Willy Loman Alive and Unwell

The problem of high dealership employee turnover isn’t hard to understand.

Darin George

January 17, 2013

4 Min Read
Willy Loman Alive and Unwell

Willy Loman is the doomed burnout in Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman.” He didn’t sell cars, but the image of a sad salesperson applies to many dealerships today.

I am writing this in the hopes of helping dealers to at least slow down the high turnover rates that have plagued auto retailing.

I have been an automotive sales trainer and dealership staff recruiter since 1997. Before that, my work included management and sales positions at dealerships representing luxury, domestic and import brands.

Few people are born salespersons. Most just need the time, training, practice, self-control, positive work environment and professional management to get good at it.

Auto makers employ thousands of people, including assembly line workers who often earn more than those who sell the final product.

Is it right that those who build vehicles get more pay, benefits, pension plans, retirement packages and respect than the people who sell them?

Dealers and their managers often ask me why some talented people are not interested in selling cars and why many dealers have a problem keeping showroom employees.

A quick answer is that the job usually is commission-based and full of long days. You are only as good as your last sale. Not to mention the fact that you constantly deal with customers who have their guard up when they walk in the front door.

I can offer some generalities about the types of people who make good sales people. Most are educated, either traditionally or through great street smarts. An ideal candidate is competitive and comfortable in his or her own skin.

Good salespeople are self-driven and like personal interaction. They enjoy a challenge and have a positive outlook on life.

Having difficulty retaining sales people? Look at your dealership culture and management procedures. I’ve helped thousands of great prospects get into auto retailing only to see them bolt and never return. The reasons always seem to be the same.

Here’s how we create the Willie Lomans of our world:

Overwork them. Expect them to come in early and stay late every day.

Pay them a $75 flat rate for selling a $20,000 product.

Charge them back on their next month’s paycheck if they didn’t make the minimum commission for the previous month. Owing the dealership money is a great way to start a month.

Set unattainable monthly goals and tie those to bonuses they will never see.

Treat them as if they are incompetent. Fifty year olds love being badgered by a 25-year-old sales manager.

Make sure all dealer and manager referral deals go to one salesperson. No one else would appreciate them anyway.

Tell them they just made a $1,500 gross deal, but when they see a commission slip of only $900, say you didn’t know about additional charges. Never-ending compensation uncertainty is comforting.

Be totally negative about their performance. People love to hear about all their shortcomings.

Make them come in on their day off to attend a sales meeting.

I want to be clear about something: It’s bad to keep underachievers and let them get away with murder. But give your sales staff a fighting chance.

Perhaps my list comes from a bias because of the positions I have held. I don’t sell cars anymore. I sell training, employment opportunities and dreams. But I see problems play out at dealerships across North America.

If a salesperson cannot figure out how to work productively and effectively, maybe they aren’t suited for the auto sales. It’s the sales manager’s job to train them for success or fire them for failure if they are given a fair chance to succeed.

If a dealership has chronic staff and turnover problems, it usually is because the sales team feels exhausted and underappreciated. It might be time to look at where you invest your money and time. Sales suffer if the frontline is unhappy and running on empty.

Good salespeople earn extra money for the dealership and should be valued. Happy salespeople make for happy owners and managers.

It’s unreasonable to think a dealership can completely end employee turnover. Even well-paid talented salespeople may leave a dealership for whatever reason.

Only one thing is worse than a well-trained, satisfied and motivated salesperson who quits. That is an untrained, unhappy and unmotivated salesperson who stays.

Darin George is the president of ASC Dealer Staffing and Training, www.visitasc.com. Contact him at [email protected] and 480-735-4688

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