Saturday, May 31, 2008

Too Expensive? Compared To What?

The last article was on the telephone receptionist, or the person answering the phone for your dealership. I talked about it being a $100 per hour job that is typically being paid $8-10 an hour. I would like to expand on the reason I think it is a $100 per hour job.

I know that a lot of people think of the phone receptionist as the "gatekeeper," meaning that this person filters the people who get through to the key people in the dealership. I would think of this person as more of an "opportunity snagger," whose job it is would be to snag every opportunity that comes into the switchboard and ensure that the opportunity is cared for and properly deposited into the proper account. Just directing a call to the right person is nowhere near enough.

What kind of calls come into a dealership? There are people who want more information from an ad in the paper, need to make an appointment in service, have car trouble and need help, want to see if you have a part in stock, want to see if you have a certain kind of used vehicle, personal calls, billing inquiries, sales prospecting calls, sales follow up calls, referral calls, supplier calls, lending institution calls, insurance agency calls, and on and on. Directing those calls efficiently and correctly to the proper party is the minimum expectation of a good phone receptionist. Having a pleasant and professional sounding voice is a minimum expectation. You might be able to find some good people for $8-10 per hour for these expectations, but the real key is snagging the sales and income opportunity calls and that is worth ten times that amount.

This person should be able to detect a potential sale call, gather the basic information quickly, ensure the call is returnable if somehow lost in transit to the proper party and follow through effectively to make sure the call is received--more like a good air traffic controller than a telephone answerer. Losing one sales call can pay for the receptionists salary for a whole month. In this economy, losing one sale is bad, but I think a typical dealer is losing many each month.

Here's a common call scenario: "Westway Motors, how may I direct your call?" ["I have a question about a vehicle in your ad."] "Thank you, one moment please." Page: "Sales call, line 1. Sales call, line 1." 30 seconds later, the telephone system sends the call back. "Has anyone answered your call yet?" ["Not yet."] "Let me try again for you. Just a moment." Page: "Sales call, line 1. Sales call, line 1." 30 seconds later, the telephone system sends the call back again. "They haven't answered yet?" ["No."] "I'm sorry, they must be with customers. Can I take a message and have one of them call you?" ["No, that's fine. I'll call back later."] "Okay. Thank you for calling Westway Motors."

How do I know this is a common call scenario? I've heard it over and over again in many, many places. I've actually heard far worse than this scenario. It has happened to me at many of these same dealerships when I would ask for a fleet manager or other person.

So, what is the problem with this call? First, the operator requested no information at all from the prospect. A name and call back number would be a goal. Second, 30 seconds on hold is a long time and having it go back to the switchboard is a clue that this is not working properly. Third, a specific person should be found immediately to take this call. The sales manager would be a good choice. Paging "Sales call, line 1" is not an effective method of dealing with a very valuable sales opportunity. Fourth, the call recycled again. Unbelievable. Fifth, don't ask if you can take a message, get the information! Sixth, get that information to someone who can make effective use of it.

A lot of dealerships have their sales staff answer the phone in the evening or on the weekends. I think this is a huge mistake. Sales people are focused on themselves and many, if not most, do not follow through on the call. I've experienced this so many times over the years. It is ineffective, inefficient and it is costing the dealership in lost business and ill will far more than a very expensive professional receptionist. I've called people so many times on a Saturday or an evening to talk to a commercial truck manager and have been left on hold and 4 minutes later, I am still waiting. I've even called back and got the same treatment twice. The person answering the phone did not know who I was or why I was called, they just knew that it wasn't for them.

Let's change this and realize that it is happening and deal with this very easy problem to fix. Get a great person(s) on the phone. Make sure they get the right training. Make sure that it is being done according to plan. Check on it regularly. Praise success. Measure it: Keep track of the kind of calls you get. Keep track of how many opportunities are seized now instead of the ones lost before. See how valuable this position truly is to your business. Pay what is fair and reasonable to get the talent you need to handle one of the most important jobs in the dealership, and then hang on to them. You will make a handsome profit.

If you are not the dealer and you know this problem is happening at your store, send this blog to your dealer. Get the problem recognized. That will be your part in helping to get this kind problem solved. Every moment spent with a prospect or customer is a moment of truth. Snag those opportunities with talent and direction on the phone.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Paying $8 An Hour For A $100 An Hour Job?

The telephone is one of the most powerful communication tools in the world--even today--yet many (most that I have experienced) dealerships treat the phone as a nuisance. The telephone has such power to bring income into the dealership and it is treated like it isn't really important. I don't understand it. It is one of my long time pet peeves.

The phone is worth at least $100 an hour or more in my mind and many dealers are only willing to pay $8 for the person answering it. Some even go below that by having an automated system! The automated system is the worst! I could understand it if it were a library or something like that, but an auto dealership? Just imagine a salesperson following up with a prospect (it could happen) and the prospect calls them back and gets the automated system. . . "please listen as our menu has recently changed. . . for service, press one. . . for parts, press two. . .for sales, press three. . ." Gag me. Automated systems are the worst for this kind of a business!

I just made a phone call to a large metropolitan dealership today to talk to the commercial truck manager and when I asked for him, the operator said that he was off today and so I said, "Thank you" and she said "goodbye." What is wrong with that conversation? This happens a lot and you can believe that it is not just happening to me. Since my name was never stated or even requested, she had no clue whatever who I was or why I was calling and did not even ask to give me to voice mail or take a message or anything. There goes a sale. . . again . . . and again. . . Who trains this person? Who supervises this person? Who believes the telephone in a large automobile dealership is an important part of their business? Not this dealer. . . or so it would seem. There is an ad in the paper with a phone number to call (they call them "phone ups") and then we give this treatment? Scary.

So dealers tell me business is slow. Well, now is a great time to give their business a bit of a tune up. What are we doing that is working? What are we doing that is not working? How is the phone being answered? Let's practice on the things that will improve our efficiency and profitability when the market comes back since we know up front it is a cyclical market. Let's make good use of the downtime and go back to class and improve. Makes sense to me.

Of course this is not just happening in the auto dealership. Yesterday, I called a client who we are building a website for. I'm calling for the owners son and I say, "Good morning, this is Terry with Upward Trend, is so and so available?", I hear a grunt on the other end and the answer, "No." I say, "Will he be in later?", they say, "I dunno." I say, "Thank you." I hear a click. Wow. This business gets almost all of their business via the phone. Now, that is scary. No, it's ridiculous!

How many times have you been put on hold and no one ever came back to you? You would think there is one person with 50 phone lines to answer or something. You're thinking, "pay attention to me, pay attention." Sometimes it is funny how much of a struggle it is to get through to someone even just to leave a voice mail message. I cannot count how many times I just hung up and didn't call back. It can be better. I know it can. It is a simple problem to fix. It's called training and paying attention to the front line. There are quite a number of ways to fix it such as books, seminars, consultants, etc. You can call us at Upward Trend Management Services and we can help as well. The number is 707-480-0959 for Ryan Stone or 707-434-9967 for Terry Minion.

I guess it remains that the telephone truly is a powerful tool. The question should be, "to build. . . or to destroy?" Which to choose. . . . hmmmmm? I choose to build. There's no time to lose. Now is the time to get going.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dressing Up To Go To Work? Absolutely!

There is a theory that you don't dress up a truck because it is just doing a job and it's just a worker and not on display. I agree that it is doing a job and a worker, but it is also on display. Every customer and potential prospect sees it and what it looks like speaks to them.

The most expensive piece of real estate at the dealership is the display space. To many it is a parking lot. To me it is my Macy's window display. When people drive by at 70 miles an hour, I want my lot to speak to them in that way. Who cares about a parking lot? All lined up and pretty just blends in. How they are positioned on the lot is everything in the way it will speak to the people driving by. Blank spaces in between is critical. Odd angles is critical. Color is critical. Knock-out gorgeous is critical.

Here's an idea that worked extremely well for me that may assist you. I wanted to dress up my trucks and create knock-out gorgeous trucks for my display. One of the ways to do this is color and I've talked about that. This time I'll talk of a merchandising partnership that was very powerful and very efficient and very inexpensive to the dealer.

I've loved mag wheels since I was a kid (shows my age. . .), now called aluminum wheels generally. They really do wonders in dressing up any vehicle--including commercial work trucks. It doesn't matter if it is a 3/4 ton or a medium duty truck, aluminum wheels will make it look much better. Although colored trucks really brings out the aluminum wheels, they look great on white trucks. And, here's the good news: It really helps sell them and brings better gross profits as well.

I used Alcoa Aluminum Wheels almost exclusively. I am picky about making sure that the wheels meet or exceed the factory specifications for wheels and Alcoa Wheels do. I sold a huge volume of 19.5" wheels along with smaller wheels for the lighter duty 3/4 and 1 ton trucks. On the 19.5" wheels, we sent them out to be polished which made a huge difference. The smaller wheels came polished from Alcoa. Whenever possible I used the Alcoa center cap kits. This cost a bit more, but the look is well worth it. It looks so cheesy to use standard center caps and have the lug nuts showing. Put them side by side and you will see what I mean. I even put Alcoa's on some of my cutaway van bodies! They looked great.

So, I contacted the local tire guys and sat down and talked about what I wanted to do. I said that I would buy some and show them what I can do in moving wheels, tires and other things from them and that after a short period of testing I wanted to work a much larger deal with them which would entail them giving them to me on consignment but that they would see how that would benefit them based on this test marketing approach. Out of the dealership capital, I bought several sets of wheels and merchandised part of the lot. After a couple of months of this, we agreed to do everything on consignment from then on.

The benefit to the dealership of this arrangement is the dealerships capital is not invested and is available for other uses. The benefit to the tire company was substantially increased business. In addition, I did not shop around for better pricing as we agreed to keep it reasonable and they had 100% of my business in this area. Since they were putting up the capital for the truck merchandising, they have to have a very good return and this arrangement gave it to them. After a little over three years, I had done over one million dollars of business with them. About 60% of my trucks had aluminum wheels! It really helped me sell more trucks, get more attention on the lot, keep the dealers cash flow flowing and created a great partnership with a local supplier. Win-Win-Win. But, it also provided value to my customers. They loved how the trucks looked and it made a difference in how their customers perceived them. Everyone wins all around.

Pssstt- Here's a bonus for you Ford dealers out there: you can get the Alcoa wheels from the factory and it is much less than I was paying 12 years ago. What a deal. Here's a plan: Get your key body companies (those that you are really teaming up with) to order trucks to your spec. So you order whatever percentage with the Alcoa wheels so they are ready to go when you get them! Wow. That is powerful. Sure would have been great to have that when I was doing it--and I surely would have used it to the max. Order up just the options that you want to sell and promote. This will set you apart and set your profits apart as well. Make it happen!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Service and Sales Peace and Prosperity

After 25 years in the car business and working with dealerships for 11 more, I have seen a lot of the typical service department versus the sales department wars. I've experienced it in dealerships that I worked for as well. I used to blame service for killing future sales and complain about them and their attitudes and generally, I participated and even encouraged the wars by doing these things. I said I wanted one thing and then did another. I thought I was a builder but truly, I was just another destroyer. A blamer. A whiner.

Then I got involved in building a commercial truck department. . . and all of a sudden it hit me: if we work closely together (sales and service working together?) we could help each other build our own little empires. Wow. What a turning point.

What changed? I stopped thinking about warranty issues and started thinking about maintenance issues. I stopped thinking about unhappy customers and started thinking about helping businesses be more efficient. I stopped thinking of myself and started thinking about my prospects, customers and yes, even my own dealership! It all made sense as it had never done before.

So, what did I do? I sat down with the service manager and laid out a plan of how we could help each other grow our own little businesses which grows the whole dealership business. I made a pact with him to drive business to the service department which in the long run would create trust with the customer and would create sales as a result.

I have to tell you that it was one of the greatest things I did because one of the best ways to build a client base in commercial sales is to provide maintenance and repair services in a timely and reasonable way, thereby building a relationship and trust. In commercial trucks more than any other sale in the dealership is the most solid repeat and referral business going. . . if you can build the relationship and trust. Since a business is making money with their vehicle and when it is down, they are losing money, it is critical to get it back online as quickly as humanly possible. Service actually then becomes a foundation for a strong and growing commercial truck operation. Seriously.

One of the best ways to prospect is to invite prospects into the service department. You would find a lot that are not ready to buy, but everyone needs service and a business needs it more regularly. Become a service department salesperson. Promote the service department. Learn what the specials are. Learn everything you can learn to help drive businesses into the service department. At the same time, the service department should be pointing out opportunities for a sale when a vehicle is in need of excessive repair or other similar circumstances. Go so far as to hand out flyer's, business cards of service writers and so on. You will benefit in a grand way. I am absolutely sure of it.

Sales and Service Peace and Prosperity! You can make it happen.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Your Bathroom Tells Me A Lot About Your Company. . .



This is true of every business I think, but since my commercial truck blog deals mainly with dealerships, I will focus here. I have been in a lot of dealerships over the years and I have learned that the condition of the bathroom will speak volumes about the whole company. A clean bathroom is a minimum expectation of a good business by customers and prospects.



Some years ago I read the book, "Moments of Truth" by Jan Carlzon who was President of Scandinavian Airlines. It is a book I highly recommend and is thin and very easy to read. One part stuck in my mind all this time was that they found that if the ashtrays were not emptied (back in the day. . .) and the plane spruced up between flights, the customers would think that that might be how they handle the maintenance of the engines on the airplane. Jan thought that every single contact with a customer was a "moment of truth" and how that moment was handled would determine to a large extent the success of the airline in general. It is a great book to add to your success library.

I can think of many dealerships that I have been in that just do not pay attention to their bathroom and consequently, they don't pay attention to a lot of other details that are also important. I also know many dealerships that have very clean and well kept restrooms and they make it a point to inspect them hourly and even have a checklist for the customer or prospect to see. That tells me how well they care for customers in general. I know full well which one I am doing business with and why.

The bathroom is one indicator. What about the customer lounge or customer waiting area when someone is in the service department? What about the showroom? The lot? The landscaping maintenance? Each communication with a prospect or customer on the phone? At the service drive? At the cashier window? There are many, many opportunities around the dealership every day to give the prospect or customer a good feeling about your business. . . or a not so good feeling. All moments of truth.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Commercial Truck Events Strategies

It has become a very common thing to have a commercial truck event at the dealership and also invite vendors to participate and even to pay for the privilege. I have planned and executed my own and have attended many others over the years. Some even do it as an annual event. I have seen events with 15 vendors paying $200-400 each where very few prospects showed up, leaving the vendors getting nothing for their money and making it a waste of every one's time. I have also seen great events with over 500 attendees having a great time. As a result of all of these experiences, I have learned a number of things about these events and how they might be more effective.

I once had one of these events and sent out flyer's to a 10,000 name database. I prepared a test drive course and worked on the right display, invited the manufacturer of the franchise we had, got all the refreshments and a lot of fine details. About 50 people showed up. I was devastated and embarrassed. I vowed to never have another event without a better plan.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration, like timing, weather, handling the traffic if they actually show up, getting the needed support and so on. It plain words, it is a lot of work to put this kind of thing on.

Here are some things I learned that may be of value:
  • Plan the event way in advance. I suggest that you plan this kind of event a minimum of 90 days out and preferably 6 months to a year out. This will allow you to think of everything that you need, gain all the tools and support, have a plan B, C and D ready and so on. It takes time and effort to put this event together.
  • What is the draw? Some are called customer appreciation events, vendor day, commercial truck event, 4th annual . . . It doesn't much matter what it is called, the most important thing is what is the draw? Why are the prospects or customers going to take the time out of their day to show up? What will bring them in? A free lunch? Because you invited them? Think of them asking themselves, "What's in this for me? Why should I bother to go to that event?" You need a really good answer. Maybe you are giving away a Plasma TV along with a bunch of other desirable prizes and they must show up to have a chance. I have to assume they are not coming because of the trucks. But, maybe you get BigFoot (R) or a race car or some other unique specialty thing that will draw them. Think of your own time and how full your life is and then ask yourself, "would I go to their event based on what they are telling me?" Think this through thoroughly and get a really good answer. It is critical to your event. It is the most critical thing of all. Why?
  • Why? What is your purpose? Sounds like an unnecessary question, but I think it is an important one. Why are you having this event to begin with? What is the purpose? What do you want to achieve with it? What is the goal? You cannot do these events without other people's time and energy, so make sure that it is worthwhile.
  • Who will be there and why? Are you inviting suppliers, factory reps, aftermarket suppliers, etc.? Why are they attending and what will they be doing? What is the goal for them relative to your own goal for the event? Is there a payoff for them? Will it be worth their time and energy? Are there ways you can create teamwork that is mutually beneficial? Who are all the players?
  • The day and time are important. Having an event on Saturday or Sunday for a commercial prospect will not produce a good result. With a busy commercial customer, a weekday is much more productive. I have found mid week to be about the best and to have it in the lunch area time frame. Have a published start and end time and make it flexible enough that people can get there. As an example, 11am to 1pm is a pretty short window and 10am to 2pm would work better. It is easier to break away from work at the lunch time than any other time for many. After work in the evening they have other commitments that will compete with your event. Weekends are really full for most even if they are just unwinding from the week. The exception might be that you are promoting a family event with a clear family draw.

So, you've decided to go ahead and have answered all the questions above and have given the event the thought it deserves. . .

  • Three words: Advertise, Advertise, Advertise. You have to get the word out and it would be best to get that word out in a number of ways. Maybe you will put an ad in the local paper within a day or two of the event. Maybe you can get some advance free publicity due to the things you will have at the event. Certainly, email and other direct marketing is a huge advantage. You should plan at least two mailings, one about two weeks or so out and one a few days out. Make calls and tell people about it and get commitments of attendance. Get the rest of the dealership promoting it as well such as the service department, parts and so on. Get your vendors and suppliers promoting it and you might even provide them with a number of flyer's to get out. With any event like this, I think that too many people showing up is a good problem compared to not enough. The best way to achieve this is to advertise, advertise, advertise.
  • Make sure to be ready early. If the event starts at 10am, make sure everyone is ready full-on by 9am at the latest. Better to be over prepared than under prepared.
  • Event coordinator. Make sure you or your assigned parties are making sure that events are happening in a timely and efficient manner. If you are serving food, make sure everything about that is flowing smoothly. If you are having a lot of drawings, keep it flowing and maintaining interest. Make sure you have a PA system that works really well and that you are playing music or some other pleasant distractions. Make it work like a masterful performance.
  • Follow up. Make sure and thank all who supported and participated in your event. There will be plenty of people to thank. Gather the names of prospects and follow up with them, thanking them for attending and presenting any special offers again that you might have. Great job! A successful event! Many prospects and many sales! Awesome job! Whew! That was a lot of work! But, it paid off for everyone!

These kind of events can be very effective if well thought out, planned and executed. I wish you this kind of success with your next event.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tilt Cab Strategies

I do have a fondness for the tilt cab truck because it really adds a new dimension to my commercial truck operation. My strategy with the tilt cab is fairly simple: I want to show prospects how that truck really shines by stocking the body selections that demonstrate its unique value and benefits.

In the previous article, I discussed the main benefits of the tilt cab versus the conventional cab, so my strategy for stocking bodies will take advantage of these benefits and point them out in very obvious ways. Here is that general strategy: Stock the same kind of bodies that you sell on conventional cab trucks, but stock them with longer bodies. As an example, lets say you are stocking a 12' flatbed on an 84" CA conventional cab truck. It is a very common truck. On the tilt cab, I will stock the 120" CA and put a 16' on it. The overall length of each truck is about the same, but I can put 4' more cargo on the truck with the same overall length. That is a huge advantage. Instead of an 11' Service body on an 84" CA, I will stock a 13' or 14' Service body on a 108" CA and it will still be shorter than the 11' body on the conventional cab. Again, more cargo for the same or shorter length.

Now, let us just take Ford for an example on the conventional cab truck. An 84" CA on the Ford would have a wheelbase of 165" approximately and accommodate a 12' bed. If I compare the Ford LCF tilt cab with a 108" CA, the wheelbase is 137" with a 14' bed, 149" with a 16' bed, and 167" with an 18' bed. So the turning radius is about the same on the 18' bed LCF versus the 12' bed on the conventional cab. That is the power of the design of the tilt cab.

I have found that if I stocked the same length bodies as normal, but just pointed out the shorter turning radius that this strategy did not do much to increase my sales. When I stocked the longer bodies, that did increase my sales and turned my inventory faster. People want more bang for their buck and with the tilt cab, they get more body for their truck.

The other strategy is to take advantage of certain markets that cry for the tilt cab. The first and most common application is the dry van body. Again, my strategy in length to stock will be the longer like the 16' and 20' van bodies with a few 14' units thrown in for good measure. Stakebed is another example of a very common application and I would focus on the 14' and the 16' mainly with a longer one for good measure.

In addition, there are some other markets that are often overlooked that work wonderfully with the tilt cab. One of them is the Landscaper type body which is a common name for a flatbed dump with solid sides and a swing away rear gate system that is used most in the landscaping field. Here again, I can take advantage of the less common 14' body and still have a much shorter turning radius and shorter overall length to boot. This is a great seller on this chassis. It is also a great seller with a storage box behind the cab in front of the body. Another overlooked body is the flatbed dump. I would stock that in a 14' and 16' model with no side gates. The gates can be added later if desired. Of course, I would make sure the dump is displayed in the up position to take advantage of the way this looks.

Another perfect body for this truck is the taller service body and combo body options. As an example, Harbor Truck Bodies sells a service and combo body that is 56" tall instead of their standard height of 41". The tilt cab truck is perfect for this body and you will find it a fast seller as well for a number of reasons. One is that body looks like it belongs on the truck because of the taller cab, and two, the body will carry larger and/or more things in the same or less overall length. Continue to point out the advantages.

If you were involved in the sale of tow truck bodies, the tilt cab is an excellent choice for the obvious advantages of the increased maneuverability and shorter overall length.

I have learned that trying to sell the common length bodies did not work well, but selling the longer bodies and displaying this perfectly on the tilt cab truck worked perfectly.

Advantages of the Tilt Cab vs Conventional Cab Truck

There are many advantages of the tilt cab style truck versus the conventional cab truck. I will discuss what I think are the top advantages and the ones that will help you sell them effectively. First and foremost is a much tighter turning radius. This happens for two reasons: 1) a much shorter wheelbase and 2) Generally tighter wheel turning ability due to the design of the cab. On the typical 84" CA chassis, the conventional cab cannot make a 360 degree turn in the average city street, but the tilt cab does it with lots of room to spare. If your customer is making deliveries or working on jobs in the city, this is a very important selling feature. Matter of fact, you typically can turn a 360 degree turn with a 108" CA! A massive advantage in maneuverability.

The second advantage is that the cargo length is 4' longer on average for the same CA when comparing the tilt cab to the conventional cab. The reason? Basically, in the tilt cab, you sit on top of the engine and the conventional cab you sit behind the engine. There is no hood on the tilt cab and that 4' of hood is now translated to cargo space instead. This is a huge advantage. More cargo or a bigger body in less space overall. That means efficiency.

The third advantage is shorter overall length when comparing same size bodies on the tilt cab versus the conventional cab. Take a 12' flatbed on an 84" CA conventional cab and then compare the same body on the tilt cab and the overall length is typically 4' shorter! Not only is the turning radius smaller, the overall space the entire truck takes up is 4' shorter. In tighter areas, this is a huge advantage.

There are many other advantages such as:
  • Better visibility (typically more glass area and sitting up a bit higher)
  • Access to the engine by tilting the cab. (Depending on the job being done, this can be a great advantage for minor repairs.
  • Driveability. (People often find that they are fun to drive because of the way they feel when turning and the greater visibility and the angle of the steering column when compared with the conventional cab. This is totally subjective.)
  • Parking. (This is one of the easiest trucks to parallel park!)
  • And more. . .

All in all, the tilt cab truck is an excellent addition to your commercial truck operation. You will get incremental sales because of the benefits. Those who have owned the tilt cabs usually love them and they will go elsewhere to buy if you do not carry them. Next up: the strategy of stocking these trucks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Learning From the Masters Club - Lifetime Member

Benjamin Franklin, easily one of the greatest figures in American history, said this: "If a man empties his purse in his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."

History class in high school was boring and it seemed like all they wanted us to do was to memorize some dates and events, pass the test and move on. That was true for me except for one teacher who I only had the pleasure of working with for a few months. This teacher read parts of books, told interesting stories, taught us what things were different back then and how people responded the things and events. It was fascinating because this teacher was inspired and fascinated himself. That came across to me perfectly and I am grateful for the experience.

Reading books during my school years did not happen. I used to buy summary books to avoid reading a whole book. I wanted to learn, but not so much as to read a thick book all the way from cover to cover. I mean, get real. It wasn't until I got into sales when I was 22 that I really began reading books and they continue to inspire me today 36 years later--and frankly, even more so now times ten.

There are so many awesome books, audio books, seminar tapes, CD's, MP3's, DVD's, Flash Movies available now that to me it is like a kid in a candy store! One of the newer things in the last few years is the advent of websites like YouTube, Facebook, Digg, and many others where you can get interesting information in staggering volume and depth. You might have to wade through some odd stuff to get there, but I have presented a number of YouTube videos in this blog and there are hundreds more like them that are instructive and uplifting.

Want to learn more about sales, sales management, personal finances, investing, playing guitar, biographies of great people, inspirational messages, etc.? They are now so easy to find and get them from a wide variety of people and companies. When I started in sales in 1972, I had a very hard time trying to find books and other materials on sales and now it is very easy; albeit, you do have a lot of choices and choosing can be a bit strenuous--and exciting!

So now, you heard of this strange named guy called Zig Ziglar, so you go to YouTube and type in Zig Ziglar and you will be amazed how much stuff is on there about and including Zig Ziglar. If you don't know about Zig, he is a classic motivational speaker from the 70's and 80's and beyond. One of my personal mentors is Jim Rohn. You will find tons about him. In the last few years, my sales guru is Jeffrey Gitomer and I am sharing a number of his videos, books and such. Powerful information to make changes, get inspired, learn better ways of doing things, make more money, whatever.

I got through high school without reading one average size book cover to cover. I dropped out of college and joined the service. At 22, I went back to school by reading books and a couple thousand books later, I decided to stay in school for life. I wonder what I will learn next? Memberships are still available in this club. It is the Learning from the Masters Club. All interested parties are welcome!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Magic of Inspiration!

The year was 1973 and I had been in the car business for just a few months. I was an auto mechanic in the Air Force and didn't want to do that anymore, so I thought since I knew trucks from the bottom up, I surely should be able to sell them. Well. . . it sounded good. . . and I did it, but it wasn't an easy transition.

My sales manager and general manager of the dealership shared some personal training materials with me that led me from one book to another to another and each built more excitement in learning new things. I went to the library for more and found a gem there that is still powerfully with me 35 years later. It was written by an insurance salesman named Frank Bettger (Bet chur) and the title was long and accurate: How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling.

I read that book over and over again, sent away to the publisher (Prentice-Hall in New Jersey) and bought 25 copies to give to friends and fellow struggling salespeople. I was inspired! I have never forgotten that feeling and I am always, everyday on the hunt for anything that will bring me that feeling again and again. For me it is almost always in learning from other people's experience and occasionally my own.

The most important thing in this book is brought down to one sentence: Enthusiasm is contagious and is necessary for success and to become enthusiastic, act enthusiastically. That sounds so simple, but when you are feeling down or depressed, it seems ridiculous. Nonetheless, it is among the truest statements I have ever found.

The greatest gift we have as humans is that we have the power of the will. We have the power to change how we feel, how we act, how we think, how we respond. We can force ourselves to do what we need to do if we can find a good enough reason and we believe that we have the will power. It is hard to act enthusiastically when you are not feeling good, but I guarantee that you will find that when you act enthusiastically, you will start to feel better and better until the blues are gone and replaced with feeling good and enthusiastic. Thirty five years later, I still remind myself of this lesson from 1973 (published in 1949) and decide to choose how to feel.

How can you be enthusiastic in an economy like this? You can choose to. Surely it is not all doom and gloom as the news media would have you believe. Think about what things you can be thankful for; things you can be enthusiastic about. Maybe you have a loving spouse, a beautiful child, grandchild, loving friend. I made a list a few times in my life that started with "I love. . ." and then I just made a long, long list of the things that I loved. Some were silly to others like, "I love the smell of water on concrete on a hot day. . ." or "I love a full tank of gas and somewhere I want to go. . ." You will be amazed how long this list can get if you just let your mind go. Then, next time you aren't feeling too good about things, just pick up the list and start reading.

It's the magic of inspiration! Find many things to get inspired about.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Keeping It Clean and Other Inventory Maintenance

In my travels to many dealers, I see that the commercial truck inventory does not get cleaned like the rest of the inventory. The mobile car wash team just doesn't do the same job and it is probably because the commercial truck is larger and a bit more challenging to get clean--and, it may also be because they have never been instructed on how to clean them. A clean vehicle regardless of type helps a great deal to make the sale, so it is worth the extra effort to make sure that the commercial trucks get cared for.

I also have seen many small things that should be fixed to make the truck more saleable; things like paint runs, rust showing in spots, drip stains, faded wood on flatbeds, warped wood on flatbeds, trash in the back of service bodies, dead batteries, no fuel.

Here are a few tips that might help:
  • Instruct the wash team to make sure and wash off the floor of the bed in all the service bodies, flatbeds and dump bodies. If this costs extra (and that is reasonable), it will be worth the difference. They should be washing out the floor of the pickup truck beds as well. Any part of the truck that the prospect can see should be cleaned. Even the side rails of the frame should be cleaned periodically since they show. It is a good idea to raise the dumps from time to time and clean the hoist and sub frame too.
  • Keep the glass clean. The windows tend to get coated with vinyl sweat faster in the commercial truck, so the windows should be cleaned once or twice a month depending on the time of year. In the summer, it might be once a week.
  • Not a clean idea, but surely a great one: make sure there is always sufficient fuel for a good long demo ride or two or three.
  • Flatbed gates and floors made of wood. A lot of companies may use wood and put a coat or two of linseed oil or stain to help preserve the look. After a couple of months in the open air on the lot, the wood begins to change color and look dingy. This is an easy fix. If it is linseed oil, just keep a gallon of that product with the detail department and reapply it as needed. You may have to take some sandpaper and just rough the surface slightly prior to applying the linseed oil. If it is stain, it is probably easier, just apply another coat of stain to keep the gates and/or floor looking good. In the case of some flatbeds where the wood or steel floor is painted and the paint begins to peel, it will take more effort to deal with this, but it will be worth paying attention to it.
  • It is a good idea to reapply tire dressing from time to time especially if it was used when the truck was first detailed.
  • I highly recommend that you do not allow the detail department to apply the liquid vinyl treatment to any of the vinyl flooring or steering wheel. These products are meant to make it shine and leave a slick residue that is very slippery and dangerous. Just cleaning is sufficient and preferred. If any product like that is needed to get the vinyl clean, make sure it is wiped off so that there is no residue.
  • If you notice any rust anywhere--especially on a white body--it should be dealt with right away. Sometimes with a commercial truck, a small wire brush and a can of spray paint can do wonders quickly.
  • Paint sags or runs. These should be handled at the time of check in if possible, but if one is found later, get it taken care of right away.
  • Under the hood. With dust and wind, it is easy for the engine compartment to get pretty dusty. Have the mobile wash hit the engine compartment every once in a while to keep it clean. A new vehicle should look new whether it is a Corvette or a F450 Combo Body.
  • Dead batteries. Just like on the main lot, dead batteries can be very frustrating when a prospect is standing there. Start the trucks every few days just like they do on the retail lot (another good reason to make sure there is sufficient fuel). If dumps are put up in the air, disconnect the dump up light switch.

Making sure these small things get the focus they deserve will make a guaranteed return on the investment required to get them done. Get your body companies involved in helping you make sure each truck is saleable and looking good. Most of them will be happy to help you because it also helps them. It's not an occasional thought, but a strategy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Keeping Track = Systems = Progress = Success

Keeping track is a challenge, but keeping track is the fastest, best way to the goal. Another word for it could be accountability.

In 1974, I was a salesman for only a little over a year when I decided to keep track to help me stay on track by developing a daily planner that had spaces for how many phone calls I made, pieces in the mail, how many prospects I talked to in person, how many presentations, demonstrations, write-ups and how many sales I made each day. Each day the number of blank spaces determined the goal and at the end of the month, I tallied the score. The first month was pathetic. I thought I was doing okay, but I missed the mark so badly. I don't remember exactly, but I only hit about 10% of the goal I think. So, I resolved to improve. The next month was better, and the next better and so on.

The book also had a daily planner so I could mark down appointments or personal errands. On that page it had one of the best parts of this planner: a things to do list with a box to label the priority A, B or C and a box to check it off when done. I got a lot more done. I was being accountable to myself for achieving my own goals. It worked well. I never did get to 100%, but what impact do you suppose going from 10% to 50% would have?

The key for me was taking it out of my faulty memory of thinking I was doing well and setting daily goals instead. It isn't to beat myself up for not making it today, but just focusing on why I came to work today: to move forward, grow, make contacts, show value, close deals. It works for me by keeping track.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Leasing Equipment Presentation

Here is a sample presentation on leasing benefits in the commercial truck market. This presentation is provided by Jim Feusi of Snider Leasing, Sacramento, CA.

Why Lease

Leasing affords you and your business certain advantages. In a effort to acquire equipment, you may feel compelled to act quickly to keep your operation running smoothly. At Snider Leasing, we provide you with information about the leasing process so that you understand the transaction and benefits of working with our experienced specialists.

Improve Your Company's Cash Flow

When you lease equipment, you avoid large cash outlays because you don't shell out big down payments. You want to free up your cash flow and not feel that your money is tied up. With a variety of payment options and programs, leasing allows you to free up your working capital.

Tax Advantages

Lease payments are tax deductible most of the time. You can effectively lower your business tax liability with a record of payments for the life of the lease. The tax benefits of a lease typically outweigh those of an outright purchase.

Improve Your Company's Profits and Growth

Profits are improved when you lease because you aren't investing in equipment that becomes obsolete. Companies do not want to invest in equipment that doesn't have appreciative value. Leasing gives your company more flexibility because you aren't locked in to keeping obsolete equipment. The flexibility of our lease terms effectively allows your company to upgrade at a pace that meets your specific requirements. Why incur a loss on old equipment if you don't have to?

Preserve Your Company's Credit

Leasing does not impact your business's credit line because it is not a loan. When you leave other credit lines open, you are free to purchase other items that make more sense to buy outright.

Make Your Equipment Work For You

When you lease, the equipment pays for itself as it is used to generate revenue.

Adding Medium Duty Trucks To Your Operation

Adding a medium duty line to your commercial truck operation is an excellent choice. Getting a medium duty franchise is not easy, but generally you can get it done. If you have a Ford dealership for example, adding the F650 and F750 to what you are selling should be fairly easy. If you are committed to success in commercial trucks, it will come. The LCF (Low Cab Forward) tilt-cab line is also a huge plus for the Ford dealer. If I had to choose, the LCF would absolutely be first. There are so many selling features for the LCF type truck.

Sometimes there are some politics that get in the way. You can overcome that in a number of ways. Can you imagine a factory seeing a dealer who is stocking about 40-50 upfitted light duty trucks and creating success in that market turning down that dealer for a medium duty franchise? It happened to me three times! Seriously. It was as if they were out of their minds. Nonetheless, I was committed. So I got the Isuzu franchise--twice! I was so glad I did.

The medium duty line did many things for my commercial operation. First, I felt like it "legitimized" my overall commercial operation. In the commercial market that I was focused on, there was a strong, albeit smaller market for larger trucks that could haul more weight and do different jobs. Having the larger trucks available served to keep that business with me instead of the customer having to buy those elsewhere. This strengthened my relationship with my customer. I want to grow with them, so I need to grow my business too.

Next, I made more sales. How do you increase your sales? One way is to offer more and different items to sell. The first year of the Isuzu line, our operation only sold 16 units. Not too many, but remember, that is 16 more than before or a 100% increase! The second year went to 33 units. As you learn more about these markets and people find out more about you, that should give you increase. It grew from there.

In addition to the new medium duty trucks sold, we had a perfect opportunity to get involved with used medium duty trucks. I bought ex-Budget Rent-a-Truck trucks and others like that. I bought units from private parties who changed their business, went out of business and such. I found that I was selling as many used as new! The key was finding the used ones in good condition and keeping the pipeline filled. That is a challenge, but I created a network of people to help me find trucks. The used Isuzu's sold extremely well. We also bought used conventional cab medium duty trucks like the F650/750, TopKick, Kodiak, International, etc. All of this really improved our commercial presence and expanded our market dramatically. We could now approach and satisfy a lot more prospects and grow with their business needs.

My light duty sales increased as a result of the addition of the new and used medium duty trucks as well. You might think that one would rob the other, but that is not the case. It improved my operation a good deal.

Now I haven't discussed gross profits yet, but the medium duty really helped our bottom line. The medium duty typically had a better gross profit than the light duty and the used medium duty were the best gross profits of all. The added gross profit was most welcome and allowed me to do a lot more with my operation.

I highly recommend adding a medium duty franchise to your operation if you are serious about growing a strong commercial truck department. You might even start with the used ones and add the new later, but I recommend that you just jump in with both feet and commit yourself to staying with it. Add a tilt-cab franchise first. They are easy to sell when you know how to sell them and they will allow you to do a lot of different things with bodies so you can tap even more of your market. Go for it!

How To Have Your Best Year Ever, Pt 2 of 3 - Jim Rohn

If you have trouble playing this video, here is the direct link: Part 2

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Marketing 101 - Working Through the Plan, Part 3

This is the final installment of working through the overall plan that was laid out in Marketing 101 - The Overall Plan (see index). I will discuss the last four items of Off Site Events, Brochures, Association Advertising, Media Advertising.

Off site events can be a very powerful way to get a number of qualified prospects in just a few hours. You have unique products and they beg to be shown off and the perfect place for that is off the premises of the dealership. You might make arrangements with your local The Home Depot or Lowe's or 84 Lumber and other companies where contractors and workers come daily to get supplies to do their work. These places are the best and most effective in my opinion. The politics of each individual store means that you must develop a relationship with them and it may take some time to get in, but once you are in it can be very fruitful for you. Think of it as prospecting standing still. Set up a nice display, have some prizes for a drawing, gather business cards, prize slips, and follow up with all of them in a timely manner. You get a chance to talk to them and gather information as to what kind of prospect they may be. There is more about this kind of event on the home page of our website: Commercial Truck Success.

Two things about brochures. One is that the factory brochures for your truck lines usually has a place for a dealer stamp on the back that is hardly ever used. I recommend you staple your card to it and stamp the brochure. Two, it is a great idea for you to develop a little brochure for your operation that speaks to someone in the privacy of their home or business about what it is you do, how you do it, why you do it the way you do it, and has photographs and other important information about your department. Do it well. Hire it out and get some input after you have laid out a format. Print it on high quality paper and make it look great. This can be used for a couple of years then it will need to be revised and updated with newer photos and any changes. If you put personnel photos, you may have to update it more often if anyone leaves. It should be up to date. Brochures can be a great tool used in prospecting, when people come into the store, to send in the mail and so on.

Association Advertising. This is a great way to target a segment of the market usually in a print format. I was a member of a number of contractor associations that published a monthly or quarterly newspaper, magazine or multi page newsletter. When you advertise there, you are supporting the organization and developing relationships. They also have events periodically and meetings. It is a great idea to participate and support their events and it is a great time to have one or more display pieces to show off. [I talked in a previous article about stocking interesting pieces. It is much more powerful to have something really eye catching and full of options to show off at these kind of events. They have seen all the standard stuff--show them the WOW! Set yourself apart from the crowd. You'll be glad you did.] You can do a display ad in their regular piece or you might consider something more powerful like an insert where you can say and show more. Find some associations that you can join.

Media Advertising. I put this at the bottom of the list. I will explain. First of all, I am a fan of media advertising; however, choosing it first and giving it that kind of priority will not help you build a large and strong business unless you do the other things in The Overall Plan first and regularly. Media advertising is typically a blanket form of advertising. You are hitting a large area and hoping to get some response. There are many methods I have used. I have tried display advertising and classified ad space in the newspaper, inserts in the newspaper. There is also Truck Trader advertising, Trader Online, Truck Paper, and many others that are targeted to what you sell. There are also various magazines that could be of help, but can be more costly.

After trying a lot of things, I found that the newspaper didn't do much of anything for me no matter where I put the ad or how large it was. This is the favorite place for dealerships to advertise, but in the commercial market--at least in my own experience--it is not effective. I was in the Big Truck and Equipment Trader with a double truck (two pages side by side) for a number of years and it was effective. What I learned about the Truck Trader is that what works best is this: Number one, unique and number two, used (price and value). It has grown a lot since I was in it, which makes the two things I stated even more important. You have to find something that allows you to set yourself apart from the crowd. Everyone has the standard stuff, so the best you can hope for advertising those pieces is to compete over the lowest gross profit. When you have something unique, you can price it where you want. Used trucks are very popular in the Trader publications. I have sold two of my own cars in there very effectively. Every used car or truck is unique and people are talking price all the time, but what they are really looking for is value. If you are stocking used commercial trucks, you will do well in the Truck Trader. I tried some other truck publications with much less results. I can highly recommend the Truck Trader, especially the Big Truck and Equipment Trader, however, it will be much more effective if you remember the two points I just discussed.

In addition to print advertising, there is radio and TV and now Internet advertising. Radio is inexpensive and ineffective for this market in my opinion and I have used it. TV is costly and I think it can be very effective, but I never found the budget for it.

Here's my final recommendation on advertising. Try a number of things and keep good records of the number and quality of the responses. Make sure and try them for enough of a period that gives it a good chance of success. Then, use what works best for you. I have consulted with a number of dealerships and find that they do not keep track of their advertising to know if it is working or not. This is very important. We used to log every call from the Trader and where they were coming from and what they were calling about. Keep a log like that for a while and you will know what is effective. Good hunting!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Jeffrey Gitomer's Newest Book, PLUS Audiobook!




In my experience of reading hundreds of books on sales, Jeffrey Gitomer is a superstar. He has packaged his books in a very unique way that is fun and easy to read and is extremely informative. His newest addition was released on Monday, May 5th and is an updated and revamped version of one of his first books. I have already bought several copies to share with friends. The title is Jeffrey Gitomer's Sales Bible.

The best addition to Jeffrey's long list of great books is his first Audiobook edition read by Jeffrey of this book. The Sales Bible Audiobook is awesome! It is really powerful when listening and reading along. I've got it in my truck and Jeffrey is speaking to me wherever I travel. The material in both versions is full of sales wisdom learned on the front line without theories. If you haven't read any of Jeffrey's books, this is a great place to start. I highly recommend you buy both. Amazon has a deal on both. Click on one of the links above.

Marketing 101 - Working Through the Plan, Part 2

A small investment in some good giveaway advertising pieces will bring nice dividends. One of the most effective I've used is the sticky note pads with your dealership name at the top and phone numbers at the bottom. Make those items small so that people will want to use these by having a lot of blank space. People love them and its such a great way to keep your name in front of them. Some other good ideas are ink pens, coffee mugs, letter openers. If it is something that people will use on a daily basis, those will be the best ones to use. You can get started with a good supply for about $1,000. Spending more if you have it will lower the cost of each item.

You would use these items as leave behind items when you are out prospecting or when you are at off site events, delivering a truck to a customer, or any kind of contact with a client or prospect.

Next on the list is prospecting. To some this is a scary thing to think about doing, but if you will accept the idea that there is no substitute to seeing your potential clients business for yourself and see what they do and how they do it, you will begin to enjoy prospecting much more than hanging around the lot. It will be fun and very interesting.

The key that I have found about prospecting is that it needs to be done on a regular basis over a period of time until you are so busy that there is no more time for it. By then, you will have built up such a business through referrals and repeat sales. Of course, that is the goal. It will be most difficult to get to that goal without prospecting.

Prospecting must become a habit. This means that you need to schedule it and make sure it gets done first. After it is done, you can spend the rest of the day following up leads, working on projects, planning strategies, etc. I recommend that you set a goal of a certain number of prospects to visit on a daily basis. I also recommend that it be every working day in the early part of your business building. Each day that it is put off, moves you away from the goal. Two in a row and avoiding prospecting becomes the habit. It is a bit like exercising. Some days you are motivated and look forward to it and other days you have to force yourself to get moving. Those that have made exercising a habit know that the results of the commitment are worth the efforts to maintain the commitment.

More about prospecting in a future article.

Networking. There are many ways to network with people. You can join a service club like Lions or Rotary. You can join a lead sharing group like Le Tip International or the many local groups that get together weekly to refer prospects to each other. You are networking by getting your friends and relatives to refer people to you or introduce people to you. Another popular way is by joining and participating in the Chamber of Commerce in your town or city--or maybe in surrounding cities as well.

Your service department. I think that teaming up with your service department can be one of the best ways to build your new commercial truck business. When you are prospecting, a great way to get to know and build a relationship with a prospect is to invite them to your service department. Get your service department very involved in the process and explain what you are trying to achieve. You will drive so much business to the service department that they should be thrilled to be a part of it. Make sure that you stay involved so that you know that the services are being provided in a timely manner and that the quality of work is encouraging the prospect to stay.

The goal is to be of service, to build a long-term relationship through the service department, so that sales of vehicles to the client becomes a natural event. It's all about being of service. What services can you provide your prospects so that they become long-term customers? Having been a journeyman auto mechanic a long time ago, I know that having the title auto mechanic does not denote skill. Hopefully in your service department you have some very skilled mechanics along with the ones who are not as skilled. Get to know them and they can help you grow this business fast. People are always looking for a mechanic who really knows how to diagnose problems instead of just throwing parts at the problem.

Also make sure that your service department is notifying you of any jobs that would indicate it makes good sense to replace a vehicle. Another thing I recommend is to cruise you service department parking area at least twice a day looking at the trucks in the shop and making notes of any prospects you may not yet be aware of.

Your service department can be such a benefit to you and you can be an equal or perhaps even greater benefit to them. That is a wonderful partnership!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marketing 101 - Working Through the Plan, Part 1

We left off with the need for websites and how a blog might be of help. So, let's continue through our list from "The Overall Plan." Next up is Newsletter via Email.

Newsletters is a very old idea, but it is still a very good one. The goal with the newsletter is not generally to move someone to purchase or to sell anything except yourself. It is a gentle way to stay in touch with your client and prospect base. I suggest they be informative and interesting so that they get a little attention, but if they didn't read the content at all, at least they would see who it came from and have your name in front of them even if for a few seconds. As with my own experience, you will find a number of people who enjoy getting them and who find value in various articles or information you provide. It is just a great way to stay in touch.

It is a perfect place to promote as well, although staying in contact, giving valuable information is still the main purpose. When you promote as in selling, it is better to do less than to do more. I get a huge volume of newsletters that I have signed up for, but when they are selling every time, I click the unsubscribe button. I'm okay with some, but it grows old quickly. Think of it more of promoting your values, ideas, thoughts, shared insights, etc. It will be more effective in the long run and is more likely to get shared with others.

In today's world, the postage and printing and labor involved in putting out your newsletter is costly. Email is a much better way and very inexpensive and even more effective in a number of ways. In addition, you can have links to other websites (like your own) or other information sources. With one click of the mouse, it can be sent to thousands--even millions in seconds. So, get every email address that you can so that this can be a tool for you to use effectively.

There are a number of Internet companies that offer the email marketing newsletters. I use Constant Contact, many people have also used iContact, and many many others. Some have no graphics, just text with links and others have lots of graphics, text and links. Find something that you like and go with it. There is a monthly cost involved, but it is very inexpensive.

It is a good idea to make your newsletter a regularly scheduled event. Once a month is a good place to start. You can also send out special ones with special announcements, offers, etc. It's okay to do some selling now and then. . .

Direct mail. If you think of each piece as costing you $1 for each person the mail goes to, this might help you think of making it as effective as you can to the most targeted audience you can. Even at a bulk rate, direct mail can be costly, yet it can also be effective, so I have always used it but think it through thoroughly.

Sometimes a good, colorful postcard can do very well as a marketing tool. Other times, it might be a letter in an envelope. The possibilities are endless. I recommend that you try many different things and if you are sending to the same group on regular intervals, use different size, shape, color pieces.

Direct mail is a good way to do some soft selling and promote services. It is a way to encourage people to respond by promoting sales with end dates, special offers, etc. Ideally, you want people to respond to something that you send. It is a great venue for promotion. You can promote your website so they can get more information, photos, videos, etc.

The main advantage of direct mail is that you can target your offer to the people or businesses you want to have it. Another reason is that not everyone, including many businesses do much with email or they just don't like email.

Next installment: Give aways, prospecting, networking, service department.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Marketing 101 - Let's Get Started!

We've got the database program, our outline of most of the pieces of the marketing puzzle. So where and how do we start?

You might be a one person show as a fleet/commercial manager. You are the department. Or maybe you have a team and you are the leader. You also might think these are two different points of view and would call for different strategies. I think that if you are to be successful quickly and for the long term, the only difference would be the volume of things that you would do, but the strategy; the plan would be the same.

If you follow the list I gave in the last installment, I think it will serve you well. Number one is purchase and install the database. There are quite a number of places to buy a list. There is Avention, Dun & Bradstreet, R L Polk, just to name a few. My first list came from Dun & Bradstreet and I maintained a 10,000 name database of commercial prospects and owners in a six-county area surrounding the dealership, but many have been using Avention successfully. I recommend you get a good list and get it in a way that you can download it into your contact software so you can clean it up and polish it off as you go along. The list is just a place to start.

Next was word-of-mouth. Get a number of your cards out to everyone you know. If they are friends, they will want to help you. Get people talking you up, your team up, etc. This is a very fast way to start spreading the word.

If you have been at the dealership for a time, you already have your own list of customers. Seek your customers for referrals and get them telling their friends and so on. I know this sound simple so far, and of course, it is. It's okay for some of it to be easy. . .

Next is website. In today's world, a website is likened to owning a telephone in 1950, or a cell phone 15 years ago. Now we take those things for granted. You need a website for your commercial operation. Chances are it is not being done by the dealership through their normal channels. If it can be done there, great. If that is slow and not forthcoming, you have options. Get someone to build you a separate site (with approval of course). It will be different in the way it is used than what the dealership uses now. It will also be much more effective. We want it for a sales tool and to help close sales.

The commercial market is a regional market. Your customers can come from a very wide area. The website is going to be a link for you to communicate with a large audience in a way that will help you grow your commercial business. You will want to have every commercial vehicle with several photos of each on the site. It must be updated daily. I do not necessarily recommend putting pricing (although, depending on how that is done, it could be a good strategy for you), but you need some specifications, some effective descriptions of each unique vehicle, and good photographs. You will want all of this along with information about your store, your team, you, your service department, etc. It will be a fully functional website with links to various helpful sites. It will also link to your main dealership site. You might be surprised how reasonable the cost of this can be, especially if you compare it to a month's worth of media advertising. Commercial: Upward Trend is a company who has a good deal of experience in this market and can do this for you very reasonably.

The key is the updating. If it is out of date, it is ineffective. What good is a knife if it has no edge? You might as well use it as a spatula. Make sure that you stay on top of keeping one of your best tools sharp.

You may add a blog to the site to present good information in an interesting way. This blog is an example, but you might put consumer information, product thoughts, new uses for bodies, etc. If you would like more detail on the website/blog strategy, please feel free to contact me directly.

Here is the first week or so of operation and it is a powerful week. You are building a foundation to build a skyscraper on. We've just gone through the first four items. More coming soon.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What's Good About This?

Pick up any newspaper, watch any newscast, listen to most of your friends and I'll bet you get a similar story: Things are bad and getting worse. The more you read and listen to this, the worse it gets.

I remember when I first got in the car business in the early 1970's. Business was ebbing and I remember reading an article that in the down market auto sales nationwide were about 13 million and a good year was about 15 million. It is interesting what we call bad times. When 13 million are sold, that is a bad economy, bad time, down market and 2 million more makes it a boom time, an upmarket, a good economy. I've never forgotten that and it makes me laugh when I think about it.

So, I thought of this and decided to write a little piece about it and went online to look up some current statistics. In an article in the New York Times dated March 20, 2008, I find a typically negative and inflammatory piece titled, "Dismal Year Is Forecast for Car Sales." Here's the link if you want to read it: Times Article. Frankly, it is funny to read this. It is so negative and in all its paragraphs of doom and gloom. It also states that the annual sales forecast has been cut to between 14.9 million and 15.2 million units. Now 15 million is a "dismal" year. Everything seems to be a crisis in today's world to the news media.

Think of this: The tide comes in and the tide goes out. It is predictable and it happens every day. Things are constantly changing and moving. When the tides goes out, we're not shocked by it, instead, we recognize it is a part of the way things are. The economy is a fluid thing as well. What's interesting to watch is how fast people are to accept the gloom and doom noise coming from the media. Pretty soon, they are telling their friends and relatives, cutting back on expenditures, etc. What power we give them! You tell a smart person they are stupid enough times and they will believe they are stupid.

I've seen this scenario so many times in my life now, that I just smile and watch it. I do what I can to spread the word of good news. Some time ago, I listened to a Tony Robbins tape and he was struggling with some changes that could make most people really upset, but he is an artist at asking himself questions that turns his life from depressed to inspired. As I recall, he would ask himself, "What's good about this?" That is such a powerful question. There is something good about every situation if you are willing to seek what it might be. Try asking that question and seeing the answers. There are many answers to this question. All of them will lead you away from the problem and onto solutions.

Gas is $4.00 a gallon. . . What's good about this?. . . Auto sales are down to 15 million. . . What's good about this?