It was 2008 when it hit me.
The economy had just begun to hit the skids, and I was leaving a dealership after having done a live meeting. As I walked through the empty showroom, I noticed four managers on shift, sitting in an otherwise vacant tower waiting for salespeople to bring them a deal. There were no customers on the floor and nothing happening outside beyond the huddle of salespeople by the front door, and I realized: A lot of people in our industry that we call managers aren’t necessarily managers. They might be great on the desk—and they’re often strong closers—but they don’t all have management skills. It became clear to me that what these managers do when there are no customers in the showroom is every bit as important as what they do when they have a showroom full of customers.
How did we get to this point as an industry where we have managers who don’t have good management skills?
It has to do with how someone becomes a manager at a dealership. We tend to take our best salespeople and make them managers. Wouldn’t taking the best salesperson on the floor and making him a manager be the equivalent of taking the best NFL player and making him a coach?
The best players don’t make the best coaches. Take Wayne Gretzky, for example. He was an amazing player and an absolute disaster as a coach. Likewise, the best coaches in NFL history have not come from the best players. The reason is this: Being a great coach is a different skillset than being a great player. Yet, what do we tend to do in the automotive industry? We take our best players off the floor, we hardly train them at all on how to manage, and then we’re surprised when they fail.
The time has come when dealerships actually have to have good management. In today’s industry, it’s not just about desking and closing deals, a manager’s most important functions have to do with preparing the team for game day.
Here are my tips for how managers can begin to master managing:
A coach is responsible for a team’s overall offensive and defensive strategies. A great manager focuses on offense by honing a culture of business development at his dealership. He educates his staff on how to drive traffic to the showroom, how they can work orphan-owner bases, sold bases, social media and the service drive for repeat and referral business.
A strong manager also focuses on turning defense into offense by making sure he has given his staff the tools to convert inbound phone calls and Internet leads into customers on the showroom.
Practice makes perfect
Just knowing the playbook doesn’t prepare the team for the game—the best managers practice and drill plays until salespeople become reflexive and command the confidence to deliver in crunch time.
Great managers prioritize practice with their people just as football teams simulate five days a week to prepare for a game. Managers must simulate critical skills such as how to handle the phones, so everyone is practiced in “what” to say and “why” to say it to get customers walking through the front door.
Accountability is key
Finally, the best coaches hold their players accountable. Bill Belichick is an example of an incredible coach who holds accountability as a top priority. Belichick’s history demonstrates this value most memorably when Chad Ochocinco (aka Johnson), a superstar signed from Cincinnati, was cut for not knowing the playbook.
Great managers hold their salespeople accountable; for example, in order to have accountability on inbound sales calls, managers must actually listen to these calls—just as coaches review game film. When salespeople know that they are being listened to and that they will be held accountable for their performance, their effort level naturally rises.
Management must then have clear consequences. If people are not performing, if they fail to meet the standard, they need to know that there will be immediate consequences. For example, if a salesperson repeatedly mishandles calls, a consequence could be him or her losing the privilege of taking sales calls.
What do all great football teams have in common? Great coaches. Teams don’t come together and win games without strong leadership guiding them. In other words, no team will achieve greatness despite poor coaching.
Fortunately, great managers are made and not born. Check out in-person training options through NCM Associates. Alan Ram’s Management by Fire course offers additional tools for your dealership training needs.