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A few times each month, we come across new information from our screened panel of experts that somehow just makes sense in the overall scheme of things. We might even test it before promoting it, but you'll know that each post comes with a practical perspective for our industry.

12 Essential Disciplines for Today’s Modern Dealer

Estimated Reading Time: 30 minutes

There are endless ways to improve dealers, and do it quickly with the proper focus.  Listed below, please find a quick recap in a few sentences per area that are worth reflecting on to see where dealers are, or aren’t:

Project Management

Even used in the most basic of ways, project management tools keep good ideas visible and gets things done.  Some of these tools cost as little as $19 per month and help even today’s time challenged dealer employees become experts at developing plans the move dealers forward.  Visit www.basecamphq.com for a great example.

Business CRM systems

I used to use a term when managing my dealership, “garbage in, garbage out”.  It was a soapbox talk once each quarter about the importance of gathering contact information.  In exchange we vowed to use the data to their benefit. Loosely defined, a CRM system of any kind should enable every dealer to automate marketing and follow up processes, be connected to the website, push and manage leads and give management quick and easy ways to see who is doing what.

It should NOT require the sales staffs to become data entry clerks. If you did a survey of your dealers, how many are on their way to being effective in today’s hyper competitive environment?  Are there leading organizations within your organization you might point to to help replicate processes across the board?

Search Engine Optimization

The average dealer has very little chance to keep up with Google’s latest algorithm.  Search changes so fast, with video, Google Places, Google Plus, Social Networking and other critically important functions.  The average dealer is behind in the game before they start to play it.

But the fact remains… most consumers are using the internet, so how does each dealer find a company they trust that understands THEIR business and customers?  Find that partner and the internet can effectively double a sales staff and reduce overall marketing spend if a plan is put together to reduce current spend in other, dated media categories.

Sales Force & Marketing Automation

We are still fundamentally about relationships and personal closes.  However, how these relationships are now created and CAN be managed has fundamentally shifted and many of the available technologies are off the radar to our industry to keep our staffs OUT of the small, tedious follow up processes, and focused on the personal and closing aspect of sales.  The web and mobile give a dealer an opportunity to generate a massive amount of interest and follow up on auto-pilot in a completely error free way.

If you surveyed your dealers, would they be able to clearly articulate an understanding of this concept and point to consistent execution of this part of a plan?

Technician Recruiting & Retention

The labor pool of qualified techs is shrinking, but you’d be surprised to see Google’s analytics on the sheer volume of search traffic for “technician” related job terms.  We all know it… techs change jobs for a buck an hour, the wrong mood or working too many warranty or flat rate jobs.

Good internet strategy these days will include an employment landing page that is optimized with video, text and might include a local PPC campaign to drive them into a dealers page.  Keep the  pipeline full but telling them your story, getting to know them, they’ll get to know you and you’ll add consistency to this key aspect of running your business.  It is much more controllable than you think.

Lead Generation & Management

It’s worth pointing out that generating and managing leads, while connected to many of these disciplines, is a uniquely different set of processes that need to occur internally and externally at your dealerships.  We had a 16 point checklist we lived and died by, from calling back in 30 seconds to responding 4 times in 48 hours with an internet lead.

If you really dial in this aspect and take the guesswork out of it, it’ll pay off exponentially on all levels, from new sales through the aftermarket and beyond.  Define and develop these processes and take the guess work of a lead that can lead to sales and profits that pay for a lead generating campaign 1000X over!

Direct Response Marketing

This is the art of producing marketing material that tells a customer or prospect what to do.  It’s kind of like asking for the order, but you combine online and offline efforts to essentially tell someone where to go, what they’ll get, what’s in it for them and capturing their information.

Unfortunately, the art of writing headlines, sub-headlines, offers and calls to action on every part of a dealers marketing material is not done that consistently, so they lose a good opportunity to use some very cost-effective ways to create new customers.  Some basic fundamentals here go a very long way!

Graphic Design Companies

Good companies help a dealer create a great first impression, When they use a logo, images, web addresses, 800#, calls-to-action, offers and everything tied together so the dealer is not missing the key opportunities to trigger something within a prospect, they can help multiply the sales opportunities our reps miss when they’re not present.

When really done correctly, these same companies will help dealers plan to lower costs by printing multiple campaigns, or working with other dealers to lower costs.  They will genuinely act like they care about the dealer’s bottom line instead of just getting a check for the job completed.

Website Design & Development Companies

All companies are not created equal.  A good company will have a STRONG emphasis on development, Web 2.0 & 3.0 standards (social, mobile and user based designs), a clear understanding of the process a visitor goes through when visiting, a conversion strategy and the willingness to test and offer suggestions related to search and user behavior.  These same companies will proudly point to metrics that indicate success, and have many happy customers and testimonials.

If you used a typical set of dealer product/service search terms in each respective geographic area, it would depress you to see how few of the dealers are even on the first page, let alone the first position or two of organic, or natural search.  The get beat out by random articles, by accident really, and they literally have the ability to control ALL of this.

And, frankly, it’s pretty easy to do with a good plan and consistent management.

Database Management

Most dealer databases are a wreck.  The “management” more often falls to sales, IT, marketing, a little of this and a little of that.  If you used the USPS records to match addresses, you wouldn’t be surprised to have 35% or more not match records.

The contact information can be a mess, multiple contacts for the same record, a sales rep that left with his database and the company didn’t know half of what was was going on in the first place.  All of this can be remedied with an annual plan that ensures this discipline becomes part of a culture, not a “one off” annual event.  But, there’s that “plan” word again.  It simply takes discipline to understand the process and do something about it.

Customer Surveys

In today’s mobile world, how cool would it be to collect customer surveys in as little as minute, across all customer touch points, by employee and branch location and send a notification back to Human Resources when an employee is not doing their job?  Intervention is immediate, and powerful.

The customer survey methods that can literally drive a dealer’s customer satisfaction levels through the roof are there to be embraced, not run from or seen as one of those areas they get around to “eventually”.

Dealer Process Programs

I added this in at the end, because the art of sitting down and systematically identifying areas of improvement can, well, be improved!  Many employees have great ideas but are unwilling or unable given their location to come forward.

What methods are dealers using to collect employee input and systematically map out better processes that save time, money and keep employees happy?  It’s something that warrants looking at when we’re all tasked with doing more with less.

Of course, there is more to what is above, but I thought I would put this together to group some things together that helped my dealership move forward, and what I typically get asked about in one way or another.

To Your Success…