Where Are We Going?

If the prognosticators are right, we're going to sell just under 17 million light vehicles this year in America, a seemingly healthy number. But numbers can be deceptive. Manufacturers and dealership personnel will exert more effort per sale to get there. You won't find effort per sale on a monthly statement or in a 20-Group composite. But it sure matters if you're trying to lead in what, for most

If the prognosticators are right, we're going to sell just under 17 million light vehicles this year in America, a seemingly healthy number.

But numbers can be deceptive. Manufacturers and dealership personnel will exert more effort per sale to get there.

You won't find effort per sale on a monthly statement or in a 20-Group composite. But it sure matters if you're trying to lead in what, for most stores, are challenging times.

Leadership is always important but never more so than when the competition is as fierce as it is now. Unfortunately, we have spent a lot of time and energy in our business focusing on the development of tactical management skills, and precious little time on developing our own leadership capacities and those of our key players.

So, here's a crash course in some of the more important leadership skills necessary to see your way through difficult straits.

  1. Lead!

    The root meaning of the word is “to go, to travel.” Our people are thinking various things: “Where are we going?” “Why should I follow you?” “What will we need for the journey?”

    You ought to be able to look them in the eye and answer their questions with clarity and confidence. “We're going to the other side of this swift water. You're coming with me because I know how to get us across.” “You're coming because we're stronger together.” “I need you and you need me.” “This is a good business and we deserve to make a good living.” “We'll need the best of our character and talent.” “We'll need to be brilliant at the basics of serving customers needs.” Be steady, encouraging and compassionate for the effort per sale people are expending.

  2. Make the tough calls!

    Many dealers fall into the trap of making a decision, any decision when a bad month closes. One month does not a trend make. Sometimes the most courageous and savvy thing to do is just be patient, rather than rushing to cut your ad budget or slash personnel. There may not be any obvious personnel cuts you can make. You may already have done so.

    There's no substitute for being able to sense the ebb and flow of your market. On the other hand, expenses certainly do matter and you may indeed have to cut some personnel. Make sure you keep the people who got you to your best performance in the recent past. This is often the most tenured, but not always. You need the most talented and steady folks who are high performance and low maintenance.

  3. Get people involved!

    Don't carry the burden alone. This is a collaborative business at its best, in spite of all the accolades we lavish on “salesperson of the month” or “technician of the month.”

    Brainstorm with managers and top performers in each department. Ask questions and listen hard. The old saw is never truer than during tough times: “If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting.”

    Try something different. Take a chance to capture the public's imagination. When everyone is doing a holiday sale, you do a massive inventory reduction. When they're doing that, you do “The-Boss-Has-Lost-His-Mind Sale.” When they do that, you do “By Gosh, We've Come to Our Senses!”

    Your theme of the month must be pervasive on your website, in your e-mail responses, in direct mail, newspaper and electronic ads and right in the showroom. Don't neglect a single area. So much of spurring business is not about price or payment. It's about imagination. When you lose touch with that, you're neglecting the very tool that created the automobile business.

  4. Stay positive!

    Focus on what you can control: staffing, scheduling, inventory advertising and marketing, compensation, process improvements, policy refinements, benefit enhancements, contests, and celebrations. Avoid blaming or hunting for the guilty. Your people need a leader with vision and consistency, who stays strong rather than hunts down “the guilty.”

Remind yourself daily that your intention is to bring out the best in people by bringing out the best in yourself.

Bob Kamm is president of Kamm Consulting, a leadership development firm in San Luis Obispo, CA. He is author of two books — The Superman Syndrome and Real Fatherhood. Website: www.bobkamm.com. E-mail: [email protected]

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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