For the first 25 years of my career in the rental-car business, I held a dozen managerial positions at Avis Budget Group, including district manager for the entire state of North Carolina.
While working at this global leader with more than 10,000 rental locations, one of my biggest passions was delivering unparalleled customer service through best-in-class products.
In fact, I was so impressed by one of them — NuVinAir, which cleans automotive interiors — that I have since fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur and small-business owner and now serve as one of their franchisees.
Having spent two decades "on the inside," I realized that this unique leadership experience was my superpower. It meant that I already spoke the language of the customer — I just had to apply it in a new way that would bring me even greater career satisfaction.
This perspective gave me a deeper understanding of three core elements of any business, but especially ones in the automotive sector: People, process, and product. Today, that knowledge makes me a better ambassador for the products I'm selling and a better partner to my customers.
To have a successful career in the auto industry, regardless of where you sit, focus on these three elements:
1) Treat People with Integrity
When you treat others with integrity, they respond in kind. Whether you're a rental-service manager or a salesperson, you can differentiate yourself by showing up, following up, and doing what you say you'll do for your people.
Take the time to listen to your customers so you can treat each person as an individual. When worked in the rental business, it was much more effective to lead from the bottom up rather than from the top down. I listened to my staff and intentionally asked pointed questions to find out what they needed. Then, I made changes based on their input.
The same is true in sales. Make sure you understand, for example, whether your customer prefers a high-touch approach (regular contact through multiple communication channels) or a low-touch approach (monthly or quarterly check-ins via email or text). It may seem like a small detail, but when you adjust your communication style to match their needs, you can build a better rapport because that person is getting the level of attention they want.
2) Review Your Processes for More Success
Frequently review your process to understand what's driving success and opportunities. Always evaluate what drives your results, whether it was positive or negative, and be prepared to pivot.
Remember that the process is always in flux. What customers (or employees) wanted yesterday may differ from what they need today. Ask many questions to identify the root issues of the problem.
For example, when we were short-staffed at the rental company where I worked during the COVID-19 pandemic, I asked my staff what they needed from me, and when they said simply, "More people," I went down to the garage and helped clean cars. They appreciated that I took a hands-on, tactical approach and helped solve an immediate problem while also looking for a long-term solution.
Working with my customers as a NuVinAir representative gives me a chance to improve processes, as well. When we work together, we can develop solutions that help rental companies save on labor hours and get their cars back on the road faster — whether through more efficient cleaning or developing new products together.
3) Believing in Product Leads to More Sales
If you believe in your product and stay true to yourself, the product will be easier to sell. When I first started out in sales, I tried to make cold calls and speak with the heads of sales departments about the value of the products. But it was hard to make headway just by talking about the product. I needed to show them and their entire team how the product could save them time and money with a more efficient cleaning process.
So now, when I visit a rental company or dealership, I am more direct. I ask them to take me to a car in need of service. I immediately demonstrate what the product can do and let the product sell itself. Now, I am much more confident and direct, showing rather than telling. This has helped me make real human connections and become a more effective salesperson.
Prioritizing the Three Ps
Throughout my long career in automotive, both on the inside of the rental-car industry and as a franchisee, I have sought ways to enhance the way that people, processes, and products intersect.
Improving processes by collaborating with a team to boost performance, which has been refined by my formal Six Sigma management training, has been invaluable.
As a customer for decades, I know how these three elements operate together and make us more effective, regardless of where we work in the auto industry. Prioritizing your Three Ps will help your team succeed.