DETROIT - In General Motors' war to regain market share, its 214 newly appointed market area managers are the platoon leaders.
GM views them as its eyes and ears on the front lines, helping dealers set sales goals, monitor local market conditions and navigate GM's bureaucracy.
Each market area manager is assigned a team of six specialists who handle questions about sales, service, parts, financing, fleet sales and warranties.
With the new setup, GM has placed a significant new load on its field staff of 4,000 employees. The market area managers were chosen for their analytical skills and their ability to understand a dealer's business.
They also are authorized to handle all dealers within their territory, regardless of brand. That eliminates the need for each marketing division to maintain separate, redundant field staffs.
Although the new system has been up and running for just a few weeks, several influential dealers say the new organization looks good - at least on paper.
Last month, Pontiac dealer Jon Agresta huddled with his market area team for a three-hour get-acquainted session.
'They were sharp, young and aggressive,' said Agresta, owner of Agresta Olds-Pontiac-GMC in Williamston, N.J. 'They knew the numbers. They understood my financial statement. I thought it was slick.'
Over the next few weeks, Agresta and the team will write a combined business plan for his Pontiac-GMC and Oldsmobile franchises, setting targets for profits, market share and volume sales.
That is a vast improvement over the old system, under which Agresta had to write three separate business plans for GM - one for each franchise. None of those plans ever made any sense, he said.
Until recently, each GM division maintained its own field staff, its own warranty policies and its own system for ordering cars and trucks. A dealer who had Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile franchises would have to work with three different district managers.
Often these managers worked at cross purposes, competing for the dealer's attention and resources.
'We were vying for a share of the dealer's mind, and we were really competing against each other,' said Roy Roberts, vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing. 'It was like making love in the family and having crazy kids. We aren't going to do that anymore.'
When GM merged the divisional staffs, it eliminated 1,000 jobs. Most of the survivors have been assigned to one of GM's five regional general managers.
Based in New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago, the regional general managers have broad authority to determine regional rebates and launch local ad campaigns.
The market area managers must keep them informed about local market conditions and the dealers' responses to those conditions. To keep tabs on market conditions, each general manager will rely on about 40 market area managers in his region.
In turn, each market area manager will be responsible for 26 dealerships. The teams' territories are fairly compact. East of the Mississippi, no team will have to make overnight trips to visit any of its dealerships.
MORE FACE TIME
By eliminating long-distance trips, GM figures its field teams will gain 20 percent to 25 percent more 'face time' with the dealers.
However, GM will retain its telemarketing center, which allows the field staff to work with remote dealers by phone.
In urban areas where GM has a heavy concentration of dealerships, a few teams will specialize in one brand. For example, eight or nine teams will handle Chevrolet dealers exclusively.
Each market area manager reports directly to the regional general manager. That leaves only one level of bureaucracy between the market area managers and senior executives such as Darwin Clark, GM's vice president of sales, service and parts.
It is much too early to judge the outcome of GM's field staff reorganization. However, Roberts says he is confident it will succeed.
'We focused on getting the bureaucracy out of the middle,' he said. 'If you take that bureaucracy out, we can be a smaller, quicker organization.'