How to Kill Willy Loman

stressed out businessman

Willy Loman is the protagonist from Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Death of a Salesman. Reproduced on film and on countless stages around the world for decades, the classic narrative follows Willie, an exhausted and simple salesman. Though not set against the backdrop of a car dealership, the image of an exhausted salesperson still applies at a lot of dealerships today.

I have been an automobile sales trainer and dealership sales staff recruiter since 1997. Prior to that, my time in the auto industry was spread across sales management and sales positions at dealerships selling luxury, domestics, and imports. I hope my article will help you key in on some ways you can stop the revolving door and retain the sales people you have.

Not everyone is a born salesperson, but most just need the right amount of time, proper training, practice, self-control, a positive work environment and a professional management team to take them to the next level.

I frequently get asked by dealer principals and managers why some potentially good people are not interested in selling cars and why they have a problem keeping their current sales staff. One of the answers is that most people know the job is commission based and full of long days where you are only as good as your last sale. Not to mention the idea of dealing with buyers who have their guard up when they walk in the front door.

There are some generalities I can make about the types of people who make good sales people. I would say most are educated, either traditionally or possess great street smarts. An ideal candidate is competitive, comfortable in his own skin, and usually the ones to dominate in a group setting. Good salespeople are self-driven and love personal interaction with everyone; they enjoy a challenge and have a positive outlook on life.

If you are having difficulty retaining sales people, look at your dealership culture and management procedures before you start assigning blame. I’ve seen and placed thousands of great people get into the auto sales business only to leave it and never return. The reasons always seem to be the same and here are several ways we are killing the Willy Lomans of our world.

  • Overwork them. Expect them to come in early and stay late everyday to stand around on their off hours.
  • Pay them a $75.00 flat for selling a $20,000-plus product.
  • Charge them back on their next month’s paycheck if they didn’t make the minimum commission for the previous month. Starting the month owing the dealership money makes a salesperson stressed out.
  • Make them work a six day week. What rocket scientist thought up this clever schedule?
  • Give them unattainable goals every month and tie those unrealistic projections to bonuses they will generally never see.
  • Treat them as if they are incompetent. Forty and fifty year olds sales people love being badgered by a 25 year old sales manager.
  • Pay them as little as you can get away with. Taking home a $0.00 pay check is one way to get a quick divorce. A two week, 100 hour pay period for zero is really hard to explain to your spouse and your creditors.
  • Make sure all dealer and managers referral deals go to one salesperson. No one else would appreciate them anyway.
  • Tell them they just made a $1500.00 gross deal and when they see their commission slip of only $900.00 gross, apologize and let them know you didn’t know there were some additional charges to the deal. The never ending uncertainty of how much they made this month is not comforting.
  • Be negative about their performance—criticism is a salesperson killer.
  • Make them come in off shift and on their day off to attend an 8:30am morning managers meetings. Sure it’s a great way to get them to work a 12 hour day, but let them make that decision.

You can add your own reasons…I’m sure you have a few more. Email me yours at; I’d love to hear them.

I don’t want you to think it’s a good idea to keep underachievers and let them get away with murder, but you have to give your sales staff a fighting chance. Perhaps my list comes from a biased pen, because of the positions I have held and my current work I do now. I don’t sell cars anymore. I sell employment and dreams. But I see these problems play out at dealerships across North America and with every make.

My personal opinion is that if a salesperson cannot figure out how to work productively and effectively for an eight hour day, then maybe they are not suited for the auto sales industry. Working smarter is much better than working longer and burning out.

It’s your sales manager’s job to train them for success or fire them. Your sales department is the key to your overall success. If your dealership has bigger-than-normal problems, it is most likely because your sales team is exhausted and feels underappreciated. It might be time to seriously look at where you put your money and invest your time. Your monthly sales targets will suffer if your frontline is unhappy and running on empty.

Remember, a happy, energetic and productive sales staff puts extra income into your pockets and that effort should be repaid in kind. Happy sales people equals happy owners and managers.

With a proper salesperson employment strategy, you will not only survive these sometimes problematic issues and times, but you will see an increase in profitability with productive and loyal employees.

There is only one thing worse than a well-trained, happy, motivated salesperson that quits, and that is an untrained, unhappy, and unmotivated one that stays.

Darin George is the president of ASC Dealer Staffing and Training He is also the author of two sales training books. You can contact him at or call directly to 480-735-4688 for hiring and training services.

Michael Bowen


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