Where’s The Beef?

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

A couple of hours ago, I made note of a photo that Brian Pasch posted of empty shelves at his local grocery store.  That photo reminded me that I’d meant to cover a back-to- the-basics concept that I struggled with while doing some research last week.

First off, let me tell you that I LOVE CARS.  I have loved cars since I was able to grasp the concept of motoring.  I love how cars feel when you run your hand over their cool painted metal, I love how expensive leather interior feels – even on a hot day.  I love the musty oily odor of an old garage bay, how tools that fix cars feel in your hand, and the VAROOM of a car starting before its driven away.  My godmother collected old Jags.   My grandpa was a Mercedes Benz devotee.  My dad has had 8 Porsches and I learned to drive in a 1981 911 Targa, mint green with plaid seat inserts.

We always went to the car shows.  The Concourse d’Elegance out at Forest Grove, and the new car shows at the Coliseum and now the Convention Center.  We went to the races on Father’s Day.  I got into the retail side of the business in 1996, after dating a Chevy dealer, and haven’t looked back.

Now, I spent the majority of my automotive retail tenure overseeing Internet Sales, BDC operations, DMS, CRM, and everything that went along with data, data management, etc.  This particular post is about inventory, and posting it properly.  It is a subject that I hold near and dear to my heart – even though it was one of the most thankless tasks I was ever responsible for.

I started out taking photos of new Hondas with a regular old digital camera, and uploaded them by hand to probably 7 or 8 different sites.  It sucked.   Taking the photos took a lot of time.  Downloading them took time.  Uploading them properly WITH adequate descriptions took even more time.  I’ve been the Dealer Specialties route.  Gone in house with CDM, and seen scads of other systems/programs for getting a dealership’s inventory online.  I do have to say that I was happiest when I was able to delegate the responsibility, but it was still necessary to have a firm grasp on what was happening and how well it was being handled.

So last week, I was doing some inventory research.  I picked one of the aggregator sites that I know is pretty consistent and spent a day and a half looking at cars.  I wasn’t looking at how the vehicles were listed, but I found myself critiquing my findings anyway.  I was dismayed to find that only about 60% of the posts had “actual” photos, and that of those, not one was what I would call high resolution.  Over a day and a half, I decided that the “No Image” image was a real let down, and I started to feel pretty bad for the shoppers out there who are just wanting to have some cars to look at.

The last stats I have on inventory accuracy for a dealership under my control went from 65% inventory accuracy using an outside posting company to 93% accuracy using an in-house process.  We took at least 12 photos of every new piece of inventory (New and Used) and got those photos loaded into our distribution platform as soon as the piece had been stocked into the DMS.  I’m not advocating for one system over another, I’m just saying, that’s what worked better for us.

I know about all of the stats on conversion based on “real” photos vs. “stock” photos, and I’ve seen the difference in buyer behavior myself.  I don’t need a study or a pile of stats to tell me that people who are looking online want to find what they’re looking for.

Resolution is an issue.  Speed of upload can be a factor – I know, I get it.  Check your own photos.  Can you read the plate frame?  If not, maybe you could adjust the resolution settings or have your service company do that.  Looking at a fuzzy photo is better than no photo at all, but if the image were crisp, and the vehicle details more clear, doesn’t that logically appeal more to the viewer?

How about the lighting?  And the background?  I found a few stores that have created curtained photo bays for their inventory shoots and the cars are well lit and truly showcased.  A few others (here in the Pacific NW) were at least shooting their vehicles under a lighted carport. 

I don’t know how you feel about the Custom Image Overlays, but I think they’re a little distracting.  The only good thing about them, in my opinion, was that they did brand a vehicle to a particular dealership.  If this could be done with plate frames or inserts, or with a background or signage, I think it would be less distracting. 

Keep in mind that the people who are viewing your vehicles are likely going to be comparison shopping.  The inventory buyer is a much different cat than the credit buyer (I’m working primarily in sub-prime these days, but just had this conversation with a friend of mine who was shopping for a vehicle and drove to the dealership where he bought his car twenty minutes after he found it on their website). 

Make sure that your inventory is clean and shiny and ready for the photos shoot.  Develop a plan for how your inventory is to be shot so that your selection has continuity.  Decide how often your inventory needs to be updated (my opinion is that daily is best) and check your online inventory feeds to third party sites every once in a while to make sure that the machine you’ve created is working properly.

Before I penned this piece, I did a couple of Google searches and found articles regarding “how to” post automotive inventory going back to 2008.  The words I’ve written here are based on my experience and my opinion and recent findings, but I think it would be worth it for those looking to gain an edge to do some additional fact finding and opinion weighing. 

I guess my central point in bringing this subject back up for re-discussion in 2012 is that I think we’re still a car buying society that buys based on emotion, and what better means for appealing to that emotion than through images (or video, but I’ll let a friend of mine write that post)? 

Brian Pasch’s photo reminded me of the “empty shelves” I found last week when I was doing my research.  It is also very firmly etched in my mind as a reminder that so many of our automotive industry colleagues are being faced with seriously disastrous weather conditions.  I know I join many of you in sending out hearfelt prayers for everyone’s safety through the night.

Campaign Promises

Posted: October 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

For grins, and to help me get started with this post, I Googled “Customer Expectations”.

Of the 13,900,000 returned results, a link to an interview with Richard Branson stuck out because, well, he’s fabulous AND he’s someone who has apparently figured out how to do a lot of things right.
Sir Branson says: “Pricing your product or service is only one way to exceed expectations. The other is through your front-line employees — everyone who works with customers.”  He goes on:  “Surpassing expectations on the service side means that your people understand what your brand stands for, that they are proud of it and will go the extra mile to make sure that your customers are happy.”

Well, I’ve been in the automotive business for 16 years this month.  I have been trained and retrained on how to represent OEM branding agendas.  I have been schooled in the fine art of representing single and multi-point franchise marketing positions (ie:  Drive Home Happy, Home of the Thomas Promise, Metro Auto Wholesale – Working With You and Working for You, etc.).  I’ve been the trainee, and I’ve been the trainer.  This post isn’t about how we’ve taught our personnel to connect with our overall branding – I think that our industry, in general, does a pretty good job with that.  This particular train of thought relates more to how we’re failing to communicate our specialized marketing agendas to our frontline personnel, and in turn, how they’re failing keep our “promises” to our customers in these campaign marketing efforts.

One of the guys I work with has friends and family collect pieces of Direct Mail that they receive.  He’s done this for years.  We’re located in the Portland Metro area, with about 500 franchised and independent dealers (give or take) in the immediate surround, so he collects a lot of fodder for our frequent marketing conversations.  The “hot” direct mail hooks right now are the Vehicle Buy Back and Fresh BK Mailers.  If you don’t do sub-prime, you go after the trades, if you do sub-prime, maybe you do both.  In either case, you’re reaching out into the marketplace and making a potential customer an offer (of trade in value or of credit) that (because of increased legislation and regulation) sounds like it might actually be true.

These potential customers respond, and in many cases, this is what happens:

Ring Ring “Thank you for calling Anonymous Buick GMC, Home of the Lifetime Warranty, this is Jessica, how may I assist you?

Caller:  “I received a letter and it says I’m supposed to ask for….Charlie?”.

Jessica:  “I’m sorry, what type of letter did you get?”

Caller: “Uh, it says Approval America……I’m supposed to talk to Charlie, it says I’m approved…”

Jessica:  “Oh, Ohhhhhhhh, OK, One moment please.”

On Hold music goes on for 16 seconds – Anonymous Buick GMC is home to the Lifetime Warranty.  Our Service Department is open from 7 AM to 8 PM for all of your services needs.  We appreciate your business and we’ll be right back to assist you….”

Salesperson 1:  “Who are ya holding for?”

Customer: “Uh, well, I am looking for Charlie, I got this approval letter…”

Salesperson 1:  “OH, Oh OK. You need to speak to Charlie!  One moment please!”

On Hold music for 20 seconds

Salesperson 2:  “This is John, how may I assist you today?”

Customer:  “I’m TRYING to get a hold of CHARLIE.  I got a LETTER.  This is the second time I’ve called…”

Salesperson 2:  “Oh, you need to speak to CHARLIE, one moment please.”

On Hold music for 5 seconds

Charlie’s VM picks up:  “You have reached the voicemail of Charlie.  Your call is very important to me.  I may be with a customer and am not available.  If you’d be so kind as to leave your name and telephone number, I’d be, happy to call you back”

Customer:  “This is Customer,  and this is the second time I’ve called.  I left a voicemail the first time and I haven’t gotten a call back yet.  SO you can call me back at 5555551212.  Thank you.”

And if this wasn’t bad enough there actually was a third call from our dear “Customer” who went through another call gauntlet , ended up with Charlie’s voicemail AGAIN, and left a piece of his mind with a request to never be contacted under any circumstances.

In my current role, I oversee operations and business development for several different automotive marketing products and services.  We generate some lead opportunities with Trade In Leads, and facilitate Call Center fulfillment for dealers and marketing companies with Cloud BDC.

The previously described call was from a REAL customer who was responding to a bankruptcy mailer for a dealership in California.  A dealership, mind you, that spends tens of thousands of dollars a month generating these opportunities.

Oh the agony!

So how bad is it, really, that Charlie, one of several hundred prospects that might cross the dealership’s threshold during the month, failed to receive even a low level of reasonable customer service?  Without putting a number on it (which would require much more critical analysis than I’m willing to devote at this moment) I’d have to say it’s just BAD.  This dealership is a longtime established GM point in a more rural than urban community and they do have a pretty good local reputation.  I’d wager that the past few years haven’t been easy for this store, and I’d bet that someone was crossing their fingers with hope when they stroked the check to the mail company on that BK mail campaign.

So where’s the disconnect?  If we’re going to effectively stand on a soapbox and make promises to people in a postage paid envelope, shouldn’t we prepare for fulfillment on our side?

This mail campaign was likely pitched by someone who has called on, and successfully pulled off other campaigns for the dealer in the past.  Quite likely, he or she and the DP/GM are “good buddies” and have engaged in business many times before.  The disconnect comes from the fact that the GM isn’t really handling the sales meetings any more, and the GSM who does hold the sales meetings hasn’t handled one of these campaigns because he/she is a recent transplant from another city.  New(er) sales people don’t really understand what a “BK Mailer” is, and the seasoned vets don’t want those deals because they’re a grind.  So you’re stuck with the unknowledgeable and or/the unwilling right out there on your front line.

Now I am COMPLETELY stereotyping.  In my experience, these kinds of scenarios were common enough, but so were the perfectly executed campaigns in stores where everyone was on the same page every time a marketing dollar went out the door.  The difference between the two was a pretty important one.  Just a little thing we like to call return on investment, or ROI for short.

So what does Sir Richard Branson have to say about the solution to these kinds of problems?  Well, he’s pretty straight forward: “Doing things better doesn’t have to cost more — all it takes is a little creativity and attention to hiring, training and management. To achieve consistently terrific customer service, you must hire wonderful people who believe in your company’s goals, habitually do better than the norm and who will love their jobs; make sure that their ideas and opinions are heard and respected; then give them the freedom to help and solve problems for your customers. Rather than providing rules or scripts, you should ask them to treat the customer as they themselves would like to be treated — which is surely the highest standard.”

Now, if you’re reading this in an Automotive forum, chances are you have some realistic expectations of what can and cannot be achieved at the dealership level, and a LOT of the time, the branding on the storefront might very well be a BIG determiner.  The rarity is the single point pre-owned store that rolls out the red carpet to respondents of a BK Mailer.  I have seen and heard it happen, but I know that it took everyone from the DP down to pull it off.

In today’s fast-paced-high-turn stores, do we have the ability to properly prep and train our staff to facilitate these “special promises” that we make? If we can justify the expense on additional time training, or on hiring companies to train our personnel, we should.  Or explore outstourcing.  FIND A WAY TO KEEP THE PROMISE.

We owe it to the Charlies out there.

 

By Autumn 2003, I had (a meager) seven years of Internet Automotive success under my belt.  I was managing a nine-franchise Internet Sales Department that encompassed five rooftops in Portland OR and Vancouver WA.  New Car sales were really starting to get brutal.  Every other conversation contained the words “Dave Smith” and “Kellogg, Idaho”.  We pursued, and received, very few pre-owned vehicle inquiries and credit inquiries were only pursued if they were for A or B tier customers.

And then I got the phone call that would change the direction of my career.

The phone caller had submitted an inquiry on a new car.  But he was pretty sure that he wouldn’t qualify for financing, so he was calling to see if there was any way for him to purchase a vehicle.

His story reminds me of the deals we started seeing in 2008 – really great customers, with really big problems.  He was going through a divorce, his house was in foreclosure and he was three months late on the mortgage, credit cards were maxed, other debt racking up, it was a pretty pitiful story.  His car had just been repossessed and he just needed something to pick up his kids and get to work in.  Suffice it to say, his future as a car buyer looked pretty bleak…

Until he gave me the golden nugget that got him into a beautiful silver Ford Taurus mere hours later – he had worked for the same company for sixteen years.  It wasn’t a lot, but it was something.  His story was good.  He had longevity and income.  Even so, there was no way that any of the stores I worked with would work this deal (in fact, one GM laughed heartily), but I knew someone who would.

Jeff Carrier was the Managing Partner of Metro Auto Wholesale at that time.  I had met him earlier that year in Las Vegas at the AutoDealerDaily.com Internet Marketing Conference where he claimed the
Pre-Owned Retailer of the Year award for the second year in a row.  In an article written by Greg Goebel: “Particularly noteworthy is that the managing partner, Jeff Carrier, stated that 75 percent of his 2,869 Internet-based pre-owned sales in 2003 were Special Finance sales! That is roughly 175 per month.”
I knew, if there was a snowball’s chance in hell that my guy was gonna get bought, Jeff Carrier was going to get it done.

Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.  I TO’d the deal to Jeff, and the customer called me four hours later, crying, thanking me.

That’s when it hit me.  I didn’t know ANYTHING about selling used cars, and even less about the sub-prime market.  A couple more of these situations came up, and each time I called upon Jeff’s expertise and the powerful combination of process, inventory and lenders that he’d amassed at Metro.  Ultimately, I bailed on the New Car $100 over invoice program, and happily jumped into the sub-prime pool without looking back.

The next two years would be eye opening to say the least, and I count myself very lucky indeed that I was able to learn at the elbow of one of the sub-prime Masters of the Universe.  I learned about the importance of having the right inventory.  I learned that having a lot of lenders isn’t as important as having a lot of lender relationships.  I learned that there was a “right way” to “do” sub-prime and still generate gross.  “Ability, Stability and Willingness to Pay” became my mantra.

In 2005, I took maternity leave and moved to Central Oregon. I consulted, I worked in a new Ford store, and I watched as the sub-prime market began its downward spiral.  We all know what happened.  Credit lines shriveled, dealers shuttered their stores, sub-prime essentially vanished.

I wrote a blog post back in October of 2010 heralding the return of Spi-Fi, but it has been a slow road.  And now it is 2012, and the sub-prime drums are beating more loudly.  I’m sure you’ve seen all of the articles I have that speak to the optimism for this segment in 2012

2008 was the “apocalypse”.  In 2009, only the big dogs were left and virtually all of the small lenders evaporated.  In 2010, and 2011, the market was sort of status quo, but this year, goals and the competition are up.  Everyone wants a bigger portfolio, and sub-prime is the “foot in the door” toward that end.

More consumers are coming out of the woodwork, and one lender exec. estimates that average credit scores are probably lower than they were before the crash, but the consumer buying power is way up.  A 560 beacon score with any sort of equity is looking at rates as low as 9.25% – and that is a far cry from what we’ve been dealing with the last few years.

Spi-Fi is not, then, making a comeback, as far as the lenders and consumers are concerned, it IS back.

Now, I’m not suggesting that a dealer should target 75% of their bank of business at the sub-prime level, but I’ve had enough dealers say that they’re “gearing up for it” that I believe that we’re going to see a much greater demand for new and improved tools and processes to facilitate a bigger share of sub-prime deals hitting the bottom line.  And that, after all of the above, is really what I wanted to talk about.

Technology has improved the face of every aspect of operations since 2008.  Shouldn’t it be the same for your sub-prime “department”?

I had one dealer say to me the other day that he KNOWS how much data is out there, and yet, he feels that his sub-prime lead sources are “weak”.  Another dealer told me that he’s virtually desperate to find quality sub-prime lead sources, but that everything he’s got access to now seems recycled, unfiltered, and not worth what he’s paying.

Personnel and training are another place where sub-prime has been sort of shoved into a closet.  I fear that this has resulted in desk managers who are about as skilled at structuring a sub-prime deal as I was in 2003.  In fact, I have dealer friend who was active in Spi-Fi during its heyday who is getting ready to release training material that teaches today’s Managers how to deal with sub-prime because there is such a gaping hole in that area of expertise at the store level.

Now, I have an assertion, and it might not be popular, but here it goes.  I don’t think much of anything in the sub-prime lead gen biz or in dealer processes has changed.  I mean, how could it?  With “off” revenues, how could these companies invest in R&D and turn out new products?  How many Spi-Fi departments were ramped up vs. how many were shut down?

So, the lenders are ready, and the consumers are ready, but are you ready?  Do you have a plan, qualified partners to help you execute your plan, and the personnel to carry the ball to the goal line?  Do you have a Sub-Prime Business Readiness plan?

I spent some time the other day looking for people talking about this and I came up empty handed.  The lenders and news agencies are talking about it, but I want to hear what YOU have to say.

Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year!

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur

The Chicken and the Egg

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Challenge: The automotive industry is recovering from the most massive business contraction in its history.  While the playing field has been cleared and offers competitive opportunities, the reality is that dealers face many challenges to growing their business and competing effectively in this new marketplace.

 

  • Traffic is down
  • Sales are down
  • Ad dollars are misdirected and ineffective
  • Inbound sales calls are poorly handled
  • Personnel performance is unmanageable
  • Vendor performance is difficult to track
  • Special Finance and other specialized departments are burdens on dealership resources

 

With these and other factors affecting day to day operations, the question is, how do you allocate resources and increase efficiencies?  Chances are you have made significant reductions in personnel and expense over the last few years.  How do you ramp up with the limited flexibility you face?

It’s like the question of what came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

You need to add resources in order to generate new business, but you need new business in order to afford the resources.How do you scale so that you don’t overspend or sacrifice growth?

The Solution

With this scalability challenge in mind, Jim Crouse, founder and former CEO of BarNone, has developed a cloud based platform of products and services that enable dealers and automotive marketing companies to grow business incrementally with controlled variable expense.   The CloudOne platform offers access to Best of Breed marketing components that a dealer can use on an ala carte, monthly basis to help grow their business on a scalable level.  The CloudOne platform flexibility enables measured growth with reduced total marketing costs and increased return on investment.

The CloudOne platform is a cohesive marketplace  of lead generation and fulfillment components that represent the best practice capabilities that BarNone  achieved  while servicing thousands of dealers across the country.  The CloudOne platform also includes strategic partnerships with best practice companies that have emerged over the past several years.  From this substantial offering, you can pick and choose individual products or services, add to what’s working, scale back when you need to, all from one central online location.

  • Streamlined
  • Efficient
  • Scalable
  • Trackable
  • Easy to use

 

The Call Center Backbone

The CloudOne platform is anchored by the capabilities and efficiencies represented through the CloudOne Call Center.  These Call Center services represent fulfillment best practices that have been developed through the answering of more than 8 million phone calls.  The proprietary scripting engines reflect data assimilated over a decade of answering telephone calls for dealerships.  This data allows our call center to be the most effective, efficient and consistent means of facilitating customer inquiries and appointments to your dealership.

COVERAGE
One of the ways the Call Center can be employed is in the replacement of ineffective and expensive personnel resources.  The average employee burden on a dealership is $2500.  The average employee works 173.33 hours per month, providing 25% coverage of the total phone time per month.  For the SAME dollar amount, the CloudOne Call Center provides 100% coverage of the phones, 24/7, 365 days of the year.  One employee can handle one call at a time – the Call Center can facilitate multiple calls.  With the CloudOne Call Center your coverage and consistency are known factors and reliable.

QUALITY
Because the CloudOne Call Center processes have been developed over millions of customer interactions, the efficiencies are much higher than the average dealership.  Statistically, the CloudOne Call center processes result in more than double the appointments set than those by dealership personnel.

RESULTS
With more than double the appointments set, and all other factors remaining the same, the CloudOne Call Center services translate into MORE THAN TWICE the amount of sold units than those derived through the dealerships fulfillment practices.

PLUG US IN
One of the easiest ways to immediately benefit from the capabilities offered under the CloudOne platform is to route your current special finance and/or inventory marketing campaign traffic to the CloudOne call center.

We will be able to immediately measure and analyze each campaign’s performance, from response rate, to appointments set, to deals closed.  With the CloudOne call center, you will be able to establish a baseline of campaign performance that will allow you to make critical marketing decisions based on those measurements.

It’s 2011, and CloudOne is ready to help you TURN UP THE VOLUME.

For more information and a complimentary analysis and demonstration click here

http://www.cloudone.com/contact-us.php

 

CloudOne
The Sky’s the Limit

 

 

 

 

 

I remember sitting in my office at Robberson Ford in beautiful Bend Oregon a couple years ago. It was a day not unlike today, clear but cold.  I was having a terrible conversation with a
gentleman who had submitted an inquiry on a pre-owned vehicle.  He’d been a mortgage broker for the previous 25years, and, like so many of the real estate affiliated customers I’d been talking to then, he’d fallen on hard times. His story was pretty sad.  Big fat house in Bend,second home in Tahoe, delinquent mortgages on both. Audi A8, Porsche Cayenne, both 90+ days late.    Under water in the homes, upside down in both vehicles.  No income for months, so definitely no cash down.  He just desperately wanted there to be a good answer. I certainly didn’t have one for him. I’ve thought about that guy many many times over the past two years, wondering what ultimately happened and how he facilitated his vehicular needs.  I mean, a guy with an 800+ beacon history that tanks everything inside a year has got to have a comeback story right?

 

I’ve been contemplating a similar comeback story –  the comeback of Special Finance –  for the past several months.  I’m right in the thick of some entrepreneurial ventures that will be facilitating solutions for the automotive sector when it comes to prospecting and fulfillment in the Spi Fi realm, and I’ve had a LOT of conversations about wherewe’re heading.

 

 

 

I just read a blog post by a fellow I don’t know, but hope to. Autofinancenews.net is where I found him and his name is JJHornblass.  JJ just got back from the Auto Finance Summit I wish I’d been attending this last week in Vegas.  (Yep, I would have forgone DD9 to be there, call me crazy).  You see, the financing component is “the thing” that keeps hanging up my conversations with my dealer principal pals.  There isn’t anyone I’ve found who wouldn’t like to be selling more cars. The hesitance to push the Spi Fi “button” to get there comes from the inability to facilitate loans for the secondary finance customers who walk in the door right now as a result of traditional marketing.  Time and time again, I’ve heard the story that the “lenders still aren’t buying”. So I was glad to find JJ’s blog post, which was encouraging, and echoed the sentiments represented in a lot of the articles I’ve been reading and re-posting on ADM and Facebook, etc. –  that “auto finance is back and is only getting better.”

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not naïve about this wildly exciting and downright grindingly dirty side of our business.  I pulled time in a single point pre-owned store that occupied three dingy city blocks and rolled 300 cars a month, 75%+ of which were sub-sub-prime.  We had relationships with upwards of 20 lenders (we were not BHPH), more than half of which have evaporated from the face of the planet.  That business model did not survive the economic collapse, and the echoes of our jingle “working with you and working for you” are all that is left of what was once a thriving representation of some serious capitalism.

 

 

 

I get it.  It is to be a long road.  I guess my point is that, after the GM acquisition of Americredit, the resecuritization of CPS and Prestige, numerous lenders publicly “loosening” their guidelines to facilitate an increased supply of loans for the current and future demand, and all of the other favorable press on this topic, are YOU getting ready to push “the button”?

 

 

 

There’s a lot that goes into a successful Spi-Fi venture.  You’ve got to have the right marketing.   You’ve got to have the right fulfillment toprocess your prospects.  You’ve got to
have the right mentality, the right people working for you, the right lender
relationships, and the right inventory. I personally know dealers who absolutely will not EVER, and I mean NEVER engage in the sub-prime arena, and I totally get that.  On the flip side, there are dealers who have thought about it and who are thinking about it right this very minute.

 

 

 

So what if I told you, if you’re in the latter category, that there’s a beacon of hope on the horizon to facilitate whichever components of your Spi-Fi “set up” you don’t currently have in place or that you’ve been struggling with?  To put it differently, what if I told you “there’s an app for that”?  Yes, this paragraph is a shameless plug for the services we will be providing through a company that is soon to be revealed.  The point of my saying this, however, is not to promote what we do as the end all be all turn-key solution to a dealer’s Spi-Fi dreams, but to stir up some conversation about what challenges you currently face that are keeping you from pushing the button, or from being successful if you pushed the button a while back.

 

 

 

In my travels in the past 90 days, I’ve spoken with high volume lead generators, direct mail experts, call center gurus, SEO powerhouses, guys who’ve built sub-prime lending arms for some of the biggest banks in our business,and literally every single one of them is gearing up to facilitate supply solutions for sub-prime market demand.  They’re either ready right now, or they’re literally days away from being ready to facilitate whatever program you want to put together.  So here’s my challenge to you:  let’s stop talking about the “possibility” of a special finance comeback and let’s start talking about how to become truly successful in the Special Finance realm in today’s market.

 

Gluttonous Recipe

Posted: June 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

What would you rather do?

A.  perform at a higher level (ie: close more deals or generate more gross profit) from your current opportunities to do business.
OR
B.  generate more opportunities to do business.

For me, the answer is obvious.  Unfortunately, many of the dealer contacts I’ve been making don’t seem to respond as well to offers of methods for doing better with what they have as they do methods for generating more traffic.  Why is that?

I had a conversation yesterday with one of our industry’s leading movers and shakers regarding marketing products and services to dealers and what the “hot buttons” are in today’s dealership climate.  We agreed that “Traffic” and “ Decreased Expenses” (which I equate to lower cost per customer) and “Enhanced SEO” were all high priority issues for the automotive community.  I’d probably throw in “Social Media” and “Reputation Management” for good measure, but I do think the first three garner the greater attention in terms of relevance to the bottom line on a day to day, month to month basis.

As we were talking, I realized that, in many instances, as an industry, we’re still stuck on the idea that MORE traffic is the key to our salvation.  (Now I’m completely generalizing, so for those of you who track your true opportunities to do business like an IRS agent, I applaud you and am not grouping you into this bunch.)  And while I don’t necessarily disagree that shifting the distribution of power in any given market is a bad thing, I have to say, I think the idea of grabbing more opportunities without doing more with the opportunities we already have is a gluttonous recipe for disaster.

So here I go, I want to go on the record as saying, loudly, I am not an advocate of generating more traffic.  I don’t want my dealer clients to buy more leads, or generate more leads of their own until they’re doing their best with the leads they already have.  In fact, until they’re doing the best possible job with the leads they have, I’d advocate cutting all paid third party leads sources because that’s just more money flying out the window!

I guess you could say that my philosophy is kind of like holistic health management.   Say, for example, you’ve gained a few pounds.  Now you’ve got high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, aching joints, and the list goes on.  You go see your doctor, and your doctor gives you three prescriptions.  You go to the drug store, get those pill bottles, and start taking your meds. (And they aren’t exactly cheap).  Six months go by, and your symptoms have diminished – slightly – but you’re still not right.  Your significant other is pretty health conscious and turns you on to a naturopathic physician who changes your diet, gets you on an exercise program, and has you start taking vitamins and nutritional supplements.  Six months later, you’re an entirely different person!  You throw those pill bottles away, and laugh at the guys on your staff who can’t keep up with you any more.

That’s where I’m at.  After fifteen years of advancement in process and technology, I’m just flat tired of seeing the dealer body taking prescription after prescription for ailments that are inherently curable through behavior modification and a regimen of hard work and discipline.

What I’m really talking about is a focus on a grass roots pursuit of higher conversion; how can we “do better” with the opportunities that we have, and how can we build the muscle and the stamina so that when we turn on the traffic faucet, we’re really ready to capitalize on those new opportunities?

Our nationwide industry numbers suck.  On average, an automotive dealership converts 5 to 8% of their inbound Internet inquiries to sales.  And on average, our Internet gross sales profit is far below that of the retail department.  These are the SAME numbers that we posted 14 years ago.  Really?  Are we no better 14 years later?  And why not?  And what about the retail numbers?  I am absolutely certain that even with our advanced technological tracking practices, we’re still short-reporting our total opportunities and therefore have no real idea what our conversion numbers are.

I spent time in the Miami FL market on an Internet/BDC training mission about two months ago, and I shopped all of my clients’ competitors to see what we were up against.  And you know what I found?  The same tired old templated responses that we were being taught, and that I re-taught over a decade ago.  Is this really the best we can do?

As a National Trainer for Hyperdrive Systems, I’ve been made privy to some phenomenal sales training principles that were generated by someone I have a lot of respect for.  Eddie Coleman coined the phrase “conversion” back in the nineties, and was the first person who showed me that not only could I close more deals than I thought I could, but I could make more gross than I ever imagined possible.  His Mastery Council ™ principles have been implemented in stores across the country, and continue to make the difference for dealers who are brave enough to buck the ingrained trends.  I won’t share the secrets of his Shake ‘N Bake recipe here, but I will say that there is no doubt in my mind that what we teach completely changes the dynamic in the market for our customers.  It’s almost an unfair advantage that our customers gain.  And, because we’re market exclusive, we create clear winners.

That said, I’ll get to where I really wanted to go with this post.

About two months ago, I became aware of a video sales system that a long time acquaintance of mine has refined over the past two years.

Now I’ve used video for a long time.  I remember one of my dealers being all excited about the Flip camera a few years ago, and we started utilizing YouTube and attaching video to email to increase our conversion and our competitive relevancy.  It worked.  I’ll give the Flip supporters that.  It did work.

But this new thing, this Virtual Cyber Sales System(VCSS), this thing – it’s leagues beyond where we were with our Flip.  It took my friend Scott Tanner about 30 minutes to run me through the full presentation, and by the time he was done, I was hooked.  I have been looking for a tool that would enable me or one of my clients to completely differentiate ourselves from the competition and this, my friends, is it.

Scott Tanner had a dream.  Literally.  And in his dream, he was able to communicate in a wireless streaming video environment in real time with his sales prospects.  He went looking for and found one of the leading streaming video hosting companies in the world and two years ago, he partnered with them to bring his dream to life.

The Virtual Cyber Sales System (VCSS) is hands down, the most cost effective, time saving, lightweight yet powerful, high definition video broadcasting system on the market today that not only enables you to quickly record personalized HD video messages to your prospects and service customers, interface instantly with your Social Media profiles (FB, Twitter, and YouTube), post quickly to Craigslist, and allows to you broadcast LIVE.  That’s right, LIVE.

I’ll get into all the rest of the comparative advantages here in a minute, but the question was posed to me yesterday “aren’t there other devices out there that allow you to do that”?  My answer, was “Yes, but they’re prohibitively expensive” and/or more cumbersome to use.  The reality is that for about $8000 you could have a slightly smaller device that will transmit streaming video in HD – but you wouldn’t have many of the other features that you would with the VCSS.  And, for about double that amount, you could strap a backpack to your back and broadcast from just about anywhere on the planet if you could figure out how to use the thing, but here again, without the features that make the VCSS “so easy, a salesman can use it” (that’s a real quote from one of our dealers!)

Our goal, with the current configuration of hardware and software was to provide retail sales (not just automotive, we’re talking: RV, Real Estate, Yacht, Furniture, etc.) professionals with the ability to communicate in real time easily, quickly , and cost effectively.  NOTHING ELSE ON THE MARKET DOES ALL THREE.

Why can’t you do this with the hot new HD Flip camera?  Well, for one, Flip doesn’t stream live.  And, even without that handicap, it simply takes longer, sometimes much longer, to download a Flip video and process it for distribution.  Time is MONEY!  With the VCSS, your retail sales people literally have a green button for “go” and a red button for “stop” and they’re done with the device.  While they go process their video for distribution with a few clicks of a mouse at their desk, their team mate is out on the lot shooting his latest customer testimonial or showing that customer 500 miles away the features and benefits of your pre-owned “one of a kind” whatever it might be.

Now I had someone ask me “well, what about the dealers who believe that streaming live video defeats the intent of getting the customer into the store?”  That’s a great question!  The key to maximizing this tool is in the training and implementation that Tanner and our team provide.  Certainly, if your customer is 15 minutes away and inquiring about a specific vehicle, you’d be remiss to do a n in-depth walk around for him or her live – you’d NEVER want to do that!  But would you want to be the one to get back to them with a personalized v-mail in half the time it takes you to process one of your templated email responses or a Flip to YouTube video?  If we accept theory that he who responds first wins (which I don’t believe, but that’s another conversation) how about being FIRST with video??  You simply cannot do that with your Flip – it takes longer and there are more steps.  I have trained enough sales professionals in the last fifteen years to know what the barriers to use are.  If it is easy, they will try.  If it makes more car deals, they will try harder.  THAT is why the VCSS is in a league all its’ own when it comes to video solutions for the automotive industry.

So what about the iPhone or other handheld devices?  How do they stack up against VCSS?  They don’t.  Quite simply, these devices are limited by bandwidth, screen size, resolution, and power.  I mean, really.  I have a 46 year old friend who is a 2 handicap, but can he read a score card without his reading glasses? NO!  So how can we really expect the majority of our sales professionals to be able to process high quality video on a tiny little device?  And these devices simply don’t have the juice to do what the VCSS does.

Here’s the thing.  Everyone knows they should be using video.  Video represents a huge focus of SEO experts, marketing gurus, and social media mavens.  Video enables you to personalize your responses to the people who are expressing interest in doing business with you.  It shortens the purchase cycle because your prospects gain a clearer impression of who you are and what you’re about. You can sell your expertise, the culture of your dealership, and create more rapport – faster.  You can thank your customers, re-market to your customer base, promote causes and events that you support, solidify your social media relationships.  You can drive more appointments, sell more cars, sell more service, reduce your total cost per customer, increase your net profit and CSI.

So if you aren’t using video in all of these ways right now, why not?  And if you are utilizing video, is it fast?  Is it easy?  Do your sales people and service writers incorporate video into the fabric of their daily operations?

The Virtual Cyber Sales System was Scott Tanner’s dream, but it has become a reality and is being used in dealerships across the nation by sales professionals who want to lead, not follow.

So how does this relate to the first part of my post?  Well, ask yourself, in a competition for your prospect’s attention, how do you fare?  Are you a stand out?  Are you giving it your all all of the time?  Do you have something “more” or something “extra” that your competitors don’t have?

Video brochures are nice – how many of your competitors use them?  Response Logix auto response system is cool, and sure facilitates a solution to the iron fisted OEM requirements, but is it really a differentiator?  My fear, with tools like the ones I’m mentioning here, is that we’ll keep getting further and further away from what the car business is really about in the first place – YOU selling your prospect a car.  I don’t know of a better way for you to begin your selling process than by introducing yourself to your prospects via the VCSS.

I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff in the last fifteen years, but this is by far one of the best.  Ronsmap and vBack are right up there too, but that is also a different conversation.

Do you want to do better?  Do you want to convert more of your opportunities to do business into customers?  Do you want to generate more gross profit per deal?  Statistically, the Virtual Cyber Sales System is one of the products out there, available to you RIGHT NOW, that will enable you to accomplish your goals.  What are you waiting for?