Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Counting My 2008 Blessings! Thank you!

I'm counting my incredible blessings in 2008. I sure try to do that as I go, but now I can look back at a larger piece of time--a whole year--and add them up. It was an incredible year for me. Easily one of the best ever! 2009 is expected to make 2008 look like a practice session.

I can hardly believe what has been accomplished in 2008. It is a very long list. One thing stands clear to me: I am a Fire, Ready, Aim kind of guy and if I had been a Ready, Aim, Fire person, almost nothing would have changed. Sometimes you just have to trust and move out and see what happens. We did and its amazing.

I especially want to thank all of you who have given me encouragement and your kind thoughts. It has been a joy sharing ideas with you. On behalf of my partner Ryan Stone and myself, we thank you!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No Competition. Really.

The definition of competition from Webster's New World Dictionary is "1. the act of competing; rivalry, 2. a contest, or match, 3. official participation in organized sport, 4. opposition, or effective opposition, in a contest or match, 5. Rivalry in business, as for customers or markets, 6. the person or persons against whom one competes, and 7. Ecology the struggle among individual organisms for food, water, space, etc. when the available supply is limited."

There is no competition. It is you doing what you do and you can do all you can do or you can do less than all you can do. It is what it is. It is not a race and it is not up to someone else.

As a dealer, you don't compete with the dealer down the street, or a nearby town. Your focus area is your focus and you do what you can do with what you have to work with. Fearing others coming in and taking away what is yours is ludicrous. The only way that happens is if you are not doing all you can do with what you have to work with. This doesn't cause competition to increase, it causes your potential customers to go elsewhere because of you. There is plenty. When I was with a dealer, I could care less what the dealer in the next town was doing. I just paid attention to what I was doing.

I worked for a body company for 10 years and there were a number of other companies building similar products and calling on the same clients, but I never really saw them as competing with me or I with them. I was just doing what I could do to serve the clients who wanted to do business with me and I served them to the best of my ability and skill. Sometimes we might have a new product, but that wouldn't last long, so you just have to concentrate on being the best you can be in product and service.

I used to hear dealers complain about the dealer in the other town that was just giving the products away and they just couldn't compete with them. Baloney! They aren't giving them away and never have. They are just serving the customer and the customer chose them. You get all the chances you want.

I've heard the same with body companies. If you've got a good product and you have good service and your pricing is fair, you've got plenty. I will tell you that from my experience, the service is the most important of those three. I was hardly ever the lowest price, but I got plenty.

You got you and you. There you go. No competition.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's An Old Idea Whose Time Has Gone

I know a few dealers and a few bailment pool body companies who think that their inventory is their value. They think the inventory is a draw for them. They think that if they have it, the buyers will come to them because they have it. That could work in a few instances, but it is an old idea whose time has gone. It is a lack mentality and it will limit their growth.

Before the Internet, information was power, now anyone can have the information. Yet business has grown as a result. Think of sharing your inventory openly and all will benefit including you. I've watched this over the years and tested the holding the inventory and opening it up theories and I can tell you that holding it doesn't pay off. Your value needs to be elsewhere.

Think abundance and think of your fellow businesses not as competition, but as partners helping each other grow. You'll be surprised how well this works. Flooring expense will eat everyone's profits. There is really no such thing as competition in an abundant world--just constant improvement.

Here's a better place for your value: Building customer relationships, expanding services, product innovation, product expansion, marketing assistance to your customers, training, quicker and more efficient service. These are ideas whose time has come and will always be the best of ideas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

You Don't Turn the Tide

I love great quotes from famous and not so famous people. I love them because they tend to stick with me and the remind me to think. Today's post is about one of my favorite (in my top 10 easily) quotes:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, when taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." - William Shakespeare

You don't turn the tide, you prepare for it.

Think about this "worldwide financial crisis" (sounds pretty demonic . . .) as a low tide. Matter of fact, the tide is so low that you can see the mud flats for a very long way. The stink of the mud is all around. You can see the debris that careless people have tossed into the water that is now fully exposed. It is not your normal view. This is a very rare low tide. It's almost like what happens prior to a tsunami.

There's no point getting used to this view. It is extremely temporary, unless you want to view it the way it is now. Even though this might be an extended low tide as if Venus and the Moon and Mars are all aligned and pulling as never before. . . it is temporary.

If you're fond of circumstances, you will talk about the low tide at length. You will even get involved in all sorts of predictions about how it happened, who's to blame and what the future of stinking mud is. You might even be on the littering committee that is focused on all that trash that is now exposed out there. There's so much to do and so little time. . .

Or, you could be reminded of Shakespeare's quote and start focusing on the flood of the tide coming in and being prepared to deal with that instead. Low tide is an excellent time to prepare for high tide. There is no better time, matter of fact. While the tide is low, what changes can you make that will affect a greater positive change for you when the tide comes back in? You've lived enough years to know that you can seriously count on the tide coming in as well as it going out, so you know it is not long before the tide will be in again. If you haven't prepared for that change, your fortune will lost in the mud.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Change Your Mind In 2009

Whatever you hate about 2008, you'll continue to find in 2009 . . . unless . . . you change your mind. Without a change in thinking, there will be no real change in 2009. Circumstance doesn't control you, your thinking controls your circumstance. The changing of the date, even the year will matter not.

I hereby resolve to . . . It is that time of year when this long list of resolutions come out and on January 2nd, they were just brief passions. I know because I was an expert at resolutions. I quit smoking thousands of times. Then, one day, I just stopped. No plan. No resolution. Just stopped. Not going to do this anymore no matter what. No patch will change it. No support group. It is a change in thinking and that leads to a change in actions. Together they change the world.

You are going to get that website built in 2009? Just make the call and get it done. Forget about 2009, just do it. You are going to get a serious follow up program with your customers? Start today, right now. Need help? Call us. Call someone. Go online. Just do it. You're going to really grow your commercial department and stop all this flooring expense? We know how. Stop thinking about it and do something. Call us. Call someone else who knows how, but get it done today.

It's not a matter of money. That's BS. It's not a matter of time. That's also BS. It is a matter of thinking. Change it. Decide what you want and reach out for answers. It is truly a simple matter once the thinking changes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Run the Tapes - Tally Oh!

A few more days until this year is over. Part of the planning process should be running the tapes, taking the tally of this year. It's a great time to do this. Some good questions will get it going. . .
  • Do the numbers and compare this year with previous years. This is a given, and you might as well do it, pretty or not.
  • More important: In what ways have you grown this year? Maybe sales and income were off, but you can still grow in all kinds of ways. Did you? In what ways?
  • What worked well? You already know what didn't work, so concentrate on the easy things to forget like what did work. In what ways did you improve this year? Improve your skills? Improve your methods?
  • Run the tapes. Take a good close look over this whole year and see what you can gain from the process.

You might find reasons to celebrate and that makes it worth the effort all right! Tally Oh!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Christmas gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

--Oren Arnold (1900-1980)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Planning Ahead & Looking Forward To Change

If your sales were up this year, a celebration is in order and you are fortunate. I think most might admit that sales were off somewhat this year over last and perhaps that isn't a strong enough phrase. Let's celebrate this too, because this change has most likely caused you to not want that repeated. You may be thinking seriously about what you might be able to do to affect an upward trend in your sales and income even though it is generally a downward market. That is worth celebrating!

Here's some ideas to ponder. It's always been true that people like doing business with people they can trust and with whom they feel comfortable. In other words, it is the relationship that is the key. It has also generally been true in most businesses, but the auto business in particular that developing a relationship with your customers is not a priority. The focus has predominantly been on new business and repeat business has always been a blessing, but it is extra. In addition, as time goes on, there are more and more outlets to buy from, so it will pay handsomely to get some of your attention and focus on to your customers and who they know and can influence. If you changed this one thing, it could change everything for you.

I suggest that you make a plan on how and when you will communicate with your customers; how you will market to your customers and how you will expand your sales to your customers. It is your own personal gold mine! The real key to change is to think differently in order to change your actions and outcome.

Ask yourself some questions: How have you followed up with your customers in the past? Did you have a follow up system? How did you communicate with them? What methods? At what cost? Did you do any marketing to your customers? If so, how was that done and what were the results? Do they come to your store for regular maintenance service and repairs? How regularly? Did you expand your customers without adding any first line customers? In other words, what did you do to grow your customer base without adding any new walk-in sales? How detailed is your customer database information? What program is your database in?

Some recommendations:

  • Use good customer management software such as ACT!, Maximizer or other similar inexpensive and effective programs. I have used Maximizer since 1997 and it works nicely. ACT! is the world's most popular CRM software and we also use ACT!. Get as much detail about your customers as you can. Consider the Mackay 66 by Harvey Mackay (here is a pdf download: Mackay 66 PDF.

  • Study the concept of multi-level marketing at least at the basic level. It will be very helpful. Do a Google search for multi-level marketing explained and you will find a lot.

  • It is a good idea to follow up on a regular basis and include marketing messages. In addition, it is as much who they know as knowing them. I highly recommend getting all the email addresses that you can and use HTML email marketing for your follow up and many of your marketing messages. It is almost free. The best program that I have found and currently use myself is Constant Contact. It is easy to learn and you can make some very nice looking emails with photos, links, etc.

  • For those without email addresses, you can do a small amount of mail and of course, the telephone will be a valuable tool, especially for the more personal contacts.

  • Another tool you can use is to build your own website. Building websites has become a pretty easy thing and very inexpensive if you can do the work yourself. You could even have several websites.

  • A more valuable tool that is free is creating a blog. A blog is a great communication tool for sharing information and it is easy to create links to it in your emails and other communications.

  • Develop some video presentations of various products you sell and post the videos on your blog, website and you can also email them to prospects and clients. People love video. Open a YouTube (TM) account for free and post them there as well, which makes them easily linked in any of your email messages.
This is much more than just staying in touch. It is seriously looking at your customer and prospect base as a marketing target in order to solidify your sales and income. It will create a whole new business for you--and, you have the power to get it done with or without the dealerships help. You're in charge. Go for it!

Need more ideas? Give Terry a call at 707-434-9967 or Ryan at 707-480-0959.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Planning & Forcasting Like Football

A company I worked for have their planning and forecasting meeting for the following year near the end of the first month to the middle of the second month. One year it was in the third month. What's wrong with that picture?

Planning and forecasting like that is like a football team showing up for the playoffs and in the middle of the first quarter, calling a time out to strategize how to deal with this team. You know they had to have watched the films, made the play plans, practiced and planned and forecasted and readied their strategies long before this game. It is way too late even the day before, let alone the day of the game.

If your company is going to be planning and forecasting next year, it might have started in October, but worst case scenario is early December. You want to hit the ground running, right? By the time you get to December, it is pretty much done except for the results. So, it makes perfect sense to get the game plan going for at least the next quarter if not the whole year. Get it planned out. If it doesn't meet the plan, modify the plans as needed, but have a plan.

How will you market? What will you market? What sells best in the first quarter, second quarter, third and so on? What new products do you want to bring to market? Considering the current business climate, what will be changed to try to move the needle upward? What were the successes last year? What were the failures last year? How is my mix of product? What should I change about my mix? What about services? Can I increase my business in another area to help make up for the lower amounts in other areas? How do I market that? Where can I get some help?

Waiting until the next year is under way is completely ineffective. You might as well plan your day after lunch--that is, if you can stop it long enough to do so. Do your planning and forecasting like a great football team. Get your game on!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don't Fire Them, Fire Them Up!

I recently heard of a company who decided to cut their costs by firing their entire outside sales team. Is that like trying to increase sales by locking the doors, or what? If your company lives by sales (like which don't?), this is a questionable strategy to say the least. Sounds to me like we need a new general manager--someone with a real vision.

I ran across the book Don't Fire Them, Fire Them Up: Motivate Yourself and Your Team by Frank Pacetta a few years ago and I must have given away 25 copies to other managers. It is a great read right now in this business climate. It holds a lot of wisdom, ideas to change gears, and strategies to build teams--all for under $11. What a deal. You can read it in one day if you wanted to, or two tops. Don't fire your team, fire them up! And, you don't do that by talking about the problems, but showing them solutions and leading. Go for it!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

YouTube Is ________!

YouTube is disgusting. It is also quite enlightening. It is sad. It is funny. Downright hilarious, matter of fact. YouTube is many things and it has become one of my favorite places on the Internet. It is one of my favorite places to see funny stuff. YouTube has pretty much anything you could imagine, but you need not be bothered with what you don't like--just focus on what you do like. And, there should be plenty of that on YouTube.

I'll give you some of my favorites (and I've only just begun to find them, let alone the many that are posted every minute of every day. . .) and see if you think they are funny!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYmsr8Sy4K0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s44-Fs7VcmY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCZKrAnRTfg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM7GB3dPI6Q

This is a very small selection. Find your own. Go to YouTube and type in funny or hilarious, or silly and see what comes up. You never know, you might just forget your troubles for a few minutes. Hey, that's a great idea!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some Inventory Solutions - Engine Mix

It has been my experience in the last number of years that the supply has exceeded the demand for diesel trucks. This is one of the reasons that there is a glut of old inventory: 95% of them are diesel. It's time to change and stop doing the same thing over and over again--stocking the same bodies on the same chassis year after year. As the market goes back to normal in the next number of months, plan to make different decisions on your stocking and I predict that you will have a good deal more success and less flooring costs.

It has been my experience and that of others that the market in round numbers is about 50% gas and 50% diesel. I like diesel, but I would stock about 65% gas and 35% diesel now and in the near future. I know a lot of dealers are dropping their overall inventory levels due to very slow sales, and what is happening is they are losing sales because they are not replacing units that do sell. Do what you can about that, but make a decision to change your approach from here on and it will serve you well. Even if you stocked 50/50 you would make a lot more sales.

Back in the early 1970's when I first started selling trucks, diesel fuel was about 25% less cost than regular gas. Now diesel fuel is between 35 and 60% more than gas. The fuel economy of the diesel is not good enough to make up this difference. The only real advantage left is that there is more power generated per mile per gallon. That advantage is only used under certain circumstances. Bottom line: gas is the winner overall. If diesel ever goes back to being substantially less than gas, this may change the percentage, but it will never be what I have seen many dealers doing by stocking 80-90% diesel. That doesn't reflect the marketplace at all.

With the addition of the new emission systems for diesels the maintenance costs have risen sharply. Diesels were always higher cost in maintenance and now it become much harder to justify owning a diesel except for certain companies and situations. These are things that can very easily be pointed out to customers so they can see what their costs will be.

Last item is reliability. One of the great selling features in the past was the longer life of the diesel motor. GM and Ford have been playing around with diesels since the 1980's with very mixed results. This makes the reliability and longevity seriously in question. Having a 100,000 mile warranty doesn't help much. Another good reason to change your mix.

The bottom line is selling more trucks and having happy customers. One way to do this better is to change the mix of engines to favor the gas. The demand for diesel will be there for a long time, but the demand generally doesn't exceed 50%. Don't forget to calculate the flooring cost savings as profit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Some Old Inventory Ideas

Here's some ideas to help move some old inventory without taking major losses.

  • Always keep this thought in mind: the truck goes down in value, but the body does not.
  • Bodies are not permanently mounted to the chassis.
  • The more expensive the body, the harder it is to move the whole truck. Lighten the load. Put a lower cost body on the truck and blow it out without a huge loss. The lower the overall cost, the easier it is to move.

Let me give you some examples of trucks I've seen on lots recently.

Problem: A dealer had a single rear unit with an 8' service body and it was a past year model and over 500 days old. Incentives are cashed out. It is a diesel (main reason it is still there and makes it more expensive by $6k).

Solution: Take an '08 or better yet, an '09 same color with a pickup bed, have a body company switch them so that the units are re-certified. Now your old unit is about $4-5,000 less without a discount. This works because the 56" CA chassis is really a box delete pickup model, so the body company can install the bed no problem.

Problem: A 14' contractor body on an LCF. Past year model, over 500 days old.

Solution: This is not a good body choice in general for this chassis, but the good news is that this is a great chassis and the 108"CA will be a great selling feature. The rack is specially made for the LCF, but the rest of the body is fine. It needs to come off this truck and a body that makes more sense to go on. If they had a current model LCF, we could swap, but in this case, the body needs to come off and go on the ground temporarily. Next, install a 14' low cost van body, 84" height, no options. You will not reduce the cost a lot, but have a much more popular and saleable body on this chassis, so it will move much faster now. Another great choice is a landscape body. That will not reduce the cost, but raise it; however, it is a great body for this truck.

Problem: A 12' landscape dump on an F550 past year diesel. Well over 500 days.

Solution: The chassis is nice, but very expensive compared to a F350 which will do fine for this body. I would flop the landscaper onto a new F350 Gas unit and throw a plain flatbed with a hitch on the F550 and cheap sell the truck. You should make a nice profit on the landscaper now.

Problem: An F450 with an 11' service body has been around for a long, long time.

Solution: One more time, flop this body on to a new chassis out of the pool and have them put a standard flatbed with a hitch on the F450 and move it on down the road.

Problem: A past year F450 empty chassis in stock.

Solution: Empty chassis do not sell well. Do not keep empty chassis longer than two months before putting a body on it. Also, taking chassis out of the pool will get more free flooring by some manufacturers than ordering them yourself. Empty chassis are just dead weight. Put bodies that will sell on them and move the package. This includes most of your medium duty units. At least you have something to sell then.

If you have specific units you would like advice on, I'll be happy to help you on this at no cost. Call Terry at 707-434-9967 or send an email to tminion@commercialtrucksuccess.com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Back to School - 6th Period


6th Period. Last class of the day. And this is truly the best class of the day. The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. What a pleasure to go home with the power of the message in this great little book and continually mold my life by my thoughts.

Of all the books and recordings I've come across, this is very high on the list of the most enlightening and powerful. I first heard it in late 1972 and recently bought the Special Millennium Edition CD, a duplicate of the original recording in 1956. A perfect way to review.

What an end to a great day! See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Back to School - Fifth Period

Fifth period is all about communication and these two classics are constantly in demand. Even though How to Win Friends & Inflence People was written in 1937, it is just as powerful today as then. Try some of the other books that Dale Carnegie wrote and you'll find a good list. This classic is available in audio as well and that is a great way to have it so you can play it while you commute.

Another book that has become a classic is How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere by Larry King. Larry is a master communicator and as you know already, it is much about questions and getting the other to talk. A wonderful book.

So, for less than $25, here is a whole course in communications skills. A must on everyone's sales skills list.





Monday, December 15, 2008

Back to School - Fourth Period


Physical Ed (and mental ed) It's fourth period after lunch and this is one of my favorite classes: Awaken the Giant Within. There's no doubt about the fact that Anthony Robbins changes lives. I've heard some people make fun of him for his late night infomercials and the advertisements, but that comes from people who haven't read his books, listened to his tapes, watched his videos or attended his events. He offers powerful change with simplicity and common sense.

This is without a doubt one of the more powerful books I have read and I have given many, many copies away. One of the parts I love in this book is the words we choose to use and how they affect our attitudes. Does it matter that I am pissed off or if I were just a bit tinkled, would that change anything? It changes everything! He has a whole chapter and a list of awesome suggestions for replacing common words and phrases that we take for granted.

One of the things that I learned that I teach in my classes is that you have to get into a certain physical stature in order to get depressed: head down, shallow breathing, droopy eyes, sloppy posture. The key is changing the physical attitude and how that has a direct connection to the mental attitude. Simply true and simply powerful.

Excellent book from a world class instructor! If you must, take it home in a brown bag. . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back to School - Lunch Period

Hey, wanna trade that peanut butter & jelly for my baloney sandwich? Nice lunch box! Yeah, right!

Hey, did ya know that my next door neighbors like their hot dogs with grape jelly on them? Kinda wierd, don't ya think?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Back to School - Recess

You remember recess period, don't you? Well, we all needed that in school and we need it just as much now--maybe more!

Today I am recommending for your recess pleasure and older book that is so funny it makes you cry when you're laughing. You can now buy it for a song, but it is worth a huge amount: Jay Leno's Headlines - Books 1, 2 & 3.

I can assure you that it will be a laugh outloud pleasure. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Back to School - Third Period

In second period we are studying The Sales Bible and networking is part of that book, this subject requires a whole period of its own and this is the book to study: Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Black Book of Connections.

It is a very easy book to get into because it is so straightforward and the mixture of graphics, text styles, lists and such makes it fun to move through. It is also the kind of book you can start and work on a bit and come back to it for more again and again. It comes standard with a book marker. And all of this for less than $14. A Bargain!

This is a time of preparation for the future when business is back on track. "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." -- William Shakespeare

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back to School - Second Period

Now it's second period and time to brush up on new sales skills.

There's a lot to choose from in today's world, but this one covers more bases and gives you all the bang for the buck. Priced on Amazon.com at under $30 and the best part is that this is the unabridged complete book, on CD's read by the author, Jeffrey Gitomer. It's his very first audiobook. You can spend another $15 or so and get the book and follow along!

This is a powerful tool and will give you some great ideas to use to help create business. The Sales Bible.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back To School - First Period

Now is a great time to get some new sales and personal development skills. There's time and here is an interesting and enjoyable way to get some good training for a song: TSTN The Success Training Network. Click the link and you'll find very professional videos from the world's top success trainers and experts. Here's a short list: Bob Proctor, Ellie Drake, Jim Cathcart, Tony Alessandra, Don Hutson, Vic Johnson, Connie Podesta, Jim Rohn, Dr. Denis Waitley, Cynthia Kersey, Ford Saeks, Ron White, Ziz Ziglar, George Walther, Chris Widener, Robert Helms and Russell Gray, Dianna Booher, Jerry Clark, Dr. David Cook, Todd Duncan, Ridgely Goldsborough, Christopher Guerriero, Scott McKain, and the list goes on.

They have a 7-day free trial, so you can watch all you want for nothing! Then, if you want to continue, it is only $29.95 per month. Extremely inexpensive high quality training. You can pause the videos and come back to them too. I just love TSTN and you may as well. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pump You UP!

In times like this, YouTube is a attitude saver! I do an email newsletter for Commercial Truck Success every other week (view and subscribe) and for the past several months I've been adding a couple of funny videos I find on YouTube. The interesting part is that it takes me a couple of hours of hilarious laughing to finally pick two to put in the newsletter. Some people might call that a waste of time, but I call it my Joy Time! A lot of the stuff on YouTube is so much funnier than anything on TV and most of them are less than 3 minutes. Just about anything you could think of is on there.

Tonight I was thinking of Hanz and Franz and the Pump You UP! Saturday Night Live skits. Fun like this is absolutely necessary lately. Might as well laugh. It sure does take the stress of it all away. I just love that line, "listen to him now, and believe him later. . ."

So, for your enjoyment, I have included two of the best links I could find on YouTube. The first is a commercial for a Chevy dealer and it is well done. The guy on the right looks very similar to Arnold and sounds like him too which makes it more interesting.

Here it is: Bill Forbes Chevrolet.

The second is an elementary school presentation that is very funny and well done. The audio could be better, but you will enjoy it I'm sure.

Here is the second: Josh & Matt - 1994ish

Have an awesome, laugh-filled day!

Monday, December 8, 2008

It Is The Perfect Time!

We talked with a potential customer for a website the other day and he is in a cyclical business and this is the downtime. There is a certain amount of maintenance, but his business peaks in the warm late Spring through Summer months. So he said that he was thinking about doing something in February or March. He said now was not a good time.

We say, now is the perfect time! If you wait until it is busy, there is no way that you will spend the time even if you have the money. Now is the time to spend the time writing out what you want to say. Now is the time to invest the time and work out the money and get the thing done so when it does get busy, you are more than ready to take advantage of that wonderful change in a new and better way.

This is great advice right now in the auto industry. Based on the fears of the public or whatever reason it is slower, now is a great time to take care of those things that you've thought about but never had time for. You know the list. Get your database cleaned up. Create some great email templates. Learn how to use email marketing through a company like Constant Contact. It's really easy and inexpensive. Gather a long list of email addresses for your customers and prospects and friends and start one or more regular communications like a newsletter. If you pay for it out of your own pocket, it is less than $20 per month. Read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin and The One To One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers and the others that you've been meaning to get around to.
While you're doing what you can with what you've got, it is the perfect time to rebuild the walkway, pull the weeds, repair the fence, improve your selling skills, whatever. If nothing else, a huge benefit will be less time to worry.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Use The Money Wisely - Lend It!

In talking with a number of commercial salespeople of late the bigger problem with the downturn in sales is that they are struggling to get people with good credit and good down payments a loan to sell the vehicle to make a profit to stay in business.

If the big 3 each take $1 Billion (they throw that number around like it's chump change), they could each make FORTY THOUSAND $25,000 loans. Seems like that would be the best place to put money. . . or make sure that each dealer who is trying like crazy to sell a vehicle the Big 3 already built gets a reasonable piece of the bailout pie. It seems only fair.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Big 3 vs The Little 25

When I was a young child, there were a good number of American made automobiles that were not the Big 3. We owned a Hudson, a Studebaker, several Packard's. Big could be better, but not necessarily. How about the Little 25? Lots of smaller companies vying for business, perhaps creating more innovative products.

How about some better commercial truck chassis too. There has been so much sameness for the last 35 years or so. It'll be fun and interesting. If you've been outside the US, you've seen some very different sizes of commercial trucks, along with much more fuel efficient pieces. I'm ready to see some change. How about you?

This will require government to get leaner too. The cost to bring a new model to market with crash testing and the like is staggering.

It seems unlikely looking at the past, but. . . it could happen.

The Power Of Your Own Feedback

There is nothing more powerful than your own feedback (self-talk). Whether it is an event that has happened or an event that could happen matters little. It is the feedback that you give yourself about this that really matters.

The one thing that has changed my life dramatically in the last two years more than anything else is the consistency of my own positive feedback about what I think and experience. In the past I was positive when things were good and still I found things to complain about, so there was no consistency to the positive thoughts. They were short lived. Kind of like weeds taking over the flower bed in the garden--pretty soon you can't even see the flowers. I thought I was a positive person, but how could you really tell through all those weeds?

What has changed now is the weeds are pulled out quickly before they have a chance to multiply and the focus is on the flowers. This is no small accomplishment! Yet, it has come about in a very short period of time compared to my whole life. That's the good news! If I can do it--anyone can do it!

If you would like to have that kind of change but have it come even sooner than it took me, here's my suggestion: 1. Decide you really want it and will be open to learning. 2. Read a book and study it. I could give you a list of books, but the one book that will make the biggest, most powerful change is The Astonishing Power of Emotions. I highly recommend it because it works. I know it has had a powerful positive effect on me. Enjoy your new found freedom!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Power Of Positive Expectation

The majority of the people I talk to in the last many months are not the same people I know. They're infected with fear and negative expectation. Most are experiencing anxiety or dread of future events that may or may not happen. Isn't that the way it is with most fear of the future--that it may or may not happen.

"'Tis nothing good or bad, that thinking makes it so" - William Shakespeare

Remember back two or three years ago when things were good and thoughts of the future were bright and positive? Remember how you felt? Remember how busy you were and how optimistic you were?

"There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow." - Orison Swett Marden

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Power Of Positive Feedback

I have a lot of stories on this subject, and there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest to me. It's the story of how I became a songwriter.

In 1983, I was sales manager at a car dealership. My wife turned 30 that year and I decided to write her a song. I had written one song prior to that in 1969 and it was not very good, but I was determined to do this and have a band play it and sing it on her birthday. So I did it and it was a hit with her. After that, I was jazzed about writing songs and decided that after that I could write some more, so I began writing and bought a recorder and started recording my songs myself.

The finance manager played guitar and so I shared one or two of my efforts with him. He listened intently and gave me nothing but positive feedback. I was enamored with that and couldn't wait to get home and do some more. On my days off, I did 5 or 6 and would bring them in for critique. He just kept egging me on with praise. I listened to some of these tapes years later and they were pretty crude, but his praise seemed so sincere, he took time and listened with interest and he pointed out the things he liked best and of course, I did more of that too. I got better each time.

He gave me such confidence for the next few months that I decided to take the best ones and go to a real recording studio and record them. I went and had four songs recorded and used professional musicians and came back with a vastly improved tape, which led to doing a whole album, which led to writing about 150 songs and doing a serious amount of recording, which led me to singing and writing songs for the church and playing in a church band and much more. It was an awesome experience.

And I know absolutely who to thank for it. It was that positive feedback; that encouragement when I was incredibly vulnerable. It could just as easily gone the other way. I thank him all the time for the opportunity to have experienced so much around music and writing songs. It would not have happened had he responded differently, I'm sure of it.

The lesson this event taught me is to be an uplifter. It changed how I managed my sales people and how I responded to others. It even changed how I interacted with customers. It opened my mind to be an encourager and to find ways to give positive feedback whenever I can. I don't remember it everyday, but I'm not very far from it. I'm also reminded just how powerful an influence positive feedback can be--not just for the moment, but it can last for many years into the future.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hypothetically Speaking

Hypothetically Speaking . . . Let's say that you cannot advertise in print--no newspaper, trader publications, no print. Let's say you cannot use radio or TV either. Let's say you can't even use word of mouth. All the tried and proven methods are out the window.

All you have left and all you can use is your thoughts to attract people (buyers) to you. . .

. . . what are your thoughts?

Do that a lot.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That's The Thanks I Get For All My __________!

This is Thanksgiving week. It's not the Thanksgetting week. Although that is nice from time to time to get thanks for all my __________, it really works better for me when I give thanks for all that I have, all that I have become and all that I can give to others.

The thing that has changed in my life the most is in giving thanks every day in every way that I can think of. I'm thankful for the opportunity to live and try and do. I'm thankful for the abundance around me, for the capacity in me that is constantly expanding through contrast of experience. It's not about succeeding or failing, it is about thinking and doing. The difference in me is immense and powerful and it is gratitude that is the fuel that feeds the motor.

It is easy to be grateful for the "good" things, but it is the gratitude for the adversity that causes expansion and growth. At first it was hard to speak grateful words when adversity came, but in now looking back, it is the practice of this that has brought me here. Now here, I cannot even imagine going back. I have had more joy in my life in the past few months than in the past several years. This joy comes only from gratitude, hence, gratitude is a joy creator. Want more joy in your life? Find a ways to be grateful for what you have now, what you've been through, where you're going. With this kind of gratitude, this current economic climate will become a stepping stone to greater joy. This is perhaps the only real thing you are fully in control of, and that is all the power in the universe. Realizing this is your ultimate joy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Here's an idea whose time has come: Commercial Truck Locator.com.

How many times have you needed a unit you didn't have (a regular occurrence I'm sure), ran the locator from the manufacturer to find the chassis, then have to make all those phone calls to see what body is on them? That's not nearly so bad as waiting for them all to call you back. Dealer trade calls are not their number one priority after all.

Now, there's a better way. . .

We started Commercial Truck Locator.com to make your life much more profitable. Now, you can go to the locator and find the truck AND the right body at the same time AND have all the information that you really need to close the deal NOW.

Check it out and join the change!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's the Difference?

What is the difference between making do with things being what they are and feeling good?

Some people might even think you're crazy to feel good about the way things are. Like, how dare you feel good when the world is coming to an end.

When it is sunny and 75 degrees, virtually everyone says it is a beautiful day. What do they say when its raining and windy?

It's a beautiful day everyday, because beauty is incredibly flexible. I like that about beauty.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Distraction Is In Order and Neccessary

The more you pay attention to what you don't like or don't want, the more of it you get. It's just the way it is. You can give it any name you like, but you already know it is true. When there is negative news (is that a double negative?) around and people around you are chatting about it, avoiding it is difficult, yet you must.

It is strange, but in times like these, people seem to hang around work more and also get less done. They feel they need to be there to demonstrate they are there or just being there in case a customer comes in. It's counter productive, but we seem to do it. After all, it is action or activities that we think are at the heart of potential improvement in the current reality of business numbers. Perhaps it is true to some extent, but much more important than that is staying focused on what you do what to happen--having a positive, upbeat, optimistic attitude. A better and simpler way to say it is to feel good. It is understood that sometimes around a work environment, it is hard to feel good, but it is more critical than anything else.

So how can you get and keep that feeling good about things feeling? Distraction. Distract yourself from the day to day "reality." You can do this in hundreds of ways. Here are a few:
  • Instead of eating at lunch time, go hit some balls. If you're a golfer, stop by the driving range and hit a bucket or two. If you like baseball, go to a batting cage and hit some balls. It doesn't take long, but it will take your mind off of things for a half hour or so and the refreshment you receive will be powerful.
  • If you can get away for part of the afternoon, go see a movie you would like to see. Right in the middle of the day.
  • If you have nice countryside nearby, go for a little drive. If it's nice out, put the windows or the top down and drive slower enjoying the feeling rather than trying to get someplace.
  • Go for a walk. During a lunch hour, you can walk about 3 miles.
  • Got an amusement park nearby? Go ride the roller coaster or a few other rides. Just for the fun of it.

You can make your own list, but the more spur of the moment it is, it is probably better. Do something unusual, out of your routine and fun. Reality will still be there when you come back, but it will have a different look and feel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Gladly Take Help From Everyone Who Offers

I have an ego just like everyone else and sometimes I get a little stuck on myself, but I have learned over the years to listen anyway and see what someone has to say; try to understand them and see how it feels after a fair hearing. Now, in my older wisdom, I listen much more quickly and it makes a huge difference. I also find that the other person's ideas mixed with mine creates a synergy that could not have been there before and that is the real power in taking help from others.

If someone offers you help with or without some kind of price tag, it pays to listen enough to see what they have to offer. It amazes me a bit when we offer to help a potential client and they just turn it down without any kind of hearing. What sense does that make? With most of them, we are totally confident we can assist them to make more money, more sales, more efficiency and we are eager to be of service and fully flexible in the way of cost and services and yet we hear excuses and reasons not to listen to us. It's okay. We understand that not everyone will want to listen, but hey, when your house is on fire and someone offers you a hose with water in it, it's time to say, "thank you, I needed that!"

Think about it next time someone offers you help. Taking it could make all the difference in the world.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Price Is A Talking Point

Price is a talking point, but it is not the main issue. It is easy to believe that price is the main issue, but it is not. What also confuses this issue is what also confuses the prospect and that is all the price advertising that is truly meaningless to most prospects. At best, an advertised price is one way that a prospect could compare you with a competitor. Nobody wants to pay too much and everybody wants a good price, but really what they want is to feel good--good about their experience, good about the transaction, good about the potential service.

Being the lowest price might get you a little business, but it is not really the draw that you might think it is. I'll give you some examples I've seen of late:
  • Gas prices have dropped and that is awesome. I drive by one station and it is $2.29 for unleaded and just a half mile away is another station selling it for $3.09. I can drive to every station in town and see a different price for the same stuff all over and sometimes as in this case it is a dramatic difference. Yet, all of them are pumping gas. You would think that the $2.29 station would be buried in business, but it is not true. There must be other reasons, like brand, location, convenience, etc.
  • I have a little book business on eBay and have over 13,000 items online. I will sell a heavy book from National Geographic for $8.95 and others will trip over themselves to sell it for $0.75 to $1.00. Perhaps they think they will make it up in volume, but after shipping it would be a loss to say the least. I probably don't sell as many, but they would have to sell more than 10 to my 1 to even come close. I sell them and my customers are very pleased with the service and the product. Just the other day I had a rare audiobook listed for $30 and someone offered me $10. I declined the offer, rechecked the market and raised the price to $40 and sold it the next day for that amount. It isn't the price.

I'm looking at the newspaper and I see 6 large ads for different dealers all with blow out prices. It is interesting to me that not one of these ads has one payment. How many come in and pay cash? Not very many. How many finance? A very high percentage. Why are there no payments? It isn't the price that is going to sell. They are all trying to sell books for $1.00 and competing over the lowest gross profit--for what? To create some traffic? To get people to drive in? If they sold all the give away units in the ad, where would they be?

Truth is, they don't know how to do it (market, advertise, promote) any other way. I was in the car business from 1972 to 1997 and it didn't really work in that period. Why spend all that money on this form of advertising? Somewhere along the line they thought it was working. But, was it really working? Raise your prices. It won't change. It's not the price, that is just a talking point.

Try something new and make some profit!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Turn the Corner!

All dealers and sales managers would benefit greatly by reading Seth Godin's book, Permission Marketing.

For you Commercial Truck/Fleet Managers out there, I suggest that you turn the corner now and do not wait for the dealer to read this book. Read this book today and begin implementing your new inspired marketing programs yourself. Here is a link for the book. Here is a link for the first four chapters of the book for free. Read chapters one and two and you will be moved to read the rest.

Enjoy your new found success!

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 10

Last topic in this series: Event Marketing.

This is a type of marketing that can be very productive if it is planned in advance and thoroughly followed through to final execution.

I remember working at Woodard Chevrolet and the general manager planned a Corvette show. He invited various Corvette Clubs to sanction an event at the dealership and he put together a number of other draws. The most expensive and best of them was the Darth Vader Corvette. It was quite an elaborate display and a stunning show car and people came from miles around to see it because the event was well advertised and well planned. There was also food vendors, a square dance club, live music, trophies for the corvette show and many more touches that made the event spectacular. It was a huge success. This was in 1983 and it coincided with the announcement of the long awaited totally redesigned 1984 Corvette.

The entire 2 acre front lot was cleared for the event and from the freeway it was quite a site. It was the first event of that magnitude that I have witnessed at a dealership. With the volume of people and activities, it was extremely difficult to try and do any business, but we sold a few anyway and several more the next few days from the event.

Ever since that time, the event became an annual event, but it never reached the level of participation and excitement as the very first one. I'm clear on what the difference was: the man who planned the event. It was the only one that he planned. He was a master at planning this kind of event and knowing what to add to it to increase the draw. All of the Corvette Shows we had until I left in 1997 were a shadow of the first because they weren't planned with any real expertise, interest or budget. There were always things missing or not enough of this or that--and always not enough of the public coming to the event which is the most important ingredient.

I've seen and participated in a number of events over the years and the planning of the event is critical to the success of it. The most important question to ask your planning staff is this: Why are people going to interrupt their busy lives to come to this event? In other words, what is the draw? Is it hot dogs and Coke? Is it the fact that you've invited all of your suppliers to come and be there? Is it your inventory on display? Free food is cool, but a lot of people won't walk across the street for a free hot dog and Coke. I'm guessing that nobody really cares about your inventory, or your suppliers. It needs to be way better. Keep asking the questions until you find the answer that is sure to bring them in.

I know this from my experience as well--event marketing can be a huge benefit from immediate and after event sales and even more is the public awareness and having a lot of people come into your store that have never been on the lot before. One of the reasons that you run ads in the paper is to make immediate sales, but the other is to have name recognition. The event has a thousand times the name recognition that an ad would have. Make sure that everyone that comes in takes some coupons, or information about your store away with them. It is a huge marketing opportunity.

I've described one event done in one way. There are untold opportunities to do events, whether they are on your lot or somewhere else. You can also tie into other events like County Fairs. Getting you, your products, your services, your messages into public awareness is the goal and there are hundreds of ways to do that effectively. Try some.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 9

We're on to the last two topics in this series. Today is affiliate marketing.

An affiliate is just a person or a business that you connect with short or long term and each of you benefit from the process. An example on the Internet is like the left side of our blog where there are links to some companies that we use and enjoy and so we help promote them on our site because we use them and believe in them and they also send us a small commission if a person clicks and buys. Fair trade. We promote our favorite partners, they reward us if someone comes to them through us. Simple. These are on most Internet sites and especially apparent on large draw sites like MSN or AOL. Google does it as well. The more traffic to your site, the bigger the potential is.

What I am referring to for the dealer, is not the Internet, although this can certainly be done on dealership websites. What I am referring to is partnering with other suppliers that can create a sharing of prospects and ultimately sending business to one another--on purpose. We wouldn't be looking for a commission from them for a prospect we send them that buys, but we would love to have them sending us interested prospects that buy from us. There is the exchange of value.

We get into legal issues in the car business in certain states where paying other people money for a referral is concerned. I'm not suggesting this. Instead, they are just referring people to us as an affiliate; that is, like a happy customer would do, only on purpose as part of doing business. So, some examples might be in order.

I would suggest that companies that are either suppliers to you now or are in associated products would work best. An example would be a boat company. Work out a deal where you put one of your vehicles at the boat place to show off their products and promote yours and the same at your place. You actively promote each other as part of your own selling strategy. This is not just a static product display, but more along the lines of a partnership in marketing. Think of how many partners you could have in this. Get four, five, six of these going and the word spreads nicely. You get to show off your product, they get to show off theirs in a different way as well.

Here's another: What about your favorite camper shell, truck accessories dealer? You can put a sweet looking truck on display with a nice shell and carpet kit and they can create a marketable display on your lot. Most shells just clamp on, so there's no holes being drilled. It's a great trade.

Here's an even bolder idea with the truck accessories dealer. Create some great space in or near your retail parts area and work a deal with the accessories dealer to partner in selling much of their product through your operation. They supply the inventory and training, you get commissions on the sales--but the real key is not making the money on the product, but creating better relationships with your customers and finding new ways to serve them. In addition, it is a way to create new customers that may come in for an accessory and end up buying that raised 4x4 you've got all decked out on the showroom. The ideas are endless of what you can do here.

Another is the commercial trailer dealer. There's a lot of business to be shared here. It makes a great deal of sense with your commercial truck operation.

Think of some other businesses that you can create affiliate marketing with. Think of the prospects and relationships you're building for the future. It is another way to create business that is not coming into the dealership on their own. That's a good thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 8

Moving along from the list in part 2, we're on to Alternative Sales Marketing.

An interesting phrase, alternative sales marketing. What I mean by this is out of the box marketing--at least for the dealer. A dealer has been used to marketing in a certain way or a few ways for a long time, so here are some ideas to get you out into some traffic.

Take some of the advertising money you've been using and try some of it in these areas:

The mall. Besides the freeway, here is where there is traffic--and its the kind of traffic you probably need more of. I went online to Westfield Group and clicked on Specialty Leasing. They list three different ways to do short or long term specialty merchandising with them. One: Retail Merchandising Units (AKA, RMU's Mall Carts, Common Area Stores) and they state that these are the "quickest and easiest way to establish your retail presence in a center." You've seen them in the middle of the floor in the mall and they can be very effective. Two: Floating Retail (AKA Kiosks) "will afford your business and product unparalleled exposure and permanent long-term real estate within our centers. Floating retail gives you the ability to have front and center interaction with the shopper; Kiosk designs offer standard sites averaging 150 square feet. Floating retail design is entirely customizable to fit your business, product and merchandising strategy in order to maximize sales and company success." Three: Temporary In-Line Stores "enable you to take advantage of seasonal vacancies of in-line retail spaces in our centers so you can dramatically expand your sales over a short period of time."

I've seen cars and trucks inside the mall, but they are static displays with sign-up forms all around the perimeter of them. There isn't anyone there doing anything. It is on autopilot. Extremely ineffective. I would go so far as to say it is a waste of time and energy to do it that way. But, having a display that has a person or persons with a story to tell, handouts, contests, activities can make a big difference. There is a lot that can be done in this area and it doesn't have to cost $10k a month to do it. My main point is that there is a lot of traffic here and if you have something outstanding to say, here is a great place to say it and show it. Hand out service coupons and drive business to service and parts. Hand out free car wash coupons and get them into your store. Have regular drawings and give away a detail to a car or truck, some free service like a lube, oil, filter or something like that. You don't need to give away hundreds of dollars worth of items. Get people coming into your store. That's what it is all about. You'll be able to touch people that would have never thought of coming into your store when they are ready for a vehicle.

In this environment, don't think about selling a car today, think instead of driving business into your store in other ways so that you can build a relationship with them so that when they are ready, you have a great shot at their business. But, don't forget one of the most important things: it isn't so much them, as who they know. Have a computer or two going and people can see your awesome website and you can show them the super service videos you have there that can be so helpful for all those younger folks that aren't coming into your store now. It will help the older folks too. This is the information age, so give them plenty of interesting information that is helpful and useful. They will appreciate you for that. And maybe that one will never buy from you because they love that other make, but they know people who do like your product and they can tell how cool your display was and pass the coupons on to other people.

This is but one idea. It's not free, but it's not outrageous, either. Considering the traffic you have an opportunity to influence, it can be very cost effective if you can have a good plan of doing different things that are attracting people to have the opportunity to influence. If it is just a car and a person, it won't draw much. Better to have a Mall Cart with brochures, video playing, giveaways, ways to interact with people. Hire some talent to be there with you perhaps. I'm sure you can think of some workable scenarios that will be effective for you.

I grant that it is out of the ordinary for car dealers, but these are extraordinary times. Get out of your box and go for it. Find some unique more meaningful marketing to drive traffic and business to your store.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 7

We will continue with service marketing. Yesterday, we discussed how sales and the rest of the dealership can promote service and how service needs to be improved to enhance business now and in the future. This time, I will focus on what the service department can do to better promote themselves.

An old idea was to have a safety clinic, or maintenance clinic where customers and prospects were invited to come to the dealership for a hands on seminar of sorts about car care in one form or another. In my experience at dealerships, this event might have taken place once, but rarely twice. Yet, it is a good idea and it does require planning, communication and good execution. The other issue was getting people to show up. In simpler times, it was easier to stage an event like this and have plenty of people show up with some advertising. This is no longer easy and requires more thought and planning. But, there's hope:

Try a different, easier, more useful approach. Do your clinic on video. You can stage people at the taping to look like it was a real live event even. No advertising expense. Use that money for the video instead. The best part of this is that now you have a tool that can be used over and over and over again in a number of different ways. First, post it on your service website so people can just click on it and watch it any time they want 24/7. Next, post it on your dealerships YouTube site for the world to see. Next, you can email them to people or send them on CD's, give them away in memory sticks as a promotion and more. Now, you have a great reason to do a whole series of these videos as a service to the public and with each post in all the ways you post it, more people will see your service and see what you're doing and how cool you are to do things this way! Now you're a leader in the industry. You took an old idea and made it new and found a way to promote your services and your store all at the same time. How cool is that?

Next, now that you have your video team, take a great video of your service department and how clean it is and how well stocked your parts department is and how comfortable the waiting area is and all the other really cool features of your store. Post it on the web, YouTube and all the places that you put the other videos.

What about when people drive into service? What is that experience? Here's some ideas: serve Starbuck's or Peet's or Seattle's Best or other famous brand name coffee. Better yet, have a coffee bar so people can get their favorite latte or mocha. Give it away as a freebie or sell it for a flat fee. One young owner I worked for gave away USA Today to anyone in the service drive that wanted one. It was kind of classy I thought--just like the hotels do. Make it an experience that they will talk about to others. Think of it as advertising, then if it costs money, you can relate to the expense of it. Do some things that really create a buzz. Be really bold and do some things that are cool for the customer and get you noticed. The word will spread quickly and you will get more business quickly.

Here's another: Almost every service department has early bird service. Pretty much, it means nothing. Let's make it mean something by actually having early bird check in with people actually there to help them. You could do it once or twice a week where you open at 5:00am instead of 7:30am. I'm sure you can work out the scheduling if you want to. Advertise it. I think you might be surprised that some people would find that especially convenient and comfortable. And, of course, if you don't already, Saturday service is a must, even if you only have half the people of normal. You might find that Saturday is a better day than the others and expand even more. It is all about convenience.

Commercial. There is so much business to be had in the commercial arena. Even if you don't stock commercial trucks, it is a great business type to attract. These people really use their vehicles and they require service much more frequently and they want flexibility. I've seen dealerships built up dramatically by focusing here.

Mobile service, rental cars, courtesy shuttles, speed lube. There is so much that can be done. Pick the things that you think hold value for you and start some more meaningful marketing in service and parts today.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 6

Today I am excited to talk about one of my favorite methods of marketing that I call Service Marketing. Basically, it is incredibly simple in that what I am doing is promoting and selling the service department with all my customers and prospects.

I want to start with the problems with this because I have experienced most of them and they are roadblocks to the success of this type of marketing. If you are serious about changing the way you have been doing things and change the results you've been getting, you need to grab hold of this type of marketing with gusto and commitment. Especially in today's soft market, this type of marketing can make a powerful difference in the dealerships profitability and stability.

Here are the problems as I perceive them:
  • Many dealerships think that they can charge the highest labor rate because they have the manufacturers prowess behind them and they think that "factory-trained" mechanics are worth the extra over the non-dealer competition. Wrong. Having been a journeyman auto mechanic myself, I feel qualified to speak on this subject. The only thing a dealer has over the non-dealer competition is they can do warranty work paid by the manufacturer because they are a franchised dealer. All of their non-warranty work is just like that done at every non-dealer auto service facility. I don't have a serious problem paying all the money as long as I get all the service. My experience at dealerships is the opposite. The reality to me is that it costs more and I get less. Those are the two biggest negatives. This issue must be addressed squarely and honestly and quickly. Get your head out of the clouds and focus on customer service at a fair and reasonable cost.
  • Many dealerships think the best way to have more profitability in the service department is to raise the labor rate. I've seen this so many times over the years. I'm all for paying attention to where you are in the marketplace relative to each other, but the best way to profitability is providing more and better service more efficiently and effectively and constantly massaging that concept. More and better service. Better productivity. More clients who are not warranty customers. These things need to be the focus and watch it change for you.
  • Many dealerships think they have the best mechanics because the best mechanics want to work for dealerships. Wrong. I've met some very good mechanics at dealerships, but I have met more at non-dealership facilities. Really good mechanics find the real problem and fix it so it doesn't need to come back. When I was in auto shop in high school, my teacher used to call those poor mechanics "Joe Magee Mechanics." They were just parts changers with an expensive and large chest of tools. I have seen the comebacks, so I know this is a problem. Seek the best and you will be rewarded for it. It is more important now than ever to be a great diagnostician to be a great auto mechanic.
  • If you want to see how good a dealership service department can be, take away 100% of their warranty work and see how profitable they can be. This should be one of the reports that a really good dealer, general manager and service manager should get. They should be able to look at how much was generated by warranty work and how much non-warranty and how that relates to the profitability of the department. The other thing that needs a good deal of scrutiny is comebacks. I know no one likes them, but what are you doing about it? To an owner, there is little worse than having to bring it back again to have the thing fixed that should have been fixed the first time.
  • Many dealerships think they should not work on other make vehicles. Wrong. That will limit your income right off the bat. Think of one of your dealership customers who bought that new Chevrolet from you, but they have three vehicles in their family and only one of them is that Chevrolet. They also have a Nissan and a Ford. If you say to them to bring their Chevrolet to the service department, but don't bring the Nissan or the Ford, you are operating a service business that will continue to have a hard time being profitable unless there is sufficient warranty work which is totally dependent on how many new cars and trucks are sold. Find mechanics that have more experience. Train more. Watch out how many ways you say no.
  • Service follow up is just as important as sales follow up, yet it doesn't get done. If I ever got a call about my service, it was maybe one or two. That's in 40 years of driving! Think about it. You had a problem, you brought it in and they called you the next day or a couple of days later and asked if everything was okay. Wow. What a concept! How would you feel about that call? I would be impressed and pleased.

These are just a few of the biggest problems and their solutions for dealers. If you really look at your operation from every angle that you can with one good two-part question asked over and over: Why should people bring their vehicles to us for service and how will they respond to our service experience? Understanding the problems fully is part of the solution to them.

Now that these problems are being solved, we can effectively market the service department. Every communication with every prospect and customer must talk about service proudly and encourage people to come there for their regular service needs on all the vehicles they own. There should be a good supply of service and parts coupons to pass out to people. Create some marketing magic by getting the entire dealership involved in promoting the best service department on the planet!

Dealers just don't seem to realize how important the service and parts departments are to the dealerships success as a whole. I say this confidently: The better the service and parts business, the better the dealership overall. If sales can really, seriously promote the service department, that is a huge advantage. Most sales departments have an adversarial relationship with their service department. Much of that comes from the points above. I could give you a list of specific examples, but I think the point is made.

I'm not buying a new car right now, but I am getting my oil changed on time and I just had to have an expensive repair done on one of our vehicles. This is a common experience. Get them coming to you instead of the non-dealer facilities. Be the best and show it in your performance.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 5

Now we are on to the next topic in this series: Internet marketing.

Because building websites and online newsletters for dealerships and other businesses is one of the things we do, we have had the opportunity and interest in looking at hundreds of websites. There is a lot of fancy graphics, flash and show on many but hardly anything of substance toward making sales. It is rare to find a dealer site that has any photographs of any of the people that work there. It is still a people business after all. This is especially true of commercial truck websites at dealerships. This makes no sense to me. Tens of thousands of dollars later, the website has not helped move the dealership forward. That is a shame. It can be an awesome communication tool to lead people to communicate directly with your people.

So, for Internet marketing, the very first thing is to create an effective website that shows personnel, has phone numbers, email addresses, cell phone numbers, the works. Show pictures of vehicles you actually have instead of mirroring what the manufacturer does. Sell your dealership, your people, your services. Get your team involved with training and input. Create a site that adds to your business in dollars and numbers of sales. Get some online sales happening even.

Start thinking of your website as a valuable revenue stream instead of a manufacturers informational site. Let them go to the manufacturer's site for the info and to your site for the sales. Get service up in lights. Post photos of your service writers, manager, etc. Put their direct lines, cell phones, get the calls coming in. List your services, include some service special coupons. Get parts involved. There is so much that can be done. Most the the sites we see are fancy and nice, but ask yourself: Why would I buy from this dealership? Why would I even go in there? Because they have the make I want and they are in my town? Put lots of testimonials. Let your satisfied customers tell prospects why they should come in. Let them say why you should be trusted. Put information that is of interest to the people coming to the site, but make it about YOU and your store. Promote the phone to ring off the hook. Make your site VALUABLE. This also means that it must be updated almost daily! It is a tool, it is not a pre-recorded message or like your on-hold music system. It is not something to build that you can cross off your list. It is a work in progress--always a work in progress. You guys are in sales, right? There, I said it. Deal with it.

If you could create an additional revenue stream for very little investment, why would you not do that? Why are you not selling parts and vehicles online? Do you realize how many vehicles have been sold on eBay alone? It is in the millions. Yes, millions. That is one avenue, but there are many. Why not have an E-Commerce website linked to your website where you actually do sell things online. A few new marketing ideas could make a huge difference to your bottom line. What if it made a little difference, but it was steady? There are lots of opportunities here.

More Internet marketing: Email HTML newsletters and other promotional pieces to your prospects and customers. Give a little interesting info, do a little selling, give a little interesting info, do a little more selling. It's a great tool and very easy and very inexpensive. It is so inexpensive that you will laugh at how cheap it is. Create another revenue stream.

Blogs. This is a tool we use a lot and is extremely effective. It is a great way to share information and have links and photos and advertising and help get you found on the Internet. This blog is one of them. We are giving away extremely valuable information at no charge to whomever wants to view it. We are creating value--in what we do and how we do it. We are creating additional links to the various search engines which helps direct people to our websites. We do these same things for our clients that want them. The more prospects that look at you, the better, right? So we give away some good information at no charge. It will come back to us and it will for you as well.

Many dealerships have an Internet department, but they aren't used effectively. Much of what they do is respond to quote requests from places where the dealership pays for the leads. There is so much more that can be done to create your own leads in addition to or instead of paying the others for them.

These are just a few of the important and powerful things that you can do on the Internet. Seek to understand just a portion of the real value the Internet holds for your business. Create some more meaningful marketing for your business today.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 4

Let's expand on customer marketing to include referral generation from customers and prospects both. There is no better source of business except repeat business than referral business. It comes to you with a certain amount of trust already built in from the person who refers them and they are also much more likely to buy and continue buying. Getting good referrals then, would be a worthy and profitable objective.

People that are happy doing business with you are likely to tell their friends and associates and some of them may come in or call as a result of that. I will call that a casual referral. Those are wonderful, but you can't really count on them. Taking a more deliberate approach is a much more worthwhile activity.

There's a lot of ways to seek referrals deliberately. There really isn't a right or a wrong way, just different ways. One, is you could just ask for them. A good time to do that is at the point of delivery, or within a few short weeks of delivery. The better the experience with you and your product and company, the better the chance of getting referrals. Sometimes, they will even call the prospect for you and put you together.

Another way is to offer something to encourage referrals. Thousands of businesses do this all the time and it pays dividends. Some will offer the prospect a special deal and give the referring person a gift as well. You can do this effectively through your email newsletter discussed yesterday.

There are even people who don't buy from you but like you and they will send business your way, so in order to be more deliberate here, keep all the prospects you talk to in your database as well and send them offers very much as you would to customers.

Another great way is to send business to them. Many of the people you will be dealing with are business people, so it is a natural to create good will through exchange of prospects. I know one salesman who made 9 sales from one prospect's referrals, but never sold that person a vehicle. I think that is fascinating! Constantly look for new and better ways of obtaining referrals.

So far, we are marketing to specific targets through our database, then we are taking charge of our customer database, and part of doing that is paying attention to the power of the referral. If these were all you did, it would be a most powerful combination of activities and by far out produce other activities. It is deliberate and focused. You can move specific inventory deliberately. You can create new customers deliberately. You're building an empire!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 3

Now, let's talk about the most often neglected marketing opportunity: your current customers.

If you think about a customer that has purchased from you not as an individual sale, but as a lifetime of sales, the value of that customer should be greatly increased. As we stated in part one of this series, in Customers For Life, Carl Sewell figured that each customer was worth $300,000. This is a very good way to look at the value of a customer, but you can increase that dollar amount to over $1 million if you think of each customer not as an individual customer, but a network of customers.

Have you ever found a place of business that you just loved and you told everyone you knew about that wonderful experience? Or perhaps, it was a product you just discovered that you didn't know existed before. You just have to tell people and share the experience and the excitement. The same would be true and maybe even more so for bad experiences. But, the point is that they communicate about the business, the product and/or the experience. They have their own little network. Maybe they even have a larger network where they have a popular blog or column in the paper or they are a center of influence in their business or social community. It's not just who you know, but who they know. If you open your mind to this opportunity of marketing, you may see the potential and how great it can be if you can find a way to communicate effectively to them.

The first thing besides having a good product and service, is to provide a good overall experience for the customer. As an owner or manager, you need to pay attention to the process that a prospect goes through becoming a customer in your business. See all of it and see where there may be some problems to correct to maximize the experience. The experience can be crushed at any point in the process including after the sale, which we will call the continuing experience. If you can see the value of the customer the way I have described above, you will benefit greatly by smoothing out the processes you have to raise the positive experience level of each transaction.

With that foundation, the next step is keeping track of your customer information so you can begin a communication process. Email addresses will be of paramount importance. Make sure that you have fields in your database that you can personalize so you can have notes of what you last sent them, how it was sent, last physical contact, service history and so on. In addition, you will want to coordinate communication with the service department. If all communications are coordinated for the benefit of each department, all individual agendas will be met.

Next, set up an email marketing newsletter that can go to the entire group or a large group of your customers. This will be a great way to touch each customer periodically, say about once a month. It will have a lot of valuable information and have some coupons for saving in service and parts and perhaps some affiliate coupons. Having experienced others, I highly recommend Constant Contact. It is very easy to use, inexpensive, full-featured and effective. This will be a very important tool for your success. The rest of the communications will be done via direct mail and via telephone.

You will need to have a full time employee taking care of this whole program, but it will be worth it and then some. Ideally, you would have someone who has this kind of computer skills and interest. Find someone who just loves this kind of work. They will help you expand and improve as you go. This is not the kind of job to delegate to the receptionist. We need a real player here.

Now you are set to go. You will be sending out mailing pieces every working day at least Monday through Friday. Your coordinator will be assigning calls to make via forms to fill in to the sales staff. You will have regular planning meetings with your team to enhance, improve, expand your communication prowess.

The benefits of this wise investment:
  • Repeat sales are assured.
  • Referral sales soar.
  • Customer losses slow to a crawl.
  • Service and parts sales are substantially enhanced.
  • ROI is huge.
  • You've created a new, effective and predictable revenue stream!

Catch the vision of more meaningful marketing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 2

In this series, we will look at your overall marketing as segmented marketing. Here are the components:
  • Mass marketing to a wide audience
  • Target marketing to a narrow audience
  • Customer marketing to existing customers
  • Referral generation from customers and prospects
  • Internet marketing
  • Service marketing
  • Alternative sales marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Event marketing

I've spent enough time with mass marketing. It's easy. Put the ad out and there it is. People respond to it and come in and you deal with them. Easy stuff. Expensive, but easy.

Let's look at target marketing. This is best done with a database to choose your prospects from and to target a select type of prospect that you want a selected message or offer to go out to. This is a great marketing method for commercial trucks because with all the different bodies, you can target those users that you think are the best prospects for that type of body and you focus in on them with your message or offer. Of course, this can be done the retail side of the business just as well. Perhaps you target certain demographics in the main database.

The key to effective target marketing is having the database. Without it, there is no effective target marketing. Of course, you could target certain publications and do some targeting there, but that wouldn't be my definition of target marketing. Spend the money on the best database you can buy and it will be very well spent money. Trying to sell a Cadillac Escalade in the newspaper is probably not very effective, but you can target buyers for this vehicle more effectively using target marketing.

Target marketing to me is extremely important. I cannot imagine running a commercial truck operation without a really good, effective regional database. It would be the very first thing I would buy if I went into a store to run the department. The very first thing. It is critical. If I am going to effectively move my inventory, I need to know who to sell them to. I cannot depend on them coming in, or driving by and seeing them. I could get lucky with that and this is a good thing, but I want to be much more deliberate than that. I want to grow and move lots of trucks to build my customer database and earn profits and the database is the only thing that will allow me to have that power and intention. You could put my office and inventory out behind the service department so that no one could see us and I will make it successful with my database and target marketing. Having visibility will just be a bonus.

This segment of marketing is not as easy and requires thought and planning, but it is far more productive in profit and sales--unless you just happen to have what's hot at the moment in sufficient quantities. That's such a transitory thing. Good luck. Take control and begin target marketing. It is also more cost effective. Tomorrow we move on to the customer marketing segment.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 1

Let's look at typical marketing at dealerships and many other businesses. Step 1: Run an ad in the paper. Step 2: Hope for traffic. Step 3: Hope to sell something. and Step 4: Repeat the process. At least that's the way it seems to be working right now in this strange economy. Really, step 2 is intended to create traffic and step 3 to sell some of them.

If you really think about it, when it comes to transportation, the vast majority of a dealership's business is not based on need, but desire. So, when people cut back, they rein in their desire for change in their fear of change. Interesting. If need were driving the economy, it would be a very small in comparison with where it is normally. We could all cut our food budgets in half if we needed to. Buying a new car could be put off for a long time. So, this is one of the main reasons the ads don't create the traffic they used to.

Let's try some more meaningful marketing. In 1993, I read the book The One To One Future - Building Relationships One Customer At A Time by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. Basically, the book said that the time honored mass marketing rules of the past are not working well anymore and it is time to focus on your own best customers while taking your focus off of market share and onto customer share. I thought the book hit the mark squarely back in 1993 and it is still on target in my opinion--even with the addition of the Internet.

The One To One Future states: "If your company is typical, it costs you five times as much to get a single new customer as it does to keep one you already have. Moreover, most businesses lose about 25 percent of their customers annually. If you could cut just 5 percent off of that customer loss, you could add as much as 100 percent to your bottom line. Yet companies allocate six times as much to the expensive process of trying to generate new customers as they do to the less expensive process of trying to retain their current ones."

They continue: "If you see a single customer not as a one-time transaction, but as a series of transactions over time--not as an on-off switch, but as a volume dial--then you can think of the task of generating a greater share of the customer's business as maximizing an individual's lifetime value to your firm."

"In Customers For Life, car dealer Carl Sewell estimates that each of the customers that venture for the first time into one of his dealerships' showrooms represents a potential lifetime value of over $300,000. He gets to this figure simply by calculating the number of automobiles each new customer is likely to buy during the course of his or her lifetime and estimating their average price, along with the service his own dealerships can expect to deliver and charge for. It's a very common sense approach. General Motors' vice president for consumer development, after accounting not just for cars purchased and service rendered, but also for income from auto loan financing, figures that a loyal customer is worth $400,000 over a lifetime."

What is missing from the desired marketing results that many businesses are having today is that they are focused on the new customer and spending almost all their resources trying to increase the number of new customers when they could be achieving much greater returns by focusing on building on the client base they already have. Yet most, have no system for doing that and spend little or none of their resources in this area.

Think about what was said earlier in the book quote, ". . . most businesses lose about 25 percent of their customers annually." If a business is spending almost all its resources trying to get new business with little thought to the clients they already have, and they are losing 25 percent per year of those new customers (I think it is much higher than 25%), that is a problem in good times, but when a business downturn hits, it can be devastating--even fatal. This is one of the main reasons for many business closings in this economy in my opinion. If you're always focused on the new customer and now there are less than 50% of those over a period of time, it doesn't take long for the losses to mount up.

Although changing to this one to one kind of marketing focus is not a quick fix--it takes time--it is never too late to get going on it. You could read both of these books this week and that will help a good deal to get a different perspective. Tomorrow, I'll delve into more that can be done.