Say Goodbye to Short-Term Success with Shoppers
It was the early 1980s. My grandmother wanted a new car, and was dead set on a Volvo. Some of you might remember the “Built like a tank” campaign — she was hooked. Well, my grandfather was the one who made most of the car decisions in their household, and he wasn’t as sold on the Volvo. But you know the saying: Happy wife, happy life. So my grandfather went to his car guy — a dealer he bought from exclusively — and said, “Tell me about Volvos.” Now here’s the thing: His car guy happened to be a Chrysler dealer.
Why did my grandfather go to a Chrysler dealer when he knew he would end up buying a Volvo? Because he trusted him. And his car guy was happy to help because that trust went both ways — he trusted that he’d still have a customer after sending one off to buy a car from another dealership. Why? Because he’d invested in that relationship and he knew just how many sales opportunities my grandparents still provided for him. Not just in car purchases, but in service, in add-ons, in referrals to less-stubborn family members, in everything.
When’s the last time you heard a story like that? Probably the last time you talked to someone as old as my grandfather. We still need our “guys” today — our dentists, our tax guys, our lawyers (well, maybe some of you more than others!), our realtors. But you rarely hear someone talk about their go-to car dealer. Someone they trust enough to return to every time, and send their loved ones to, knowing they’ll be in the best hands.
There’s no shortage of dealers out there. But many, far too many, are focusing too much on short-term revenue and not enough on long-term relationships. I get it — it’s hard. Long-term relationships take time, and time is something we’re all short on. Plus, in today’s competitive environment, it’s hard to focus on anything that doesn’t show you instant results. But I’m telling you, the dealers with the best customer relationships are the best dealers out there today.
I know, I know … the word “relationship” makes some of us cringe. But when it comes to your customers, building relationships is surprisingly uncomplicated. And I’m going to break it down for you step by step, because I hope it becomes central to your 2015 strategy.
Step 1: Be the “Car Guy”
If you’re the guy who gets up in the morning to close deals, that might make you a good dealer. But it won’t make you anyone’s dealer in particular. And it won’t bring you more than a fleeting feeling of success. You want to be the car guy — the first person customers think of when they need to spend money on anything, from a new car down to a simple oil change. And remember, the car guy is helpful to his customers even when there’s no purchase on the line. After all, the entire ownership cycle is full of decisions to make, and not every customer likes making decisions alone. The little connections you make lay the foundation for repeat buys. Repeat service. And lots of referrals. That’s the guy you want to be, the guy who’s in it for the long haul.
Step 2: Redefine Success
When you look at your marketing efforts, how do you determine what works and what doesn’t? Is it about clicks? Opens? Visits? Sales? That’s all great, but that’s not enough.
These are things you check off on the way to real success. Real success today is a customer telling a golf buddy about a great experience at your dealership. It’s a new driver coming in for an oil change because his mom told him you’re the only shop she trusts. It’s taking a pass on the sale of one Chrysler because helping your customer, and your customer’s car-owning relatives, will get you the numbers you need in the long run. And when that becomes your definition of success, you need to redefine how you get there.
Step 3: Re-evaluate Your Tactics
When’s the last time you ran a campaign that wasn’t focused on immediate revenue? I’d guess the answer is never. This is a tough pill for dealers to swallow, but trust me — it’s not the way to go. A sale today is great, but not as great as repeat sales. Or regular service revenue. Or referrals. (Let your loyal customers work on your behalf!)
Your new best friend is the tool that helps you hang onto your real best friends: your customers. I’m talking about your database. This is where you want to invest both time and money — you want quality customer data accessible to every part of your dealership. You want everyone to know who the customer is, where they are in the cycle and what they need most, even before they know it themselves. You want to know how they like to be contacted, so you can cut through the noise, and they feel heard and understood. And then you want to be right there with them, from decision to decision.
Step 4: Find the Right Hooks
From now on, when you create campaigns, you have to keep every phase of the cycle in mind. Use that database to your advantage — Who’s ready to buy? Who’s driving an old car? Who’s coming in for service? Tell yourself and your team right now: No more mass communications. Show your customers you know them and their needs. Show them you value their time as much as their business. Show them why they’ll save effort and headaches and risk by coming back to you again and again.
Think of all the messages they’re flooded with, from other dealerships and from all the other “guys” out there. Yours will stand out if it’s the one they want to hear, and it comes through the channel they prefer. That’s what makes them feel heard, which is what matters most to them.
Speaking of feeling heard, I know what you’re thinking. You’re selling cars in a crazy environment. A noisy market, an ultra-competitive playing field. And here I am giving you four more things to focus on. But if this sounds like a lot to tackle — or like something you’d do if you had more time — let me make one thing clear. This noise, this craziness, is full of opportunity. Yes, you have to work hard to catch the attention of any customer, and yes, staying afloat sometimes seems like the top priority. But the cars on the road average almost 12 years old right now. That’s a lot of maintenance revenue, and a lot of new car sales opportunities. Get out there and catch some customers, then hang onto ’em using these tactics.