Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hypothetically Speaking

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

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

. . . what are your thoughts?

Do that a lot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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

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

Now, there's a better way. . .

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

Check it out and join the change!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's the Difference?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Distraction Is In Order and Neccessary

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Gladly Take Help From Everyone Who Offers

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Price Is A Talking Point

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

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

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

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

Try something new and make some profit!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Turn the Corner!

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

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

Enjoy your new found success!

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 10

Last topic in this series: Event Marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch the vision of more meaningful marketing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 3, 2008

More Meaningful Marketing, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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