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Posts in Best Practices category.
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