Due to the importance of this topic, I would like to clarify that the initial outline of what my opinion of a “sales manager” is, comes from experience and the effect that will be had on dealership personnel as a result of the individual’s ability to bring forward their replacement as they move up in our industry.
As those of you who follow me know I started out on an independent used car lot as a porter in high school. I spent four years in the military, came out and went to work on an independent used car lot as a sales person.
I was very fortunate that I took to this industry like a duck to water. Within six months, I become extremely successful. One day I was standing out on the gravel lot in my Hickey Freeman suit and my custom made shirt monogramed on the cuff and wearing my new Florshiem shoes (which at that time were the best), and realized that this industry is where I wanted to make my career mark in my life.
I knew I had to get under a new car sign to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve. Approximately a month after that I was asked if I’d like to interview for sales manager with a local new car dealer. I knew this would probably be my only shot at getting off used car row quickly because I was only 23 years old.
The person holding the interview was extremely sharp, knew the business, knew the industry and was a straight up and down facts and to the point guy. After the greetings were exchanged he asked one simple question, “Tim, what does sales manager mean?” I came up with a very long explanation of my perception of sales manager.
“You will never get a raise until your sales force gets one first.”
At the end of my explanation I was pleased with what I had said and he looked at me and smiled and said, “I’m sorry son but that’s really not what I had in mind.” He said, “Tim, what I want you to realize about a sales manager is you will be responsible totally for the success of an entire sales force. You will never get a raise until they get one first. In this business, profit comes from the asphalt up, not the dealer down.” That made the most profound impact on me of anything I’ve ever heard.
I realized that day that I had the opportunity to groom these individuals if I was willing to take the time and have the patience to explain to them why I wanted things done this way, when they were an average of 15 years older than me. The first thing I realized was some of the individuals were complacent, they were happy covering their draw which equated to five or six units a month. I could not achieve my goal unless every sales person averaged nine, based on the number of sales people we had and the total volume from that little dealership.
After 90 days of doing the majority of the deals myself with the exception of having to bribe them to demo a vehicle, I was worn out. I went into the dealer and sat down and explained that we had four of the eight that I needed to replace. He asked if I had done everything that I could possibly do and I answered yes I have. He said, “I know you have, I have watched how hard you have tried to mold these individuals into what they need to be in our store. I agree with you that they will never be moved off that dime.”
I ran an ad in the paper and hired six sales people. This is where being a sales manager begins. I made certain I had the floor covered so I could take one day and take these individuals into the conference room and do a full indoctrination to the best of my ability on greeting, qualifying, demonstrating and turning over a customer. We roll played; we discuss how they had previously bought items, not just vehicles. I let them be involved in the process of good experiences they had and bad.
Within six months, six of the eight had been replaced. Four of those individuals, 40 years later, are still in the business in various upper level management positions. When I got to that little dealership they were selling approximately 40 units a month. Within six months we were knocking on the door of 100. Six months later we were selling approximately 150.
I was called “out of the clear blue” by the dealer who owned the largest Buick dealership in Atlanta, Ga., downtown on Peachtree and Piedmont. The largest Ford, Pontiac, Oldsmobile dealers in Atlanta were cornered around this dealer.
At that time we had 31 salespeople in that store and I was 25 years old. The average age of the salesperson in that dealership was 42. The front-end gross was terrible, the used cars were over-aged and I was now the general sales manager. I had four managers under me. I called them in and gave them the outline of what I wanted to accomplish. Those who did not think we could make that happen were called in after the meeting and I told them I appreciated the opportunity to meet them but I would not be in need of their service.
I knew this store had to move at a rapid pace. The first thing we worked on was improving the trade ratio of non-general motors trade-ins. The next thing we saw happen was a jump in new car volume. I would not allow any deal to be worked from cost up.
The older sales people who had been there since the fifties told me I was too young to understand how the business worked and I told them I would rather watch them succeed from the numbers of my competitor’s stores that they would probably be working for because they would no longer be working for me.
Remember, I gave everybody more than an opportunity to succeed. But when they would not move off the dime or make any attempt to improve their own personal income level, which kept me from improving my own personal income level, I removed them from the scenario.
Within a year and a half we had doubled the gross, brought the new car volume up a little over 30%, cleaned up the pre-owned inventory and turned it into a dramatic profit center and I was given the chance to buy my first new car dealership at 27 years old.
At the end of it all, the one thing I can pass on to you is “you will never get a raise until your sales force gets one first.” If you allow sales people to work for you who do not really care whether or not they get a raise you will continue to resole your old shoes.
Author: Tim Deese
TIM DEESE is the CEO/ founder of Progressive Basics, Inc. He is a former franchised car dealer who has designed and implemented used car training and marketing for 15 manufacturers in 28 countries. He has spoken at many NADA conventions.