of the things that’s always interesting is that dealerships traditionally are not the first to adopt new technologies, which is ironic because their cars are becoming more technologically advanced than a lot of other areas, yet the people who work there, in some cases, aren’t technology savvy themselves. They still want live training delivered to them, they still want spoon-fed information. We say, “Why would we produce a book on such and such vehicle, why don’t you jump on dot com? It’s always up to date in the most relevant information.”
They don’t want to spend time on their desk looking at websites, they don’t want that information so we have to figure out as technology advances how we can get that adoption of some of those practices, that they want to pull towards them versus us pushing it on them. We’re trying to find that sweet spot and it’s not always easy. We did recently look at our – I think my numbers might be a little off, but it was something like this. In 2018, 75% of our training was online and primarily web-based training that they are required to take, then 25% was performance support. Now, this year almost to the end it’s down to around 47% web-based so we’re changing the model of how we go and give them information and what they need at the moment versus, “You’re getting a new Escalade, here’s the five courses you need to go sell it and thanks, peace out, we’re done with you.” It’s evolving.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. There’s a statistic that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast that customers are 57% down the road before they even approach sales, and that comes from a book called The Challenger Sale.
Barbara Reznor: Yep, I’m familiar with Challenger.
Fred Diamond: Same thing. For example, I purchased my last car, I went to the internet, I knew the exact car I was going to buy, I knew the exact dealership that had it and we went down, and of course took a couple hours at the dealership to do all the paperwork, etc. but is it the same?
Barbara Reznor: 100% and I think that number seems a little low. Our research tells us that the game changer is not, “I know my product now, I’ve done my research as a customer, I used to go and shop” – again I don’t know the exact numbers – “Two to three dealerships before I made a purchase decision.” All that shopping is primarily done before I even get to your store and in most cases, I already know color, I can get VIN number, I can tell you what the other deals are. What we have to help our sales consultants with then is what don’t they find on the internet? What are those things that we know that they don’t know? How do you competitively advantage yourself with things and arm yourselves so that you’re helping them by a GM product?
That is a huge focus of what we train on as well, and it comes really down to, it’s interesting, storytelling. It’s those things that the Malibu, the headlights are designed from the Corvette and the reason why and all the specs on how they get broader distance, and the other things from a performance perspective. As a customer, if you’re in between the Honda Accord and the Malibu and someone throws the word Corvette out, you’re like, “Hey, that’s interesting.”
Fred Diamond: As you’re saying this, I want to do two quick follow-ups. One is the concept of storytelling. There’s a whole bunch of themes that come up on the Sales Game Changers podcast all the time, one of them is that you have to be a storyteller which we’ll talk about in more detail. The second thing is you need to provide more value than ever before since the customer can get information. Talk about that for a second or two. Again, at the GM Center of Learning, what are some of the things that you’ve put into your training to get the dealer/sales professional to provide more value to the customer?
Barbara Reznor: In ensuring to them that that stickiness in between the sales process are those important things, and that a lot of the information that they absorb by being a sales professional, the customer doesn’t know. Tell them the value of, “I’m going to go get your trade evaluated” not as a tick mark for them to sit there and go, “I hope the used car manager is in a good mood today” but the value of, “You’ve taken really good care of your car, I can tell and I’ll make sure and mention…” That you’re building the value back to them and that you’re talking through the steps and the process and explaining to them how you’re their advocate as a customer, and that you aren’t there to, the old school, “I’ve got to go ask my manager if we can get $10 dollars off that payment” but rather how we’re partnering on this and becoming that value proposition together.
Also, the competitive advantage. We teach and tailor the messages to be about overcoming objections and talking about your competitors but never in a negative standpoint, and don’t lie. We always say to them, “If you don’t know the answer, tell them that.” Being honest, trustworthy and communicating what you’re doing when you’re doing it and why you’re doing it for them is super important. Many people don’t know when they say, “We’ll be right back”, what are you going to do?
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. I guarantee you probably everyone who’s listening to the podcast right now has either purchased a car or has driven past a car dealership at some point in their career, or has been in there. Let’s talk about the nature of your customer who is the car dealership. Let’s talk about the change at the dealer level because of some of these industry transformations that we’re talking about. What are some of the struggles that they’re dealing with from a sales performance that has led to some of the creation of the programs that you’ve put in play?
Barbara Reznor: What our research has told us is that the vehicles are becoming more complex, yet they’re trying to use the old strategy and those things definitely don’t match. You either have sales consultants who wing it and get burned, or you have the sales consultants who really know their vehicles and know the technology and know the advantages of it and they oversell it, and then there’s someone right in the middle which is what we appreciate. Someone who has done a solid interview, knows your wants, needs and expectations of your vehicle and what you’re looking for and then can say, “Fred, I don’t really need to talk to you right now about the rear entertainment system because you told me what’s important to you today is X.” We really coach that, the dealers struggle that it used to be that they were offense and you were defense. It’s that game changer, they’re on the defense right away because someone comes in and already knows more than they do. If our sales consultants aren’t true professionals and thinking of it as a professional obligation, that they know what they’re selling, the customer will burn them all they long. They have more information than ever before.
Fred Diamond: What have dealers historically looked to GM for as it relates to sales training?
Barbara Reznor: Not a lot. As franchise operators it was sort of this handshake agreement of, “You give us the product, you tell us what’s on those products and we got it from here, thank you.” And service, a lot of service training so please don’t take that, but from a sales perspective is what we’re talking about here today. Besides Saturn, no one gave them a consultative sales approach. It was something the dealers didn’t want, “We’ve got this” so a lot of them had the ‘sales guy’ or woman in their dealerships who, “Fred, you’re new? Spend an afternoon and follow me around, this is your sales training” or they hire big guns, Joe Verde and such, or even our own financial arm, GM Financial, will help and do a lot of sales training for them as well.
Recently when we went out a couple years ago inspecting what we expect and saying, “Where can we help you?” that was a really big hole. Not to give a prescriptive sales process you must do as a franchise and retail agreement 1 through 8, but rather help them see that if they can show a new sales consultant in training a professional sales process and how to own it and then put the product in where it goes, the retention went up. They didn’t lose as many people, these new people felt that they were involved in something that they had a say in, that they were learning, that they were able to sell quicker and they stayed longer. We have created a whole bunch of learning paths in our Learning Management System as well as working with our product trainers who are out for every brand and every dealership about that piece of it. If product information is black and white and there’s a lot of it on the internet and already accessible in dot com’s and all this, what could we give them from a professional series perspective that helps them? From coaching to negotiating to tailoring the deal to talking through objections to follow up to how do you handle delivery when they’re more complex than ever?
We keep adding more that you must do it, delivering and we take nothing off that plate. How do you manage it with customers? And a little bit around seeing this as a job, as a profession, not as something that pays your bills and that old school mentality of your used car salesman, but something bigger and better.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to take a short break right now, listen to one of our sponsors. When we come back, let’s talk about some of the specifics that you’ve put into this training program and some of its impact.
Fred Diamond: A lot of the things you’re talking about, Barbara, here make so much sense and we hear them thematically over and over again with the Sales Game Changers podcast. You shifted your program from sage on the stage to guide on the side. Tell us what that means.
Barbara Reznor: I think that’s in reference to our product trainers. We have the good fortune at GM where we have product trainers – actually in some cases we have changed their names, so my apologies that that’s the old name, because that’s what they went and did. They showed up like that pharmaceutical sales rep with the big suitcase and a whole bunch of product information, share, tell, show, do and then out of here. Then all of a sudden everyone would not show up anymore and they didn’t need the pamphlet and again, some of the old timers, like I refer to a while ago, still would sit and wait, “Feed me everything” versus they fished on their own.
That’s the nature of our business a little bit, but we’ve found that where they really needed help was coaching, and they really needed help being at the vehicle. They really needed to understand the changing nature of sales, especially what they could do to facilitate those discussions and have them understand where to hunt, go and the art of storytelling, and what it really meant to be a part of helping someone make a really big decision and not fear it. We instituted a whole different curriculum for those product trainers and one of the methodologies was called WAIT – Why Am I Talking – because they used to go in and then start, “Here’s the new Buick Regal” and off they’d go, and pack up and go.
Now, it really is a facilitated discussion to help you as a sales consultant tell me where you’re stuck, tell me how you’d sell this, what’s your feature, benefit and advantage on this particular vehicle? If a customer said, “I don’t like start/stop”, how do you explain the benefits of start/stop to them and what it really means, why it’s in our vehicles and so on and so forth? It came with a lot of opposition on both sides, from the dealers and the product trainers themselves.
Fred Diamond: I love that, by the way, and one of the key themes that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is that you need to be a better listener. That comes up all the time and we talk about some strategies and how you can become a better listener as a sales professional. I love this WAIT, Why Am I Talking. I have a quick question for you before we continue with some of the other questions. Are people still afraid to go into car dealerships? People are afraid because of the traditional way that car salespeople have been discussed, which you’ve brought up a couple times. From a customer’s side, what does your data show?
Barbara Reznor: It’s an interesting question because in some cases it’s evolving. At least at General Motors, you don’t have to go in. We encourage them, if you work Downtown and you already know what you want, you’ve done your research and I’ve talked to you, we’ve texted or whatever my mode of communication is as a customer, why don’t you just bring me the deal here and then we do paperwork and things here? It does change the interaction and it changes the dynamic. I do think that there’s still a stigma in a car dealership, again, I said offense and defense and then when you get on the playing field, when you’re in there. It’s easy when you’re on text and you’re emailing quotes and different things, I know your competitor has this for sale cheaper but the minute you’re on the playing field which is inside that dealership, it can get wonky and it can feel uncomfortable even for me. We always joke, I always have family members and friends who say, “Where should I go buy my car?” because if you feel like you’re not being listened to, if you feel like you’re not getting the best deal, that’s horrible in any sales experience.
Fred Diamond: Your program has been around for two years now, correct?
Barbara Reznor: Yep.
Fred Diamond: What are the lessons that you’ve learned since you’ve launched?
Barbara Reznor: That’s a great question. One of them is the continuous improvement angle, is that you don’t just say, “Check, we’re done.” We had this millennial or this generational expert come in and talk to our team. She had this great quote that was, “Your last best experience is now your new expectation.” If you really think about that, that’s part of this whole journey. You have to continually help them sharpen that saw of becoming sales professionals, it’s not a, “Check, I got my pin, now I wear on my lapel” but rather, it’s a way of thinking and how you approach. So lessons learned for us is that smaller is better.
We went out with, “Oh boy, do we have a whole bunch for you” and you unpack it all and you show it and you tell, and you think, “They must love all this because look at how comprehensive it is” it’s overwhelming. You have to chunk it to them and put it in the moment of need of when they think they’re going to need it, where they need it and how they need it. We’re still evolving on that, I think I told you the statistic of web courses versus performance support versus being able to have podcasts just like this for them and talk to them about real life and real help that we can be versus, “Oh boy, it’s those people again.” We have to make it relevant.
Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final thoughts, again we’re talking today with Barbara Reznor. She’s the manager of training for the GM Center of Learning and we’re talking about a program they’ve put into place to help their dealer sales reps be more professional and more successful in selling GM cars. I need to say we’re doing this interview from Downtown Detroit so we have a beautiful view here of the Detroit river which is technically a strait, not a river. Just curiously, you come to work in Downtown Detroit. We have sales listeners around the globe, how are things going in Detroit?
Barbara Reznor: Good, thank you for asking.
Fred Diamond: You’re welcome.
Barbara Reznor: It’s actually really cool, I live not too far from Downtown and it’s funny because 10 years ago we would have never thought, “Let’s come down here for dinner, there’s awesome restaurants.” It’s a really youthful city at this point in time so thanks for asking on that. We’re coming back and it’s fun to see, and it’s exciting for General Motors to be a part of that. We laugh all the time, any sporting event, any event that you ever see that the Lions are playing or the Pistons or the Tigers, this building is always an iconic thing that they show on that broadcast. To be able to work in that building, and I always laugh, too, then we look at international waters and look over at Canada is also pretty fun, too
The one thing that I did think of, too that I just wanted to say, that evolution, one of the things that we’re really excited about is sales managers. We started with the consultants to move the needle and to talk to them about their professional sales approach but really, if you don’t have a strong sales manager that’s supportive of that process and that intention it doesn’t matter. That’s our focus for 2020, that manager and helping them become not only a desk a deal, but coach, help, listen, mentor, show up, be someone that they can model and we’re really excited about that possibility.
Fred Diamond: Barbara, I want to thank you again, congratulations again for being a finalist for an Institute for Excellence in Sales Sales Excellence Award, you guys are more than welcome to submit again for the 2020 awards, maybe we’ll get to the winner this level.
Barbara Reznor: Sure.
Fred Diamond: I want to thank you so much, this has been great information and what’s really interesting is a lot of the ties to the other Sales Game Changers podcast shows that we’ve done, listening, consultative, I love the concept WAIT, Why Am I Talking. You think about that especially in a dealership, throwing up and showing up and, “I’ve got to tell you these 15 features” and, “I want to grab you before you leave the floor”, if you will. What I’m hearing you say in a lot of this is the customer has shifted where the customer is in control now, finally, in every aspect so how does the dealership world respond? Do you want to give us any final thoughts before we close down?
Barbara Reznor: I appreciate your time, thank you so much for having me. At Center of Learning we strive to be the world-class training organization and learning organization, and having and promoting things like this helps us do that, so thank you so much.