• Jul 31 2019 • By Sean Kelley

    By Sean Kelley #thecarbizcoach

    There is a severe epidemic plaguing the business world. As I coach sales leaders throughout the automotive vertical across the country, I uncover this sinister and will-sapping plague time and time again. In fact, due to the frequency of this challenge, for this article, I’ve named this mindset U.S.E., which stands for “Unrealistic Self-Expectation.” I define U.S.E. as when you hold yourself to standards that are impossible to meet or are out of your control. As a result, you become drained, frustrated, unmotivated, anxious, and unfulfilled when you hold yourself to standards that you wouldn’t hold an employee to, your family to, or even your kids too!

    When U.S.E. is uncovered, and ask the person I am coaching, “What is this mindset costing you?” clients list unfulfillment at work, demotivation, unhappy life at home, anxiety, lower confidence, lack of focus, activity paralysis, and even depression. What’s worst is that while you make the mistake of holding yourself accountable to things out of your control, you can’t hold yourself accountable to the things you can. As such, you won’t take the right action, at the right time, in the right way that it takes to maximize your results.

    Below is a coaching conversation transcript where I was able to shed light on this plague and help coach someone toward a cure. Before you read that, I want to share a traumatic war story that caused me to plummet into the abyss of U.S.E and share how this damaging mindset reared its ugly head in my career, in the worst possible way. Also, how overcoming these challenging, uncomfortable experiences while unpleasant has helped me to coach professionals around this challenge in the business world.

    Mosul, Iraq, 2003. Our three-vehicle convoy of HUMVEE’s roared down a dusty Iraqi road heading toward the city where our PSYOP headquarters located in Mosul. My three-person special operations team would travel this route through the sweltering Syrian desert weekly to meet with our commander and First Sergeant. The trip was always bittersweet: Sweet because we were excited at the chance to receive our mail and enjoy a slight change of scenery compared to our sweltering, fly-infested desert home to the south. On the other hand, the trip was bitter because the road was often littered with ambushes and improvised explosive devices.

    I was the assistant team chief and turret gunner for my team, and I took my job seriously. From my vantage point in the turret, I would remain hypervigilant for the two-hour drive north. Continually scanning the road ahead for debris that could be hiding a roadside bomb which would be set to detonate, destroy, maim and kill as our non-up armored HUMVEE passed. On top of that, as each Iraqi car crept up behind our slow-moving convoy to pass us, I would switch the safety off of my M249-SAW. The SAW was my thirty-pound belt-fed machine gun I would mount to my turret each time we would leave the wire, which could fire up to eight hundred rounds per minute toward an enemy.

    As each car passed, I anxiously peered into their windows. The hyper-vigilance was partly because each car could be packed with a team of Mujahideen fighters. They would carry AK-47 fully automatic rifles ready to unload on us, or rocket-propelled grenades that were devastating. More so because our vinyl doors were no match for any of these munitions and as such, I wanted to be ready to act in a split second. Regardless of the threat, I decided that I wasn’t going to lose someone on my team. I decided I wasn’t going to lose anyone on our side for that matter. Unfortunately, while my decision was a noble one, with high intention, it was also a U.S.E. decision, and God had other plans.

    As we rolled down a straight stretch of road, the searing hot wind whipping against my face, I noticed something in the deep ditch to the passenger side of the road. Consequently, thinking there was a potential ambush, I quickly rotated my turret and trained the sights of my machine gun on the potential target. As the object crested the drop off on the edge of the road and into my line of sight, I quickly realized it wasn’t an ambush. Instead, it was, in fact, a tire and wheel well of an upturned civilian vehicle. A few seconds later, I noticed another vehicle in the ditch nearby. The crashed vehicles were white SUV’s, Land Rovers, to be exact. These were the standard vehicle civilian contractors like the Army Core of Engineers drove. I yelled down the turret over the noisy diesel engine and extreme road noise caused by the aggressive HUMVEE tires to my driver, Specialist Beckman, and told him to pull off to the side of the road. “Park near the vehicles but stay out of IED blast radius. Make sure we have a clear escape route ahead and watch out for buried explosives or wires!” I shouted. As we parked just off of the shoulder, our team chief Sgt Rutherford ordered 360-degree security from the rest of the convoy while we investigated the upturned and wrecked civilian vehicles.

    What I saw while approaching the vehicles was unforgettable, and for these purposes, I won’t go into detail. Know that inside the crashed vehicles, there were a group of ambushed civilians from coalition force countries. It appeared to me that Iraqi Mujahideen forces had pulled up alongside them and unloaded several magazines of AK47 into the driver’s window and door. Consequently, almost all of them were murdered before the SUV even landed in the ditch. If there were any survivors, it didn’t matter, because they also suffered wounds synonymous to AK-47 gunfire. These allies were Army core of engineers that had been carrying explosives which would be used to detonate Iraqi ordinance, for the demolition of unsafe structures. The enemy had decided to ambush them and take the powerful C4 explosives to create roadside bombs. “That could have been us.” and “How could someone take a life over something like this?” I remember thinking.

    We frantically checked for survivors and found one. He had a faint pulse and was hardly breathing, but he was alive. We didn’t have a medic with us, but we did have a “combat lifesaver,” me. I had gone to the three-day course in preparation for the deployment. There I had learned to give an I.V., splint broken bones, and place a tunicate on wounded limbs. My driver radioed for a medivac helicopter, which would likely take fifteen minutes to arrive at our location. All the while, I wanted to try and help this undeserving man from an untimely death with my feeble medic skills. Due to the lack of confidence in my ability, not knowing where even to start, fearing I would do more harm than good and have no idea how long they had been in that ditch I was skeptical even to help. Together my team and I pulled security and tried to help any way we could. Because of those circumstances, when the helicopter arrived to lift him off, I prayed that the men who had already died didn’t have families at home. I prayed that the wounded lone survivor we found would make it through the night. Finally, I prayed I could forget what I had seen because I knew if I didn’t forget, I wouldn’t be the same again.

    Later that day, we arrived at HQ, and in true military fashion, we had reporting to do around the incident. As if this detailed recount of the experience wasn’t enough to reinforce the traumatic experience, a man with tear-soaked bags under his eyes and a British accent approached me and asked, “Are you the one who found my team?”

    I said, “Yes, sir.” solemnly.

    All I could say was, “I’m so sorry.”

    “Thank you…” He paused, trying to hold back tears, his voice beginning to crack. “None of them survived. Their families are going to be devastated.” He grabbed my arm and began to cry. “You tried to save them, thank you.”

    None of my prayers had been answered, and there was no consoling him. Moreover, I had nothing good to say and no positive thoughts running through my head. All I could think was, “Sean, you failed. You should have been there sooner. You should have done something else. You should have done something more. You didn’t practice your combat lifesaver skills. His family is destroyed. You failed your objective to keep everyone safe.”

    This unrealistic self-expectation or U.S.E. thoughts continued for years. This mindset was so hard to shake it perpetuated into other areas of my life like business and family in the civilian world, subsequently. It took me a long time to realize that this horrific encounter that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy had rewired my brain to blame myself for things that were out of my control. I began holding myself accountable for events I didn’t cause and had no control over.

    St. Louis MO, January 2012, Jeff Cash froze to death while walking home from a local tavern, and alcoholism had claimed his life, God rest his soul. It was excruciating because Jeff was like a brother to me. There were many reasons he and I were like brothers to each other. First, Jeff helped me get hired at the dealership I was now managing. He also helped me get on my feet by encouraging me to keep trying during my first rocky months selling cars. I appreciated the way Jeff would give me training after each customer interaction. Throughout the next 8 years, he taught me everything he knew about the car business. On top of that, Jeff trusted me to sell to his client base and ensured I always had fresh lists of prospects to call. Moreover, he helped me earn a promotion into finance and then was a massive advocate of moving me into a sales management role.

    I had met Jeff about ten years earlier in the finance office when I had just gotten out of the Army. I was purchasing a car to replace the one I had just totaled on my way to work at Best Buy. During my transition from soldier to civilian, I was struggling financially. Partly, the struggle existed because the government had been providing my housing and food. Partly because my mother, who had been taking care of my finances during my two years of combat zone deployments, had been taking care of my bills. As a result, I became dependent on others taking care of business for me. To make matters worse, I had bought a house I couldn’t afford during the subprime mortgage crisis on an A.R.M. loan, and I knocked up my fiancé. Oops!

    That’s why it was depressing when Jeff announced his divorce, worst when the heavy drinking became evident and he began his long and steady decline. Jeff drank so much at times that he would pass out at work, and we would have to wake him up by pouring cold water on his head. The most challenging thing I ever had to do as a manager was to fire him. One of the many powerful lessons I had learned in the Army was that you couldn’t put everyone’s lives at risk over one person’s self-interest. In this case, Jeff’s lack of performance and moreover his inability to function at work was costing everyone steady paychecks, and it wasn’t fair for the team. I let it go far too long and even had two salespeople quit because they couldn’t work with Jeff in his capacity at that time.

    Regardless, once I finally mustered the courage to hold my friend, my automotive teacher, my career advocate accountable, he completely understood my stance. He thanked me, hugged me, and after he stumbled out of his finance office and I went to clean the remaining items from his office, I found dozens of empty vodka bottles. As I bagged up the bottles, I thought to myself, “Sean, you failed. You should have seen this sooner. You should have done something else. You should have done something more. His family is destroyed. You failed your mission to keep everyone safe.” It was like I was reliving the loss I had experienced in Iraq ten years earlier.

    Shortly after that, fearing Jeff was going to drink himself to death, Doug and I tried to help Jeff. Doug was Jeff’s best friend and my first manager in the car business. Doug was also the manager I replaced when he quit our dealership about two years prior. We decided to go over to Jeff’s house to have a small intervention. When we arrived at his once lively house, I had memories of having dinner with Jeff and his wife. I remembered the sound of his two beautiful daughters laughing and playing, talking about sponge bob and chasing me around the house with Jeff’s seldom used golf clubs. Now, it looked like a condemned forsaken house, and upon looking in the window, we saw Jeff sprawled out on the living room floor next to the couch where we used to play Tony Hawks pro skater on his PlayStation. My heart raced, thinking he could be dead. Doug and I were able to get in through the unlocked front door and rushed to Jeff’s side. What we saw caused a massive mix of emotion. It was appalling to see that Jeff had fallen on the floor and lay motionless surrounded by his unfinished french fries. Had something terrible happened? Was Jeff dead? Our dread intensified as soon as we noticed no less than fifteen empty two-gallon plastic jugs of vodka were dispersed throughout the floor, tables, and counters around his home.

    Upon closer examination, we felt relief to know that Jeff was alive and breathing! Doug and I were feeling somewhat helpless to prevent Jeff from doing any further harm to himself. Thus, we decided to call the police and ask that they lock him up for his safety. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do anything because he wasn’t a threat to himself or others. We left multiple messages for AA groups, but it was evening, and they were all closed. We ended up telling the police that our dear friend was suicidal because that allowed him to be locked up for twenty-four hours. As you already know, it didn’t save him.

    The reason I share this story is that after Jeff died, the same self-defeating U.S.E. thoughts flooded my head. “Sean, you failed. You should have been there sooner. You should have done something else. You should have done something more. His family is destroyed. You failed in your mission to keep everyone safe.” Again, I was reliving the loss I had experienced in Iraq ten years earlier.

    You see, I had contracted the damaging mindset of unrealistic self-expectational thought, U.S.E. my brain had been wired by what had happened in my past. The first mistake I was making yet again were the demands on myself that weren’t fair or realistic. The next error was the belief that I could control all of these outcomes and situations. Again, I was telling myself, “No one can be killed on my watch.” These expectations were fallacies, and I was setting myself up for failure. I didn’t have control over Jeff’s choices or his mental health. Heck, I could barely influence his behavior and had zero influence on the outcome. When you set expectations for yourself that you have no control over, that’s utterly unfair to you!

    Moreover, when things don’t go your way, you blame yourself. As a result, we become jaded, unconfident, fearful, regretful, anxious, disengaged, or negative. We avoid new experiences which could potentially generate the same adverse outcomes. Giving yourself unrealistic expectations becomes a habit, and we begin to punish ourselves repeatedly. We should never hold ourselves accountable to circumstances that we can’t influence or change.

    This phenomenon occurs in war, and more frequently, in business. It is the equivalent of working for a manager who continually berates you and punishes you for something like, lousy weather, or their favorite sports team losing a game. Except you are the boss, and you are treating yourself like a crap! Does this sound fair to you? Does this sound familiar to you? This challenged mindset must be brought to the surface and addressed post haste. Because our brains operate in thinking patterns, each time you give yourself U.S.E., you perpetuate the cycle when you choose to allow yourself to set the wrong self-expectations.

    What happens when you shift your mindset? How can you set realistic expectations for yourself? What actions and behaviors should you hold yourself accountable? What does it feel like when you free yourself of these atrocious mindsets? What new actions will you take and what can it mean for you in business and sales?

    For me to let go of U.S.E. I needed to permit myself to be human. I had to forgive myself for undesired outcomes in which I was involved but didn’t have control over. I needed to let go of the outcome and focus on the process and only be accountable for that. I don’t have superpowers, and I’m not perfect. I can’t predict the future, nor do I have mind control of others. As such, when I looked back and realized that I had taken action in all of these challenging events. Once I realized these adverse outcomes were choices made by others, and I had given them a life raft to grab onto if they wanted it. Once I realized I would never hold others to these same ridiculous standards, I was able to let go. Now. I make much better decisions around what I am responsible for, and as such, the actions I take are ultimately producing better results. What I want for you in reading this is to let go and begin to make great choices around what you do have control over. I want you to recognize that when you do have a negative outcome. If you took the right action at the right time and focused on the process and it still didn’t work out, that’s all you can do, and you need to forgive yourself. Unless you have a crystal, ball and can predict the future, this may happen regardless of your process, and that’s ok as well. Learn any lessons you can, adjust your process, and continue to take action around what you have control over. Give yourself expectations that you can meet. As such, you can set goals that you can accomplish and enjoy your work and life even more!

    Now, let’s apply this solution to your business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company owner, a manager or a salesperson, cure yourself of U.S.E. to improve your skills, take the right actions, and grow as a leader! Here is a walkthrough of a recent coaching conversation where a sales professional I coach was suffering from U.S.E. starting with the last part of our discussion.
    “What would make this conversation positively impactful for your career?” I thoughtfully asked. The coaching conversation had started with his greatest challenge.

    “I need to get the enjoyment back in my career.” He stated.

    “Will you tell me more about that?” I asked.

    This time he replied with much greater detail, “I’m anxious, I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about my sales. I just want to succeed, and ever since I changed companies, I haven’t been as successful as I was before. It’s wearing on me, and now when I deal with customers who aren’t buyers, I get so frustrated. I left my last job because of these same problems, and I really like it here and want to stay. I’m not sure what to do, I’m just not happy with what I’m doing. I’ve thought that I might need a career change.” I could hear the frustration in his voice.

    “Thank you for sharing your struggles with me.” I was grateful for his willingness to be vulnerable because this deep level of understanding is where I can add the most value as a coach. “I want to ensure we address anything standing in the way of your career fulfillment in this conversation. Are you open to unpacking each of these challenges separately, then collaborating around an action plan to improve your situation?” These topics were deep, and I needed to know if he wanted me to be a shoulder to lean on for his problems or preferred to address these with actionable items through coaching. I believe without action; coaching is just therapy.
    With hesitation and pessimism in his voice, he replied, “That would be great, but I don’t think it’s possible and even if it were, addressing this might not be a good idea.”

    “What would be a bad idea about helping you find less stress, more enjoyment, and success in your career?” I probed.

    “Yes…” His initial confidence began to waver. “Well, maybe not.” He paused, “I guess the problem is…” he paused again. “I think there are two versions of me. One version of me is stressed out all the time and sells a lot. The other version of me is laid back and isn’t as successful.”

    After coaching many executives, high achieving middle managers, and top producing salespeople who enjoy low overwhelm and excellent results, I knew he was conning himself. I needed to coach him around this con. “Is it possible for someone to enjoy success without high levels of stress?” I probed.

    “I think so, and I just have no clue how.” He humbly laughed at his own opportunity to grow.

    “How successful will you feel about this career, if you quit under these circumstances?” I asked another cost-based question aiming to learn if quitting would be an undesired outcome for him.

    Tim quickly and confidently responded, “I would never want to quit under these circumstances because I already did that once at my last job. Also, I like this company far too much to feel good about doing that again.” Before I could respond Tim added, “That’s a good point if I don’t address this, it doesn’t matter if the stress helps me sell more or not, I’ll quit again.”

    I asked Tim again, “Are you ready to unpack the challenges you’ve brought up and tackle each one in a vacuum?”

    “Without a doubt!” He said excitedly.

    “Other than success, stress caused by your inability to unplug from work, and unruly buyers, what other challenges should we address here?” I wanted to ensure we had clarity on where to begin.

    “That’s pretty much it. If we can tackle those, I think I can get to the level of success I want here.” He verified.

    Since words like success mean something different for everyone, I needed him to paint that picture. “First, I need to understand what success means to you. Can you help me understand what that looks like?”

    He quickly threw out a result, “I would sell twenty cars a month and make about ten thousand dollars.”

    “In addition to the units and commission, what about that level of success is so important to you?” I asked.

    “Mark, who recruited me, needs me to knock it out of the park. He told me that when he hired me and I promised him I would do it. I just want to make him happy. Also, I don’t want to go back now that I’ve already been to a certain point of success at my old dealership.” He clearly felt like he was letting Mark, his hiring manager, and himself down.

    “I respect you for wanting to please your new manager and exceed his expectations. How far off his expectations are you?” I questioned him further.


    “How many cars does HE want you to sell, and what does he expect you to make each month?” I asked another way.

    Chuckling softly, he said, “I don’t know, he’s never really given me a specific number.”

    “What is causing you to feel that you’re not meeting your manager’s expectations? Has he given you any sign that you’re underperforming?” I wanted to know if there were non-verbal cues such as body language, or passive-aggressive behaviors coming from his manager that may indicate frustration.

    “No, not at all.” He paused

    I asked, “What assumptions might you be making about your manager’s expectations of you?”

    “All of them. I need to talk to the boss and find out, don’t I?”

    “Sounds like a great idea!” Allowing my enthusiasm regarding his idea to show. Now it was time to turn an idea into an action item or plan, “Are you willing to do that?”

    “Absolutely. I’ll do it right away.” He declared.

    As I took notes around his first commitment, I asked a follow-up question around his past performance, “Also, in your prime, how many cars were you selling at your old dealership?”

    “My last full year at my old store, I sold about two hundred and fifty-five cars!” He proclaimed proudly.

    I wanted to find out how far he had declined since joining this new team, “Now, how many cars per month are you selling?”

    “I’ve been here for about four months. I had a rough first month, we were really slow, and I sold about thirteen. I told the dealership it was my fault for hiring me.” He laughed “My second month was amazing, and I sold twenty-seven cars! The last couple of months have been pretty good. Selling about twenty.” He finished there.

    I jotted “U.S.E.?” in my notebook regarding the way he was potentially blaming himself for the dealerships lousy month, and I also began to do the math on his results. Next, I asked, “Ok, other than the company you work for, and your results, what else has changed?”

    Silence, again.

    “Have you been doing everything the right way? As in, are you following your processes, working as hard as you usually do, and being personally accountable?” I dug deeper.

    “Well, it took me a while to get used to the new pricing system here. It’s been such a cultural change from my old company. I had to learn a whole new way of doing business. I feel like I’ve got it down now, though.” He stated.

    “Ok, great, thank you!” I said excitedly. I was excited because I now had the information I needed. I believed I had uncovered the puzzle pieces he was missing, The missing puzzle pieces were the ones I had, and that’s where I can make an impact. I had to verify this before I attempted to add value, but there was still the matter of the customer frustration.

    “I think we are arriving at a point that I can help you with your greatest challenge. Before we do, what is it that you enjoy and dislike about your customer interactions as it relates to your career responsibilities?”

    “I really like educating them, training and bettering people. When they are open to that sort of thing.” I could hear the passion in his voice again. Then the spark faded as he explained the downside in detail, “Nowadays it seems customers always know what they want. They have done their homework and don’t want to deal with a salesperson anymore. It’s like they want to get in, get the best price, and get out. Some of them are only concerned about price and come across as downright rude. I don’t think it’s fair to be treated like that when they don’t even know me.”

    I replied with another question, “What does a rude customer sound like?”
    “They don’t want help, won’t let me ask them questions to help them, or teach them anything.” He pointed out.

    “It sounds like you have already identified your ideal customer. Someone who wants to learn, gain an education, and enjoys a two-way dialog. Is that correct?”

    “Absolutely.” He stated.

    “Also, it sounds to me like you have defined your brand in the automotive sales world. Something like #TheAutoEducator I help people learn about and find the perfect car for their families!” Ensuring we are aligned in his definition of his personal brand.

    “Ok, this is almost creepy! At my last dealership, they used to call me the Car Professor!” He laughed.

    “Have you chosen to use this brand to find, attract, and engage with customers to set expectations with and create your ideal customers?” I asked.

    “I can’t say that I have.” He said.

    It was time for me to drop the coaching hammer and give him the missing puzzle pieces. Tim, like most professionals, have 97% of what it takes to achieve what they want most in their head. It’s the 3% of puzzle pieces they don’t have, that as a coach I need to uncover. In that way, each piece of information I share, every story I tell is a guaranteed value add. “It’s time for me to add value… are you ready to grow as a person and professional?” I confidently asked him.

    “Please!” He said.

    “First off, what would it mean for you if you could wait on customers who wanted to work with someone like you each and every time?” I asked, seeking to crystallize this new possibility further.

    “It would mean the world to me.” He said hopefully.

    “What I want for you, is that you enjoy working with each customer that you choose to work with because they like buying cars from a knowledgeable salesperson such as yourself. I want the customers you work with to seek out and appreciate the level at which you educate your customers.” I was recruiting him to the conversation because people choose a side within the first ten seconds of a conversation. I wanted to be candied, and this can cause people to become defensive, to ensure he knew the positive intent I wanted him to choose the side that would fight for him, his coaches’ side.

    I stated bluntly, “then choose to wait on those customers, and choose to walk away from the rest. Give the customers who wouldn’t be enjoyable to sell, to someone else. If you were going to enact a process to screen customers and allow yourself to wait on customers that would positively impact your attitude and actions, what would that look like?”

    “I would tell them how I sell cars upfront, the automotive educator, then ask them questions to see if they would want to work with me, and vice versa. I like the idea of defining my brand and process upfront. Maybe I could even talk to Mark about letting me learn service.” He replied.

    “Sounds like a great plan,” I said.

    Wanting to tackle the U.S.E. problem, I asked the following question, “Regarding your success levels… If you were my manager, would you ever get angry with me, browbeat me, think less of me, and treat me like a second rate citizen for not meeting expectations that you never gave me?”

    “Of course not.” He said.

    “Is it possible to sell perfectly and still not make a sale?” I asked.

    “Yes,” He replied.

    “Why not?” I asked.

    “Because you can’t control all the customer’s decisions, no matter how good you are in sales. No one can get everyone to buy.” He wisely answered.

    Time to drive the point home and show him that his success hadn’t backslid near as much as he believed it had, “Now imagine you are my manager, and I was learning an entirely new process. I am your employee following that brand-new process and working my tail off. During that learning phase, I sold about 1.2 fewer cars per month. Would you be angry with me, browbeat me, think less of me, and treat me like a second-rate citizen for taking that much of a dip in results?”

    “No, I wouldn’t. Not at all.” He said.

    “Then WHY are you doing THAT to yourself, Tim?” I asked.

    He was quiet.

    I raised my voice for maximum impact and memory retention, “Is there any value in browbeating yourself for results you have no control over if you are following the right process? Is anxiety, fear, and the result of quitting worth the payout of slightly better performance in the short term? Is it fair to for you to think less of yourself, and believe your manager feels you aren’t meeting expectations when you don’t even know what expectations you’re not meeting?”

    “No, to all that.” He replied

    Tim, in reality, you’re selling two cars less per month than you were before, WHILE learning all this new stuff at a new dealership and each month you’re selling more! That’s impressive!” I wanted him to start winning immediately.

    “Thank you,” Tim said with gratitude.

    “Are you willing to commit to waiting on more of the right customers, and create more of them knowing there are so many customers out there who would kill to work with a salesperson like you?” It was time to finalize his action plan.

    “Yes. One hundred percent!” Tim replied.

    “What’s mindsets and behaviors are going to be different from here on out, and what is your action plan after this conversation?”

    With a chuckle and sigh of relief, Tim said, “I am a dick of a boss to myself… First off, that’s going to stop.” The relief came as his mindset had shifted to a higher level of thinking, and his long-standing pent-up anxiety finally began to fade. “Looking back at my results, I’m happy with how I’ve done since the job change. I think I can do even more for my company when working with the right type of customers, or even in the right department. I think this conversation has ensured I’ll be with my company longer and can’t wait to sit down with Mark, find out if he is happy with me or not, and discuss all this.” He wrapped up with his action plan, “I am going to focus on what I can do and not stress out about the outcome. I’m going to tell my customers how I sell cars up front!”

    As a result of our coaching conversation, Tim was now ready to hold himself accountable to activities that were in his control, instead of results that he could barely influence. Equally important, he was ready and willing to meet with his manager to clarify his leaders’ expectations in a dialog instead of assuming he was failing to meet them. Tim gave himself credit for learning so much and not going backward as terribly as he had perceived after looking at factual data. Finally, this fantastic individual committed to begin selling in a way that aligns to his core values and beliefs. Doing so has ensured he creates more career fulfillment and avoids the feeling of hopelessness created when your environment, people around you, and behaviors aren’t moving you toward what you want most in your career and in life.

    U.S.E. is useless, and if you would enjoy the same type of career and life-impacting conversations, email me at Sean@CarMotivators.com or call 18889210221. You can also join the Car Motivators Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/coachingthecarbusiness/ we would be honored to have you in our community and share in our mission to bring coaching to the car business! #coachingthecarbusiness

    Sean Kelley
    CEO https://www.CarMotivators.com
    Writer and Vlogger for https://www.dealershipnews.com

  • Mar 30 2019 • By Sean Kelley

    DEALERS, GM’s, SALES MANAGERS: Are you facing any of the following market challenges and other than working harder, you’re not 100% confident your plan will overcome them?




    We want to share some inside information that has helped car dealers we coach to overcome the high cost of customer acquisition, compressed profit margins, and shrinking customer loyalty. We share this because our team of elite coaches has experienced these challenges and successes first hand alongside the dealers we coach. At Car Motivators, we care about the opportunity the showroom floor provides and the people who work on it. We also believe dealers strengthen the communities in which they thrive. Therefore, we want for you in reading this to enjoy the same success in overcoming these challenges. In this way, your dealership can continue to grow.

    For many leaders, overcoming these seems daunting and hopeless! Many dealers feel like they are playing a game and the chips are stacked against them.

    GOOD NEWS: This is a game, and to win you only need three things:




    The offense is the way that you market to and attract buyers. First, go on the attack and DE-COMMODIFY your dealership! The commoditization of your inventory is one of the greatest reasons your margins are shrinking. Truly, you only have ONE competitive advantage, and it’s your EMPLOYEES. Every employee at your dealership has direct AND free access to thousands of potential buyers. Start using marketing platforms like #Teir4Marketing and apps like #NextSale. Because this technology will keep your people in front of potential clients who can and will buy from them. Create a following online by marketing the individual players on your team. Even employees in non-customer facing departments often have large followings on social media. Why wouldn’t you include them and their online networks in these marketing efforts? To stand out, stop doing the same thing as every other dealership! That’s buying a bunch of cars, pricing them with no margin, and marketing the pricing. Otherwise, you’re simply attracting only those “best price” in-market shoppers who are often transactional buyers.

    When you can make the full transition to these modern and effective methods for attracting customers, you can expect two results. First, your employees will enjoy working with more customers that they enjoy selling. Second, you will eventually be able to lower your marketing spend, and thus improve the cost of acquisition. Keep in mind, you will want to continue your current marketing campaigns along with these tactics. Because it takes time to reach a tipping point when business generated through these means is enough to replace your high-cost low return traditional marketing spend. Most noteworthy, this tactic helped Sansone Jr 66 Automall become the most efficient dealership in his 20 group, over the course of five years.

    The defense is two-part, the first being the customer experience, before, during and IN BETWEEN sales! Start by differentiating yourself from your competition by understanding the customer experience starts before they arrive at your dealership. Technology tools like DriveCentric A.I. can engage with customers in record time, 24 hours a day through various communication channels. Add a personal touch and improve the pre-arrival experience by sending personalized videos to each opportunity. At Car Motivators, we advise our internet sales departments to “Treat the pixels like people”! As a result, we have two Toyota dealerships who have well over 80% engagement from internet leads each month. Your dealership can create amazing online experiences by customizing responses to each opportunity. Have your sales and BDC fire on all cylinders by working in unison to support the online shopper. Leverage all communication tools available like social media messenger apps, video, and texting. In doing it’s not unreasonable to talk to 30% more of your leads than the average dealer.

    Regarding the customer experience, it’s critical that you help your salespeople adopt the mindset that every customer is a 30-car buyer. Stop treating customers as if they are a single transactional sale because if you sell like a kiosk, you can be replaced by one. There is no “after sale” follow up with this new mindset. There is only “in-between sales” relationship development which when implemented ensures your salespeople think long term. The in-between sales experience for a customer should happen digitally leveraging tools like CRM, social media groups, video, and with in-store on-site events, charitable acts, and community involvement. This long term approach ensures long term success for your dealership. Build a team of farmers who are aligned to your dealer’s long term success.

    The critical second half to the defense which will shield you from the three challenges above is the employee experience. The reason is that a better employee experience creates engaged employees. Engaged employees are more motivated, accountable, productive, and remain with your company longer. When you multiply the effects of these engaged employee attributes across all employees in your organization you multiply results. These employees stay on the team longer, and employee retention means customer retention.

    Recently I was coaching a service manager in the dealers’ service drive. During our conversation, a customer drop off mentioned she hadn’t visited the service drive in a year. I asked her, “What can we do to earn your service business every time?”, and she said, “Start by having the same advisors each time I visit.” Clearly pointing out, turnover affects customer relationships.

    One way my dealers improve the employee experience is by having a robust onboarding process that ensures employees have a foundation for success. Stop throwing employees to the wolves without training or tests for competency because this almost always sets them up for failure. Another crucial leadership activity that lowered turnover for my dealership by almost 70%, performance coaching. Continue developing people through aspirational performance coaching, even after they have been trained, and understand their job. This is one of the only methods for employee development once they hit the glass ceiling of skills training. For more information on performance coaching, email Sean@CarMotivators.com

    This combined improved customer experience and employee experience is a defense against commoditization which will ensure that you build customer retention.

    Finally, it’s time to discuss the masterful playbook. Because every great team has a coach with plays that ensure the team outmaneuvers the competition. When you have a playbook your team conducts the right activities in the right way.  Your playbook should consist of several things: A process for vetting, deciding upon, implementing, and revisiting new procedures, tools, and technology. Consistent operational best practices such as competitive mystery shopping, inventory acquisition, time management activity inventory for all employees. Equally important, reporting and methods for holding people accountable to the behaviors encompassed above. Finally, leadership competency and understanding of the latest industry best practices that drive results.

    You can start by working with leaders and employees to brainstorm around new ideas. We suggest involving the entire team in developing this growth mindset. You can discuss which ideas if implemented, would have the most significant impact on business. Try sending your managers to a conference or two. You could visit a top dealership in your region for a day. Another strategy is to simply join a 20 group. A cheap and simple way for ideation is simply to read a few articles with industry best practices or listen to automotive VLOGS on dealershipnews.com or similar sites. Have your team join the Car Motivators Facebook group where industry top performers are always seeking to help each other grow. After these activities, have each employee share their favorite idea and choose the best one to implement. Furthermore, create a game plan as a team, ensure everyone commits to activities and time frames. Furthermore, build reward/recognition programs for results, and communicate the accountability processes to ensure everyone meets their commitments.

    Another opportunity within this bucket is to develop a process for conducting cultural alignment and 360-degree cultural assessments. This can help you bring in the right people and is another method to keep the right people on your team. This gives people who aren’t a good fit the chance to move on to something better in a fair and efficient manner. As such, managers can focus their development efforts on employees on those long term employee partners. This playbook in its entirety if appropriately implemented, will help you quickly add technology tools and processes in the right way. Weaving these new activities into the fabric of your teams’ routines are critical to your bottom line. More importantly, it will help you remove unproductive and unprofitable tools, processes and technology faster and with less wasted effort and frustration.

    At a high level, we have discussed three car dealerships most significant challenges: shrinking profit margins, lower customer loyalty, and the high cost of customer acquisition. Throughout the article, I shared proven processes that you can start doing, stop doing and continue doing which will help you overcome these challenges. Above all, if you’re thinking, “These solutions are not what I had hoped for, this sounds hard.” If you have the inclination to continue looking for that magic pill, then I challenge you to look at any championship sports team. Because they don’t become champions by simply wanting championship results. Nor did the championship team take performance-enhancing drugs suddenly crushing their competition and winning it all overnight.

    Rather, it takes long term consistent training, coaching: Using the right technology and tools. Combine this with taking new modern best practices, a mindset of accountability, a clear vision, and a desire to win. Then go on the attack with a blitzkrieg offense and enhance your dealership’s brand by marketing your people. Set up an impenetrable defense with industry best customer and employee experiences. Develop a great playbook that ensures personal growth for every player and leader on your team. Ensure continuous improvement by inspecting what you expect to create accountability and develop a mindset of ownership across the board. Remember, you too can overcome these three challenges and set your entire business up for future success!


    Sean Kelley


    CEO: Car Motivators

    Prior to entering the car business, Sean believed leadership was the key to ensure his Special Operations team would survive two combat zone deployments. Sean Kelley #thecarbizcoach has since applied those same leadership principals to automotive management and successfully led dealers for a decade: lowering turnover, increasing profit, customer retention, customer satisfaction, and setting first-time regional records. Sean Kelley has built a massive following of thousands of people on Linkedin, Facebook, and is a featured writer and VLOG for www.dealershipnews.com. Sean received the automotive consultant of the year award in 2018 by Dealership News and was #10 on Ambition’s top 100 sales coaches to follow. Sean’s passion for coaching and people development led him to be Chief Business Development Officer of DriveCentric CRM where he helped them double their annual revenue in months. Now, as CEO of Car Motivators and President of Next Sale App for Missouri, Sean and his coaches work with dozens of dealer groups, and hundreds of sales managers across the country helping them achieve great results through their people and technology. Sean creates winning cultures with his unique self-developed approach to coaching and people development called D.R.I.V.E.C3™. Sean’s vision is to positively impact the auto industry and its people by bringing coaching to the car business.