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Every Service Department Should Have a Salesperson Running It


By Charlie Polston, Automotive Customer Retention & Profitability Consultant, BG Products, Inc.

“Every service department should have a salesman running it,” according to Don Hardcastle, service sales manager at Route 66 Chevrolet in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Hardcastle is referring to himself and Fixed Operations Director, David Willard. Willard’s background is F&I sales, F&I sales management, and extended warranty sales. Hardcastle’s background includes a 20-year career in the Navy (with the last 10 years as a Navy recruiter,) automotive sales management, new car sales, and F&I sales management.

Note that neither of these guys have a service background – they have a sales background.

During his tenure as a Navy recruiter, Hardcastle was a master training specialist for sales psychology and philosophy. The job focused on teaching sailors how to sell the Navy as a career.

“They can feel the difference in power and performance after an air and fuel service, and they can see tread depth on the tires. All of these are tangibles that create emotion, and people buy on emotion.”

“Selling the Navy is an intangible – which is hard,” said Hardcastle. “But the challenge of selling an intangible taught me how to overcome objections and close the deal.”

Automotive maintenance services are tangible products, according to Hardcastle, if the salesman will just follow the sales process they will close the sale.

A customer can see the pollen, dust, and debris in the cabin air filter, they can feel the difference in power and performance after an air and fuel service, and they can see tread depth on the tires. All of these are tangibles that create emotion, and people buy on emotion. Hardcastle has put processes in place to help advisors educate customers in a way that leads to a sale.

Hardcastle continues, “Our job is to make customers aware of all their automotive needs according to what the technician noted in the maintenance inspection. Most people don’t know what their car needs; so we tell them and give them options. That is our sales process.”

The highest paid people in the world are professional salespeople.

As you consider adding a service sales manager to your service management team, you might want to consider the job description/to-do list that Hardcastle and Willard created from their vast sales experience

The Service Sales Manager Must:

  • Manage all aspects of the service drive
  • Manage cashiers, porters, and advisors
  • Have weekly mandatory sales meetings (at Route 66 Chevrolet that happens on Wednesday mornings for about 20 minutes)
  • Mentor, train, and coach the service sales team
  • Monitor daily sales results
  • Review every RO every day, looking for missed opportunities
  • Review every MPI to make sure advisors and techs are not only communicating but also working together for service sales growth
  • Make sure advisors are following policies for discounts and coupons
  • Make sure advisors are aware of the importance of preventative maintenance
  • Keep it fresh with sales goals and promo money to spark competition and to reward outstanding performance
  • Take a T.O. – that’s a variable ops term that means “Turn Over” – it is a technique used when an advisor hits a brick wall with the customer, and turns the customer over to the service sales manager to see if they can get the deal done.

Hats off to Willard, Hardcastle, and the service sales team at Route 66 Chevrolet. Thanks for showing all of us how it’s done!

Okay, so here’s a disciplined, no-nonsense, career military man; a quick-thinking, quick-talking, take-no-prisoners leader – wow, he must be tough to work for.

“I’m an easy guy to work for… if my service sales team will follow the processes I have put in place,” Hardcastle concluded. “If they follow the process, their sales closing ratio will increase, and they will make more money!”

“We have a performance-based pay plan,” Willard said, “and we do all we can by way of training, coaching, and mentoring to make sure our team has great sales success.”

Hardcastle and Willard are quick to point out that their mission is never to “get into customer’s pockets,” but rather to help vehicle owners lower their cost of ownership by having a safe, well-maintained vehicle. Maintenance is cheaper than repair.

Willard is a businessman who understands that you have to spend money (invest) to make money (return). Moving Hardcastle from the position of service lane manager (which was really nothing more than a glorified lead service advisor) to service sales manager was a big step. It added an extra salary to his service team – so there had to be some major improvements in revenue to justify the investment.

It’s paying off! They’ve jumped from 1.3 hours ($224) per RO to 1.9 hours ($339) per RO. Effective Labor Rate has climbed from $55 to $92. Very impressive! Service Absorption has grown from 48% to 78% and continues to climb. CSI and retention numbers are up, also.

With a service sales manager monitoring sales production, David can focus on technician production, conquering new fleet accounts, expanding the service BDC, and creating service marketing strategies.

Route 66 Chevrolet has actually done something other dealers just talk about: they drastically lowered the advisor-to-customer ratio to 1:10. That means each advisor sees only 10 customers a day. The strategy is to have more time with each vehicle owner so the MPI can be thoroughly reviewed with the customer. It allows time to educate the customer and give them options when purchasing maintenance and repair service.

According to Willard, the biggest mistake service managers make is hiring the wrong people as advisors. “It’s a sales position,” Willard emphasizes, “you have to look for people with a sales background – or those wanting to begin a sales career.”*

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