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:
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