Is Your Dealership Attractive? (continued)
Copyright © 2008 Automotive Dealers Network. All rights reserved.
By Ron Lamb
VP of Sales – Reynolds Systems
Ron is a seasoned veteran of the automotive retailing
market and has been with Reynolds since 1991. He has
held positions such as marketing director, VP of
enterprise solutions, regional sales director and
general manager. Ron holds an MBA from Loyola
    Messaging Branding
    Careful planning is required in order for your messaging to have an impact on your customers. Don’t slip into
    the common pitfall of just coming up with some catchy slogan, slapping it on an ad, and sending it out to the
    masses. Good messaging is very specific to the needs of your audience, and must speak to them on a personal

    Get a good grip on the overall brand messaging and target markets of your OEM.Then determine how well your
    dealership fits that image. Do you effectively reinforce the manufacturer’s messaging? Are you focusing your
    efforts on reaching out to the right target market? If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, fixing your
    messaging and branding should become a top priority. Your reputation as a dealership is built on how well you fit
    the brand image of your manufacturer, as well as the kind of experience you give your customers. If that
    reputation is not a positive one, word-of-mouth will most certainly hurt you, and you will find yourself struggling to
    attract new customers.

    If you evaluate your target market and discover that it is not big enough
    to sustain ongoing business growth for your dealership, it’s time to consider
    marketing to an additional target market. For example, you could potentially
    increase parts business by marketing to do-it-yourselfers. Perhaps expand
    marketing to younger (or older) customers. Consider opening an online
    parts hub to become your area’s leader in wholesale parts sales. There are
    countless target markets you can explore to increase business. However, it’
    s important to remember that your dealership must maintain a consistent
    overall position in the marketplace for each brand. Attempting to be “all
    things to all people” for any given brand will only result in confusion and
    alienation of your target audience.

    Develop effective messaging by putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes (after your target market segment is
    established.) Ask yourself, “Why should they come to visit my dealership?” What advantages do you have over
    your competitors? Do your customers already know about those advantages? Perception and reality may be two
    very different things. For instance, you may in fact have the most efficient and professional service department in
    your area, but if your customers don’t know or believe it, it really doesn’t matter.
    This article will give you the keys to bringing new customers into your
    dealership. To show you how all of the pieces work together, we have
    broken the process down into 3 phases:

    •  Create Appropriate Messaging and Branding

    •  Reach Out to New Customers

    •  Get Resources, Practices, and Tools in Place
    Your “target customers” are those who are most likely to buy from you. Resist the
    temptation to be too general in the hopes of getting a larger slice of the market. That’s
    like firing 10 bullets in random directions instead of aiming just one dead center of the
    mark – expensive and dangerous.
    –  Isabella Trebond, Entrepreneur Magazine
    Reaching Out
    Now that you know your target market and what your message will be, it’s time to look at different ways to reach
    out to bring new customers into your dealership. A great place to start is your existing customer list. As you know,
    many people who purchase vehicles from your dealership don’t return to you for service. These customers are
    your low-hanging fruit. You already have their contact information and they have a history with your dealership, so
    you are in a great position to win their service business. And when you succeed in bringing them back, be sure to
    ask them to refer friends and family to your dealership. Referrals are very powerful tools, and they don’t cost your
    dealership a dime.

    Your Web site is another cost-effective method of reaching out to new
    customers. Most dealerships these days have a relatively comprehensive
    Web site, but too few are actually using it to gather customer information.

    Make sure that every page on your site has a “contact us” icon or
    some other call to action. Do anything you can to entice prospects to
    give you their email address before they leave your Web site…then
    contact them IMMEDIATELY. If a potential customer is on your Web site,
    you have a limited amount of time to contact them before they make their
    vehicle purchase decision (either from you or your competitors).

    Now that you have your customer referrals and Web site working for you, you can look into more traditional mass
    media advertising to get new customers into your dealership. Find out what publications your target market reads
    (newspapers, magazines, etc.), what local television channels they watch, and what radio stations they listen to,
    then build your advertising plans accordingly. Based on your knowledge of your customers, include some kind of
    incentive to get them to come to your dealership. This should be something that will really speak to your
    customers (tent sale, free gas cap check, appearance by a NASCAR driver, etc.).

    Of course, direct mail is always an option as well. You can create helpful and informative articles, company
    newsletters, special offers, and other messages to include in a mailing to everyone in your area. Anything that
    helps you to maintain a personal relationship with that customer is beneficial.

    Lastly, try to develop symbiotic relationships with other industries. For example, real estate organizations
    are a great source of new prospects moving into the area, and may even be willing to pass along a flyer to all of
    their new clients for you. In turn, perhaps you can offer the real estate staff some kind of special discount or some
    other kind of incentive. The possibilities are endless.
    If a dealer sells 100 cars in a month:
    •  28 of those people will be “loyal” service customers, returning regularly
    •  32 of those people will never set foot in the dealership again
    •  40 of those people will visit the service department 1 or 2 times, and then never return
    –  MarketView360 survey of 800 dealerships.

    Google research dated August 2007 indicates:
    •  73% of vehicle buyers perform online research
    •  Two-thirds of vehicle purchasers spent four weeks or less researching vehicles before
    buying. Over one-third spent less than seven days.
    Resources, Practices, & Tools
    The final phase in attracting new customers is getting the right resources, practices, and tools in place.
    Resources include your staff and your dealership facilities; practices are your day-to-day operations; and tools
    are the products and services that you use to help run your business.

    First, your dealership facilities are critical to establishing a positive and professional reputation in your local
    market. Take a closelook at your facilities from the customers’ perspective. Does the customer experience match
    the experience they get from other types of businesses, such as coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, shopping
    malls, etc.?

    Your customers expect a modern-looking atmosphere, hot coffee, clean and comfortable chairs,
    current newspapers and magazines, and other amenities. If your dealership doesn’t provide that type of
    experience, your customers will be uncomfortable, and your reputation will suffer.

    Second, take a close look at your employees. How do they portray your business to potential customers? To
    gain their business, new prospects must be handled differently from your current customers, so all of your
    customer-facing staff should be trained on how to effectively interact with a new prospect. This includes showroom
    staff, receptionists, BDC teams, service advisors, parts counterpeople, Internet manager, etc. Remember that a
    new customer can visit, call, or email your dealership for any number of reasons, and it is critical that their first
    impression be a good one.

    The training for your staff should include:
    •  How to greet a customer, whether it is in person, on the phone, or via email
    •  How to effectively obtain customer contact information
    •  Basic information about the dealership, such as your overall messaging, services and
    products you offer, hours of operation, Web site information, number of years in business, etc.

    Greeting a customer properly makes such a huge impact on their impression of your
    dealership. When a customer arrives in person, the nearest employee should always greet
    them immediately with a welcome and a smile…even if that employee has nothing to do with
    that customer’s visit. It lets the customer know they are welcome and that their presence has been acknowledged.
    It is very simple, but it makes all the difference in the world to that customer.

    When greeting a customer on the phone, be sure the person answering the phone sounds upbeat, and
    encourage them to smile when they answer the call. It’s true, you really can hear a smile over the phone. If the
    person answering the phone sounds like they’re falling asleep or are having a bad day, then the customer may
    come away with a negative feeling about your dealership.

    Lastly, when responding to a prospect via email, respond to them immediately and thank them for their
    message. Even if you need to research their request and get back to them, always acknowledge that you’re
    working on it, so they don’t think their message has gone into a “black hole”.

    When looking at your practices, you should focus your efforts on creating and maintaining a world-class
    customer database. If your customer database is out of date or incomplete, you might as well be throwing
    your marketing dollars out the window.

    To make that database as robust as possible, explore possible incentives for all of your staff (not just sales
    staff) to obtain and record data for new customers and prospects. This could include incoming calls, walk-
    ins, or even outgoing cold calls. When those employees receive that customer information, they need to
    enter it into that database (not into their personal files or onto a rolodex). Remember that compensation
    drives behavior, so employee incentives are key.

    When examining your processes for maintaining customer information and effectively marketing to
    prospective customers, there are a number of CRM tools available that can help you achieve your goals.
    Here are some things to consider when evaluating the right option for your dealership:

    • How much does it cost? – Look at both onetime and monthly support.
    • How easy is it to use? If your staff struggles to use it, you won’t get any value from it. Make sure it is
    relatively intuitive and that appropriate training is available.
    • Does the tool have all the right features/benefits? As a minimum, look for Do Not Call tracking,
    management reporting tools, daily work plans, appointment scheduling, and real-time integration with your
    DMS for all departments.
    • Do you trust the supplier? Look at their support services, trainers, etc. Also consider how long the supplier
    has been in business.
    • Do other dealerships like it? Be sure to talk to other dealers that use the CRM tools you are considering.
    This will help you get past the sales pitch and truly understand how the solutions will or will not impact your
    According to Jon Anton, PH.D., director of research at BenchmarkPortal, companies undervalue the email
    channel, and are not sure how to handle their email operations. “Responsiveness is absolute godliness when it
    comes to customer service, and if you send an email to a company and they don’t respond, there’s a message
    there that’s probably not a good one.”
    There is no silver bullet for attracting new customers. You’ll likely want to implement a combination of strategies
    for maximum effectiveness. With the right resources, practices, and tools, the correct messaging, and the proper
    marketing mix, you’ll be able to attract more customers and put your dealership on a path of long-term growth and
    success. Now it’s time to create your own plan and start growing your business!