You Know Something Your GM Doesn’t

No matter how you slice this one, it's not good. See, stores may build results and get things done bottom up. But unless things changed since the close of business yesterday, your store is managed top down. And the fact that you know things that your GM doesn't won't allow you to get far or make as much as you can.

While information is power, a powerful engine that's not started can't get you anywhere. Most stores operate today without the proper information at the management level, especially in regards to Internet department/lead management operation. It is in  your best interest to make sure management knows what's going on. And yes, while it is their responsibility to understand, it's your responsibility to inform.

While it is so easy to claim that you're too busy, can't get the time, don't see eye-to-eye and a hoard of other excuses to not getting real face time, you have to spend time with the top dog at the dealership. A few things that may pay great dividends in the 'support the Internet cause' meetings you have include:

    1. Performance snapshot
        – lead performance, website issues, vendor status, training and resource needs
    2. Marketplace issues
        – competitive forces, blind shop results, guest feedback (which means actually ask questions)
    3. Opportunities
        – Technology, new services/vendors, SEO improvements, competition asleep at the wheel

And the best way to do this (at least weekly) meeting is to come prepared. Not complaints without possible solutions, whining that you 'just can't do more', defensive stances or typical non-productive time. You have to know what's happening, show that you're acting in the best interest of your store, show him/her the 'win-win' and have a Plan B in the event that you don't get what you ask for.

Be careful not to guarantee a bunch more sales if they "spend just a little more each month". News flash: every GM has been through that. Look to create buy-in by leading your GM to water, making things their idea (you don't care about credit as much as you do the paycheck!), demonstrating a solid business case and talking about value, advantages and benefits that should result.  If you don't think you can pull it off, here's a hint: bring in a consultant for one day. (psst: it's worth it!)

Make sure your management, especially your GM (or owner if you have the Bat-Line) knows what is happening in the Internet department…you know, it's that 'trend' in your store that is just going to disappear over the next 3-6 months…right???

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Build It And They Will Come…

In hospitality, it's the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Luxury Collection hotels, in aviation you're talking about the A380 and B787, and in automobiles Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Maybach, Lamborghini, Bugatti and the like. These brands beacon to those that can afford them and those that can't. They represent some of the finest in quality and reputation.

Now would you rather shop at Nordstrom or Sears, dine at Spago's or the Golden Arches and golf at Trump or your local public course?  Fact is more consumers go to the latter but lust for the prior. It's about service, attention and recognition. There is no difference from someone entering a high-line store to another person leaving a mass-brand store.

Some hotels let you rest a little more comfortably at night, fast-flying jumbo-jets arrive at your destination with more room and luxury cars get to where you're going in more comfort and style. What people care about is the experience. Check your surveys, look at your testimonials and ask your customers. They want to be acknowledged, validated and respected. That's why they write about how great the experience they had, and very rarely that you made no money on the deal that they drove two hours for.

In a meeting today with one of the import brands, it was clear that they're still struggling greatly with how dealership staff communicate with, invite and ultimately deliver customers, especially via the Internet. And didn't know how to get the management knowledgeable and accountable.

People, it's not your multi-million-dollar facilities or your top-of-the-line auto flushers in the restrooms. It is entirely the feeling that you give, the welcome that you express and the confidence that you give them that they found the 'right dealership for them'.

Take a moment to think about an extraordinary experience you've had lately…now do whatever it takes to deliver the same experience for your next client..which should be arriving right about now…

Do more…do what it takes…do what you love…do what nobody expects…and do it with a smile!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

Keeping up with the 'Joneses' in the industry is something that most people want to do, if not beat them. The issues are typically time, resources, knowledge and access. While I've been using many of the online resources for a while, it's not the case for the majority of our industry friends.  Also, there is a reluctance at different levels of the industry due to misunderstanding and ignorance.

Part of what IM@CS brings into clients is eliminating mistakes or the 'what not to do and why' as compared to simply telling people 'do this'. There are a few newer resources that address that in a great way, and they deserve plugs.

First and foremost, it is imperative to stay up-to-date with education from your vendors and use their products fully. Second, leverage the eNewsletters, webinars and events that are free to 'inexpensive' (defined by you or your dealership) run by companies including Automotive News,, KBB, Automotive Digest, Ward's, Dealer Magazine and more.

Then you have access to sites that are community based and living on the real-life, day-to-day, cut-your-teeth edge in order to provide value where it's needed most.  Here's two that are prominent players and should be bookmarked:

AutomotiveDigitalMarketing – What can you say that hasn't been said about the prolific Ralph Paglia? Don't waste your time (sorry Ralph), just go to the website and immerse yourself in the groups, discussions, blog posts and more because these are the people (about 1,600) making it happen at retail every day.*
*The fact that this post will end up on the site as well is not an additional endorsement and no, we're not being paid!

DrivingSales – Jared Hamilton started this site as a way to stay in touch with people he had taken NADA courses with. Still in beta (and a number of bugs to work out), this is another community that aims to be the knowledge base for folks starting and maintaining their digital presence, including vendor rankings, video interviews and more.

Nothing is static about our industry anymore. Your success depends on accumulating an incredible wealth of knowledge, deciding how to move forward and then doing it. Both sites are testimonies that these communities must exist and are of significant value. And if you have an idea, comment and question, go ahead and get it out there. Chances are there's at least one other person that has the same.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Sharing The Pain, Silver Bullets And You

What is it that drives someone to perform? Along with the given family, friends, clients, bosses, partners and other tangibles and intangibles, it's simply that person's desire. Two things are clearly evident in the auto industry today: it's inextricably tied to the economy (if not one of the biggest drivers) and that companies reap what they sow, sometimes for an undeservedly long time. You can't change the economy but you can absolutely control what you do.

It's not rocket science to understand what separates a performer for an 'also ran'. While that may not be fair, it's reality. The winner always figures out a way to the desired result. They rise above circumstances and work on the cause side of the equation rather than the effect side. They also know that pointing a outward finger points three back at themselves.

Another wake-up call: even though the domestic auto manufacturers may not be building the most relevant cars in the world, the products sold by GM, Ford and Chrysler do not deserve the stigma attached to the cars from the 1980s until about 2000 or so today. If sentiment is the major indicator that it truly is, Detroit is still living the nightmare. In all fairness, however, I've seen more Traverse commercials in the past three months than I ever saw of 'Road To Redemption' ads.

What is it that continues to perpetuate that type of thought process today when products and services are truly better than ever? No one is impervious. Toyota is down around 50% over the past two months and layoffs there are eminent after the first of the year.

Sharing the pain is and will be one of the unfair realities (GM is holding incentive money from dealers for two weeks, which might bury more than a few stores) as is shortages of 'hot sellers' while your lot is filled with cars that don't move. And guess what…silver bullets just don't exist and likely never did.

So what can you do to change the perception of auto retail and service?  Quit letting the 'brands' dictate your actions and reactions. Build your own brand and reputation because people don't buy a Wrangler, Camry, Z, Malibu or Arnage from Jeep, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet or Bentley. They buy from you. Start staring at the front door less and start staring at your screen more (and then email and call more, too). Read what people are saying about you online and realize that's what everyone reads!

Start using the reports from your CRM, utilizing your analytics, update your website (including updating your staff photos that show people that are no longer there and not showing people that are), market your pre-owned inventory (you market it, not the third party sites), add video to your site, emails and follow ups, take more pictures of your happy customers at delivery, call a customer you haven't touched in 12 months…

Don't hold Honda or Subaru responsible for slow traffic and hold back
on expecting Mazda to deliver 24 more customers this month.  Think like, plan like, act like and then become a performer. You're the only thing between not having it happen and making it happen. Be more effective by doing above what is needed and you'll have everyone else thinking that your holster is loaded with silver bullets. Go on…be great!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying

Could Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption) actually have been a car dealer? Everyone is holding their breath right now. Get busy living instead of waiting!!  Waiting is the same as dying.  Waiting for customers to return? Waiting for the bailout?  Waiting for consumer confidence to go up? What is it going to take to have retailers wake up?

There are great resources out there: DealerRefresh, DrivingSales and Automotive Digital Marketing, AskPatty, Automotive Dealers Network and more!  These are people putting it all out there and on the line every day.  Their knowledge, reputation, ideas and networks.  Every consultant, contractor and adviser would rather get paid.  If we can't help dealers do a better job, there's not going to be any business to go around.

It is not a question of if dealers can afford to get help or not.  The more waiting, the faster the inevitable death. It is time to make the investment in your staff, future, process and profits.

Dealers, get an outside opinion about your:

1. Online presence (go online and get off of the traditional marketing see-saw)
2. Lead process
3. Accountability
4. Oversight/Management
5. Appointment setting
6. Delivery process
7. CRM/Follow-up…
…and then stick with it.  Paying for something and then not doing it is a guarantee for failure.

OEMs, it is past the time to make a change from the same companies/individuals you've been using for years with the same or incremental lift in results.  Don't have a true eCommerce platform in your ongoing education and dealer training?  Do it.  And not part of hours or days of other sales, financing or fixed-op classes or training.  Focus on the one and only thing that is going to bring in the overwhelming majority of your dealers' sale traffic.

In the end, Andy created a plan, executed on it and made it to that beach, working on his boat.  When are you going to make your plan work?  Get busy living or get busy dying!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

IM@CS Survey: Getting Serious About Online

What will it take for dealers to get serious about online and focus on what drives traffic today and going forward?  It's a question asked often nowadays but not answered.  So, what do you think is the number one spur to get dealers to act and why?

1. Dealers/GMs understanding online more, or
2. Vendors making it easier to understand and work with them, or
3. OEMs somehow mandating minimums/standards, or
4. More dealers going out of business because they chose to ignore it (trickle-down effect)

Please leave as many comments as possible so we can also tailor some of the blog content going forward for more relevancy.

Thanks!  -IM@CS

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

With more focus on the bottom line and getting more out of every dollar, it's more important to know that your suppliers are working for you.  Here's some that understand that:

Time Highway: Karen Dillon knows what it takes to deliver a value, but she also knows how to stay relevant. Things at many dealers in the country are being held together by 'service glue'.  With Time Highway's UI and ease of having customers book their own appointments online in real time, Check it out at

Google: We've been talking about it, the JD Power conference recently featured it, there have been Webinars about it and, for some reason, dealers are still not using it. Have your website vendor(s) add it or do it yourself:

DealerPeak: There are plenty of CRM companies out there. When it comes to adding value, making things simpler and supporting clients with great customer service, only a small amount over the past few years have really made it their mantra to evolve. There are other companies that offer lead management and more, just not like Jock and the team in Oregon.

DealerImpact Systems: Brian Cox and the crew at DealerImpact used to just focus on websites. Many of their competitors still are and they've gone down the road of making sites deliver more traffic to you. They are extremely confident in the plug-ins and widgets they make, since consumers are actually using their tools on client sites.  I've known Brian for about four years and have followed DI's progression.

We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Debate All You Want…It’s Up To Washington…

Believe it or not, the auto industry and it's very immediate neighbors have always made the decisions. Whether it's to build large trucks or small cars, release vehicles from production with known problems or not, pay someone $60 an hour for a $25 an hour job, it doesn't matter as it was decided by the companies.

The 'Big 3' haven't listened too well to customers (and in some cases vendors) either, even though some listen better than others. And now, amidst some of the toughest times ever, our beloved industry must listen to no less bureaucratic 'stuff' than the unilateral decisions made inside Ford, GM and Chrysler offices for years.  Right now, we have no more influence on what happens with a potential bailout than every car dealer in the country actually listening to a consultant of company trying to apply new sales processes in their stores or having them switch their marketing to completely online.

Politicians will decide the fate of Detroit (and the immense trickle-down effect) regardless of what you and I think.  It's already happened with Wall Street. More than ever, regardless if the top executives listen, we can only 'vote' with our wallets.  And in case you haven't listened to or read the news lately, Americans are keeping their money in their pants, purses and mattresses.

We will all have to wait and see. It's not easy to watch this painful episode play out for so many reasons. Because now a whole lot of people (us) have to wait for a few people (them) in Washington to decide what happens next. So in the meantime, keep selling cars and do it better than you did yesterday.

New Products Always Save Us! Right? Hello?

One of the things that typically drives the auto world is new cars, major redesigns and other aesthetic updates that shout "I've got the newest one" to family, friends, coworkers and the world.  This week the LA Auto Show hits and hopefully the traffic will too.

If SEMA and LAAS are strong indicators of what's to come, hopefully it's a good sign.  SEMA attendance and exhibitor counts were down but it was still extremely busy and took me 15 minutes to cross from the end of the North Hall to the far end of the South Hall for a meeting with Tiegen Fryberger at Geckobyte.

LA Auto Show has emerged as a player on the world stage over the past couple of years (considering it's the home of bling) and with this year's list of new models, looks to maintain a strong position.  Will the consumers show up? With the Mustang, Volt, Touareg TDI, Mini E and many more, the foot traffic should be a good indicator of what may translate to retail later in 2009.

With less (apparent) media build-up to the show than prior and nearly no dealers talking about it, how are we doing as an industry to build up demand even considering the financial uncertainty?  It would be great to have seen a number of dealers in the area (like Sullivan, Sage, Rydell, Rusnak, etc) get together, split the bill, and have an event that gets promoted on the web, have current customers at a catered event adjascent to the show and then everyone hits the floor and checks out the cars.

Even though it's been said before, we have to think and act differently if we expect different results. Don't have a major show in your city?  Start your own 'show' or other conecpt and brings your customers and their friends in for no-pressure test drives, 'ask-the-expert' sessions or other ideas that you know more about that I do.

In the end, it's your business. What do you want out of it? New product will always bring in new customes but you can't rest your business on it. We have in the past. This year I've heard that battle cry from so many dealers: "next year we'll have the new blah-blah-blah and that will get customers running through the door" or "the buzz on next year's neezer-nazzer is awesome, so nobody wants this year's model".

Do what you can to excel, not wait. Success comes to those to plan, study and execute, then do it again and again. Remember that you're better off looking into the future in stead of staying in the past. Isn't it great how well we've all done in the past? What are you going to say two years from now?

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

What Brings Them Back?…Besides The Free Coffee.

More than ever dealers are realizing that retaining clients and giving them reasons to come back is important, if not their lifeline.  Building your business around 'the next up' is fine, as long as you are guaranteed to have a constant stream of people.  Challenges currently being faced at retail have shown most car dealers the holes in their business plan and more.

So you have a DMS, CRM, newsletters, coffee and an area for customers to sit down comfortably, and a staff.  None of those assets can bring in a guest except for the staff.  Salespeople can use all of those assets to more effectively bring in someone but don't fool yourself into thinking that because you have a CRM that has somehow magically data that doesn't get entered can turn into gold.  Or that you're using a eNewsletter (that almost all of your competition uses, in-brand and other brands) that differentiates you by chance.

When your customer that bought their car 1,000 miles ago comes in for that first (free) check-up, are you meeting them? Every time? Do you even know they're scheduled in tomorrow at 3:15? Are you sitting down with them and talking about their experience? Have you kept every follow-up commitment that you made? Overwhelmingly the simple 'bring them back' activities seem to be slipping…even in light of less traffic and fewer leads.

What type of events does your store promote and invite owners to? New owner or performance check events? Meet the management and service team? Learn about the technology in your car? What would bring you back to a retailer? Start thinking like the consumer or, if you can't, ask every customer. Invite your factory rep, or a designer, or a vendor for a product that your customers order plenty of and have a special reason for your guests to return, hopefully with a guest of their own and grow your business.

With one of the OEM's IM@CS has worked with this year, an endorsement of one of the prominent newsletter companies was made (by someone at the brand, not IM@CS or the vendor).  Through mystery shops and other activities, it has been easy to see that over 70% of the stores took that recommendation.  Now, if a shopper happens to submit leads to 2 or 3 stores in almost any area, they're bound to get the same exact (maybe one article is different) online newsletter from the stores including the ones they didn't buy from (which now-days could be all of them).

What are you saying?  What are you promoting?  It's not that you can trick a consumer into thinking that they're buying a car from a high-end department store rather than a dealership (although some of you do have a Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue approach which is fantastic!), but you have to think about what sets you apart from the usual "what will it take….?".

What in your process sets you apart? What will people remember you by? That is why people come back time and again (and bring or refer friends), even if they have a change in their purchase plans. How professional is every aspect of what you do? Everyone that markets thinks their ideas are great until (1) someone says they're not, (2) their competition takes their customers or (3) they change it after they realize that it's stale.

Evaluate your website, your newsletters, your greeting process, your closing process, your email process (which should actually have a call in there before they get 4 or 5 emails) and everything else that a customer touches regularly. And hold your vendors and suppliers accountable, always! And remember why you're in business and how much fun it is to sell.  And bring 'em back!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results