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A Season Of Events: Will It Be Boom Or Bust?

We're on the cusp again: in the next 90 days we're looking at events including DrivingSales Executive Summit, JD Power Internet Roundtable, Dealer summit, Synergy Sessions, Digital Dealer, Auto Training Events and more.  The more dealers that we hear from, the more we hear the same thing: "show me the beef!!".  What's the message?  Drive value for the industry, especially the dealers, or don't bother inviting me to the same old thing!

Today, more than ever, it's a "what have you done for me lately" world in retail.  Dealers need information, partners, cooperation, support and solid direction.  By the same token, dealers need to get off their duffs and start really using all of their tools.  Not buy more and do the same thing.  Dealerships that move forward will do so because they understand their market, their brand and their opportunities.  Not because a piece of software or the factory will just feed them customers all day long.

Our industry is filled with some great providers, vendors, consultants and leaders.  It's hard to know that when, for the most part, the same ones are featured redundantly wherever you look.  It is everyone's responsibility to ensure that, once you drop your two grand to spend a few days away from the dealership, a true learning and sharing experience is had.  Each session should be compelling for everyone attending and it should lead to change.

Here's a concept: event follow up.  If there's a session on social media and 250 people are in the room, everyone should have a follow up about 10 days later with a brief questionnaire, offer of assistance and a general "to keep on track" message.  Headed up a panel on mobile marketing?  Where's the text message thanking people in attendance a week after the event with a unique offer with a reminder of best practices?

And here's the hook: the speakers and promoter will do it for no additional fee.  Sorry overpaid (oops, nicely paid) folks, it's time to give back.  Without the dealers in business, it's hard to collect the "non-negotiable" $150-200 per hour.  Ready for another noble concept: the more customers we keep in business, the more customers we'll have.

SImply having a 'next event in the series' because you said you would is no justification for actually having one.  No doubt we all love to network, gallivant about with industry friends and colleagues over pricey dinners and drinks, hit some balls around on a course you don't get to do so normally and plenty of other arguments for the break from reality.

What changes dealership operations over a 60- to 90-day period is really what at stake.  Pushing the needle forward is an absolute necessity right now.  Speakers, vendors and organizers setting the bar, delivering on expectations and then making sure dealers can execute is the only realistic invitation to an industry starved for sales and results.

So will we be looking at one of these nicely-promoted events truly being a conduit for change or only a way from some folks to take home a profit (again) and some 'at a boy's?  The way that we've done things is not the road forward.  That's not the sole responsibility of the event promoters, but it would sure be nice if someone changed the channel…heck, how about changed a lot of minds…

A season of events: let's make sure that people take back more than photos…

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

The Letters Of Success…Acronym Style (Sort Of)

It's important that, from time to time, we stop to focus on the principles behind the goals we're aiming for in business and delivering the best customer experience. No matter what you're selling, you have to believe in what you do 110% and your business needs effective management, tools and support. Success comes from doing things over and over again, learning perpetually, listening intently and doing those things always.

Too often in 'our' industry there is a reluctance to look forward since the 'past' worked so well (sounds like a cop out to me!). In an attempt to bring us back to reality, here are some ways to think about the fundamentals in a way that hopefully works for you…

P
ractice
Responsible
Overall
Customer
Engagement through
Sales and
Service

Being
Responsible
Advocates of
Name and
Dedication

Keep
N
earby:
O
pportunity
W
illingness
L
istening
E
ducation
D
edication
G
uidance and
E
xperience

Total
Employment of
Comprehensive tools
Handling
Needs:
Ongoing
Loyalty
Outreach and customer
Generation for
You

It's a must for suppliers, not just retailers:

Validate
Every
Need and
Direction
Of your
Retailers

This one is a little blatant (and selfish) but you'll surely get the point:

Considered
Other
Non-performing,
Senseless ways and
Ultimately
Learned
That I
Absolutely
Need
To hire one

All humor aside, it is critical to aim for success, build environments for success and be part of success. Remember that you don't find success (and it doesn't find you), you create it. One of the most niche products I've come across in the past 20 years is Camelback's hydration pack. They carved out quite a following. Their slogan? "Hydrate of Die". True: if you don't hydrate, you will die! And if you don't find a way to learn, do things differently (not just for the sake of it) and plot your course for success, you will die. Failure is part of success. Resistance, running, avoiding and simply burying your head in the sand, however, are futile.

Lead, be great, plan and succeed!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Don’t Have The Time? You Can’t Make It But You Can Absolutely Get It Done!

So many people…so little time! Man, you can't get away from the fear and excuses….it's the age of "I don't have enough time do to that"…"I can't add anything to my plate"…"If only I had another day in my week to pull that off"! Everyone is busy but few are actually doing much. The ones who see opportunity always figure a way to get things done, followed by the rest thinking they're just 'lucky' or that they have more 'resources'.

Can you hear it now? Most people pulling up to the drive-thru and…"I'd like to get a couple orders of comfortable, one with a side of laziness and the other with some lack of desire. Oh, and a serving of nothing new please for dessert!". Fear may keep you from being the bottom producer but only a strong control of your calendar and priorities can make time seem like your friend, even advocate!

Prioritization is not a strength of many. It's a skill put to good use by the few. Most of the time the difference between getting something done and not is simply how much drive you have to get to a desired result. Last time I checked, you can't make a mortgage payment selling two, three or even four cars a month. In bike racing it's not the fittest that typically wins. Rather the smartest, most attentive and thorough that takes the gold.

Is what you're doing taking you toward your goals or further away? It's that simple! Planning, priorities, assessment, review, comparison, tracking and visualization are all tools that you must use to be an effective user of time. Read: user, not controller. You absolutely can not control time. However it is your effectiveness that allows you to be less controlled by it!

Challenge yourself to learn the skills of better controlling what you do and fitting more into your schedule that drives results. Your other choice is to have another month of the same. Which is your better opportunity right now?

Time is relentless…You should be as well!

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Digital Dealer in 500 Words Or Less (It Should Be Way More…)

If you could find a fundamentally harder time to think about events, traveling, speakers and spending time (and money) in Las Vegas, it would be a stretch.  Fact is that you would be justified by not even thinking about anything but 'the next customer' right now.

For the 420 plus dealership staff that just spent the last three days at Digital Dealer: CONGRATULATIONS! The fact that you put your money where your mouth is about growing your business is a great step forward in addressing the market, getting a foot up on your competition and utilizing newer ways to connect with your customers.

Chances are you left with too many ideas and strategies to remember and that's great. Some of those ideas likely came directly from the speakers at the event. Now before you go rushing out signing up new vendors, canceling your existing ones, bringing in the flavor-of-the-week, well-polished messenger and other gotta-do-it-now activities, stop and think.

How does everything work with your direction, intentions, brand, budget and goals? Was there a Dealership Goal Setting 101 session? Shoot, I missed that one! Also I couldn't find the 'Connecting and staying in touch' networking event (although you do have a partial list of attendees). You most likely had more than enough time to talk with session speakers in the 10 minutes you had before the next session… If you paid to come to the event, you should have gotten everything you needed out of it. So check before you spend (yes, there were completely qualified, hard-working vendors speaking on stage but many biased as well, just to be straight).

There are likely multiple suppliers for the solution(s) that you're thinking about but chances are you didn't hear from their competition on stage (credit to the always honest Dennis Galbraith of Cars.com who pulls no punches, mentions their competition and tells people it doesn't matter who you're going to hire as long as you know what you need).

Mike Roscoe has put on a number of events that our industry needs…to this point. It's time to get all of your thoughts back to the team that runs the conference to make sure that the value stays in. With all of the attention on the OEMs and suppliers, dealers are not getting their fair support. In my mind, everyone that paid the money to expo in Las Vegas wants and needs dealers to be successful (and make a few bucks).

Now is the time to take our industry where it needs to go. We can't wait. We can't accept things as they are. We can't put our heads in the sand and cross our fingers that it will be better in 2-5 years. Take the bull by the horns or we'll be simply left with bulls–t. I'm proud to have the involvement with Digital Dealer, many of the associated companies and the great folks that attended.

Let's make sure that we can keep getting together a few times a year…

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Power Results

What Are You Doing About What Your Competition Is Not?

Everyone's worried about their bottom line, revenues, expenses, marketing,future and what's going to happen next. Worrying so much they have forgotten how to think forward and act intuitively. Better yet, they're not even paying attention to what is not being done by competitors (in and out-of-brand) that can easily be capitalized on.

Two years we were talking about 'an edge'. Now most every dealership is talking about falling off of it. Nothing has changed…nothing! Now, you may have to be more selective and conscience. But you have to market, you have to connect, you must communicate and you absolutely need to build.

Here's a little secret about what 80-90% of dealerships in your market are not doing (or doing effectively at all):

  • Online marketing: SEO, SEM (paid search/PPC, banner ads, etc)
    • Google Analytics (please!)
  • Customer Relationship Management: email, events, incentives
  • Social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, etc for increase engagement
    • And drives first two bullets!
  • Reputation management: DealerRater, CarFolks, MyDealerReport, Yelp, etc
    • And drives first three bullets!
  • Capitalize on resources for education
    • Automotive Digest, Digital Dealer, AutomotiveDigitalMarketing, Driving Sales
  • Capitalize on resources for training
    • Consultants, brand events, networking (chamber, local businesses, etc)

More often than not, 10% or less of the 'things that must get done' are and even when they do get done, they're not maintained. Some of the MOST fundamental activities are just not being done and for what?

  • The road to hell is paved with good intention
  • The road to debt is paved with discounts
  • The reason that 90% of people fail is the inability to deal with people
  • Nobody ever earned a dollar without spending one

These are the times when (as a good friend of mine in the industry put it) you can get a larger piece of a smaller pie or you can save yourself to death. Most everything listed here can be done for free to hundred of dollars per month.

One of IM@CS' clients has reduced their marketing expense by nearly 85%, increased their brand exposure, delivered more cars in the past month than they did over the past six, is driving over 25% more web traffic and nearly doubling their own website leads over the past three quarters. They're doing all of the above.

It's completely up to you. So what are you doing about what your competition is not? Someone has to wake up first and get going. It might as well be you!

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Chat Up Your Inventory: Leverage Chat to Reach In-Market Shoppers and Win the Sale

Dealer_Advantage_Image

Date: Friday, Feb. 13, 2009
Time: Noon to 1 p.m. (Eastern)
Location: Your Computer
Cost: FREE Click Here

Online advertising allows car buyers to connect with you in myriad ways: making a phone call, sending an email, visiting the store or clicking over to your store's website. The growing use of chat among online shoppers creates an additional channel to reach in-market shoppers and compete for their business. This webinar outlines the new communication strategies required to engage internet car buyers and stay with them throughout their shopping process.

In this session led by Kathy Kimmel, a Cars.com automotive consulting and dealer training manager, you'll learn how to:

  • Incorporate chat functionality into your online listings
  • Answer shoppers' questions and obtain their name and contact information
  • Encourage shoppers to set and keep an appointment
  • Follow up with prospects until they buy a car

Enroll_Now

What NADA Showed Us And How We Can Learn

Last weekend's NADA show had all of the makings for a great show: vendors, timing, speakers and even terrific weather (for New Orleans in winter). The one thing that was missed: the D in NADA. Without the dealers, it's a relatively expensive industry supplier meeting. As the trade show and the main body of the industry in the US, it's the dealers' best resource for gettin' er' done. I've never walked around unabated.

This is not a blast on the NADA, its leadership or affiliates. Considering that this blog is for best practices, we'd prefer to look at ideas and solutions prior to next year's Orlando get together. More should have been done to get the dealers there that considered it and declined. NADA, its exhibitors, partners and others deserve more for the effort that is put forth every year to provide solutions and resources to a massive industry.

Absolutely knowing that attendance would be down, a stronger message could have been sent including promotion of the event in the past couple months. Lowering ticket prices, getting airlines, hotels and other necessary partners involved to chip in with big discounts would have been instrumental in getting more people out. On the surface, those are the 'easy' things: better promotion, better attendance, better planning leading to better results. OK, enough said on that, I went.

This year is done and over, we can't change it. Keeping in mind existing factors and the expected continued drop in sales, how can we drive going forward and build for NADA '10? If the industry is down this year, will less than 10% of the automotive retailers be represented next year? How many people will think "I didn't go in '09 and I don't think it hurt me, maybe I'll skip the next one!"

Maybe a couple things need to change. Having attended the major shows and events over the past eight years, it's clear that change is needed to be more effective. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Setting expectations for what dealers will be able to get out of every session, event, speaker and meeting.
2. Promote each event individually in the lead up to the show via email and other marketing.
3. Hold speakers and contributors accountable for the content of their sessions and change them every year. People don't want to hear the same folks talking every year.
4. Follow up. Maybe NADA should follow up with every attendee each year with their staff of consultants and make sure the value from the show is delivered.
5. Come with the expectation to learn first, network second, see everyone you should third and then maybe shift to how many drinks it takes to forget the taxi ride back to the wrong hotel. No, it shouldn't be number one or two no matter how much fun you can have.

Many of this industry's best and brightest companies were on display for about 80% fewer dealers this year. The busiest booths I witnessed were all associated with the web, web-based and/or services that are made for the Internet. In order for all of us to build the business right now, we have to be focused on customers, best practices, smart spending, brand building and right-sizing.

If we act now to make NADA 2010 better for everyone, we'll have a tremendous show. One other way we might be better served is to cross promote events (no matter how insane that sounds in a hyper-competitive environment). Digital Dealer, JD Power Automotive Roundtables, Ward's Spring Training, Synergy Sessions and more can further benefit by helping the community in addition to getting more dealers to attend through lowering fees and providing more value. Just an idea…

If you were at NADA:

1. What were your perspectives?
2. What do you see happening to push business forward?
3. Who were the most exciting companies in your opinion? (without blatant self-promotion)
4. What do you think was missed that must be addressed in a proactive manner going forward?

Learn from the past to better look forward and plan. It is in our complete interest to create a healthier place to both work and thrive from the inside. It must start with helping dealers sell more cars.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

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