Friday, October 31, 2008

The Planter Story

Over the 25 years I was in the car business, I've worked with a few good salespeople. I was just thinking about this one salesman on my staff when I was a young sales manager. His name was Dennis. He was hilarious and bold and good. He had such a way to make people laugh and feel more at ease, while at the same time, giving them some less than exciting news. I heard a lot of it because my office door was just a few feet away from his. My favorite is the planter story.

Dennis would have this couple--typically and older couple trading in an older car that didn't have much market value left in it. He would set them down in his office and go get an appraisal on their car. When he came back, he would walk into his office just laughing and he would tell them, "folks, I think the best thing we can do with your trade-in is to turn it upside down and make a planter out of it." I know full well that if I tried saying that, those customers would be out of there in 5 seconds flat, but not with Dennis. It was his laugh, his light-hearted attitude about it, I don't know what, but they would soon start laughing themselves and pretty soon he was delivering the new car to them and they were all having a great time.

It's funny even today to me. I can still hear his voice, his demeanor. I can hear the initial shock in the customers reaction, then I hear them all laughing. It was magical. Talk about taking a lemon and making lemonade! When Dennis was in a good mood which was a good part of the time, he was just hard to beat. He just had a way of lifting my spirits with those silly lines. Thanks Dennis!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lack of Permission Marketing

Asking permission is a sure way to get nowhere. You might as well wish and hope. My best advice is always: Just Do It! I mean to do it with thought and a plan, but do it. You've probably heard the phrase, "I would rather ask forgiveness than permission." It's great advice from my own experience. Everything that I have really been successful with came from that mindset. The interesting part is that I rarely ever needed to apologize and neither will you.

The world is crying for leaders in every endeavor. Step out and just do it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thank You and I Do Apologize

Thank you for reading these blog posts. I do enjoy writing them. I apologize for the post I wrote yesterday about the tickometer. It was cute, but contrived. It was true, but unnecessary. Those of you who got it via email, I apologize. I deleted it.

Sometimes I hit the mark. It's a good feeling. I sometimes feel that I express my thoughts on the topic particularly well and it does feel good. I'm happy to publish it. Then, sometimes, I miss the mark badly. I don't want to, but if I'm not paying attention, it can slip through. You deserve the best that I can do and that is certainly my aim. It's just that sometimes I get caught up in putting a number on the board and keeping up with my goals. I get focused on the wrong thing. My ultimate aim is to share knowledge and instruct, and I really want to inspire. I would love to inspire you to change or take action or just think about something. I also inspire myself by writing this because it causes me to think. Have you ever heard that phrase that the way to really learn a thing is to teach it? It is true. I'm happy to have been teaching it for a long time now, yet there is so much more to learn!

If I miss the mark badly again, just drop me an email and let me know, or leave a comment here. I'll take note and pay attention. At the same time, if I hit the mark really well, it would be nice to hear that too. Some of you do that and I very much appreciate it. Feedback is good. It will keep me on my toes and focused where I really want to be--doing my best.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share. The experience is grand. I'll give you the best I've got to give.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Change

Change is the opportunity to. Embrace it. The best is yet to come.

Outside Sales Isn't An Inside Job

The whole idea of outside sales is to bring in business that probably would not have come in any other way. Specifically, it is about building relationships. In building relationships, it is a requirement to become more familiar with each other and each others businesses. Frankly, that is the really fun part. Once a salesperson is at that level with a prospect, it is really easy for them. The harder part is making a decision to get out of the chair, then finding someone to talk to, and last to start building a relationship. It can all be fun, if you choose to see it that way.

Owners and senior managers: Help create more success with your outside sales team. One of the best ways to do this is to give the outside salesperson a reasonable budget for food. I would suggest starting with $500 and see how that works. Just cut that much out of your other advertising and you won't be spending any more than you are now. There is no better thing that your outside salesperson can do to build relationships than to get the prospect away from their business for a while and no better excuse than to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just go to get some coffee somewhere. Don't reimburse them, give them the money. If you don't trust them with it, you hired the wrong person. Replenish the fund as needed so they can continue uninterrupted. You can also issue a company credit card if you prefer. Treat all of this as part of your advertising budget because that's exactly what it is.

If both of you golf, that is a great way to get them away and even better because of the amount of time you get to spend with them. Perhaps there are other interests that will encourage a relationship. Perhaps, you both like hunting or fishing, going to certain concerts, auto racing events, tractor pulls, you name it. Maybe it is something that gets the prospects spouse involved. The more the relationship develops, the better. I know a number of companies that have golf country club memberships for this very reason, and, of course, that does make it a business expense.

Direct and guide your staff to do the best things to get more business: get out of the office and go talk with someone. Give them the tools they need to make that be effective. Pay attention to the results and make sure and get complete reports of contacts, developments, etc. Don't let it run on autopilot. You're the leader, so lead them by helping them to succeed with encouragement, support, positive motivation and follow up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Daily Thought Starters

I love the Internet. What an awesome invention. To have so much information available so easily is just fantastic. Blogs are a great source of regular information of value. I subscribe to several and prefer to subscribe via email so I can have them land in my inbox and I can look at them at my convenience. You can subscribe to this blog the same way.

My favorite blog (so far) is from Seth Godin, who has written a large number of great little books such as Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Freinds Into Customers, and many others. His latest book is, Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us. You can get the new Tribes book for free at Audible.com after registering at no charge.

Try registering to get his blog via email for a while. I think you might become a regular too!

The 50/50 Poster

I took a full page ad out of the Wall Street Journal a little over a year ago and have had it on my wall ever since. It is an ad from Accenture. They retain Tiger Woods for many of their ads and I just love all of them. I've gone to their website and have seen all the Tiger Woods ads, but this one stands out above all the rest for me. I call it the 50/50 poster, but they call it Attitude/Aptitude. It shows Tiger in a winning stance like he just made a 50' putt and it says 50% Attitude and 50% Aptitude.

The poster reminds me that I have aptitude, but what I always need to be reminded of is to have that winning 50% attitude--to take my skills and move with confidence through the world. I know what it is like to have the aptitude without the attitude and I tell you it is nowhere. I get to look at this poster many times during the day and it is a wonderful reminder and motivator. Don't we all need some little reminders like that?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sometimes It Is Hard To Believe

Opportunity. It is everywhere, all of the time. Yet, with how people talk much of the time, you would think that opportunity has vanished from the planet, or that when times are really good there is opportunity, but when the economy slows down the opportunities slow down with it. Wrong. It's not logical--it's inventive--because the way you are able to see opportunities is to think in a different way.

Many people I've met (including myself many years ago) feel that opportunities wane with economic downward trends. Perhaps you see people being laid off, businesses going out of business, houses not selling, whatever. It would be easy to think that there are fewer opportunities when you look at those effects. Take the automobile business right now. Talk to anyone you like on the dealer level and almost all of them will be telling you how much fewer the opportunities are now compared to a year ago. So, with all of this, here is my first point:
  • Fewer sales, less business, fewer businesses, tighter credit, dire news reports, fearful workers or fearful consumers does not mean that there are fewer opportunities. Those things are effects of stimuli and have nothing whatsoever to do with opportunities being there or not being there.

Some would say that I am out of my mind, over the edge, stuck in positive thinking la-la land and generally misdirected and out of touch with reality. Oh, I do love that last one. It is the one I hear the most: Out of touch with reality. Yes, I am. Thank goodness.

When I was a child, I used to hear things like, in every cloud, there is a silver lining. I didn't understand it, but that has led me to, with every negative, there is a positive. It is never all bad, nor all good. In the best of economic times, the newspaper still focuses on what could go wrong and other newspaper selling predictions--just go look at past issues front pages during great times. But this is not normal right now and what a world it would be if it were! What is normal is fear. Normal is reality to most, but even with that, the opportunities are everywhere. It is all in how you choose to look at it.

A dealership goes out of business and closes its doors. Is there any opportunities there? They are endless. If you can't see them, ask it in a different way: If there could be an opportunity from this event, what might one be? Then, you'll just be playing a game and its okay to step outside of reality to play a game. Here's some thoughts of what could be an opportunity from this kind of event:

  • This makes more business for the other dealerships in the region.
  • There might have been several employees there who didn't really like their job much, and now they have the opportunity to find one they do like. (Kind of a forced awakening. It requires courage to stop what you are doing and try something else. Now is an opportunity to do that with less courage since it is being partially done for you.)
  • An ex-employee decides to start their own business. (Businesses are started at every different kind of economic time, including depressions. Economic times do not predict success or failure of an enterprise.)
  • For the owners, there may be lessons learned from this experience that will have them be stronger, more focused and more successful in the next. (Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame failed countless times prior to succeeding with KFC and that also required him to bring in help).
  • Many may get into a more lucrative or interesting type of business. (I left the car business for the body business and it was a huge and wonderful change. I stopped going to work at a place every day and worked out of my home. It was a very positive change.)

These are just a few of the opportunities and you could come up with a lot more by just letting your mind flow on that idea for a while. So, that leads me to the next and final point:

  • Limited thinking will keep you limited no matter the economic times. Expanded thinking will always give you more opportunities no matter the economic times. Once you start thinking in possibilities and opportunities, you will begin to see more of them. As you see more of them, you will see even more of them. It is that simple. Open your mind to the possibility of seeing opportunity and you will see it. Open it further and you will see more. You get to choose how you want to look at events and circumstances.

Start today in seeing opportunities. You can be really safe at first and keep your job and just look at what the opportunities might be for other people who are in a position of change. As you read that the big store at the mall is closing, think of what the opportunities might be surrounding this event. Play with it, practice it and when change comes, you will know how to look at it: There are endless opportunities all of the time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Managers Think They Manage Results

It took me a lot of years as a sales manager to realize and accept the fact that I really couldn't manage results. As much as I liked the idea of managing results, I had to let it go. It was a turning point. But, though I could not manage results, I could manage activities, and if I could be effective at managing the right kind of activities, the results would come along for the ride. When I finally got that, my whole focus as a manager changed to one of directing activities and my managerial life improved dramatically.

Some people might confuse this with micro-managing. This is generally a negative term that indicates someone who has their nose in every little move and is mainly a nuisance. It creates ill will and fear. Though I am speaking of managing activities, I don't need to be spying and eavesdropping as micro-managers do, in order to manage effectively.

If I am managing a sales staff, I want to make a plan of what we need to do to achieve sales. What are the individual tasks toward that end? So, as I think about that, I know that we need to talk to people and we prefer to talk to people who might be buyers for our products. We need to design a method of recording what was discussed, knowing that most will not buy today, so we will want to continue to follow up with them and hopefully secure a sale when they are ready. We need to encourage people to experience our product and to become familiar with our services. We need to be able to secure financing and we need to be able to negotiate the nuances of each deal. We also need to be of service to them after the sale and we need to encourage them to refer their friends and associates from their satisfied experience. The cycle of the sale from start to finish can be immediate and it can be many months or even longer, so I have to have a plan to manage all of the contacts in such a way as we maximize every opportunity in a timely manner. And one more very important thing: we need to have a good time doing all of this. It needs to feel good, or it will be a huge volume of work.

Well, there's a task! Or, I should say multi-tasking. Of course, I could lean against the wall as one of my sales manager's used to do and when I would walk by, he would say, "Sell 'em!" That was one of the shortest motivational speeches I ever heard. I experienced a number of managers who had no real understanding of the management task as outlined above. They saw it differently: Stand on the point, rush to the customer, land 'em on a car, demo 'em, get them to commit to anything, sit them down in your office and write it up. We'll take it from there. Shades of the '60's in today's world. And, when there is a plethora of customers to talk to every day, this plan has the unfortunate benefit of working--sad, though it may be. A dying breed I pray.

Back to really managing. My job as a good sales manager then, is to develop a plan of how to achieve the tasks I listed above and if that is executed well and consistently, I would feel assured of achieving the results I am after in the end. If I have no real plan and try to manage this inconsistently, I would expect to be having dramatically different results. So, if I am going to really manage results, I must effectively and consistently manage quality activities designed to achieve our overall objective of making sales. This is also my full value as a sales manager and it will also create better salespeople in the process.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bring Service Business Back To the Dealership

I get my oil changed in my two vehicles about every 5,000 miles in round numbers. Though the service centers always advise 3,000, I think that 5,000 is just fine and reasonable. I take it to my favorite place where I am in and out in about 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes without an appointment. I take some work with me so I can make my stay in the waiting lounge more productive and interesting. I almost always do it on a Saturday morning because that is the most convenient for me and my schedule. Once in a while I will do it during the week if I can, but it is rare.

Since I have owned both vehicles, they have had oil changed at a dealership twice at one dealer and once at another in 180,000 miles. So out of about 37 oil changes, the dealer got three. The dealer who got two is two hours away from my house. It was just really convenient at the time since I was consulting with this dealer and would be there half a day and the timing was just right.

How could the dealer get me in for the other 34 oil changes? How can you get a customer like me back into the dealership for routine maintenance? Here's some ideas:
  • You could follow up with me more effectively since the sale. Suffice it to say, that it is rare for a dealership to do much of any follow up with customers. They are so busy with all those new ones.
  • Time is important to me. I get my oil changes on Saturday and many dealership service departments are a Monday through Friday business 8am to 5pm.
  • Time is important to me. I like appointments very much and am eager to keep them, but for an oil change I want to be in and out in 30 minutes. I think that is very reasonable with an appointment. Without an appointment, I may have to wait a bit longer, but it shouldn't be too much longer. Where I go, this is not really a problem, but it is not a dealer.
  • Price. I'm not focused on price, but I do know what the competition sells oil changes for. I want to be fair and reasonable. I think in today's market that $29.95 is all the money for a lube, oil, filter on the average gas car or truck. Quick Lube places are many times under $20. I'm willing to pay a little more, but not $45 and then want to come back for more. Specially trained and certified means nothing to me for an oil change.
  • Reminder sticker on the windshield. They used to put them on the door jambs years ago, but those clear reminder stickers they put in the top corner of the windshield are the greatest thing. I can look anytime I want and see where I am in relation to the next oil change. Helps me immensely. Just make sure and use a pen that can be read in two months. I rely on those stickers now. What a cool idea.
  • Have a clean and nice waiting area. This is the only thing I don't like about the place I go for my oil changes. They have a waiting area, but the chairs are filthy and they are very old. They just don't spend money on this kind of thing and never have. Considering everything else is pretty positive and has been for many years, I live with that. It's a little tacky, but not intolerable.
  • Remember me. What I like most about where I go is they treat me like a special customer, which I am. They know me by name and treat me very nice. I like that more than I can say. Of all the points I am making here, this one is the number one reason I continue to go back to this place after 15+ years. I am somebody important to them. They even give me special discounts or sometimes fix a tire with a nail in it free and things like that. They are being of service and being friendly.
  • Let me know of other things that need attention and don't give me any BS about it. If I need it now, tell me. If I need it soon, tell me that. One dealer I went to had a really low price for oil change, but the up selling was tiring and over the line. Go maximize your Repair Order Averages on someone else. Be of genuine service to me as if I were your brother. Dealers have been sold a bill of goods on this up sell thing. A little of that is good, a lot of it kills the deal for good. Be honest with me. Very few know I was a journeyman auto mechanic, so I know a few things about cars. You never know what experience the person you are talking to has. Keep it straight.

Well, there it is. You want more business coming back to the dealership? This stuff will work with me and I am sure that I am not alone.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spending the Same Money Differently To Make More Money

I was talking with a salesman at a local dealership that I have known for a long time. He told me that sales are way off and in fact, the worst he has seen in over 20 years. As I am listening, I am in the showroom and I am looking around. He's right, I think--there's no customers in the showroom, just salesmen looking out the window. I am introduced to the sales manager and he is in his office looking at the computer. I see the finance manager sitting at this desk looking at his computer. We go have lunch and come back an hour later and it is the same.

I came back for another reason several days later in the afternoon and said hi to the sales manager and asked how they were doing today. He said they have yet to see their first customer. It is 2pm.

The weekend comes and I decide (very rare) to look at the newspaper. I see a full color, full page ad for this dealership on Friday, another Saturday, and another on Sunday. I'm thinking. . . do they really think this is still working? Did it ever work well? I was in the car business for 25 years and I don't remember it working well. Some may say it did, but is it now? I think that they just think that's what they are supposed to do. In my 25 years, the ads were never tracked, so who would know what works?

The ad has lots of vehicles and prices--a lot of big SUV's and expensive metal, along with a much larger selection of pre-owned vehicles. I see the other ads in there do the same. Is it working? This ad has a box that says 0% is back, and of the 40 vehicles in this ad, one of them has a payment. Tell me that makes sense to you. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Few pay cash, so price is not the main issue of interest. So, I would think that this is a large amount of cash to spend on full page ads to try and make some money with give away prices.

This kind of mass market advertising has seen better days. Even if a few people responded to it, it would be a challenge to have it be a profit. Maybe I'm wrong about all this, but I think there is a better way--especially with the climate when the first customer has not even come in at 2pm. Let's explore some ideas.

That one full page, full color ad cost over $1,000, so over the weekend, I'm sure there was $3,000+ spent just for these three days. Here's some ideas of where to better spend that money and really get some results and be proactively building your business at the same time:
  • Hire a new salesperson. That will take care of one week's worth of advertising. You previously cut back, but now you need at least one more.
  • Get a database going of customers of the salespeople you have and hire someone to manage it full time. Don't ever let the salespeople manage it because it will be far too valuable. If you don't already have the database, pull out the deals from the last few years and get that information put into the database program quickly.
  • Buy some small give away trinkets like post note pads with the dealership name, letter openers and other small items to leave behind. This will cost about $1500 or so and last a few months.
  • Get the salespeople to contact their key clients and centers of influence and make appointments to go visit them. Give them a company credit card or cash to go take those clients to eat. Make sure that they have breakfast with one and lunch with another and maybe even play golf with another. Get them out there talking with clients and the best way to do that is while breaking bread together or having a little break on the course. (I learned this in the body business. For ten years I worked calling on dealers and the best money we ever spent was breakfast and lunch. Most the the best sales were made at one of those. At one lunch appointment I sold 110 units to one client. Still a record, I'm sure.)
  • Set this up as a prospecting system so that you have coverage at the store, but most of the salespeople are out and about and spending your advertising money by actually talking with clients and potential clients and building relationships.
  • As you start seeing new sales being made, do not let them stay in the dealership. Get them back out there after making some new appointments.
  • Another way to break bread with them in a great way if you can't get the main person to go out is to bring pizza or sandwiches in and feed their crew. This creates some great interaction with many more potential clients. While they are eating you have a captive audience to make a few quick points and maybe hand out a nice flyer or something.
  • Another way is in between meals, drop by a business and leave off some inexpensive give away gifts with the dealership name on it. The post note note pads are great ones.
  • Make sure the person hired to manage the database is updating all the new information generated. The best way to do this is to have a paper form that the salesperson fills in.

Now your sales manager has something to manage. Your database will have some meaning and constant use. Get the finance manager involved. He can do some classes on finances offsite. Pay your salespeople to do your advertising. You'll be spending the same amount, but you'll have healthier salespeople by taking care of their needs (give them a salary--yes, the s-word, or a guarantee or something to demonstrate that you are wanting their valuable assistance to rebuild your business and you will be relieving worry and keeping them busy doing fun things while they are making business happen. Of course it will be somewhat more of a challenge to manage this kind of sales program, and, yes, this does require courage and tenacity. You will have to think way outside of the box (really not that far). Yet this will work and you can take charge instead of waiting and hoping. When the demand outstrips the supply again sometime in the future, you can easily go back to the old way. But, you might find that the old way is no longer a good way. . . It could happen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Keep A Lookout On Your Outlook!

I saw $2.99 gas today in Northern California. It's been quite a while since that number has been seen. That's good news.

There's not so many new homes going in as there was, but the commercial buildings are going strong! I see construction going on all over in that arena. Some very large projects too.

I see new shopping centers still going in. Another new Starbucks just opened in Fairfield. Some new restaurants opening too.

24-Hour Fitness seems very busy no matter what time I go in there, although they must have slow times too. There's lots of people working on staying fit.

Niche market businesses seem to do well no matter what because there are so few who specialize in what they do. Their businesses are growing.

There's a lot going on. There is business being done. I read that the US car market is down to 13 million per year. Only 13 million new cars. Of course that doesn't count used cars, commercial trucks, etc. There are plenty of countries that would love to have an economy performing at that level.

I'm at the place where I just love hearing dire predictions. They sound so stupid and funny. If it was to be as bad as some complain, we are all going to be out of work, living on the street, begging for a quarter. Instead of the glass half full, or half empty, this one is bone dry--hell, it's not even a glass anymore, it's a tin cup. People, you have to laugh at that stuff. Nothing is ever all bad. Let's get a better outlook.

What's good about this? Make a list. If you are having trouble, ask it a different way: If there could be something good about this, what might it be? I'll get you started.
  • This is causing me to look at my goals and to finally set some goals and think about how I want things to be. I'm tired of rolling with the tide of human affairs, I want to learn how to focus and create what I want.
  • This is causing me to look at how I run my "business." I am realizing now that I am really in business for myself, though I hang my license at this location. I get this office space and all this inventory with zero investment. How cool is that? I really can learn to control more of what I do in my business.
  • I am going to start thinking and planning some new services, like a real follow up system so that I can stay in touch in various ways with my clients as well as prospects.
  • I'm going to start keeping records of how many people I talk to on a daily basis and what the results are so that I can see what is working and what is not working more efficiently.
  • I'm going to start being more active in my business by going out and visiting some key clients at their place of business. I want to see their operations and see if there might be some new ways of being of service to them. They probably have employees that might like my brand of service as well. They probably have suppliers who I can be introduced to. If nothing else, I can develop better relationships with these key clients.
  • I'm going to start sending out 25 mail pieces a day to my mailing list. Every 100 mailers will contain a different offer so that I can see what kinds of things might work better than others. I will be consistent with this.
  • I will make more phone calls and log how many I make so I can see how those efforts are paying off in the long term.
  • I will find ways to go to where people are if they aren't coming in to the dealership. There's nothing quite like driving a brand new car or truck, so I'll offer some demo drives and create some excitement. I'll have some displays and show off my products.
  • I know gas is coming down again, but it can just as easily go back up, so I am going to stock more gas rigs than before and I am going to find some smaller or more efficient units that can do a similar job that the bigger diesel truck was doing before. This should increase my market and will give me new items to show off.

That's a good start. I'll let you work on moving that list to 25 or 30 more ideas. Your outlook is looking good.

Friday, October 17, 2008

They're Stealing My Customers! Do Something!

I was listening to a complaint in a meeting a few weeks ago that I have heard a few times. "Brand M leasing company is coming in an taking all my customers! What can you do to help combat this?" In the meeting, the response among the members was one of agreement with the problem and the response from the speaker was agreement with the problem and that they have a new computer program that may help to make more professional presentations. Right. As if that will really make the difference.

It reminded me when I was a fresh new salesman on the floor. A prospect would come through the door and I would greet them and go to show them something and when I came in for the key, this other salesman says that is his customer and I am stealing his customer and he was mighty upset to the point of punching me out! I said that the customer did not mention him, but that he was welcome to take over from here. I sent him out to take over.

I learn pretty quickly. After a couple of times at this, my first question to every prospect who entered the showroom was this: "Welcome to Brand Motors! Are you looking for someone in particular?" If they said no, they were mine for the moment. Next time they would come in, if they didn't ask for me, then they were not my customer any longer.

One can make all the assumptions that they want, but this business is all about relationships. If you have a relationship, generally they will do business with you until you prove to them otherwise. If your relationship is superficial or weak, your claims are unfounded. Customer loyalty is a great goal to have and work toward, but it is not easy to achieve. It requires communication with your client, looking after their needs and understanding their business and generally doing what is in their best interests.

A lot of people in the car business sell a car or even a fleet of cars to a customer and then think it is their customer. Hogwash. You made a sale and that is it. Customer loyalty comes with a strong relationship and staying in touch in various ways to demonstrate that. In addition, it means providing service and services that are valuable to the client.

When I was the young beginner, I would see the elder salesmen with their repeat clients that they said would buy from them every 2 or 3 years like clockwork. Then one day, they see them driving a new brand X and are flabbergasted (don't you just love that word. . .) and beside themselves with indignation. Why the nerve of them buying that brand X! They must have given that thing away. . . (and a number of other reasons, some not so pretty). They used to tell me that they don't need a follow up system because their customers are loyal to them for life. Right. They were 20 year veterans: 1 years experience repeated 20 times. Still selling 8-10 cars a month after 20 years. Customer loyalty? Hot air. If they really had good repeat customers, their sales would be going up every year.

Designing a great follow up system is a great help to increase your business, by communicating with your prospects and customers to let them know that you want their business. A phone call every now and then is another help. Follow up is a key ingredient to success.

Think about how people buy. I wrote a piece in this blog that only 4% buy price. I know that is true, though 100% may mention price. Since it is true, you would not be losing a customer for price unless they are a 4% price buyer. The rest of the customers (96%) buy you, your dealership, the product, the service, their friends recommendation or any number of other things. People like dealing with friends, so stay in touch like a friend and keep the customer yours for life. It's a bold move. No more whining about the wolf coming into the pen and taking your sheep. You've got a lock on the gate.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's Never Crowded On the Leading Edge

Thank God for conformity! If not for this, the leading edge would be very crowded and it may not be the fun that it is now.

I'll tell you something that is the enemy of conformity. It is courage. It takes no courage to conform, but rather, it takes courage to not conform.

The word leadership evokes a picture of a person with a vision and the courage to lead, perhaps to places they have not been to before. How can a leader be a conformist? We will have to strip away the leadership word and use head follower instead, or perhaps the lead conformist.

How sad to need to be a conformist in order to be liked and fit in, yet it is crowded in there to the point there is very little air. You can't even call it a comfort zone because it is not all that comfortable. You might rather call it the compliance zone. You're either in compliance or your are out of compliance. If you're out, you have to get back in.

I see this in various ways all around me. Young men and boys wearing their pants where the waist is at the thigh and the crotch of the pants are at the knee caps with a huge T-shirt covering the exposure. It is laughable to watch them walk holding their pants in position with one hand in such a cool posture that it is like a symbol of style. It's impossible to run without falling. Now almost everyone I see is wearing their pants just this way to be in and hip and cool and accepted. Yep. It's the compliance zone. I do get a kick out of watching them walking and looking cool and collected. It will make a great video ten years from now for them.

Someone had to have started this trend and they were then on the leading edge. I am sure they are liking it on the leading edge and have since moved to another leading edge thought and dress idea while those conformists are back there keeping it alive. Good job alive keepers. Switch hands now.

If you're running a commercial truck operation, how can you be on the leading edge? How might it look if you were there already? What kind of things would you stock that might be different from what you now have? What things would you change from where they are now?

If you're a commercial/fleet manager and you just manage yourself, how can you be on the leading edge? How might it look if you were there already? What things would you change from where they are right now?

It may take a little dreaming and some courage to try, but I bet you'll find that the leading edge is worth the effort, and I'll bet you will never go back to the compliance zone. What a joyous day that will be!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Database Use

Yesterday I talked about the database and what is needed. Today I will address how I would use it.

Prior to importing the database, I would look at all the fields that are available in the database that we are buying and then I would create a template in the contact manager that has the same fields, plus I want to add some of my own so that I create a need on the sales staff to fill in those blanks whenever possible. I want to know everything that I can about that business within reason.

After importing into a good contact manager program, I would begin to assign each sales team member a certain number of prospects from the database. I would divide it up based on type of business so there would be some fairness in a good mix of potential clients. For this, I would print out a form with the database fields well visible for them to fill in.

These prospects will be contacted as part of our everyday prospecting program and the information will be filled in and returned to the commercial activities administrator to update the database. A new copy will then be issued back to the salesperson with the information filled in. This person will also enter all the data on a new prospect that may not have been in the database already. Purchased databases are not the most accurate things on the planet, so we will work on this constantly.

Next, we will use the database for target marketing segments. Let's say I have a few extra Contractor Bodies at this time, I would want to search the database for logical potential buyers and contact them in person, via a simple mailer, or email if we have the email address. One of our goals is to get every email address that we can and add it to the database for just these situations. Of course, I might want to target something for a different reason, but whatever the reason, with the database I have a much improved chance of success.

As we find new prospects from new businesses, referrals, or seeing trucks on the road, we will add them to the database. As time goes on, this tool becomes the most important tool in the shed. It will get used every business day for a wide variety of things. I do not have all my salespeople entering data into the database. It is gold and it will be cared for in that manner, so we have one person trained to enter data in the same way and everything else is done the old fashioned way: pen and paper. Besides, I don't want my salespeople sitting in front of a computer. I want them sitting in front of a customer or prospect.

Because we will have a very large database of surrounding counties, it will be important to send a mass mailing with address correction requested on it periodically. This will help us keep up with those we have not yet had a chance to get to or those who have closed, etc. I recommend that this be done once a quarter. If that isn't in the budget, then twice a year. Worst case scenario is once a year. It will be a great help. You will also make great use of that opportunity to send a sales message to all these potential clients and customers, so more often makes the most sense.

You can see just by this little that I have discussed that the database is my number one tool. Make it yours too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Through the Eyes of the Bold: Database

A lot of dealers I have talked to recently do not have a database of customers and potential clients that they continually communicate with. Through the eyes of the bold, that is the very first thing that gets purchased and a thing that gets almost constant use. So, I've mentioned this before, but let's take a look at the database.

First, you want the best one you can get and you want to be able to choose the businesses that you want. My thinking is pretty much every one. In a city with about 50-80,000 people, that should have around 2,000 business names give or take. Sure, you want contractors and there are a lot of those designations, but you also want markets and dog groomers and a wide range of businesses. Don't think about just the construction trade. That is good, but you need to diversify. Today, contractor business is way off, but there is much more business to be had through other business types.

Second, make sure the list has SIC codes so you can search your listing by type of business. It would be better to have the SIC codes translated perhaps, but the number will work fine if you have a legend describing the type of business next to the SIC code. Very important.

Third, I recommend that you have access to this list as a database that you can download into a customer relations program like ACT!, Maximizer and such. You only need to buy it once and then import it. You will be building on it from here on. Some offer you to go online and access the information, but I prefer to buy the list and have rights to use it how I see fit. If it costs more, it is worth it.

Fourth, the department manager controls the list and the list needs to be modified by the commercial activities administrator preferably. We want all data going in the same way if possible. We will treat this database as solid gold and polish it and care for it. It is solid gold.

Fifth, print a list of addresses with PO Boxes and Box addresses. We really want street addresses. Analyze this list to see which to keep and which to discard. The list will aid in our face to face prospecting, but a PO Box will not help us with that.

Budget permitting, I recommend sending a mailer to the entire database quarterly with address correction requested on the mailer. This will help us update the database. Worst case must be once a year.

Now that you've made a good choice of database, bought it and installed it, you are ready to use it. We will deal with this aspect tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold: Change

There has never been a better time than right now, to pick up a few good books and do a little reading or listening and maybe even a bit of studying and open up to a new perspective. Here are some good recommendations:

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD. Based on reports of current economic conditions and how used to receiving things in a certain way we have become, this is at the top of the list to read now. It is a very short read and very powerful at the same time. Click the link or buy it at your local bookstore.

The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. After the foundation of constant change, here is a guiding light to the movement of change. None better.

The Magic of Believing by Chaude M Bristol. Coming to a new place that you want will require that you believe it is possible. This is a classic read and as valuable today as when it was written.

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz, Ph.D. Now that you're changing your thinking and beginning to believe, here's where we put a crank on it.

Sometimes I've read a book a long time ago, but I feel a need to read it again. These and many hundreds more are in my library for that reason. It is times like the current time where there is a great deal of change all around the world, that it is of very great value to pick up some solid books or audios like these and get control of our thinking back. We are the only ones who can choose how we will react to change and how we will even control change. These will help.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 36

Now that I'm on my high horse about improving the economy of each dealership by improving operations and thinking, here's some more to chew on. Yesterday was the telephone and today it is the Internet.

We build websites. It's not that we are web geeks, but we are sales geeks and we know that there are too many websites that are built by web geeks that don't do much for sales. Of all the websites on the planet, auto dealerships have an awful lot of these, and for being a sales organization, and that is a dichotomy. I think what has happened is that the dealer doesn't understand much about the web, but they want to make sure that they are on the web. They think it is hip and cool and so they get the company with the hip and cool graphics and all the latest flash loops and things moving and fading in and out and flashing on and off and video clips of cars driving and all kinds of technical doo-dads. Those may be cool in a video game, but they have nothing to do with and do nothing for sales. It seems that as a group they are aiming at the young crowd and think this is the way to appeal to them.

I have looked at a few hundred dealer websites. Frankly, they are just not effective. There are no people pictures. No personalities as in people. It is all flash and show and inventory and numbers and credit applications, and requests for quotes and comparison links, etc. It's almost as if they think that people will come and look at their site and just want to buy right off the site. But, they can't buy right off the site. Much of the time, the photos are so small, they are hard to see. I wouldn't buy a book with that small a photo, let alone a $30,000 car. And when it comes to quotes, aren't we just playing this big price game. If people are shopping on the Internet, they are smart enough to be looking in more than one place, don't you think?

So, how can it work better? First, put some personality on there. Get some photos of your people and phone numbers for each one and email for each one and get some communication happening! Don't put everything that they would ever need to know about a car on there, give them a peek and encourage them to test drive to have you bring one to them, whatever. Get some communication. Cars are sold through people, not machines. It's a big decision, it isn't a book or a CD or a Video game. Get a site that is user friendly and works.

What else? Get service and parts on there and have photos and names and phone numbers and emails and get some communication going there too. You have a lot of turnover and don't want to change the site that often? Get over it. This is a big time sales tool and you need to be on top of it and controlling it and working it and expanding it and constantly improving it. Whatever it costs, do it. You want to save money on the site? Don't buy all that video game stuff. Keep it simpler and it will be more effective. Leave the flash and show for the manufacturers site. They have more money anyway. Let them spend it. Their sites cost millions. You can have a great site for $10,000 or less and a reasonable monthly fee for updates. You should be able to get updates in 24-36 hours. When you look at this small number, it is so cheap that it is silly.

When was your site last updated? Is it current? Do all the pages work? Do all the links work? I see tons that are not working, not updated, some pages under construction, links outdated. What's the point of this?

This is a sales tool. Like the telephone, it can be making you money or costing you money. Most of the websites I see are costing tens of thousands and it is just a drain of capital. It is unnecessary and ineffective. Look at your own site and pretend you are a buyer. Get some close friends to do the same and get their opinions. Better yet, ask some people that don't know you and who will tell it to you straight.

This is in our control, so let's take charge and control it. You will improve your economy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 35

Yesterday we started on some things you can do to make positive changes regardless of what is going on around you. Here's more today.

When I hear a dealer complaining about business being slow, I am amazed at how many of them close off avenues that business comes through regularly. One of my pet peeves is telephone handling. I'll give you an example that just happened two days ago.

I called a dealer and asked for a salesperson I know. A person answers the phone. She said nothing to me after I said his name and about 30 seconds later, I get his voice mail. I leave a message. A few minutes go by and I call again because he had just called me a short time ago, so I know he is around. This time, I get the exact same treatment. No communication. So I call back and ask for the manager. I couldn't remember his last name, but I said he is the manager and his first name is such and such. She says, "I don't know them since I have only been here a week, but I'll look and see if I can find a manager by that name." The next thing is click, then some seconds later, I get his voice mail.

I have more patience than most, but what is wrong with this scenario? First, no courtesy in communication. Don't send someone straight to voice mail, communicate with them and ask if they want voice mail. Try to get a number and name so there is some kind of record of the call. It could very well be a sale! What else? "It's not my fault, I'm new here." Wrong. You're out of here! But, really, it isn't her fault, she has no training! Who hired her and is not training her?

I was in the car business for over 25 years and I know for a fact just how much business is done over the telephone. It is among the most important tools that there is. It deserves to be treated in this manner. A $10 and hour clerk with no training is not going to make you any money, but they will cost you thousands every month!

The worst are the answering programs where there is no person. They are probably okay for the Social Security office, but certainly not in an auto dealership. This is just ridiculous to me. Whatever amount they think they are saving is way off in the negative because of the lost sales. Sales are down? First thing I want to do is put a super star on the telephone. I would pay them $25 an hour if needed. They are worth way more than this if they are good. That will change your business climate in this economy or any economy! We have called hundreds of dealers and the number of good telephone people can be counted on one hand.

Think about it. A customer is shopping around. Maybe they were in yesterday or the day before and talked with Joe. They had a question about the numbers, so they call. Are they going to get to complete this call? Will they get Joe or his voice mail? If they get his voice mail, will they leave a message? Maybe. Frankly, I dislike those odds. I want a great deal more control over this, so I want someone who knows how to handle this and who will know that Joe is out with a customer and will know how to soothe this situation and have Joe call them in just a few minutes.

How about in the evening after the receptionist has gone home. Now the sales staff is expected to answer the phone. Good luck. "Hello, is Joe available?" "Just a minute." Music on hold. . . 10 seconds, 20 seconds, ring back. "Can I help you?" "I was holding for Joe." "Just a minute." Music on hold. . . 10. . .20. You get the idea. You think I am making this up. No way. This is for real. I'm a buyer. What will I do next? Not call Joe. Another not sale that didn't count because no one knew about it. I say again, it is costing thousands of dollars every month in lost business.

I call another dealership and ask is so and so available. "I'm sorry, but he is off today." I say, "Thank you." I hear a click. I'm a buyer, but so and so is off today. What am I to do? I can't wait around for so and so. . . Another several thousand dollars gone, but nobody knows about it, because management is sleeping and dreaming of better times. Get a clue people! Wake up!

You want to test this. Call ten dealerships yourself and see what I mean. Business can begin improving overnight with a little change in thinking of how business comes into a dealership. The telephone is one of the most powerful and useful. It is costing dealers millions across the country to not pay attention to this. Let us change this now!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 34

I hear a lot of complaints in the last many months of the economy. They say, "we're all affected by the economy." I know what they are trying to say, but they are trying to put a spin on it. They are trying to say that "business sucks, or business is way off, or business is terrible." They don't want to actually say that, so they say the economy is to blame and it is having an effect on their business.

What would be even more realistic would be to say, "I'm afraid. I don't know what is going on and I am afraid that my income is dropping and my job might even be affected." It would also be more realistic to say that it is not the economy (the news will use this to death), it is fear. Wall Street takes a plunge from fear. It's funny how emotional Wall Street is when you think about it.

So what are you going to do? "It's not my fault, it's the economy for crying out loud. What can I do about that? I have no control over the economy. I just want business to be like it was!" Okay, I get it. I'm not looking to point blame anywhere really, but if you are reacting in fear, it is your fault--at least to the degree that you affect the economy. Put millions of reacting-in-fear people together, and we can have a really good depression! You've always heard that in 1929 it was the stock market crash that created the depression, but it wasn't that, it was fear. Remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous line: ". . . The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. . ."

I will say this again: turn off the news. Quit listening to that stuff over and over again. Start asking yourself some questions about what you can do. How can you improve your skills? How can you improve your knowledge? How can you improve your talent? How can you improve your communication skills? How can you improve your work efforts? How can you improve your presentations skills? How can you improve your own economy? How can you improve? Now would be a really good time to ask these questions.

I'll bet that list could be very long about what you can improve in your life, while the world is crashing around you. Focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot do. Focus on what you want, not on what you do not want. Focus on what you have control over, not on what you have no control over. Focus on where you want to go, not on where you don't want to go. Focus on what you want your sales to be, not on what they look like now and where you think they are going. You get what you focus on and you get to choose what you focus on. Make a good choice and choose control; choose looking at the glass as half full. You get to choose that. Is the world coming to an end, or is it still in the growing phase? You get to choose how you look at that. Choose growing. If nothing else, it will be much more satisfying.

I said that I have heard a lot of this for the last many months. It is true. I have. But, I only listen for a very, very short time and then I change the subject, and get them to focus on something different. You not only get to choose, but you have to choose. You are choosing now. You can choose differently. You can choose better. Go lift up a friend and create some joy. That will change them and you. Sing "jingle bells" in July and "Summer in the City" in December. Change it up. Be a little bit off center. It will do you good.

Next time someone asks, "how's business?" You will be able to say, "I'm getting better every day at taking better care of it." After a short while, you will mean it. That will change everything!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 33

With yesterday's post, I think we have covered onsite promotions pretty well. Let's move on to offsite.

One of the best things you can do in my opinion to help find new prospects and show off your trucks is to have offsite events. You can partner with a lot of different companies. The Home Depot or Lowe's are good choices. There are ACE hardware in smaller towns, 84 Lumber and a number of other like places where contractors and workers come to get supplies. This is a great venue for creating a nice commercial display and meeting some new people.

I recommend that you talk to the commercial desk manager, or main store manager and discuss the concept with them. You will have better results when you find ways that this will benefit them. One idea is to have a budget for some give aways and that you will buy all of them at their location. In addition, you might suggest that you will be happy to hand out brochures on items they might want to promote. Make it work for both of you.

Next, you want at least one truck, two if you have two people and they allow it. This is best when done early in the morning. Get there about 1/2 hour before they open and get set up. Have fresh coffee and donuts available with a sign stating this clearly. If they have a vendor that sells coffee there, use their coffee and services, and give out tickets and then settle up at the end.

Most of these type businesses open early, some as early as 5am. Most are probably 6-7 am. This promotion should only be for a few hours, so you will be out of there no later than 11am. This way you have done a 1/2 day promotion, and hopefully got some business cards and talked with some new people, then you can be back to the dealership to take care of other business the rest of the day. It's an easy gig.

There are all kinds of offsite display opportunities and the more you focus on the possibilities, the more come into view. If you choose to look at this well, you will find enjoyment in doing them. You get to meet new people and talk about your products, learn about their business and needs. It's refreshing and if you're an early riser, it is all good.

I think a commercial display needs to be manned. A static display should only be on your lot. The goal of the offsite display is being able to talk to new people and show off new solutions to business. This is hard to achieve if it is not manned.

One way to get names and cards is to have a drawing and get them to fill out a form or leave a business card in lieu of the form. Then you can follow up with them and put them in your mailing system. When they win a prize, you might have them stop by the dealership to pick it up and then you have one more opportunity to develop a relationship.

Making offsite display opportunities a weekly event is a great idea. It's a bold thought.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 32

In the last number of posts, we have been focused on promotions of various products to enhance sales and profits. Now, I will move on to other promotions onsite and offsite.

I will start with what I have seen in the industry as the most popular promotion, which is the "customer appreciation/vendor display event." I've seen a number of modifications on this theme. Basically, here's how it goes: The dealership will put on a customer appreciation event that will be on the commercial lot area, and vendors will be invited to be on hand to answer any questions. The vendors are asked to chip in to participate in the event by paying a specified amount of money and to show up and stand by a display to be able to answer questions from all the customers and prospects that will be coming by. It is usually done between 10:30am and 2:00pm, with lunch served between 11:30am and 1:00pm. Lunch can be hot dogs and hamburgers to something more elaborate like a custom barbecue--perhaps even catered. The vendors typically are asked to chip in from $100 to $400 for the event. In addition, flyers are to be mailed out and phone calls are to be made along with other promotional spots to get good attendance at the event. The goal, of course, is several sales right away, additional sales soon and in the near future, and more exposure to prospects who have perhaps never been to the dealership.

The goal and reality are quite often different. I would have to say that out of all of these kind of events that I have participated in, I can count only a very few that have worked well. The main reason for failure is lack of sufficient planning and promoting the promotion. There isn't much worse than having this kind of event, having all these vendors pay and show up and then have very few people that the event is for show up. I did one myself that I thought I planned for well where I sent out 10,000 invitations and about 50 people showed up. It's embarrassing while the vendors are looking at you with that, "I wasted this whole day to be here for this?" attitude. So, with all these experiences, I have developed some pointers about this kind of event. For what it is worth (and it can be a great deal!), here they are:
  • This kind of event can work very well to promote your store, your commercial department and inventory, your service department and more. The event can be very beneficial.
  • Define what the draw is. Why would people take time out of their busy day to come to the dealership for this event? The bigger the draw, the better the event. Having BigFoot, or some similar vehicle, or a race car, or a sports star all help a lot. Why would they come? Why should they come? A big enough draw will create a spectacular event.
  • Think of this as a carnival. What makes a great carnival? Lots of people, noise, sounds, voices, things happening. A good carnival has lots of enthusiasm and a lot of interesting things to see and touch. It is the experience that is out of the ordinary. What if you had a rock band? What if you could get Tiger Woods to show up and give autographs? That would change your event! The draw is the most important thing to a great event. Spend time brainstorming on it and find several great draws.
  • First rule: over planning is better than under planning. Do not try to pull this kind of event off in two months or less. I highly recommend that you plan these way out in the future, like six months to a year at least.
  • Second rule: make sure the dealership is behind the promotion. Having people pulling the rope in opposite directions will make things very complicated and tiresome. Get participation from all departments on this event. Yes, service. Yes, parts. Yes, detail. Yes, retail. Yes, the whole store. You may do the most work, but you want all to participate.
  • If you are going to ask vendors to put up cash for this event, make sure that you are a good customer of theirs. It is amazing how many will ask vendors they don't even like and don't want to do business with to participate. It's tacky to say the least. If you cannot afford to support the event alone, then I recommend that you avoid doing the event. Having the vendors chip in should be a bonus or help reimburse costs only, but with a strong concept of this paying off for them.
  • If you are serving food, make sure there is enough of everything. Better to have left overs than not enough food and drink. If you are inviting people to come there at lunch time to eat, we better have food to feed them. Plan the expense accordingly. It is also good to feed your whole team at this event.
  • In the 30 days prior to the event, begin your ad campaign. You should have a multiple avenue strategy. Print some flyers and hand them out at the parts department, in service, in retail, all over the dealership. Make sure there is sufficient "white space." White space causes focus.
  • A flyer should go out in the mail to your database about 15 days prior to the event. At about 7 days, newspaper ads should begin promoting the event. Use a synergistic approach and combine your communications for maximum effectiveness.
  • At 10 days, begin telephone campaign and continue to the event time. Make sure you have a core group of people who will show up. This should be your customer base. Ask them to bring some associates and friends.
  • This is a great time to add radio promotion prior to and during the event. To have an onsite radio remote is a very good plan to supplement your other advertising. It is about the only way you can get people to come spontaneously.
  • Prizes. This is a good draw with your advertising. Food and prizes. It's the old one-two punch. Make the prizes worth winning and make sure there are a lot of them. Get creative about your prizes so they are fun and interesting. If everyone could win something, that would be the ideal situation. I am sure it won't be close to that, but have lots of prizes. Have a few larger prizes. You can gather them during the year, a few here and a few there. Vendors can help too (the ones you buy from).
  • Make sure music is playing constantly. Music relaxes people and has them take their time. Play some great music that is universally pleasant.
  • Make sure you have an emcee or master of ceremonies to do the speaking to the crowd. The music goes down, the emcee speaks, the music is back. Keep it flowing. No stammering or can't find the right words--get a good speaker to handle this. If you must hire one, please do so. The emcee is important.
  • Make sure you have a good sound system. If you don't own one, hire it out (recommended). This is extremely important to plan for. It should have sufficient volume to be heard well at the farthest point of your displays. Use good quality microphones that avoid feedback. Make sure something is going on all the time with music interludes. This is one great reason for all the prizes so that you can keep giving small things away throughout the event with the large things given away when most people are there for maximum effect.
  • Make sure the event starts on time and ends on time.
  • Make sure that parking is easy and plentiful, and if it isn't, work a valet system.
  • Don't have any dead space where there is no music playing or talking by the emcee. When this happens, the party is over.
  • Try to have a very short meeting slightly ahead of the event where all the vendors meet with you for last minute details. Also, make sure to get feedback from every vendor prior to them leaving. A simple way to do this is have a simple form for them to fill out. What they liked, didn't like, number of people they talked to, any good prospects, etc. You will want the same from your other departments within the dealership. You will want to know how the event went from as many perspectives as you can.
  • Make sure you have enough help. This kind of event is a lot of work and it is easy for too much of the work to be done by too few people. Plan for this and get the help. More is better. Be the event planning expert, not the get everything done person.
  • Delegate. Assign tasks and follow up.
  • This kind of event can be costly. Another reason to make it work by serious planning and meticulous execution. Here's a good time to ask this question: Taking the total cost of this event in dollars into consideration, is this a good use of the funds, or is there a better use with greater payoff?
  • Make sure your entire team filters through the event and mingles with the prospects, customers and vendors. Make sure and thank them for coming to the event. Pull out your best enthusiasm and wear it well. Make sure the dealer and general manager are there at some point as well.
  • It is great to invite your factory reps of the makes you sell.
  • This is probably best during the week and probably best not on a Monday or Friday.
  • Assign someone to take a massive number of photos to record the event and to be able to use those pictures in ads or in other ways.
  • Send thank you cards for all of the people who helped including the vendors.

Through the eyes of the bold, this can be a great event. . . if. . . It will be when you plan it well and plan it well in advance. Good hunting!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 31

Here's some more partnering ideas for the bold:

One of the most popular things on the road today is a commercial trailer. They come in all different types from Landscaping, to Gooseneck Heavy Haulers to Dumping Trailers. One of the most popular that I've seen in recent years is the 7-10k GVWR two axle dumping trailer. I see a lot of different contractors making use of this kind of trailer. In residential areas, it is extremely common on the West coast to see Landscaping trailers that are towed behind 1/2-ton, and 3/4-ton pickups and Service Bodies as well, depending on their needs and the size of the company. Matter of fact, it sort of amazes me how many landscaping companies use Service Bodies as their main truck and tow their machines in a Landscaping Trailer. Then again, the Service Body is a pickup with a lot of closet space, with the same turning radius and much more usefulness.

Think about partnering in the trailer market and you will find there is a great deal of flexibility in what things you can market with so many types of trailers available. This will make a great promotional piece. There are many small businesses in most cities who stock these trailers that you can partner with. Since they vary greatly and are plentiful, I will just focus on the trailer manufacturers to share some ideas for you.

A great choice from what I've seen is Big Tex Trailers. They have a great website and a lot to offer. Check out their dumping trailers. The 10SR and 10LP look like great choices. These are 10k GVWR trailers in 10' and 12' lengths. These units use a standard hitch, so have a lot of flexibility in the marketplace. Hook up with your local distributor and make a deal to help promote each other and help each other make more profits.

Work it so that you get a trailer hooked to a truck (a Service Body or a Contractor Body are great choices) to display at your location. They will give you plenty of brochures stamped with their name and you will hand them out as needed. You get a wonderful display opportunity that should get some attention and also demonstrate more and better solutions. You can sell it as a package, or perhaps they want a different trailer, but it's all good for everyone involved. At the same time, you can double your opportunities by having one of your units on display at their location where they can then promote you and your dealership and have the truck and trailer hooked up and on display there.










Another trailer type is the Landscape Trailer. It is very popular as well. I see a lot of them hooked to F150 1/2-ton pickups, so here's a great way to mix in some more retail pieces to your commercial display and help get more display attention and offer some solutions to your commercial customers. Here's a couple shots of that type of trailer:








Here's another trailer idea that is also popular in a lot of trades. Haulmark has made a wide variety of enclosed trailers for over 27 years. From RV to show car carriers to general use like the ones shown below, they have a wide variety to choose from and Haulmark is a very well known name brand.


















There are so many possibilities that you could use here that you can do these kind of displays for years to come and constantly keep something going. In addition to aiding the sales of your vehicles, you are aiding the sales of the trailers through your partnership--and since you are putting a truck on their display, you are creating even more opportunities. This is how you stay out of the back corner of the lot. Look for bold opportunities to partner with others (that makes it very inexpensive!) and create synergy. It will also be a lot of fun. Go for it!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 30

More bold partnering ideas to make more sales and profits. Take a deep breath . . .

I am such a fan of unique bodies, different ways of doing a thing, better and more interesting solutions. Part of the reason is that those products almost always sell fast and make more gross. Prospects see them and get excited as well because they aren't seeing those anywhere else. It does take courage and vision to get in there and mess with the status quo and get out of that comfortable zone of conformity, but once you begin moving there and see what I see, you won't ever want to go back. You could call it leadership and others may follow you, but you keep innovating and testing new ideas.

Give yourself permission to fail or you will never succeed. Just to give you a bit more confidence, consider this: When you put a truck body on a chassis and it is a flop, the worst case scenario is that you take the body off and put in on the ground and get rid of the truck with another body. The most you could lose is some flooring expense and the cost of the body assuming that it was really and truly unsaleable. That is unlikely though, because everything sells eventually. So the reality is that you might take a loss on the body, but never a total loss. So what? That's just part of the game.

I had one body that I just loved the concept of and the look of and I ended up transferring it to three different chassis, repainting it once a different color, and it finally sold about two years or so later. I didn't order that body again, but I wouldn't have changed the experience. It is a great body, and in other parts of the country it sells extremely well, but I just couldn't move it for a long time. So, you learn. No big deal. The thing to focus on is all the successes and the substantially greater gross profits that result from unique bodies--they were many. Don't be afraid of failure, be afraid of mediocrity, complacency and conformity. The fruit is on the limb.

So, here's some bold stocking and partnering examples that you can try: Develop a relationship with a nearby camper distributor, order up a Camper Body from a supplier like Douglass Truck Bodies who makes many models for this lucrative market, and get an agreement to have the camper on display to sell the truck and camper together.

While it is on display, you will give out literature from the camper distributor and they will be involved in the sale as needed. What is even cooler than this is to order two and have them display one at their location and one at yours, while they hand out your cards and literature as well. This could be a very effective display and sales opportunity. In addition, you are creating a marketing partnership you may not have had before. It's all good. Remember to secure the right chassis with the uplevel trim for this kind of body as the normal lightly equipped unit will not do for this market.

Here's another way to go with this kind of display promotion. Hook up with your local trailer distributor (it may be the same one as for the camper, or you can develop a relationship with another one). Get with Tuscany (an Accubuilt Company) and order up a nice Starhauler.

Get with your trailer buddy (hopefully, you are getting there) and get an agreement to show off the trailer while attached to the truck. Be really bold and get another one from Douglass and have one on display at each location. Douglass makes a very nice 5th Wheel Body that has huge storage space and that is always a plus.



These are both great examples of combining the commercial market and the RV market. Doing promotions like this can really be a huge benefit to your overall operation. You are adding new markets to your existing business. You can also create some very nice offsite displays with these pieces as well. See the possibilities through the eyes of the bold and go for it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Through the Eyes Of the Bold, Part 29

We'll take a break from partnering and promotions for a moment to mention trade shows and how they can benefit you.

It is important to make time and plan the expense for a little travel around the country each year to attend some trucking shows where you can find new suppliers, see new products in real life, see truck manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers. I'll give you a few example of some shows that may be beneficial to you and you can pick and choose the ones you think would be most valuable.

A good source for finding shows that are relevant to your needs is TruckingInfo.com. Probably one of the best shows to make sure and attend is the NTEA (National Truck Equipment Association) Work Truck Show coming up March 4-6, 2009 in Chicago. If you only attended one, this would be it. The SEMA show every year in November is a huge event, but focused mainly on aftermarket suppliers. You may still get substantial benefit if you desire to attend this. Plus for those selling bigger trucks, the TruckShow.com website will help you with two shows yearly, the Great West Truck Show in Las Vegas and the Great American Trucking show in Dallas. You can look to the manufacturers for what shows they attend. Here is a list from Ford.

My advice: make plans to attend the NTEA Work Truck Show in Chicago in March. Make plans now so you can find a place to stay! I assure you that the ideas and products you see will earn you far more money than it costs to go.



Back to partnering and promotions. Our last post referred to working with your pool partners to order inventory the way you want it and how that can benefit you in a huge way by controlling your flooring expenses very effectively.

Here's another partnering idea that will help your Parts and Service departments to participate and that will create stronger relationships in house. Get one or more of your suppliers to help you begin stocking some accessories and upgrades that can be installed by your Service department or sold through the Parts department and installed by the end user. For example, you have some plain flatbeds in stock, but you have some underbed boxes and upper bed boxes in stock and on display in a location like a parts display area or a separate display area where customers can see them and make choices. They can buy the flatbed and have the box mounted this afternoon, tomorrow, or by appointment.

This benefits the supplier, the Service and Parts department, you and the end user. It benefits the supplier by selling the items to your store, the Parts department by taking the order and the Service department from the installation. It benefits you by having this tool available to demonstrate your commitment to the market and how you can quickly add value to the customers purchase. It benefits the end user in that they get to make the choice visually and customize their truck they way they want. Everyone wins. All you need is a little space for a display, a little space for some inventory and a little training for Service and Parts. I think the benefits are huge and benefits the entire store. Just think what would happen when you expand that to a whole upgrade showroom of accessories!

You can seek assistance with a supplier to help you get into this market. Maybe they will give you special terms that will make it easy to get in. Maybe they will give you some special deals; e.g., buy four get one free, etc. You can market these as part of your overall marketing. Even if Parts and Service gets the deal, it still benefits you. If they aren't benefiting, you won't have their enthusiasm for very long.

Let's say that you like Scelzi's flatbed products the best and so, when it comes to flatbeds, a very high percentage of your flatbed stock is Scelzi. So, work a deal with Scelzi to supply you with their underbed boxes already painted and ready to mount. Get a selection of them into your display area and a reasonable amount for backup stock. Now, you're ready to market them with your flatbed sales. In addition, previous flatbed owners will be able to see the display when they come in for service and then service and parts can benefit some more. Maybe there are other accessories that Scelzi has that would be good for you to stock. How about vise brackets, extra shelves, door shocks, lights and so on. You probably will want a few of their stakeside gates in stock so you can quickly sell and mount those.

So service and parts makes a few bucks, the suppliers makes a few, you make a few and the end user saves time and gets what they want. It's all good. This is bold, but we could take this up several levels and really go for it. Well, I'll let you choose your own boldness. The possibilities are many.