Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sales Management Rant

This is a rant aimed at people in sales, emphasis automobile sales, and sales managers. May be of marginal interest, or none at all,  to others.

Recently a young friend and I were discussing focus as it pertains to work, specifically sales.

In the years I worked in retail automobile sales, the end all and be all was seeing an inventory piece leave the lot with a temporary permit in the back window. Without that happening, everything else was meaningless. Customer satisfaction, proper paperwork, putting away demos, etc., all played a part. None was critical to the dealership remaining in business. No sales, no cash flow, no business.

Sales are hard. People don’t just roll over and part with significant sums of money without a lot of effort. It is easy to become immersed in the details, schedule meetings, attending training sessions and all the other distractions. It is easy to trick fuck your mind that you are actually doing something. Yes, that was me from time to time. The further you work your way up in management, the easier it is to insulate yourself from the real world of belly to belly with a customer. If, every day, you aren’t feeling that same anxiety in your gut that your newest hire green pea is feeling, you suck as a manager. You subordinates know, in their gut, that you are phoning it in. 

Want an example? “I want to see a credit app before I give them numbers”. (Prepare a proposal to show the customer).  Oh, you don’t want to “waste” your valuable time?  Git!

My dealer principal had a personal friendship with the president of a car company whose line we carried. The parent company fired him (for what? Who knows with Koreans). He bought an old, established automobile aftermarket remanufacturer. He then talked my boss into jump starting his sales efforts. My boss then made it, in part, my project. Soon it was my problem, er, project.

A classic oil/vinegar corporate conflict ensued. Corporate MBA mindset meets car retail, “produce or git”, ethos.

Returning to focus, it was apparent to us, the car guys, that their “car leaving the lot with a temporary permit” was the telephone ringing at their inbound sales desk. More phone calls, more sales. Making that phone ring became our focus for the next several months. We were successful. We were resented, even hated, by everyone, except the people manning the sales desk, in that company.

We focused on short belly to belly sales presentations at every repair shop and parts retailer we could find. Goal? A minimum of twenty physical contacts per day.  By short, we had a thirty second presentation, and a five minute presentation. The single goal was to get our little stick decal with our phone number on the wall next to their phone. Stick our name in their mind, so they would call us when they needed something. The gate keeper? Someone at that business trusted that person to be their public face. Who were we to disagree? Many, many times the gate keeper was also the one ordering parts and supplies.

One large account was one of the larger auto dismantlers in the country. They carried us as a minor sideline.  We were invited to have a training meeting with their inside sales force. My presentation was tailored to busy people who needed a few bullet points and access to more information when needed. Start to finish, it was about twenty minutes followed by another ten minutes of questions and answers. Was it effective?  Months later the dismantler bought the remanufacturer. Was my presentation the reason? Big plants grow from small seeds, bubba.

My tenure with this operation was less than two years. I flat wouldn’t get involved with their bullshit meetings, the endless Sigma Six, ISO 9000 blah, blah, blah discussion, or what buyers they had taken to lunch. My small crew was thrown out of more places by noon on Monday then the rest of those asshats saw in a week. I’m sure a two hour lunch in an upscale restaurant is more fun then dodging a junk yard dog in the weed filled parking area of a West Texas oilfield support business. I also know which makes the phone ring. Focus, remember?

Whenever I write something like this, the YAHBUT choir starts singing. “Well, yah, but our/my situation is different because…………” Please understand, I don’t give a rat’s ass about your situation. If you have anything on the ball, you will be asking yourself, “How does this fit my situation? What is here that I can use”? I doubt I’ve ever had a truly original idea in my whole life. I’ve made a living, supported my family, and kept the lights on by listening to people smarter than I am. I still remember that old school car sales trainer, Jackie Cooper, saying, “Winners do what losers won’t”.

In summary, my advice to my young friend was this. Identify that key element in your business that keeps you in business. Focus on that, and don’t let yourself be distracted. Other things will require your attention, and you need to deal with them. Don’t let them keep you from your key element.

For those who have taken flying lessons, remember the instructor’s admonishment to, first and always, fly the damned airplane.

All photographs taken from Google. If they are yours, and you want them removed, please contact me.


Scotty said...

I always enjoy you insights into the car business you give.

When one thinks about it I think applies to ALL business because, regardless of the product, it all boils down to a sales pitch some where along the line. And more times than not it's always management that will come in and attempt to make things more complicated than it really needs to be.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Thanks for the kind comment. The focus thing comes from working most of my life on commission. Or, what my late father called, "The Belly Flapping Principle".

Old NFO said...

Yep, good points and you DID maintain focus on what was IMPORTANT to filling your belly... The rest of the BS is what Admin is supposed to handle...

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Thanks for the comment. It is a factor in any kind of organization. Go all out with something you can do well to cover up your basic weakness. Better to work on your weak points; your strong points will take care of themselves.