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Accountable Advertising on the Internet with Avinash Kaushik

Today’s Automotive News Webinar on statistics, analytics and accountability was amazing.  Seeing the attendee mix would be interesting, how many dealers, OEM, service providers, consultants logged into the absolutely fantastic session.  But no matter who listened in, it’s all about the execution.

One very important point (albeit not surprising) that came out of Avinash’s talk was that globally, he’s personally aware of two OEMs that are using the analytics and data to evaluate their branding online and determine where their marketing and reach is going.  Another item of note was the persistence to tear apart and analyze the 2% of conversion rather than the 98% that’s not and figure out how to invite or entice them.

With all of the advertising agencies, website vendors and other service providers to the auto industry that touch online marketing, it’s amazing that our sites, especially retail, are poor compared with other industries.  Contextual advertising, dynamic landing pages and multiple URLs (and yes, micro-sites) are some of the tools that can be used to better engage consumers on the front end.  At the end of the day, cars are still not sold online.  They are sold by people ‘taking the ups’ at dealerships.  As our marketing gets better, the whole experience must get better.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat at length with a well-respected consultant for one of the big dealership providers.  While we did spend some time talking about issues at the OEM level, most of our post-JD Power/Digital Dealer exchange was spent on what’s not being done at retail.  What reasons are we giving to people who want to buy cars to actually buy from us?  Why are we still asking "what time can you make it down here to take a test drive today?".  We have to provide a better experience from go.  We can no longer afford do to things the same way we have for decades.

The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Marketers, advertisers, manufacturers, dealers: quit acting insane.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

We’re Holding On Right Now…(To Pride)

It’s not uncommon in ‘down markets’ to see over-reactive pull backs along with those retailers that understand they can’t stop doing what they do.  It’s another thing to ignore customers that want to buy, both by reach and response.  There is a big buzz now about blogs and social marketing and whether car dealers should even touch the space.

Anything that you do needs to be completely done.  I was talking yesterday with an industry colleague that is heading out on his own to consult at dealerships for the first time. The only issue he mentioned as a hurdle was finding the ‘good’ dealers versus the dealers that start things and never actually do them to pay dirt.  He’s not only right, he’s lived it at retail for years so hopefully he can find the light at the end of the tunnel (which is what consultants do every day).

Nearly every day now I hear “we’re holding on right now and will see how it goes over the next couple weeks or months”.  Every day you hold on, every ready-to-buy customer that does not see your online ad now, each Internet up that does not receive a complete and engaging response from you/your sales team, is another day of loss.  If you’re going to stop doing one thing, do another.  Figure out not only what you’re saving but what you’re not receiving.

Hold on too tight and you’re not left with anything.  Do the opposite and you may get the same result.  Challenges are best met with resolve, ideas and effort.  Go the middle route and expect to succeed by following through.  Do everything you can to win, not everything you can to not lose.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Waiting for the next up…so please wake me…

That is what the death of retail sounds like.  More often than not, especially lately, it is common to hear more excuses than Elizabeth Taylor’s list of husbands.  If you want to wait all day long (in some cases all week long) for something to happen, join the Fire Department or Coast Guard.  If you are a true salesperson with a strong desire to make money, get going or allow someone who wants to get going, gosh darn it.

Most sales staff I talk with has this tendency to believe that their network is going to bail them out, or the next launch will help them, or the incentives that will be announced can save their month or even their referrals will drive a sale or two…very soon.  How many of you are members of LEADS or another group of professionals that feed referrals to other members of the organization?  How many have their social and business networks  Would everyone please stand up that has invited their new owners from the last month to come in for a face-to-face thank you and a chance at a prize (read: not the store, not your boss, you are doing it on your own accord).

No, it seems that the creative ideas flew out the door with the last ‘over 20 car month’.  Folks, don’t watch yourselves out of business!  What if the traffic statistic estimates do come to pass and there’s 10, 20 or even 30%+ less people coming to your dealership?  What then?  That’s when you’ll really get busy working your CRM and Internet leads?

Work no less than 10 leads a day (old, new, orphans, etc), if not 15 or more.  Ask your clients this month some compelling questions, keep track of the answers (not in your mind), ask for real referrals, call them at the office or home 20 days later to see if they’re still completely satisfied and give them a reason to come back.  Start asking if people prefer contact via email or text rather than prodding them with "can I have your email address, please? It’s a requirement here at our dealership or else my deal is not complete".

Go to lunch somewhere that you haven’t been every day/week/month and leave your cards with the owner or manager.  Sponsor your kid’s sports team pizza outing this week and give a flier to all the parents with a good discount (and one that won’t get you disciplined).  And be reciprocal, nobody likes a mooch.

If you are fortunate enough to work the Internet department, stop the water cooler talk and curb your not-so-sales-oriented habits (we all have them) and get down to contacting and selling.  Your month will be the better for it, I promise you.  Yes, that means stop reading this so you can email that "Jack" back…

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

What Will You Call This Week?

The question more appropriately phrased should be “how is your week going to be?” but asking that of most dealership staff today will likely result in the same: “ask me at the end of the week”.  Why is that?  I’ve never met a successful person who answered that way and definitely not consistently.  Fact is the week you are going to have has already been set.

Moreover, it’s not the week your customers make for you nor the week that your inventory will allow you to have.  The week you will have (and everyone else will have) starts by the time you head to the dealership Monday morning and unfortunately not after you get to check how many fresh ups you get to work on.

Many of the customers you’ll have this week will come from your September leads or referrals (and quite possibly August).  The beauty of the Internet is a double-edged sword.  You get the customers that may be ready to buy…and a whole lot that may not be.  Take a minute and check how many June through August leads that told you “I’m not ready to buy” you’ve contacted in the last twelve days.  Not by eNewsletter or mass email or an automated fill-in-the-blank.  An honest-to-goodness, live-in-your-face personal email or call.

It is such a great opportunity to use technology to its complete ability.  It’s not a crutch and should never take away from the great skills we have. Sometime between our cars being average (at best) in the 1970s-1980s and now, when cars are quite simply better than ever, we forgot that people buy cars from people they like and that it takes great people to do a great job.

As long as you’re sending one-sentence responses (with spelling and grammar errors), not asking questions, forgetting to qualify customers, neglecting to confirm appointments and have no clue how to extend a brand and experience properly and, ahem, waiting for the next person you can tackle on the lot, you already know how your week is going to be…and did about a year ago.  Do a great job, please.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Back To The Grind…And Reality

With the JD Power Internet Roundtable over, it was time to hit the trenches again.  And that means a dose of retail reality.  Being around the industry’s thought leaders, dealer groups, service providers and the rest was great, I just wish that a thousand more dealers decided to show up instead of using the budget cutting reason to stay away.

If you are not learning, you are dying.  There is no more proof needed than the auto industry.  Not just learning, you have to apply what you learn and be adept at not repeating the same mistakes over and over. So it is no surprise that talking to and visiting dealers today yields the same result as before the Roundtable.

Now, the industry needs attrition to a large extent in the form of dealerships (read: predominantly domestics). And its clearly part of the initial pain to see dealers suffering and pulling back at a time when they absolutely have to keep their operations and presence working efficiently and, among other things, spend money. What never works is burying your head in the sand.

The biggest issues at retail regarding resources are who’s handling the leads/customers and what you’re using to engage them.  This person believes that nothing will change that needs to until we truly start thinking about our business differently, planning for our business differently and staffing for our business differently.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Watching Wall Street More Than Your Street?

It’s not hard to get mesmerized by all of the financial ramblings going on out East.  The bailout, the impact, the feedback and the typical deluge of uninformed commentary and guessing.  Not too different from what happens on car lots every day…plenty of uninformed consumers and guessing sales people.

Whether or not the market has been shored up, what are we doing to shore up our business?  It’s clear that you can’t spend $1M a month when you gross $500k revenue-wise.  By the same token, the start of your business disappearing is when the marketing, retention and engagement aspects start disappearing.

Our job as the ‘Internet Cowboys’ (and cowgirls) of the auto business is to be that lifeline and outreach when, gosh darn it, people stop just showing up at our showrooms.  It’s time to ring the statistics bell quickly: about 80-90% of car buyers start their research and purchase process online.  You’ve been hearing it for a while now.

You must use every tool, piece of software, hardware and beautiful, inviting tidbit of marketing to get a customer to your door.  You have to become better than you were when the industry was (fill in the blank) percent higher than it is now.  Don’t forget who is in full control of the sale until it is relinquished to the customer.  Give people permission to buy a car, they want to do so.  Folks, we’re not rocket scientists and brain surgeons (although over the last few years, dealerships have been filled with more out-of-the-industry professionals  than ever before).

Think about it this way: one four-letter word (WORK) translates into another one (CASH).  If you are looking for some quick dollars and the golf-all-day lifestyle, stand in line for your state’s lottery or, better yet, try to get in with Warren Buffet as he seems to be buying (by the way naysayers: he hasn’t stopped buying).

Somewhere along the line over the past decades, we forgot that the car business was a relationship-based business.  Using a CRM does not mean, for a minute, that you are building relationships.  Actually in many cases it means that everyone with a log in to your CRM can see the mediocre job that’s being done.

Today I was talking with a salesperson at a client when another walked into the immediate area.  He stated that October was going to ‘suck’ again and I proceeded to tell him that is exactly what will happen…for him.  As for the salesperson I was originally talking with, we’ll see.

Folks, water finds its own level.  Are you expecting to sink or swim at the end of the month?

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Is It The Beginning of the Month Yet?

The old automotive adage means less today than it ever did.  Over the past couple weeks, the cries of “worst month I’ve ever had” have been heard loud and clear.  Considering everything happening in the market, economy, wall street, etc it’s no secret that things are tough.  One thing that the Internet has shown dealers is that there truly is no ‘month’ (and likely never was).

One of my clients had one of their sales staff tell him nearly a week before the end of the month that this person would not take any more leads until October started.   Our customers shop, research, negotiate and buy every day of the month.  With the Internet (and through studies that JD Power, Compete, RL Polk and others demonstrate), consumers are not tied into what used to be perceived as typical shopping habits.

Dealers are (finally) realizing that their customer sold today may actually have contacted them four months ago.  With the tools and software available today (like CRM applications), we have the opportunity to do a better job with both our clients and prospects.

What hasn’t changed at all is two fold:

1. People buy from who they like, trust and would refer.
2. Dealers than plan their work then work their plan, goal set, teach, empower, mentor and support have the best staffs for item 1 above.

Remember that while you’re only as good as your last sale in the sales world, you are only as good as you allow yourself to be.  If you stop trying, stop learning, stop engaging and stop selling, you will likely know the result you get.  What day of the month is it where you are right now?

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

The Industry is Down…So Let’s Quit

Looking at the Automotive News alerts today, you’d quickly find the following stats: Ford down 34%, Toyota down 32%, Honda down 24%, GM down 15.6%, Volkswagen 9.4% and on…  So, let’s all shrivel up at retail.  Or we can lift ourselves up by the bootstraps and realize that there’s a job to do.

So, looking at figures as simply that, we’re likely down 3 million plus new units this year.  Unweighted, that’s 11-14 cars less per franchise per month in the US (trying to figure how many dealerships will be in business and how many units will actually be sold by December 31 is not so easy).

First, dealers have to become real marketers nearly for the first time.  Not advertising.  Nobody will argue that car dealers advertise.  We must start thinking as savvy consumers and not sales people and do a much better job engaging the public.

Second, you have to have a plan in place, preferably 2-3 months at a time.  And that means not advertising cars after they’re already been in stock for 55 days, for example.  One idea is marketing to customers (yes, sales and service) before inventory arrives.

Third, give people reasons to come in to your dealership: events, new owner clinics, launches, car clubs, ride-and-drives (read: no pressure) and other reasons to come in besides that beautiful newsletter that many dealers are now sending to leads that don’t answer back.

Fourth, figure out ways to deal with the credit issues (both dealership and consumer) that not only builds your customer base, but that simple makes sense in addition to a quick buck.

We absolutely have to become proactive rather than reactive.  It’s incredibly hard, takes energy, takes time, takes resources, takes attention and takes risk.  Isn’t that why you got into business in the first place?

See you at JD Power’s Internet Roundtable in Las Vegas next week, let’s cook up some great ideas together…

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Decision Time…Again?

It’s that time of the year again…just like every other day this year…

Budgets, shows, travel and planning for the coming year all while selling and not spending any more money (especially in November and December).  Let’s see…two of the biggest industry Internet events in the same week.  Nobody wins on that one.  Dealers, many already stretched to the breaking point, have to decide what more to do with less rather than spending (read: smarter) in a down market, which is what you need to do.

Rather than jump on opportunity and work more efficiently, most Internet sales staffs out there are still doing the same just-above-average jobs.  And then there’s the floor…well that term itself refers to lowest common denominator and that is what you get these days.  Dealers (and their vendors/suppliers) have to decide every day to work harder, smarter and more effectively, all while leveraging their software, hardware and peopleware before they end up going nowhere.

What is the rest of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 (which is around the corner) going to mean for you?  Are the GMs and GSMs going to start engaging their Internet departments the same way they do ‘regular’ floor sales and service?  It’s time to evaluate and make decisions on so many fronts.  Where are your web strategies and budgets?  If you take away your website (if you pay for one) and lead expenses, you need to spend more than $0 online.  Many are talking about 30% plus of your budget and recently I find myself begging dealers to get to the 10% mark.  And don’t forget the ‘plan’ part because you absolutely positively have to draw out a marketing plan rather than using the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-advertise-it-when-it’s-been-here-78-days-advertising-plan.

There are so many discussions about CRM out there…it’s time to learn how to text customers from email.  Yes, from email.  That is a starting point.  Then, get your staff trained and retrained on the products you pay dearly for.  Then like professional organizations do role play your staff, test your staff, grade your staff, review your staff (objectively if you can) and improve your staff.

It’s time to ask our order takers to become sales professionals again and assist or guide customers through their buying experience.  Customers holding on to their cars longer?  Don’t ask them about an extended service contract, you might just close them on it!

Years ago in the sporting goods industry, I learned a valuable lesson.  Especially partaking in what many would consider completely discretionary expenditures, it was our job to sell our brand, service and expertise when many people were comparing to like products with less than $100 separating our product form the competition down the street (typically $50).  It’s not enough to come in to work in the morning, turn on the OPEN sign, crank the register and sit.  That’s exactly what we do in the automotive retail business and it’s time that we changed that…or we will be selling the proverbial $200 bicycle all day long and talking about the country club a heck of a lot less.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results