4 Parallels of the Auto Industry and the NFL

By David Metter

The 2016 NADA conference in Las Vegas proved connections are the single most important factor of this business, and any business for that matter. To lead, you must be able to connect with a team, and from there an audience, and beyond that, the world. The focus should always be on that first fundamental building block – the team behind the vision.

Former NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning took the stage at this year’s convention and proved his understanding of business is quite on par with his athletic reputation. What he uncovered was the undeniable parallels between not only business-to-business connection, but also human-to-human connection, and how that translates into profitable success across any industry.

The leading players in automotive did not get to where they are today alone. They got there with a dream, an unbreakable team, partnerships, and connecting the right people with the right technologies. Real success is when a single great idea aligns with the individuals capable of making it a reality.

The following are four essential elements of success as they relate to both football and the car business – revealing the automotive industry may have more in common with professional sports than we ever thought possible.

1. Leadership: Whether you’re selling cars or competing for the Lombardi Trophy, risks, challenges, and losses are inevitable. It’s those companies and individuals that resurface when they fumble that show true strength. Leaders have a certain attitude that welcomes a challenge with open arms. Competition is embraced and sought after. Leaders are prepared for opposition and they manage problems with extraordinary effort. They are rarely, if ever, 100% satisfied and are in constant desire of taking an idea and making it bigger, faster, better, simpler, and more efficient. According to Manning, “Strong leaders must have the audacity to believe there is something more out there to reach for.”

The single dominating force that lives within all leaders is their ability to influence others. Leaders inspire individuals with their opinions. In any business, and really in life in general, fear is inescapable and it can paralyze a dream. However, leaders view fear as simply another challenge to overcome. Like potholes in the road, there will be obstacles that slow you down, or that may require a new tire, but they do not stop you. Manning says, “When the leader puts aside his or her fears and believes sometimes in the unimaginable, it stokes belief in others. Thinking like a team, but ultimately being able to deliver as one, raises everyone’s performance.”

Leaders in every business excel in their trades by unearthing and experimenting with new ways to compete, change, and ultimately win the game. Leaders have to be all in or all out. They must lead by example and a five-time NFL MVP winning quarterback reminds us that doing so “is not the main tool to influence others, it’s the only tool.” 

2. Teamwork: Just as a car cannot run without fuel, a leader cannot run without a team. Rather than allowing fear to get in the way, Manning recommends replacing apprehension with goals, and to “let your dreams lead you and work to cultivate that attitude in the people who work with you and for you.” To lead a team, you must be a present, active member of the team. You are not above your team and in reality you are always aware that you would not be where you are today without your team.

Honest communication with yourself and with those you work with is critical. When people work cohesively together and trust one another, magical things happen - and that applies both on the field and the showroom. “It’s about experience, taking all departments and all levels of a dealership and making communication easy for the consumers and the people that work in the dealership,” says Manning.

Like clockwork, great teamwork in business will lead to great experiences for consumers. A great experience does not end with your website, and it also doesn’t end in the showroom. It must resonate throughout your digital and traditional campaigns, your service departments, your finance departments, and your customer relationship management during the days, months, and years after a sale.

No company, no team, and no individual can advance without setting goals and implementing a unified approach to get there. Everyone needs to be on the same page for growth to occur. Team goals must be directly in line with your personal goals. There should be one vision; one path, one road and everyone involved needs to steer straight and keep their foot on the gas until that road ends, or until the goal is seized. Manning reminds us to “never underestimate the power of the team that made it possible for you to compile those results and stand apart from the best competitors in your business.”

3. Adaptability: No one has ever gotten ahead in this industry by doing things the same way forever. Like fear, change is inevitable and should be welcomed and embraced. The first rule of adaptability is a possessing a keen awareness of your strengths and weaknesses so that when change knocks on your door, you’re armed and ready. Manning notes, Being keenly aware of yourself, your team, and your competitive landscape is vital for any strong leader. When you’re taking inventory, first focus on identifying the real strengths of your team. Where are your weaknesses? Now flip that to your competition and ask the same questions.” In addition, to be adaptable requires the ability to turn inward and focus on what you as an individual can bring to the team.

Manning reminisces on his career during the 2015 season. He was faced with a new team, new coaches, new systems, and with that new obstacles. He had no choice but to adapt his leadership techniques yet again. “When the environment changes drastically around you, no one, including the leader, can take anything for granted. There is a ferocious need to communicate more clearly, concisely, and probably more often and hopefully without a middleman in the process.”

NADA chairman, Bill Fox was quoted in DealerMarketing.com recapping this year’s convention and recognizing how incredibly adaptable the auto industry has been for the last 99 years. He said, “If NADA is to be the voice of the dealer for the next 99 years, then we must recognize change, confront change and adapt to change. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

4. Endurance: The auto industry is cyclical and in constant transition. Each month is accompanied by both opportunity and unpredictability. Last year was one of the greatest and most profitable years we’ve ever seen. Today, we face a decline in growth rates in comparison to the last five years. The competition we now face is unprecedented. But let’s not forget that throughout history, dealers and manufacturers have survived wars, recessions, and bankruptcies. Endurance is something that runs deep in the veins of all who know and love the car business.

Manning emphasizes the importance of a system for a quarterback. He says, “In your business, that equates to the corporate culture and standard practices. When you’re in a system for a long time, you master that system.” Undoubtedly, endurance defines the automotive industry in the same way that it dictates the best teams and players in the NFL. This industry will remain vibrant as we always have because of this inner, indestructible tenacity.

Peyton Manning’s NADA address did more than just captivate an audience of 28,000 dealers, 700 vendors and countless automotive enthusiasts. He connected two drastically opposing billion-dollar industries in a way no one has ever recognized before – which is what being a game changer is all about. Progressive transformation doesn’t happen from running the same play over and over again. It happens when a new play is created that changes, and ultimately wins the game.