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Parting Shots, Starting Shots. They’re Not Too Different. So Get Real!

Chances are you've been on one of the many sides of this lately: Just moments ago I sent a Facebook message to a dealer, responding to my initial message after receiving a "friend" request from them on Facebook. The message in the middle, the one from them, essentially asked me to show them any Facebook language indicating that setting up a personal page for a business was a violation of their terms of use. That was in addition to their indicating that, after reading into it, a business page might be a "good option as they are more tailored to businesses".

Folks, for better or worse it's 2011. Being in business is not about turning the open sign to "open". Being in business means you are serious about it. That every part of your business is on the radar. That being as how nearly everything that you do away from the dealership is digital you should be doing it at your dealership. You can't be serious about it being half-assed.

If you communicate with your Internet leads 50% of the time in your ILM/CRM and 50% of the time in Outlook, you WILL get 50% of the results, not 100%.

If you make a serious effort to contact leads, customers, be-backs and more 50% of the time and spend 50% of the time shooting the s&*t at the water cooler, the point, the desk, the lot and on the web, you WILL get 50% of the results, not 100%.

If you do a relatively good job at scheduling appointments 50% of the time, great job 50% of the time, you WILL get 50% of the results, not 100%.

And if you pay attention to half of the new, relevant, digital information available to you and pay attention to half of the old school, down and dirty, blocking and tackling, back to basics, you WILL get 50% of the results, not 100%. If you are lucky….

You see, as we close one year and start another what you do, and not what you talk about doing, will dictate what you get. This is not rocket science. Stop ignoring what is right in front of you… What we're hoping for is that you get the message. And there's no cost or strings attached! Ignore the messengers all you want. Don't ignore the message here!!!!! Heck, there are plenty in our industry getting (and paying for) a much larger audience and covers of magazines just to tell you what you should be well past.

Yes, it is our job to do the job right the first time. Especially if you have the information and resources! Dealers making sure the coffee and pastry service is just right while ignoring their sales process? Nothing in the world is more akin to stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime. Yes, the customer feel good is important. But calls filled with a bunch of ahs, ers and ums with a bunch of I's to boot or sending someone an email blast 120 days after they bought with a payment $50 less per month for the same car will never take the place of a great donut and a latte.

And it will never take the place of having the best new-owner orientation in the city or even the state or region. Oh yeah, those went away when things got tough and have now been replaced by $5,000 a day "trainers" and $4,000 a month social media services. Man, someone has your number and they've been sharing it!

Our parting shots for 2010 are absolutely no different at all from the starting ones for 2011. A number of dead-on predictions for the last year were ignored by at least 95% of the industry. Will an increase in sales for the majority of dealers in 2010, and hopefully again in 2011, have people ignoring really solid insight and strategies again? Let's hope not.

Aside from the factory banging on you to punch cars so they can reach new sales levels (or try to save their year), January 1 is not the start of a new month or new year. It's the next day after December 31, when you'll likely be doing the same exact thing you were doing on June 16.

So get real…

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

I Before We, With No Exception To D(ealers)

It's the end of the year and the heart of the holiday season, right in between being thankful for everything we have and swearing off more than half of it (mostly weight) for the coming year. It's the time of the year when a few minutes on the automotive networks and news sites gets the mind going. It's also right after last week's (first ever) rant….

So in spelling, it's i before e except after c. Makes sense. Well, it makes no more sense than if it had never been that way and we simply didn't make the rule. No different than putting I before we, especially for the D's. The I's are the loud talkers, advertisers and general blow hards. We…in case people forgot, are the industry. And alas, the D's. The D's are the dealers. Those are the ones that move the industry.

In the event that those that believe the real deals are: the ones doing all of the talking, the media, the OEMs and the old boys club…you're dead wrong. Not that more than an acceptable level of that goes on, it clearly does. But the writing on the wall is getting more clear by the day: the dealers, customers and (ahem) the banks/captives move our beloved industry. Just because an outside person can come in and put a deal together doesn't mean that anything….anything improved the dealership.

More and more dealers are waking up to the simple fact that they've been taken for a long drive on a short road for quite a while. And since the days of milk and honey have been over for a bit, it's more painful than most would care to admit.

So check out the majority of content on our favorite places to read. More #1 this and that's. More white papers. More new, unbelievable this and that's. More covers and articles blaring horns and sirens. OK, the numbers are up in 2010, thank goodness. Even if we're at 12M new units, that's not 17M. Not playing the downer here, lots of stuff is good, but realize that yelling about being the best at something does nothing for business at retail.

Heck, there should be more practicing of the preaching. Any company claiming they're the best, don't just back it up with 1-5% of the client base with quotes. Get the bottom percentage to do the same thing. Ask them to write testimonials without any favors, kickback or kudos of any type. And if you have three times the customers of your next competitor, you should have at least three times the reviews.

We need to move the industry at retail. We can't change the banks, so let's put our efforts where they matter most. Yelling about moving a dealer's Internet sales from 25 to 50 per month, when you didn't? Screaming that you can do the best job in the industry at whatever and your clients aren't the best in the industry? Promoting as best-in-class when the company's experts can't get on the phone for days to review the company's performance in what should be their core competency? Shame on us. How many things have become more important than the customer and how many things are in the way of simply delivering?

Let's make dealers better tomorrow. If a dealer is paying for a service, every 30 days should be better in some measurable form. It's not always units or profit. Sometimes, it's efficiency (which drives profit anyway) or education or communication or retention. Something that makes more sense than simply spending more. Let's put the dealers first. Before the next award bought. Before the next accolade spun.

I before we, with no exception to D is the wrong approach. Pass on the awards, the half-baked "third party" certifications, the advertisements (please!), the 'unbiased' networks, the bling and the paid glorification. Let's get more DEALERS on the cover of Newsweek, not CONSULTANTS on the cover of….

Whooops, that one almost got out….

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Resultsego,

Flipping The Light On: Life After The Pitch

You heard about them. You read about them. You phoned them. You had them in. You listened to them. You took the pitch. You signed the deal. And now, with services starting, either everything is the same as it was before……or the lights are on and it's kind of "ohh my my".

(Twilight Zone music in the background) You thought it would be different. You thought you knew what everything meant. You made that final turn…welcome, to real life after the pitch.

So what happened? Everything seemed fine. Well, what did you expect from adding the services? Did you write down your goals? Were resources already set aside to handle the new vendor? Was their customer service department part of the initial pitch at all? You know, the people that you'll call with questions and issues? Did you get an "out" clause or are you roped in tighter that a M3's engine in the space under the hood of a MX-5? Did you ever think "what happens if they don't do what they say they'll do?"

Let's face it, retailers want a fast, easy, painless, seamless, passive, snap-your-fingers solution. So why in the heck would anyone, unless they are offering an education with full disclosure in their pitch (read: NOT most vendors), tell you that they can't do what you need? It's so much easier to add modules and updates rather than focus on the effectiveness of a core product. It's a lot more fun, apparently, to fill up review sites with bogus users' glowing reviews than actually make it a dealership process to get recommendations. That's why dealers' investments fail and vendors fast profits are usually replaced with a shrinking client list over time.

Without question there are a few companies in the industry that are in a position to add to their product line. And because they can and are able to. Not just because they want to or are getting pressure from compoetitors. Can you find Nike golf bags, backpacks and glasses? Yup! If their shoes started sucking, those superficial products, as profitable and lifestyle "branding integrated" as they are, would be inconsequencial if the core product failed.

And, as a dealer/client, it's your job to turn the lights on. And that means ask the tough questions. Don't take the reports to heart, especially if there's no validation. When you turn the bright lights on, the cockroaches go running! When you have a partnership with your suppliers, guess what happens? Real growth, real education, real improvement. After the pitch should be the best part. If companies knew what was good for then, they'd pitch modestly and over-deliver. Now THAT'S a concept!

And life after the pitch should get progressively easier. Here's a great test and maybe something you want to try in 2011. When you start a new agreement with a vendor, ask for no more than 6 months commitment, maybe less if not month-to-month. After 50-75% of the initial period is done, indicate you're going to cancel at the end of the term and watch/listen to the response. That will tell you volumes about who you're doing business with.

Here's a few things to think about in your next (and likely soon) approach to new providers:

Ask:
1. How long have you been providing this service and who can I talk to about it?
2. What is your average turnaround time for support and completion of a ticket?
3. What hours does your customer service department work?
4. What is your after-hours/weekend customer service policy?
5. When was your last failure/cancelled client and what happened?
6. How many of my competitors to you currently work with?
7. How well does your service integrate with the system(s) currently used by my business?
8. Do you use internal or third party reporting of metrics?
9. Can I cut back on part or all of my services and what kind of notice do you need?
10. Do you subcontract and services and have you experienced service outages?
11. Is ongoing training or field support (not sales rep visits) part of your service?

Thinking about what your needs are away from how much more product and services you're being told you'll sell is critical. And go with your gut. If it sounds too good to be true (1,000 Facebook fans in no time, 200 glowing reviews per month, best sourcing of all customers of any ILM/CRM ever, increases conversion 20% every month for a year, sells cars for you 24/7, builds your client base while you're sleeping and more), it probably is.

And then there's the Golden Rule: Generally stay away from "#1 in (fill in the blank)". If you can see marketing from a vendor you are considering on every automotive network, in every publication, on every B-to-B forum and in your showroom (more often than you'd like), pretend you're a consumer –because you are!– and ask yourself this: do the best working companies in a vertical advertise everywhere? Are they screaming "we're number one"? Now, if you are always screaming "we're number one!" yourself, it might just be a match made in heaven.

Otherwise, for the rest of us, chances are there's too much focus on the frosting and not enough on the cake. Some frosting is so good, it can cover up what looks like a full, well-made, perfectly done cake. Remember that next time you simply grab the box and drive back to the office, thinking about how great everything will be, pull in, run into the store, flip on the lights and open the box. Ooh bummer…

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Things That Pissed Us Off In 2010 (Yes, They Pissed You Off, Too!)

We know it, you know it, they know it. Almost everyone knows it. Because if everyone knew it we wouldn't have ben put through it. But we were, you were and they were. Disclaimers: These are not in order of importance. Many companies are being called out, not all. This is a singular perspective.

So here it goes:

1. Automotive marketing overall: Sucked, still sucks, will likely continue to suck.
2. Dealership websites: 1995 called and wants its sites back. Give us a break and some new suppliers!
3. OEMs that don't publish new inventory: Get over it. customers leaving your brand are.
4. Automotive trainers that re-branded as web consultants: A new suit can't cover 1982 style.
5. Reputation management companies: Fudge is brown. So is bull%^&*. Fake customers? Envelope stuffers? Hooters girls? Please leave…
6. Motivational speakers that re-branded as automotive trainers: See line 4.
7. Social media companies: Charging dealers $3,000-5,000 plus per month? Larceny is still a crime.
8. DMS companies: Still make clients sign in blood for 15 year old technology, for 15 years? Nice. FAIL.
9. Website company dashboards: No, use this thing called Google Analytics. Quit fudging numbers. Block dealers' and your IPs for starters!
10. Inventory marketing portals: The luster is long gone. Run or acquire some companies for revenue!
11. Sales reps: Stop selling and start helping. Don't know much so you can't help? Sell elsewhere.
12. Ad agencies (Tier 1): Quit the facade. Traditional doesn't sell. Experiential does. Learn to like social. Get help.
13. Ad agencies (Tier 3): Quit lying to yourselves and your clients…You don't get digital. Get help.
14. CRM companies: If you don't do that, say you don't do that. Otherwise add it for free. Pariahs.
15. Website companies using Flash: 2003 called and wants their websites back. It's called HTML or PHP.
16. Facebook Personal Profiles: Businesses, we've been yelling. Set up pages. Not "friend" profiles!!
17, Social media companies: Setting up APIs and RSS feeds from OEMs is not social. It's plagiarizing.
18. Social media companies: Setting up inventory feeds as posts? If that's social, I'm tall, rich and hot.
19. Traditional media/ad networks still selling to dealers "old school". Shame on you (and your bosses).

Dealers, you're not in the clear either:

1. Hiring any service, including social, as a "pay for it and leave it" service? No such thing. Period!
2. Hiring any company because you "liked the rep when they were at ________ before". Failure…
3. Not taking the time to get educated on new aspects of your business? Hand the keys back to the OEM
4. "Trying" new things?! Sample spoons are for ice cream. Business is for big boys and girls. Just Do It!
5. Cutting your nose to spite your face? Chances are you're too lean. Hire the right people, not resumes.
6. Leaving everything up to the factory (especially some luxury brands). Wake up! It's your business!
7. Believing the you can turn your store's reputation over to an outside company?!?! I've got a bridge…
8. Not flinching on a new $4,000+ service to a company you're already cutting a $15k check to? Dumb.
9. Spending $3,000 on a 3-day conference 3+ times when you can get a month for that?! And get more!!!
10. Spending any money on your business and not taking ownership of the new spend. Why, why, why?
11. Paying any amount of ad money to traditional media and it's not integrated and tracked?! Foolish.

New-age definitions when you don't understand the spend:

CPM: Can't Provide Much
CRM: Can't Remember Much
ILM: Incredibly Lousy Marketing
CSI: Coached Senseless Investment
SSI: Serving Senseless Initiatives
I/O: Incredibly overpriced
OEM: Overlord, Empire, Master
PDI: Petty detailed injustices
Social: Someone outside control incompetently and loosely
IMS: Inventory Means Something
DMS: Decades-old Money-draining (or Mediocre-Moduled) Systems

We could go down the path a long way but here's the simple version of the message: quit doing things old ways, with old thought processes, with old beliefs, with old defenses, with old intentions, with old management. If you want to run a dealership the old way, get stuck in 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994 or 2004. If you want to thrive in this and the coming markets, wake up to the reality that business will not be the same. Even if we sell 17 million new cars again, it'll never be the same.

Some may be able to, by all appearances, just skim along on the surface, mesmerized by everything going on around them and still put up the numbers. For most of the businessmen and businesswomen in the retail part of our industry, it's a deep dive kind of time. Your success depends on you and how you build your business's presence, results, growth and more. Less than 5% of your colleagues are engaged, firing on all cylinders and moving forward in today's market.

There are a lot of things that pissed us off in 2010. And we may never do a post like this again. But somebody needed to do it. This might motivate some, light a fire in others and have some in stitches. No matter what, it's time for moving some more metal. There's not too many ways to do that today.

Are you pissed off enough to do something? We've been helping those that want to do something for the past three years and three months. Are you next?

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

2011 Will Be A Great Year…Even If You Don’t Participate

It's no secret that over the past three years, some pretty forward-thinking information was provided to the automotive industry franchise dealer body. All 24,000 plus of them (not ignoring the independents here, just making a point). Over the coming weeks, all 20,000 of the franchise dealers will get more critically important data. Just like before, it's up to them to participate.

2011 will be a great year. Fewer than last year will make up the bulk of increases in sales, count on it. The most web-versed, socially-minded, communication-skilled and forward-thinking will win. Many of those dealers will win impressively. So the same question bears repeating: why not more? Has the carnage not been great enough? Is there too much money in the coffers still? Or is it that management is still happy sitting on their "duffs" of the bay?

2011 will be a great year. There will be more talent available for dealers to select their next sales, service and parts teams and management from. Efficiency will increase, while hopefully not at the sake of bottom lines. In other words there should be more people working at dealerships unless dealerships ignore the potential increase to their business.

2011 will be a great year. The product lines continue to get better and consumer demand for a wider array of cars (not the same car re-badged) is greater than ever. Floor traffic at the dealers that deserve it will most definitely increase. Savvier dealer marketing and engagement will increase penetration in service departments, expect it. And many dealers will experience true conquest for the very first time because they did it, not the badge.

2011 will be a great year. Technoloy will continue to becon to a larger and larger customer base so those more comfortable with technology will take advantage of that. Chaging interests in Green and alternatives will compel a few more dealers to become as engaged with those movements as their customers. Building dealership brands will become a more heated conversation than building new dealership facilities (no, that won't go away).

So how great of a year will 2011 be for you and your store? Everyone, yes everyone, is betting their bottom dollar — and bottoms — that the numbers will be up. We even believe that will be the case. Remember: it's not what you make, it's what you keep. So if you didn't like what 2010 brought, you may not really be satisfied once 2011 closes it's doors.

2011 will be a great year. Oh by the way, for the ones that will be successful, 2011 has already begun. For those that want to join us, what's stopping you???…

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results