A strong, high-performance sales team is critical to a successful business. But what makes a sales team truly great, and what strategies can leaders use to create a team that's highly successful? To address these questions, we're talking to CROs and sales executives about "How To Turn a Good Sales Team into a Great One." As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Zeigler.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit of your 'backstory' and what brought you to this career path?
I started my career in Los Angeles working at an advertising and marketing agency doing door-to-door vending, but even in my early 20s, I knew sales was the perfect profession for me. While I was successful, I knew I would be more prosperous in the right environment which is what attracted me to the automotive industry.
In October of 2000, I moved to South Florida with the mission of finding a car dealership where I could thrive. My sister’s friend knew of someone who worked at JM Lexus, my current dealership, and had nothing but incredible things to say about it. Intrigued, I applied for a sales role and started at the business the next month.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
In 2015, Lexus announced that they would begin offering dealerships the option to evolve their selling philosophy, changing from the typical price negotiation process to one where the vehicles would have a single upfront price and a single point of contact. Up until this point in my career, I had only been exposed to traditional dealership sales strategies, which included negotiating pricing on every vehicle sold.
A few months went by, and my general manager told me he was considering elevating JM Lexus and embracing this new non-traditional sales philosophy. Over the next months I finally embraced the idea and helped the dealership transition into this new way of selling vehicles, and I’m happy I did. It has been more than five years since we made this conversion and JM Lexus is a thriving dealership, with one of the reasons being our utilization of the upfront price and single point of contact method.
This adjustment has created a completely transparent buying experience for our customers, something that they appreciate and understand—which is evident by our high customer satisfaction scores, alongside the highest loyalty ratings the dealership has ever seen. Through this shift the team has been able to consistently perform as one of the top three Lexus dealerships based on sales volume throughout the entire country.
This experience taught me the importance of understanding the full scope of an idea and having a vision for the future. By looking at the big picture and learning from other industry disruptors we can find better and more efficient ways to conduct business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
We’re always looking to innovate the car buying experience for both our customers and sales team. Based on that idea, we’re currently exploring different digital retail applications. While there are a few on the market, we feel the real benefit would come from creating our own program which is currently in the developmental process. We are innovating this software to allow our sales team to provide a quicker, hassle-free purchasing experience for our customers.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?
I have been leading sales teams at JM Lexus for more than 14 years, beginning in 2010 with my promotion to Director of Preowned Sales. At the time, the team was made up of just 35 associates, though we have since grown and now feature more than 60 associates on the sales floor.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
Creating a great sales team begins right at the start—by hiring the right people. Once you’ve found good matches for your team, the next step is to provide them with the right training and support throughout their career journey.
One thing I have learned throughout my time at JM Lexus is that listening and communication skills are crucial to the overall health and success of a sales team. By creating a working environment that is fun—while staying professional—you can cultivate a space where associates feel safe and are able to thrive.
Working with the team to not only inspire them but let them know they are appreciated really helps them to perform their best. We try to create a space where our associates can thrive by cultivating a hard-working environment, maintaining a positive attitude, teaching them to do the right thing for the customer in every situation and allowing them to grow within their current positions.
As with any department, there can be a lot of different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. How do you manage such diversity on an individual basis? Is there such a thing as a blanket motivator?
Personally, I don’t believe in the idea of a blanket motivator, I share more of the philosophy that the most effective leaders are the ones that build connections and get to know each member of the team individually. By doing this you, as their leader, are better able to understand what motivates them, their strengths and weaknesses, and their personal and professional goals. By understanding your team, it's easier to see what inspires each associate and by learning their professional aspirations you can identify skills or knowledge gaps and help fill them to achieve their goals.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all!
At JM Lexus we utilize three tools to increase motivation, engagement and productivity which are effective listening, individual recognition and strong communication with associates.
When it comes to listening, we hold a semi-annual sales forums, giving every member of the team the opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions so we can better understand and assist with their day-to-day responsibilities. This meeting allows our associates to know that their concerns are being listened to and recognized by the leadership team which in turn helps us implement changes when needed.
Several years ago, we sought out ideas to help improve how we individually recognize our associates and after trying a few different activities, we found that our associates responded best to frequent individualized award programs. We now have implemented both quarterly and annual acknowledgement programs for all our associates throughout the dealership helping to boost moral and reward them for providing exceptional experiences for our guests. Specifically for our sales team, we show appreciation during our monthly sales meetings where top performers are recognized for a job well done.
To help build strong communication throughout JM Lexus, our team meets multiple times a month. During these forums, leadership shares up-to-date information for the business, the latest marketing strategies we’re implementing and sales forecasting. This is another time for associates to ask questions and receive answers in a casual setting which has helped us increase the team’s level of engagement with management.
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did this have a direct correlation to sales?
Personally, I don’t think there’s one simple strategy or “special sauce” that has been proven to have a direct and lasting impact on a sales team but there are a few things a sales leader can do that, when executed well, helps the team to deliver consistent and lasting results.
As I mentioned before, the first step is hiring the right associates. Once you have the right people, then comes the developmental and training process. This might be a lengthy and intensive procedure, but it is well worth it. Associates should arrive on the sales floor equipped with the knowledge and expertise to sell your product, whether that be vehicles or something entirely different.
Once the associates have become seasoned professionals it is now my job, as their leader, to inspire them while holding everyone accountable for following sales processes. It is part of my role to make sure our sales team has up-to-date product knowledge, a crucial part of their success. I also always teach the team to inspect what they expect which has become a mantra throughout the dealership.
Lastly, I find it incredibly important to create an environment where the team looks forward to coming to work every day. We prioritize creating a space that is both professional and fun while having a home for camaraderie within the group.
Can you tell us about a time that your sales team outperformed their targets? How high over did they go, and what was that like for everyone?
While there have been many times that the sales team at JM Lexus exceeded all expectations, one that particularly stands out was back in 2014. It was my first year as the general sales manager and the dealership was coming off its best new vehicle sales per volume year to date. They had delivered more than 8,300 new vehicles setting the record for all Lexus dealerships throughout the country. So, when it came to preparing for the next year, we set our 2015 sales goal at 10,000 new Lexus vehicles.
New to my position, I made sure we communicated this goal to each and every associate not just in January but throughout the entire calendar year. During our frequent sales meetings I would give updates to the entire team on how close we were to meeting the objective or if we were falling behind. That year it felt like every conversation ended with an update on our 10,000 vehicle target and it energized the team to feel like they were part of the journey to chase this incredible milestone.
When December finally rolled around, the team came together for a huge celebration as we surpassed our goal! I knew from the very first sales meeting nothing would stop my team from reaching this milestone and we ended the year with a total of 10,043 delivered cars; a record that still has not been broken to this day.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
Building a team, whether that’s from scratch or expanding an existing group, takes time which is unique to the group itself. There is no set timeline, and it takes a schedule different to fill holes vs establishing them. It’s about forming a group of people with a complementary set of skills, experiences and personalities.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
1 . I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—it all begins with hiring the right people for the job. At our dealership, because we follow the non-traditional selling philosophy with our upfront price and single point of contact, we have found it best to hire prospects who have had external sales experience or even customer service experience, but the key is making sure they’re a good culture fit. We feel that hiring associates who meet our core values which include, consideration, cooperation, communication, innovation and accountability, elevates the team and has helped us maintain an unrivaled level within our industry while delivering exceptional customer service.
2 . Once you’ve found the right team, developing, implementing and consistently executing training is crucial to a sales team’s continued success. Our new associates dive right into our eight-week training process where they learn every aspect of vehicle sales, including product knowledge, sales processes, paperwork practice, industry compliance information and so much more. Once they have mastered the processes, the training still doesn’t stop—we continue to work with our team on new sales techniques and share the latest industry information.
3 . I believe, in order to help a sales team go the extra mile, it is up to their leader to generate action and set the direction for the year. I have found that inspiration, when executed properly, is the most effective way to rally our associates. In our experience, this motivation has helped to cultivate a healthy work environment and allow the dealership to overcome most obstacles—together.
4 . At JM Lexus, we prioritize having a consistent and effective communication strategy. We have found that sharing new and important information frequently with the team can instantly eliminate any assumptions that may pop up.
5 . I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but my favorite strategy for transforming our sales teams is teaching them to inspect what they expect. This phrase really encompasses our entire plan when it comes to team metamorphosis. Everyone has expectations they put on themselves or a sale or even one another. We ask our associates to dive deep into this idea and really take a look into these assumptions, and we do the same as the leadership team. We hold our team accountable for the predictions they place on themselves and help guide them to perform their best.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the greatest number of people, what would it be?
I feel the most important gift you could bestow on someone is the gift of education, whether that be professionally or with children still in school. With the proper education, everyone has the ability to surpass expectations and help to change the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
While you can always find me on the dealership floor at JM Lexus, for anyone living outside of the Sunshine State you can find information about the dealership at JMLexus.com or follow me on LinkedIn.