Perpetual employee training keeps skills sharp

Publish Date: 
Sep 29, 2012
By Tory Hornsby

I RECENTLY WAS asked by a dealer in the Midwest what I would do if I were running his dealership. Because that’s such a loaded question, and it’s different for every dealership, I started thinking about consistencies: Things that every dealer should be doing, like training your frontline staff (those who communicate with customers at any level) across all departments.

Tory Hornsby will be a seminar leader at the Dealernews Learning Experience presented by Dealership University, Feb. 15-17, 2013 at Dealer Expo in Indianapolis.

This reminds me of a story about two veteran lumberjacks who had just started working together. Lumberjack One worked nonstop all day and was a top producer. In fact, he was getting frustrated that Lumberjack Two seemed to be taking breaks all day long. At the end of the day, when they were tallying their results, Lumberjack Two had produced much more wood. Surprised by this, Lumberjack One asks, “How did you produce more wood than me when you were taking so many breaks?” Lumberjack Two replies, “Taking breaks? Oh, you mean when I was sharpening my ax.”

You see, everyone uses their personal skills on a daily basis, and in some area or another we’re all getting dull and need a good re-sharpening to make us more effective. This is why perpetual and consistent training is so important. And there’s no way around it — you are the one who is responsible for training your team. You must ensure that your team continually understands what it means to offer excellent customer service and, most importantly, how to sell better than your competition can.

Training enables your good team members to excel and grow, and actually helps you weed out the bad performers.

There are a few avenues you can utilize for training:

  • Hiring a trainer to come to your dealership is very effective, because you can work with them beforehand so they understand your needs. But this can be expensive.
  • Sending your team members out of the dealership to off-site training is another effective method, but this can add stress on day-to-day operations because it removes staff from the floor.
  • Online training has become a standard, and it’s effective and inexpensive. There are many online training resources available that are made specifically for the powersports industry, even free offerings from your OEMs.

Perhaps the most effective training available is in the form of weekly department meetings. Consider these meetings as the critical link between the dealership and the staff. Each meeting should update department staff on product knowledge, selling skills, sales goals, marketing direction, administrative needs and other components. It should also be used as an opportunity to encourage, reward and inspire. Your staff should be able to look forward to the atmosphere of the meetings, and there should be anticipation and enthusiasm surrounding them.


  • Make an agenda and stick to it. This seems difficult at first, but the same agenda can be followed in each meeting with different substance for each point. For instance, you’ll always have product training on your agenda, but the product that one of your team member does an F&B (features and benefits) presentation on will change each time. (On a side note, give team members a chance to be prepared when it’s their turn to present. The more your staff can participate in the meeting the better, as it creates a sense of ownership and produces more effective results.)
  • Announce the successes. Nothing makes a meeting better than recognizing successes. Take a few minutes to congratulate and thank the people who are contributing, meeting goals and making things happen. The meeting is not a good time to address personal errors and other negatives; keep those conversations private.
  • Talk about expectations, and set goals. Explain what your expectations are. The No. 1 reason for an employee not working out is because he or she didn’t understand what was expected. Share department and dealership goals, then focus on what needs to be done to reach them. What is the vision of the dealership and your individual department? Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
  • Schedule your meetings. Set the start time and end time. Don’t start late and don’t go past the scheduled end time. If you find yourself running out of time, make adjustments and hit the high points. Starting and ending on time communicates that you value your time and your staff’s time.
  • Make it fun. Don’t concentrate too much on policy and administrative stuff. Keep it fresh with new content, make it upbeat, and ensure it doesn’t turn in to a whine fest. Consider an occasional quick game or a competition. Meetings should be an event your staff looks forward to. If they don’t, it’s time to go to work on making your meetings better.

If you think your dealership is “trained” because you’ve done some training before, you’re simply wrong. You wouldn’t think someone was healthy because they worked out once or twice over the past year, would you? Just like fitness, training must be perpetual.

In his book Take The Stairs (2012, Perigee Trade), author Rory Vader says, “Success is never owned, it’s rented. And the rent is due every day.” Success is achieved through training. Training increases knowledge; employees then take action upon that knowledge and improve their skills.