'The Now Way'
“I’ve worked with several brands over the years,” says Ko. “What puzzles me is that no matter the brand, most dealerships use the same traditional sales process: salesperson, closing manager, desk manager and F&I manager. It’s a circus of individuals that leaves the customer feeling frustrated and exhausted. And it fundamentally encourages the salespeople to rush through the delivery because they’re paid on commission. Meanwhile, our vehicles become more complex with features like Bluetooth and Entune. I knew there had to be a better way. When we completed our Image USA II facility in 2012, I saw it as an opportunity to try something new.”
How Does It Work?
To implement “The Now Way,” Ko reorganized his staff into three groups, distinguished by the colors red, white, and black:
Red Team—Product specialists who earn an hourly wage. They’re the customers’ first point of contact, guiding them to the vehicle that best suits their needs and budget. The specialists participate in ongoing product training to ensure they’re more knowledgeable than their customers about Toyota’s vehicle lineup. They actually wear red shirts, so customers can easily identify them.
White Team—Customers who have settled on vehicles are introduced to sales managers who wear white shirts and are empowered to work the deals from start to finish. As such, customers aren’t subjected to the typical back-and-forth between salespeople and sales managers that can waste time and raise anxiety. And, at the end of the process, customers aren’t handed off to an F&I manager. The same person at the start is there at the finish, leveraging the trust and rapport that has taken hold along the
Black Team—These are the behind-the-scenes managers who monitor inventory and track manufacturer incentives, among other duties. They guide the White Team to move in a particular direction, in sync with vehicle supply and demand on the lot and in the marketplace.
“In football terms, the red team is like the offensive line, the white is like the quarterback and the black is like the offensive coordinator,” says Ko. “Everyone has a clear role to play in support of one another.”
Happy Employees = Happy Customers
In practice, that clarity has helped minimize internal discord. Ko notes that online market pressures often force dealerships to settle for a lower price to complete the transaction. This squeezes salesperson commissions and spawns manufacturer spiffs and volume-only focused pay plans, further eroding front end gross. Then the F&I managers come in with after-sell products like extended warranties and GAP insurance to try to make up the difference. It’s stressful and unhealthy for the organization, especially for those on the front lines.
That matters, says Ko, because happier employees lead to happier customers. Though “The Now Way” just completed its first full year of operation, Wellesley Toyota is ranked No. 2 in customer satisfaction in the Boston Region, trailing only a dealership that sells just a fifth as many units.
Meanwhile, Ko says staff morale is up and turnover is down. The product specialists tend to be younger, more highly motivated and new to auto sales—injecting fresh ideas and energy into the business. And the all-in-one sales managers, customer-first industry veterans who can be more difficult to find, appreciate the increased autonomy and have more pride in their work.
“We’re attracting people who love this business but don’t like that they have to depend on so many other people for their success,” says Ko. “The best managers want to take full responsibility for their performance.”
“We know this works for our customers, our employees and the dealership,” he concludes. “Now, we just need to grow it.”