It’s a tough market. Definitely getting better, but still a challenge to even the most seasoned, experienced dealers. Some of the dealers I’ve spoken with over the past few months have been trying new low-cost marketing ideas suggested by employees with varying degrees of success.
Tanya has been selling cars for five years. In 2010 she sold an average of 24 vehicles a month with the highest average gross of the dealership’s 12 person sales team. In the past year she has spent over $5,000 of her OWN money (which is expensed from a small business corporation she owns.) Tanya makes her own flyers which she includes in her Avon deliveries (Oh, did I mention she also sells Avon?). She delivers thank you fruit baskets personally to her customers. She speaks to women’s groups on the ‘best way for a women to shop for a car.’ Other than attending regular sales meetings, she sets her own schedule at the dealership. This year, the dealership has agreed to a 50% advertising coop, in addition to her own personal advertising expenses if she maintains the same rate of travel. She is considering hiring a personal assistant out of her own pocket. Her goal is 325 vehicles in 2011. Odds are she’ll do it.
Larry owns a small Chevy dealership he bought from his Dad in 2005. The dealership never sold more than 400 new vehicles a year in the 25 years his Dad owned it. In 2010 Larry sold 556 vehicles. He’s on track to sell over 700 this year.
Larry has taken ‘personal service’ to a whole new level. Don’t be surprised if Larry shuttles you home if your vehicle is in for service. In good weather Larry holds a VIP barbeque inviting recent customers and several of their friends. He has a small gift for everyone who attends. He allocates $4,000 a month to promotional activities such as his barbeques and gifts. This year he is planning several charity events, one a month, during his worst weather months. His customers can call his cell phone, email him or text him a message.
Some years ago I wrote about an idea from a dealer in Florida who sponsors ‘thank you’ breakfasts for service customers twice a month. When you arrive at the dealership for your service appointment, instead of being directed to a waiting area, you’re ushered to a conference room with a buffet of hot and cold foods. The dealer and key management are on hand from 7 a.m.until 10 a.m. to meet and greet customers and discuss their experiences at the dealership. Since I wrote that article I’ve had several dealers tell me they’ve copied the idea and it has been one of the best investments in the advertising budget in terms of measurable ROI.
A number of dealers have told me they have implemented customer-touch strategies in various departments with great success. One dealer has a hostess hand out coffee, juice, bagels, muffins and the newspaper to customers lined up at the service bay each morning. One very successful Ford dealer has hostesses roaming the sales floor between 2 and 5pm with lemonade and cookies. An import dealer has small bar codes on the right rear window of his customer’s vehicle that is scanned in the service drive which results in a text message sent to the sales manager that the customer is visiting the dealership along with the name, purchase date, salesperson and other pertinent data. What a nice surprise to drive up for service and within a matter of minutes get a VIP welcome from management. And what a great trade-up sales opportunity.
A few years ago I shared an idea with our agency’s clients: Send a morning email with a motivational quote from the dealer himself. One of our dealer clients (and a close friend after 20 years of doing business) has taken it a step further. He encourages team members to submit quotes and motivational ideas, which he also shares and gives credit to the contributor.
And here is the best of the best ‘cheap’ investment you can make to make your advertising strategy as successful as it can possibly be. Let your employees know what is going on! Not just your sales team, ALL of your employees. A simple email to all of your employees on Thursday, updating them on ad plans for the weekend or a posting on an internal website page. Or post the ads you’ll be running as a youtube video/audio file and an image of print or direct mail with a brief description of the message and media plan then send employees a link to the page.
If you are kicking off a new campaign or a major promotion, consider having a breakfast meeting on the Thursday prior. In attendance, the dealer, management, service writers, receptionist, the sales team, the ad agency rep and maybe your rep from your primary finance arm if available. Play the ads. Get people excited. Let them know there is going to be plenty of excitement out there. Get salespeople on the telephone immediately following the meeting, calling customers who have visited in the past month, giving them a heads up on the event and another reason to reconsider a purchase now. Tell those customers that even though the sale doesn’t start ‘til Saturday, they can take advantage of the best inventory and sale prices now! One dealership that employs this tactic on a regular basis has monster sales activity from the phone calls even before a dime is spent on media.
The key to success of these collateral marketing investments is up close and in person contact with both your existing customers and potential customers. Equally important is getting ‘buy-in’ from your team. At your next sales meeting talk about some of these ideas. Encourage team members to offer up their own ideas. Hand out a $20.00 bill for the best idea. Maybe dinner for two for an idea that’s submitted, implemented and really moves the needle.
The answer to advertising success is not always just throwing a few more thousand at traditional media or experimenting with an expensive creative idea with a short shelf-life. Sometimes just a few dollars, a little creativity, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm can make all the difference in the world.