By: Ernesto Galarza

No, it’s not a rewrite of the compelling Arthur Miller play. A play on “title” perhaps!

Instead, this is a recounting of a lengthy phone call I received from a prior co-worker and gifted sales consultant.

Two days after New Year’s Day, a sales rep that I hired a few years ago at a prior dealership called, and from the tone in his voice, I could tell something was amiss. Though he and I communicated infrequently the past few years, I noticed his LinkedIn profile indicated he recently was promoted from the sales floor to sales manager. I recalled that I congratulated him at the time. He never acknowledged my message and I chalked it up to his new-found responsibility and the fact he was now very busy.

In any event, he asked about my family, how my career was going and we reminisced about some of the fun times and people we encountered when we worked together. After about 10 minutes of innocuous conversation, the real reason for the call surfaced. He told me the dealership was demoting him and he had two choices: accept the demotion and return to the floor … or “be fired” and leave the dealership.

Naturally, he was bitter, angry and felt he was “wronged”. He further stated that though he liked the dealer principle and the other store managers, he did not want to be perceived as a failure and return to the sales floor. At that point, I asked him why he called me. Was he simply venting or did he have specific questions? He wanted to vent; but, he also had some questions:

1) What did I think he should do and if he left did I have a sales manager position for him?

My response to the second part of the question was that all my managerial positions were filled. However, the first part of the question required some inquiries on my part as follows.

A) How and why did this happen? What was the reasoning behind the demotion? He replied that they were not pleased with some problems at the store and the owner placed the blame on him. During his five months as sales manager, two senior sales reps quit after arguing with him. Furthermore, he engaged in a “war of attrition” with the service manager over used car reconditioning costs. Finally, his appraisals were faulty resulting in some disconcerting wholesale losses. His view of all this was that his co-managers were not helpful and the owner took the side of the sales reps. He blamed the wholesale losses on unreasonable MPI’s and admitted to one or two mistakes. Then, he stated he received no training at all and how could they expect a “plug and play” performance; when, in truth, he was a gifted sales rep and not yet fit for promotion.

He did admit that he lobbied heavily for the vacant sales manager slot and thought it would be easier. When I asked what he meant by easier, he lamented the fact that people do not “do what they are “told” and the owner should let his managers “manage” instead of second guessing them. I offered no opinion and asked him to continue.

B) His next question was interesting. He asked, in the event he decided to leave the store and seek another sales manager position elsewhere, how should he explain to a future employer what happened at his current store. I told him that the truth is the best answer as they would find out eventually. He thought that was incredulous since it would diminish his chances for another manager’s position. He asked me if I have ever been fired. I replied “Of course! A few times! One cannot say they have been in the car business if they have never been fired!”.

Then, I followed up with the only advice that I hoped he would take. I asked him to write the following down as we talked on the phone. And, I told him that when he had answers to the following questions his next course of action should be clear.

Why did he want to be a manager? He was/is an excellent, well respected and compensated sales rep; so, why now move into management? Is it because he feels that it is the expected “next step”? Is it due to an expected pay increase (even though he admitted he was making slightly less as a sales manager)? Is it because he feels he can positively contribute to his employer as a sales manager?

What has he learned from what just happened? Could he have found common ground with the two seasoned and tenured sales reps that resigned? Could losing two valuable assets have been avoided? If so, what should he have done differently? His “war” with the long-tenured service manager over used car reconditioning was totally avoidable. What should he have done differently? What common ground, serving the best interest of the store, could have been explored? His trade appraisal’s brought universal criticism and resulted in unacceptable wholesale losses. What could he have done differently? Should he have consulted his senior managerial partners or, since he was new to the position, asked the dealer what his guidelines were on “junk”? And, when he appraised a retail trade, did he take into account average reconditioning costs for that particular make, model and trim level? Did he religiously use First Look or vAuto or Edmunds, etc.? Did he appraise “by committee” and seek other opinions? Did he drive every trade?

Why did he not communicate more with senior managers and learn from them? Why did he not communicate with the dealer principle or GM and get guidelines, processes or advice? In short, why did he not ask for help?

Was his ego getting in the way?

If he really wants a manager’s position, does he now have the skill set necessary to “do a great job”? In reality, is he ready?

What’s changed from yesterday?

After he wrote down these questions, he asked me what I would do. This is what I advised:

If I decided to stay as a sales rep and had no interest in moving to the manager’s platform, I would go into my sales role with a better understanding of the store and its personnel. Then, I would labor to be the best sales rep in store history! I would work to win every contest and be an example to all. In other words, I would be the best “manager of me”!

If I still wanted to be a manager in the future, I would stay at the same dealership as a sales rep and work to be the top sales rep in the store. Simultaneously, I would ask the dealer principle if he would provide a mentor/training schedule for me with the expectation that an opening would eventually present itself. I would ask if he would invest in me by providing formal NADA, Joe Verde, Grant Cardone, etc. sales manager classes. In other words, would he invest in me so I could be of better service to his store in the future?

He thanked me and then told me it seemed like good advice and he would mull these questions over.

Today, I received a text from him thanking me for listening to his tale of “woe” and also for the advice. This is the text. The store names have been omitted.

“Hey Sensei I made the move. Started Jan 29 as a sales manager at _______! Thought about your questions and I believe some of what happened at _______ was some of my fault. But lots was there (sic) fault too. They coulda helped me more but didn’t. I am going to see how it goes at _______.  They heard I was let go but it seems ok with this group. They did not make a big deal about it. No judgment here! Take care buddy. Let me know if you ever need a sales manager. I would quit in a second to come work for you!”

I congratulated him and went about my day. In retrospect, most likely he never bothered to answer the questions. In reality, he most likely humored me by pretending to write down said questions.

So, why even write about this? What’s the moral of the tale? Here is what I take away from this:

  1. We often promote our best sales reps to positions where they will fail.  No formal training is given. We expect them to excel and mirror the success they enjoyed as sales consultants; yet, we forget that a different set of skills needs to be employed. Being a great sales rep does not guarantee managerial success. Though they both battle in the same arena, they wage different wars.
  2. We do not work hard enough to retain talent. A gifted sales rep was not given the path to fulfill his ambition. Instead, he was promoted, demoted and then allowed to leave. I would agree that he had culpability in his failure; however, the dealership is equally responsible. They should have recognized his talents as well as his limitations. They chose to believe one would compensate for the other. Then, they delivered an “ultimatum” rather than a path.
  3. The second employer is making the same mistake as the first employer. I doubt a reference was called. More importantly, insightful questioning would have revealed glaring deficiencies in the applicant’s skill set and business acumen. The employer saw what he wanted to see and heard what he wanted to hear. That is why I always believe in hiring by committee.

I wish my contemporary much success and trust if, and when he reads this, he will understand that I retell this story in an effort to learn from it. No names or dealerships have been mentioned.

Please share your views and opinions. Every article I post usually elicits keen and helpful observations for all, including myself, to mull.

To all my partners I truly wish you all a safe, healthy and prosperous 2017!

Ernesto Galarza has been in the industry for over 30 years. He was a sales rep for 14 years and has been a sales manager, F&I Director, GSM, GM & Platform Manager. Additionally, he has worked and learned from many markets including New Jersey, Baltimore-DC, Orlando and New England. Currently, he is the Platform Director for the DELLA Auto Group-North (NY) which includes Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, KIA and a Power Sports Franchise. His writings are based on personal experiences. He states the following – “Like the old Clint Eastwood movie, I have seen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” I eagerly await the sequel!

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