Lawton Davis is convinced that money is rarely the reason a person leaves a sales position at a car dealership, or any job for that matter.
'Of the top 10 reasons people leave, money is probably No. 9,' says Davis, president of Lee Galles Motors of Albuquerque, N.M. 'They want the support from management to succeed, the freedom to excel, and they want to be treated as valued members of the organization.'
A dealership that provides those things will retain its sales staff, Davis says. With more than 25 years in the automotive business, he long has held those beliefs and has earned the respect of both his employees and employer. When Davis tried to retire from Lee Galles Motors in January 1998, Lee Galles himself chose to leave instead, asking Davis to return as president.
Lee Galles Motors, which handles Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Suburu and Isuzu, is one of New Mexico's 10 largest dealerships. It has 127 employees, including 29 salespeople.
While Davis admits that his sales staff retention rate isn't as good as he would like, more than a third of his salespeople have been there three to five years, and four have been on board for at least 15 years. Davis views the loss of any salesperson as significant.
'It's very expensive because you have invested a certain amount of time and resources in that person,' he says. 'Also, they take customers with them when they go.'
Salespeople take customers because the connection established between the car buyer and the car seller is very important, Davis says.
LOOKS FOR LOCALS
He says the No. 1 reason people buy cars is the salesperson, followed by the dealership and then the product.
Davis has a number of methods to keep salespeople, and he starts with the hiring process. He looks for candidates who appear to have the personality traits of successful salespeople as set forth in a 1962 study by Harvard University Business School: the capacity for empathy and the need for ego satisfaction. Davis also looks for experience and an Albuquerque address.
'We want seasoned salespeople, he says. 'We also want them to be locals, because they have been making contacts in this area all their lives.'
Once on board, the salespeople at Lee Galles can look forward to an environment of respect for their abilities and freedom to do their job, Davis says. His managers are trained to 'show salespeople what a good job looks like' but never set sales quotas.
'People who set quotas are just kidding themselves,' he says. 'It's not only about numbers. I want a person who is out there every day, doing the best job they can, in sales, in customer service, everything.'
SUPPORT, THEN GRAVY
All salespeople have access to personal computers and the Internet, but Davis says personal contact with customers takes priority.
'I would love it if the competition started selling exclusively from kiosks,' he says. 'Then I'd be the only one selling any cars.'
The 'backup team' - the make-ready and service departments - are trained to support the sale. Da-vis believes that every salesperson must be managed differently.
'Support is what the sales staff needs to be successful,' he says. 'The contests we have going on all the time and the recognition in our sales meetings are gravy.'
Davis disdains factory incentive programs; he prefers his own. He pays what he calls competitive compensation that includes a strong benefits package, but he stresses that the real money comes when the salesperson stays and builds his own future.
'I try to lead by example,' Davis says. 'I left the service in 1968 with nothing but the change in my pocket. Thirty years later, I'm president of a dealership.'