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Training and coaching for sellers and promoters at the car trade fair in Freiburg, Germany

"Automobil" Car fair in Freiburg

With 153 vehicles sold, a southern German car dealership achieved a new record at the 2016 "Automobil" trade show in Freiburg. In the following interview Eberhard Groß of HGS Concept reveals some of the secrets of success.

With 153 vehicles sold, a southern German car dealership achieved a new record at the 2016 "Automobil" trade show in Freiburg. In the following interview Eberhard Groß of HGS Concept reveals some of the secrets of success.
Eberhard Groß has guided the dealership for years as a coach and trainer. He also got the sales and promotion team into shape for the show this past February. A challenging task - on the one hand one has to stand out amongst the bustle of the fair attractions, on the other hand, in a short time a diverse group of people has to be bound together to form a team.

The current sales success marks the pinnacle of a steady uptrend. At the beginning, in 2000, it was very unusual to sell cars at an exhibition. What led to this groundbreaking idea?
Actually, we started from scratch. The contact with the dealer came through coaching sessions with field salespeople that I conducted there for HGS Concept. As soon as our conversation came to the topic of ‘trade fair’, he started to tell me his troubles: Every year he would set up his booth, but he never sold a single vehicle. Thereupon I began to visit consumer trade fairs in southern Germany and saw tractors being sold for hundreds of thousands of euros. I thought: “Why can't we do that with cars?!"

But how?
We have developed a concept based on assigned roles for the booth personnel - the promoters and the sellers. It's the job of the promoters to break the ice and start a conversation with the customer. Key questions are: "What kind of car do you drive?", "Which model would you like to buy next?", "When do you plan on making the new purchase?", "Would you like to know what you would get for your old car?" By the time the last question is asked the visitors will be all ears; the promoter can then take them over to the table of his colleagues from sales. We started with a six-person sales team and 200 square meters of floor space. Since then, our trade fair presence has grown steadily. This year, with 2,500 square meters, we had the biggest booth of the whole event, attended by 20 promoters.

When a customer comes into the dealership, he has usually informed himself in advance about the vehicles he is interested in. By contrast, a trade fair audience is better known for its curiosity.
Exactly, at the fair one has 25,000 visitors who, in return for their entrance fee, expect to be entertained. With a great atmosphere the organizers have already built an important prerequisite for a successful fair. But the exhibitors also face challenges, because a booth has no walls; it's wide open for coming in, but also for walking out.

And the competitors are just next door.
That's the way it is. As exhibitors, we are in direct competition – if we want to score points, visitors must be emotionalized and fascinated. A well-appointed booth is definitely necessary. But the customer shouldn’t only be delighted by the product, but also by the approach and service. In this respect, the exhibition atmosphere offers specific possibilities. By inviting a prospective customer to sit in the car, the promoter creates a common space, similar to the walls of the dealership. Here, all details relevant to the customer's requirements can be discussed privately. The sensual experience of sitting in a high-end car certainly also plays a role. It is easy to think ahead, because what prospective buyer doesn't want to take the wheel of his dream car into his own hands? We therefore offer test drives on site. During the last Automobil fair 300 visitors made use of this opportunity and took home a tailor-made quote afterwards.

How has the exhibition audience changed in 15 years?
In the past it was mainly men and the talk revolved around engines, horsepower and performance. Over time, the spectrum of prospective customers has become more varied. The techies are still represented, but at the same time we are seeing more couples and families. This customer group places great importance on driving comfort, and on a car that both partners love to drive. Some already bring their child seat with them, to see which car model it fits best. They use the trade fair to directly compare models by different manufacturers.

In such a situation, an optimally trained team can be crucial for the exhibitors. As a coach and trainer, how do you prepare the booth staff for their mission?
Motivation is key. Almost all the promoters are trainees who work in the 11 branches of the dealership, which are distributed over the Lake Constance area. It is an honor for them to represent their company at the trade fair booth, and they know it. The event runs from Friday to Sunday. On the Thursday before, all the sellers and promoters come together, like soccer players in training camp. Many of them are there for the second or third time and gladly share their experience with the "newbies". They agree on conditions and trade fair discounts, and discuss sales arguments and sales strategies again. For final preparations I meet the team on Friday morning, two hours before opening. Practical issues are sorted out, such as installation, booth organization, brochures and price lists. But it's also about getting into the right mindset - just like a soccer team right before kick-off. As a common ritual we sing together the "Badner Lied", the unofficial Baden anthem. This creates a sense of community. The same is true of the traditional closing party for all participants.

But despite all the community rituals, the salespeople in particular are in continuous competition with one another. How does a coach get the group to all pull together?
The trick is to bind the group together and to motivate each individual. Individual ambition has its place beside team spirit. Thus promoters and sellers alike set themselves a personal goal in advance. The promoters determine how many people they want to pass on to the sales team. The salespeople aim to sell a certain number of cars.

How has the concept been received by booth personnel?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One employee, who has attended the fair often, says that for him it is always a wonderful experience to see how people from different branches come together and form a team. It always fascinates me how again and again the spark of enthusiasm is fired up every year. In all these years I've hardly ever seen anyone who didn't want to be there again next time. For the trainees the exhibition offers a unique learning environment, in which they discover new abilities and talents - also valuable resources from the perspective of management. Many trainees come from departments without direct customer contact, such as accounting or the parts warehouse. It is great to see them thrive when talking to visitors. A promoter summed it up this way: "I could never imagine myself just reaching out to the visitors. But now it gives me tremendous fun."

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