When I wrote Exaggerated Understanding of Management and Teamwork almost four years ago, there’s just no way I could’ve predicted the entire state of affairs in the retail car business through the first quarter of 2022. If I had, I wouldn’t have believed myself. And, with every utterance of just get ‘em in, one more screen door goes on a submarine. That’s not effective leadership. Where’s the accountability?
As a sales process trainer, more salespeople and business development agents are maximizing their sales skills. The pandemic brought out the best in creating flexibility, presenting alternate options, and, most importantly, all the reasons why a certain option may be better than another.
Car dealerships’ sales teams seem to be, at least through phone, email, and text, finally lining up with contemporary customer expectations. But, when you think everything is peachy, the ship keeps sinking.
For decades, there have been accountability measures for subordinate sales staff. From the very rudimentary collecting of names of potential referrals to call goals, CSI scores, a minimum number of appointments, CRM metrics, OEM certifications, to third-party sales training courses and grading services, the low sales professional on the totem pole always have some goal to hit to avoid punitive measures.
If those subordinates fail, it’s their fault. But, I ask you, dear reader, at what point does the sales representatives’ performance become the manager’s fault? Where is leadership’s accountability? That should be a foundational element of good leaders.
Armies of training staff
Let’s go to my favorite source of professional sports analogies for leadership development, professional sports. Just like any other business, winning and losing in sports is a matter of money—the more winning, the more money that’s made. Teams invest exorbitant amounts of money into players, above and beyond the salaries. There are armies of training staff to ensure players use the proper techniques to maximize their abilities. There are countless inside, and outside analysts focused on stacking the team properly while finding all of the competition’s weaknesses.
Then, there are those in charge of the facilities who make sure the accommodations are unique, inviting, clean, and packed for business every available day. Finally, some have to serve the league offices to ensure all franchise requirements are met, pretty much like any dealership selling new vehicles.
What’s the critical separator?
Forget the players being physical specimens. The primary difference is that ownership doesn’t place the blame squarely on the team when it loses. Instead, the coaches bear that burden. The average tenure for an NFL coach is approximately just 4.3 years. Think that’s short? For an MLB coach, it’s on 3.7 years, closely followed by NHL coaches at 3.5 years and NBA coaches at 3.2 years.
In the business hierarchy, the players are the lowest on the totem pole, with the coaching staff being the next layer up. However, when it comes to investment, players represent a tremendous cost. If the sales coaches can’t get the highest payoff from that investment, then somebody else gets the chance to do so. There are a lot of players, but there’s only one head coach.
In the real world at a dealership, it’s the opposite. Collectively, millions of dollars a year are spent hiring sales staff. Millions of dollars more are invested in training sales staff and improving selling skills, whether directly committed by the individual dealerships or through the manufacturers indirectly. At this point in my career, any evidence presented otherwise would be the exception.
In particular, OEM training requirements continuously get more rigorous as the vehicles and sales tools become more complex. This leads to more certifications and accountability. But, faster than the requirements for sales staff have ramped up, those managers in the middle have become more complacent. They’re the only ones with life preservers.
Leadership accountability across the ranks
If you’re an effective leader running a dealership or any business, accountability needs to govern the entire org chart. In particular, dealership middle-managers must be held accountable for their staff’s performance. Sales performance and volume metrics simply aren’t enough to dictate a compensation structure.
Here are just a few ideas that can boost accountability while helping improve your own leadership skills. (and can’t be gamed by fudging the numbers):
- Minimum average CSI
- Minimum average OEM certification level for staff
- OEM certifications for the manager, with additional compensation for attaining higher levels
- Staff retention levels at quarterly, bi-annual, and annual levels
- Total team improvement with a given metric
- Average team grade or score when using a third-party accountability service, such as TaskTeacher
- Cost savings without a net decline in performance metrics
- Tuition reimbursement after successfully implementing something learned through schooling or a learning program
- Cost reimbursement after successfully implementing something learned through a conference or workshop
Attaining the rank of sales manager, finance manager, service manager, or parts manager should never come with a free pass for accountability. If anything, it should come with more. If you’re a great leader who is chronically dealing with poor performance and turnover at the lower ranks, I implore you not to let your gaze move past those in the middle.
All that money invested in hiring, a draw, benefits, and training often builds someone else’s team. If those managers are putting screen doors on your submarine, don’t let that door hit them in the ass on their way out.