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Lessons from an old car salesman

Many, many years ago, I sold cars for one summer. It was a very educational experience. I learned a lot about people – all kinds of people – and I learned a bit about management as well.

At this particular dealership, there was one guy who consistently outsold everyone else…usually more than double the next guy. He had been at it for a long time and had contacts all over town, and people referred business to him on a regular basis. He treated his clients fairly and, in turn, brought the dealership a lot of business. He saw every opportunity as an opportunity to excel in his craft.

But he had one problem. He hated paperwork. He didn’t do call reports. He had a hard time with all the new contracts and reporting. A new manager at the dealership took it on as a challenge to get this guy to do better paperwork. He sent him off to training in paperwork. And told him that he would be training the rest of the staff when he got back…just to make sure he actually attended the classes.

When the guy returned, he trained the entire dealership. You see, he saw it as a challenge…to be successful. And from that point on his paperwork was nearly flawless, because even though he hated it, he wouldn’t let it go un-mastered.

But he had another problem. His sales started falling off. The manager came in to talk with him and said to him, “What’s your problem? Your sales are down!”

His response was no surprise to those of us that knew him, “Of course my sales are down…you’ve got me spending all my time doing all this #*&% paperwork!”

How many of us can look around our own office and find people who have a special gift…for selling, for design or project management, for managing, whatever…that is being stifled? Stifled by policy, procedure and all manners of distraction?

Before I get a pile of emails from the policy and procedure guys, let me state that I am NOT saying we should toss all procedure and let people just go. What I am saying, though, is that it is incumbent on managers of teams to understand what each person’s gifts are, and then do everything they can to help that person excel in that area. Every one of us is wired differently, and each one of us has a distinct set of gifts that, once discovered, allows us to excel if we focus on them and develop them.

Management’s challenge is to understand what each person is really good at and then do what they can to create an environment where their people can use those gifts to the benefit of the company, and to the individual’s wellbeing. Don’t you think that car salesmen was much more successful, and had a much better attitude about his career, when he was spending more time selling than doing paperwork? I suspect he was also contributing much more to the company when he was focused on selling.

Look around your company. Are your people doing what they are really good at, or doing what they are required to do? Look in your own office. Are you doing what you are really good at? Are you using your gifts? What is getting in the way of you excelling? When I worked as a sales manager for another company, I used to call it the “sales prevention” department…all that stuff that kept my guys from doing what they did best…sell. But it applies to every position in every company. What is preventing you from doing what you are gifted to do?

Maybe it’s a simple case of changing the way in which you work day to day to allow more time for the things that you are really good at. But it might be more complex than that. It might require that you do a little self-examination to determine where your gifts are. It might require that you consult with some close friends about what they see as your gifts. And then it might require that you totally re-think your job requirements…or your career.

So here are two questions for you to ponder: (1) What are your gifts? What is it that you are really good at, that you excel at, that you are passionate about? (2) What is preventing you from doing it…at work, at home, as a volunteer somewhere? How can you eliminate some of these ‘preventers’ and get after doing what you are uniquely designed to do? Even if it’s selling cars.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry over 30 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is now a partner in a new company: Reveal: Exhibiting a World of Difference. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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