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Are Your Customers DOA?

It is time to remember once again who holds the cards at dealerships.  If you have forgotten, go to a retailer of choice at lunch or after work today and watch carefully how your interaction and transaction develops with the salesperson.  This is not to say that consumers are in the same state of mind going out to buy a new flat-screen TV as they are for a vehicle purchase.  By the same token, shouldn't one of the larger investments people ever make be met by a solid professional who knows how to assist and guide?  Why would you invest with a broker or choose a dentist to do work on you that was not a leader?

So, are your customers Doubtful On Arrival?  Hope you didn't think I was saying they're dead on arrival.  No, that would refer to dealership sales staffs (and if you don't believe me, visit nearly any other dealership in your area).  Your customers are doubtful because of so many factors today.  So let's not give them any more excuses to believe that they (1) can control you because you're selling fewer cars, or (2) that they can't have an outstanding experience. 

As retailers, you can never relinquish control of your engagement with the customer.  You can absolutely have them believe they're in control by answering their questions, validating them, being relevant, maintaining eye contact and mirroring and other proven methods (that you're already using every time, right?).  Pass control over to the customer and you're done.  And they'll know it the moment you do.  As a matter of a fact, that practice has been going on for years!  Remember this top-10 hit: "Hold on…I'll have to talk this over with my manager…please let me grab a (fill in the beverage of choice here) for you because this might be a while".  Or how about this perennial favorite: "Wow, you really drive a hard bargain.  Gosh, I don't know…well…OK.  Let's do the deal!".

We have given auto retail customers so much garbage to deal with, having a great experience with a knowledgeable salesperson that talks about benefits for that specific person and truly delivers on their promises is such an unbelievable occurrence (read: you have to talk about benefits in the customers eyes, not ramble off a list of specifications that they can read on the brand site or Edmunds.com).

Here are a few thoughts from a great person I listen to regularly that may change your current perspective or actions (hopefully):

Take consistent action
Leadership is influence not manipulation
Small things done well lead to big things that were once impossible
You have to achieve your goals no matter what happens
Action needs to be driven by decision not emotion (but please do keep your customers emotional as their purchase needs to matter more to them than to you).

While you can't guarantee that your customers won't come into your store DOA, you surely can positively influence them, stay in control, demonstrate integrity and have a great impact on them.  And by doing that you can also turn them into the best advocates you can ever have, which is precisely what your job is no matter if you're selling new cars, used cars, service, parts, accessories or finance.

You're always selling you…don't forget who's in control of you.  Be great!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Do You Believe In Online…No…Really Believe?

If there has ever been a time to stop just going through the motions and giving lip service to 'going digital' and 'jumping online', it's now.  If you are a dealer principal and/or general manager, the time is now to drop your offline and go online (some of you with a vengeance).

When's the last time you watched a TV commercial (not counting sporting events that you may wait for a funny spot or something your buddies told you to watch) or went from satellite radio to conventional to hear the ads or even stared at the black and white (or better yet full color) insertions in your local paper?  Unless it's your ad, a competitor's ad or something that glitters or goes fast, you haven't!  Quit lying to yourself and everyone else.

You (and everyone around you) is going online, on their PDAs, their wireless cards, their iTunes account and any other method that avoids advertisements.  Nobody is saying it's easy.  Your advertising agency will likely not be happy.  Your newspaper sales rep will be red-faced.  The lovely account executive from your favorite radio station won't be taking you out to lunch soon.  Fine, you'll actually get more traffic and sell more cars and service.  All while saving money, tracking your spend nearly 100% and getting near complete transparency.  Last time I checked, none of that was bad.

"I don't understand how that works".  "You can't guarantee me the same results I get from the paper".  "I don't go online that much and neither do my friends".  "My brand tried that and it didn't work even though all of the region/area dealers pitched in so it can't work for me".  The list of tried-but-false excuses don't cut the mustard anymore.  Why are you fighting change, supported data and what customers want so badly?

So here's the challenge:

1. Three months minimum exclusive online advertising (if you're exclusively working with your factory-supported site, stop here and talk with a good consultant as you may be limited in this area)
2. If possible, manage and get all of your leads through a wholesaler (likely a great route if you have a real third part website company that can effectively manage your SEO and SEM as well)
3. Track everything (read: EVERYTHING) in your CRM/DMS: sourcing, every conversation, appointments, unwinds, etc.
4. Get up to speed on your Google Analytics (if you don't have that with your existing website company, get them to do it or replace them).
5. Talk with your DSM or marketing folks at headquarters about how consumers search for your brand in your area (relevancy is key).
6. Develop an online marketing strategy that is set at least a month at a time
7. Get your sales staff to support your efforts without question (this is a huge challenge at most dealers)
8. Back your digital efforts everywhere you possibly can around the dealership (sales floor, service, parts, cashier, etc)

In order to effectively market online, you must do no less.  You can do more, much more, if you're committed.  There are plenty of companies and people doing this strategy and more right now, today.  It's not a secret, it's not in code.  Start thinking like consumers instead of like car dealers and everything will start falling into place, as soon as you start telling everyone you've been keeping in business for years one simple thing: "No thank you, I've gone online".

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Objections: Favorite or Failure?

The Big "O" in sales…objections.  Do you look forward to them as opportunities or fear them out of sure failure?  One of the largest determining factors of sales success (or lack of) is the ability to not just overcome objections, but to revel in them.

Quite simply, objections are a way to actually get to know your client better, develop strategies, determine where the conversation is going and set yourself up to win.  One of the best tools that is largely underused today is role playing.  With your sales team or management, regularly play out scenarios until you're comfortable with the areas that currently frustrate you.  It could be product oriented, you may have difficulty in the qualifying process, your close is not strong or you don't seem to ask enough questions.  No matter what if you don't improve through practice, you will likely get the same results you are today.

Objections are beautiful things.  Challenge your customer.  Typically the first thing that comes out of someone's mouth is not their actual objection.  The number one objection dealers hear: "I'm just looking".  Don't be afraid of it…have two or three comments/questions at the ready every time.  If one doesn't seem to be working, change it.  Also, change your approach.  Don't ask "can I have your email address?". Instead ask "Do you prefer communication via email or text?  Most people really like the flexibility of text messaging!".

Just remember that objections are opportunities about 95% of the time, especially if the person is in front of you.  Act as if you expected the objection they tell you.  "I'm glad you brought that up…here at Blah Blah Dealership, we go out of our way in regards to (objection)".  There are so many ways to positively address (or attack) objections.

As a good 'mate' of mine (Larry Pinci of Sell the Feeling) says "are you on the cause side of the equation or the effect side?".  You can't adequately deal with objections unless you are firmly on the cause side, know your convictions and expect to use objections to thrive.  If you fear objections, either practice until you're comfortable or see if the action is more to your liking in the business office (it just may be).

Now go out there and be great.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Follow The Ding Dang Process!

Got Time?  That's the next craze in bumper stickers and T-shirts…that car salespeople need.  Find a larger group of people that don't follow processes and they'll likely need a saying as well.  The time wasted in sales at dealerships not following process is astonishing.

It's not about the dollars your dealership spends on process.  It's not about all of the training you receive to follow the process.  It's not about all of the marketing that is spent to promote the process.  It's not about how this process is better than the last process.  It's not about what you think of the process.

If the process were not so critical, your F&I department and
business office would not follow process.  Then you'd be liable for
every compliance, DMV, documentation and a laundry list of other
mistakes and likely have your dealership closed down via lawsuits and/or your
state's Attorney General.  Chances are, if you're employed at a car dealership, you are personally lucky to have a team of people that must follow processes.  Your job depends on a score of people following process to the letter.

It's about following the process, feeding the process and leveraging the process.  It's about using your time more effectively and not thinking you have the right to reinvent or change the process at your whim.  Without process, everything breaks down folks.  Don't fight it so hard.  Quit being the 'rebel' at your store and showing everyone else that you can work outside of process.

Don't follow processes and you will loose sales.

Don't follow processes and you will loose customers.

Don't follow processes and you will loose gross.

Don't follow process and you will loose everything you try to sell for.

Follow process and you will do a better job: closing, grossing higher, overcoming objections, having your appointments show, selling accessories, getting referrals and more…even keeping your job.

OK, this has to be said for the naysayers out there: If you don't like your process, tell your manager or GM, make a decision on a new one for everyone in sales (be careful!) and get behind it.  And then follow the ding dang process!!!!!!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Hurry Up…It’s The End Of The Month!

There is a great saying that I've heard in regards to sales that is not often followed in our little automotive heaven: "Get all of your sales done at the beginning of the month so you can coast at the end of the month".  Chances are that's not the theme of the meetings that will go on come Monday morning…

If the forecasts ring true we'll be down again, led this month by GM (which happened to pull off the least disappointing month very recently compared with the rest).  What if it ends up being Chrysler, or maybe Suzuki..no how about Toyota?  Chances are you don't care as much as what happens to you regardless of brand.

See, there are still areas where Chrysler does well and Mazda doesn't.  But salespeople ultimately care about what they get paid and how many units moved.  "Show me the vouchers!" is still the mentality last time we checked.  So what do you do to have the best start to the month and be a 5 percent'er rather than being part of the 95% that tries to jam it in at the end?  Is it the adrenaline rush your get when your GM (or better yet dealer) is screaming?

Log, follow up, plan, track, watch, ask, see, expect and account.  In a recent trip to Detroit, I had the pleasure of easily seeing the following statement on a piece of paper attached to the fridge door of a Starbucks we stopped at before a meeting:

Great Coaching

Communicate
Check for understanding
Follow Up
Hold Accountable
Celebrate

How many of you have great coaches, or are great coaches?  If you're not a great coach now, how many of the above fundamentals do you follow every day?  Are you a great mentor and didn't realize it until now?  What typically sets an average salesperson apart from a great salesperson is not the leads he or she receives or the fact that your manager/GM likes them more.

Those who plan their work and then work their plan, study the competition as much as their clients, push ahead when others take a break and set expectations for themselves and then don't excuse themselves win.  They almost always win.  Up markets, down markets, sideways markets, new markets, old markets.

Start making goals happen and the excuses find their way out of your vocabulary.  Find out about the top producers and model yourself around them.  Ask your customers how to serve them better.  And don't be afraid of the answer you receive and therefore don't ask.

Be great.  Sell more.  Earn more.  Rise to the top.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

The Merger That’s Not Being Talked About…That Has To Happen

No word play here or another "bomb" out of Detroit (more on that latter though). Just one simple act: merging customers with cars.  It's the merger that happens every day and needs to happen more often.  The beauty about these kind of mergers, is they translate into more mergers.

High grossing mergers.  High CSI mergers.  High service rate mergers.  And that not-often-heard-of-these-days merger: the easily financed customer merger.  Instead of finding reasons not to sell, let's find some excuses to sell.  No guarantees that it is going to be easy right now.  But the same customers that could buy easily two years ago are likely in the same position, as long as they find a reason to buy from you.

We CAN find the customers, at least the ones that are not already sitting in your CRM begging to be sold.  The next customer is coming from online.  Period.  So, are your dollars online?  Are your impressions online?  Are your invitations online?  Is your best content online?  Is your staff online (every customer-facing staff member)?  Is your service available online?  Are your parts available online?  Is it easy to get in touch with you online?

So, before you place that beautiful full-age ad in this weekend's paper…how are your customers going to find it online?  Before another glowing testimonial gets placed on your wall of fame with the gold leaf frame…how will your customers see it online?  Before that mailing expense tied to your latest service special goes out…is it going online for free, too?

More and more dealers say that they're going online for their marketing strategy every day.  They're attending their brand's online marketing sessions and summits.  Dealers say that they know that more people than ever are going to the web to do nearly everything.  Why are you doing things the same way you used to?

To be politically correct, spend at least 20-30% of your budget online (most of you are spending closer to $0).  To be completely realistic, spend at least 50% of your budget online if not over 70%.  Online will affect your bottom line.  More than any medium you've ever used.

Sales staffs: start being completely accountable for what you do with your dealer's money.

Management: start being completely accountable for what you provide your sales staff.

Dealers: If you don't get it, ask for help.  If you kind of get it, don't give up.  If you get it, do more and get your competition while they're wide awake.

It Won’t Be Much…and We’ll Throw That In!

Call me forgetful, I can't remember the last time in a website vendor/dealer meeting where the phrase "it won't be much" was used, let alone "we'll throw that in".  Not that dealer service providers don't offer value, discounts or other benefits.

It's just that in a world of "you have to pay more for that" and "we don't do that", having a partnership with vendors really makes sense.  As things go down the 'tougher' road for a while, maybe that will change.  My overall message won't change though, at the end of the day the dealership has to use to products and services they buy.

Today was about getting some SEO and traffic items going to improve results.  Having a client that's receptive to new ideas (like video and text marketing) is helpful, getting everyone to understand what needs to be done hopefully won't be much of a challenge.  Next on the agenda will be marketing their pre-owned cars better on their own site.

Reputation marketing is brand new here and dealers really have the opportunity to start out where many US dealers haven't.  Right now that's limited to Google and Yahoo as the main sites like CarFolks and DealerRater are not up here yet even though that will likely change in the short term (but there is complaints.com).

The 'main' Internet department member is off yesterday and today in training.  Leads are in his queue.  Like with most stores I come in contact with, it always begs the same questions about how prepared and planned we are.  The GM or sales managers are typically (and nearly constantly today) gauging their sales staff with "what's happening" or "do you have someone you're working with right now" or another question that basically asks "are you selling a car right now?".

What do you do when you're staff is off?  How do you plan for when someone is sick?  It's not like the 'old days' where you had the floor sales staff and that was it.  Customers are 'entering' your store 24/7 now.  When is the last time you had a defined strategy for your Internet process other than if you send templates or one-off emails?  What happens when your Internet leads are not touched for 2, 3,4 or 5 hours?  You might have an answer, or a band-aid.  But seriously, what are you doing to always be available?  Customers think car sales people are always available.  We've acted for years as if we are with…"can you come down to the dealership right now?"

It doesn't matter if you have a dedicated Internet staff, or the floor get the leads, or if you have an actual or virtual BDC.  What are you doing to control your business rather than have your business (and your customers) control you?  You must have a plan to be successful.  Take time to understand it.  Make the changes now that need to be done.  You have to pay now for the success that comes later.  Trust me, it won't be much..

Over The Border…And Into The Headlights

Greetings from Canada.  It's a little cooler, quieter and definitely more pleasant.  OK, that's it for the differences.  Automotive-wise, it's about the same.  While the eCommerce element is behind the US a number of years as far as impact and influence, many issues we face are not any different.

Responses, email protocol, follow up, using CRM faces the same hurdles as in the states.  Customer service from the major players is no better.  What is timely and of great importance is getting ahead of the customers online rather than reactive.  Having been at CarsDirect.com during the 'heydays' of the automotive Internet and hearing pleased customers provides hope that we can do it right in the Great White North.

No matter where you are, the qualifications for success are the same: contact, quality, effort, consistency, understanding and persistence.  Oh, almost forgot a critical one: listening.  Starting from scratch with a dealer that doesn't have 147 templates in already in their system is also a breath of fresh air (not too mention that 146 of them are filled with 'I want', 'I need', 'I found', "I think' and on).  Text marketing seems to be gaining traction and that's exciting as well considering that's more acceptable outside of the US.

It was great to talk with an owner/GM that when he asked me how to staff his next Internet member, he understood what was needed and he was already nodding before I finished (I'm sure his search will start tomorrow).  He also indicated that his best floor sales person could not work the Internet correctly, which is not common to hear.

Leads are down some (or flat hopefully), the financial strains are pinching us, there is less-than-happy news all over the media and your queue is still full of customers that will buy a car…somewhere.  Are they going to buy from you or your competition?

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

People Are The Same Everywhere..And Warren Told Us To ‘Buy’

No matter what you sell, it's important to understand your customers.  It's also important to have them understand you.  Your website is your virtual showroom.  Your 'About Us' and your staff photos are just the handshake.  Give reasons for people to stay longer on your site, just like you want them to at your brick-and-mortar store.

People do judge books by their covers.  What does your online message/brand/existence tell people?  You've got about the same amount of time to impress online as you do in person: 20-40 seconds or less.  Check your Google Analytics stats to find out how you're doing.  If you're not getting your GA report, get it.  If you are getting it and not reviewing it, start.  If you're not using it as a (huge) tool, start.  It will become the basis of your existence online, period.

Not selling well to female buyers?  Set up a page that's dedicated to explaining how you do help women quite well.  Get Certified Female Friendly with AskPatty.com.  Take the steps to explain the advantages online.  Not doing well with retention? set up a VIP program and publish a press release or two online.  You have to understand the impact and accountability of online branding.  Do everything you can to attract 'people'.

Another thing: people will still want to/need to buy cars.  Give your customers permission to buy from you…right now.  Did you try to sell chromes on every deal a year ago?  Why did you stop?  Are you letting your perception of what your customers want and are willing to do dilute your ability to close big deals?  Because some of your customers were subprime yesterday, does that make every customer a 'roach'?

These two things are fact: what you think of your customers will be and what you think will happen will be. 

Today Mr. Buffett was quoted telling people to buy U.S. stocks.  Another article penned a story about a couple GM stores in Texas providing some GM shares with any car sold before the end of the month.  No matter what your gimmick, promotion, or promise, you must create a bond and trust between your brand and your clients.  Once the brand equity is there, you can drive the rest based on value.

Never forget why you decided to sell cars in the first place: because you can and because people want to buy…

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

All Quiet On The Water Cooler Front…Sort Of

It’s one of those things about human nature.  Call it peer pressure, mob mentality, the ‘in’ thing, or the lowest common denominator.  Don’t call it a lack of nothing else to do.  It’s the water cooler convention that is going on more and more often.  Don’t get me wrong, there is so much to chat about: economy, the debate/election, market issues, consumer confidence and other of-the-moment topics.

The most important question is not who your voting for.  Chances are it should be how differently you are working today than you did yesterday or last month.  Not getting the results you want, try changing.  Fact is we don’t like change.  Comfortable is where we usually go.  How comfortable can you be with a $2,000 monthly check these days (unless your mortgage is $700 a month)?

What do your emails and calls sound like?  Take a really long, hard look.  No, longer.  No, longer.  Don’t stop.  If you want to results to change, your effort, input and goals need to change.  By the same token, don’t be unrealistic.  The most efficient way of hitting your targets is starting with the end in mind.

Want to move 15 units?  What’s your typical closing ratio?  Add 30% more effort and lead work to hit the same number (just humor me).  So if you normally close at 13% on 120 leads, you’ll likely have to work more past customers, lost customers and non-responses than you normally do (this would be quite the trick today).  Or set 30% more appointments than typical through more efficient efforts, better communication and…ready for this?…trying new ways to invite customers in.

Are you sending plenty of pictures of the closest (or exact) match of the customers request in your emails?  Are you asking pertinent questions every time you communicate?  Start setting your appointments affirmatively.  Over 70% of appointments don’t show up.  That’s our fault, not the consumers.  Give them a reason to feel that if they don’t show, they’re missing out.  Reading emails and listening to calls attempting to set up appointments is like the proverbial fingernails on a chalkboard.

Folks it’s crap in, crap out.  Once again, if you don’t like the results, change them.  Do a better job.  Listen more.  Ask more relevant questions.  Qualify more consistently.  Offer options.  If you’re not clear, ask again.  If you make a mistake, apologize and move on.  Quit making excuses about what is just another lead by calling them Internet leads.

The water cooler talk is more rampant then ever.  It’s your choice.  Join and be just another part of the herd.  Spend more time talking with your next customers, providing excellent service and you’ll be part of the heard…and bought from.  Lead by action.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results