While sales teams are an important driving force for profit in organizations across all industries, Sonic Automotive recognized that most are rarely given the tools necessary to achieve success. Thus, the auto retailer partnered with MicroStrategy to address the lack of insight accessibility by deploying FIRE (Financial and Insurance Reporting Engine), Sonic Automotive's internal mobile application, which enables sales professionals to close deals.FIRE graphs the sales team's activities on one device, essentially acting as a scorecard for Sonic Automotive's salespeople so they may gauge their performance and success rate in real time. Since implementation, the brand went from $800-900 in products for every car sold to upwards of $1,100 in products per sale--roughly $200 straight to the brand's bottom line. Here, we speak with Richard Hanks, director of business intelligence and analytics at Sonic Automotive, to discuss the mobile application's impact on employee engagement and how such tools will revolutionize the automotive experience for consumers and staff:
1to1 Media: What triggered Sonic Automotive's decision to deploy FIRE, its new mobile application?
Richard Hanks: FIRE stands for Finance and Insurance Reporting Engine. Historically, Sonic had lagged behind our peer group in finance and insurance gross per unit sold. When asked what was needed to improve our performance, the vice president stated, "I just need to put the data in the hands of our associates." With that, the team began working with MicroStrategy to develop a mobile tool that gave the team the ability to track their sales rankings across a given brand of vehicle, region, and the entire organization. Our associates are very competitive, and as soon as we gave them a scorecard, they responded. Our per unit numbers have increased dramatically, and it's directly correlated with our rollout of FIRE.
1to1: How does FIRE operate? What functions does this tool improve upon and how does it fit within the context of the business?
RH: FIRE includes performance metrics for the sales and finance and insurance portions of our business. The biggest improvement is its combination of the accounting data by which the team is measured, and the deal-specific data, which adds perspective (i.e. make/model, customer, associate, etc.). Essentially, it not only tells us where we are, but how we got there, all on a daily basis, in an easy-to-use format.
Prior to FIRE, mid-month performance was difficult to compile accurately and reliably. Gathering the data was manually intensive and unsustainable. Our FIRE app gives us detailed insight that's predictable, repeatable, and sustainable. By making the key metrics easily accessible both at the dealership and the associate level, managers are able to coach team members and team members are, in turn, able to respond quickly and see the results. More timely feedback means more actionable feedback.
1to1: How has this app helped to improve sales team efficiency and performance?
RH: FIRE provides actionable data to not only the executives, but also primarily those closest to impacting change: our finance and insurance managers and our sales team. By giving each team member a personal dashboard, they can see not only how the dealership is performing, but they're also able to see how they stack up against their peers. Giving the associates near-real-time feedback with brand- and region-specific context reduces the time spent analyzing performance and provides more time for adjusting to improve future performance.
1to1: What quantitative benefits has Sonic Automotive seen since this app's implementation? What are the qualitative benefits?
RH: Upon rollout, we quickly saw our profitability per retail deal not only rise more than 25 percent, but we also noticed more consistent results. Having mid-month and mid-week results at your fingertips allows the team to identify opportunities so that managers and teammates can make adjustments.
One of the qualitative benefits we've noticed is the increase in communication between our finance and insurance and business office teams. By 'democratizing' the accounting data, the finance and insurance team now has access throughout the month to accounting adjustments that previously may have only been seen after the month closed, or by request to the accounting team. Typically, these adjustments are predictable, but occasionally they're not, and can have a negative impact on the team's results, and by extension, compensation. With FIRE, there are few surprises by the end of the month, and this leads to more consistent results. Also, with the mobile platform, our finance and insurance team can carry the results with them on their iPad. This gives them the information they need while not being tethered to their desktop.
1to1: What role will gamification play in the future of both your business and the automotive industry overall?
RH: Like many industries, our associates are quite competitive and eager for feedback and perspective. Having the ability to not only see your performance but also how you're performing relative to your peers, in near-real-time, allows you to take ownership of your results. Leveraging this approach, our management team can spend more time planning for the long term, and less time communicating results. The biggest impact of gamification that FIRE and our BI platform offers is the timeliness and relevance of the feedback. Imagine playing a game of baseball and not knowing many runs you scored until after the game, or even whether your hitters are even getting on base. We aim to give our team the feedback they need throughout the month so managers can make adjustments.
As Sonic Automotive looks to transform the automotive retail customer experience, it will be critical to apply and adapt what we've learned from gamification to other areas of our business. The same concepts have already been implemented in our Service Department with the roll out of FORCE, our Fixed Ops Reporting Engine. Our industry, like many others, is experiencing transformation with the age of Big Data. One of our biggest challenges we face in this environment is making sure we're capitalizing on new data, and bringing to light relevant and actionable data in a way that those most capable of change can relate. We have found that utilization of mobility, coupled with the MicroStrategy tools, enables us to, not only face this challenge, but also create a competitive advantage.
1to1: What else can we expect to see from Sonic Automotive in the future?
RH: Sonic is currently implementing a new customer experience called One Sonic One Experience (OSOE). It is a transformation of the automotive buying experience and is designed to facilitate a transaction with one person, at a no-haggle price, in one hour or less. If you have ever purchased a vehicle, you know that this is a dramatic improvement over the current experience. OSOE not only improves customer satisfaction, it ensures that all Sonic locations handle the buying process the exact same way. This uniformity will allow us to create a national brand and improve our operational efficiency. Three key enablers of this new experience are data management, analytics and mobility. We believe that proficiency in these areas are not only critical to the success of this initiative, but they are also critical to the success of all retail operations in the future.