Dealers, WAKE UP! Seriously, it is time to wake up and take back control of our industry. Once again, we have hit a low point in the endless cycle of insanity. We have allowed too many “experts” tell us how our industry would work better if we only listened to them. And when I say, “Dealers, WAKE UP,” I am talking directly to dealer principals and/or general managers. Both OEM and independent dealers are missing their sales and profitability marks by completely missing their advertising and marketing marks.
Over the history of our industry and your actual, physical dealership(s), how many times have we shut down vendors begging to get into the finance office, parts department, sales process, the service drive, and on and on? I can still hear some schmuck when I was flying the desk in 2003 telling me, “If only you put this on your menu in the finance office, then tons of your customers will want this product.” In the good ol’ days, we all were too busy running a successful dealership with what we knew maximized our profit, volume and customer satisfaction. There was not time to explain to this “expert” about: Bank Calls, Difference between Front End and Back End adds, and not to mention our love-hate relationships with our prima donna Finance Manager. We all use to dismiss these so-called “experts” and could care less that they were shaking their head in bewilderment as they walked off our showrooms, thinking we were idiots. It never bothered us because WE KNOW our industry and we know how to sell vehicles, lots of them. For some reason, too many dealers are losing their swagger today.
Surprisingly, over the past five years (or more) I have witnessed dealers struggle to fully understand internet marketing which has now manifested into full blown digital marketing. While many dealer principals still have AOL email addresses, dot matrix printers in the finance office, and the “internet” manager, it makes sense why they are scratching their heads at all these digital marketing “experts” coming and going like chickens with their heads cut off. Consequently, our dealerships have become infiltrated with lots of classroom educated digital marketing “experts” that know absolutely nothing about our industry or why people really buy and sell their vehicles. The struggle is real and understandable, but it is time for dealers to WAKE UP!
First and foremost, as we tell our sales managers and sales staffs, so must we tell ourselves, “Go Back to the Basics!” When in doubt, isn’t that always the answer for most everything in life? Yes, it is always the perfecting of basics that makes us relevant and superior. Professional sales people do all the basics, all the time without even thinking about it. Somewhere along the line too many dealers have allowed outside digital “experts” (with ZERO advertising and auto dealership fundamentals) to convince them that they know best how to sell more cars. Read this closely, NO THEY DO NOT! They have never taken an up, they do not have a clue what a box close is (or why they are sometimes needed), and they most definitely do not know how to sell more anything in the car business, OUR BUSINESS. Make no mistake, they think they do and they truly want to, but they absolutely do not have a clue.
Why am I so crazed lately? Because it is so simple and dealers should know better. Yes, there are many very talented digital marketing firms and vendors available. They are talented in many technical ways that are not worth the discussion in this blog. For decades outside marketing vendors with zero automotive experience have too often taken statistics and dynamics that are important to other industries and have mistakenly assumed that they will work for selling vehicles. Again, they are dead wrong. The way consumers purchase grills, clothing, televisions, computers, and everything out there in retail space has never and will never be capable of being carbon copied to the automotive industry. The differences are obvious to those of us that have worked every Saturday and holiday, while the rest of the world relaxes with no real clue as to how hard we work to earn every ounce of profit.
Let’s go back to basics. What percentage of our customers will purchase a different make and model, color or option(s) then they originally had intended? If you ask 5 Car Fred on your showroom he will tell you, if he is awake, “None of them.” However, your real selling stud will tell you, “All of them.” How many times have we taken someone out of the service drive that was not in market to purchase, but they drove out in a new or pre-owned vehicle? How many times have you witnessed a sales person convinced their customer had zero money down and absolutely could not go over $300 per month; only to go in the finance office and come out with loan papers that shows they put $2,000 down and payments of $635 for 72 months? Show me a sales or finance manager who claims to know for certain if they have a buyer in front of them or not. Then I will show you an underperforming manager that should probably be fired immediately. The basics should remind us that we never know what a human being will or will not do when they decide they want something bad enough. Can I say it any louder? WAKE UP!
Automotive dealerships have most likely advertised more than any other family owned business in the history of the United States, and we were always good at it. We must get back to the basics. Dealership marketing strategies should nearly mirror our dearly coveted fundamentals every single time. Regardless of where we advertise and market to our prospective and/or repeat customers. Yes, we have moved from newspapers and mailers, to radio and television, and now to desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Indeed, how prospective customers receive our advertising messages has changed. Conversely with every ounce of my passion to sell vehicles, the fundamentals have not changed. That is what makes them fundamentals, THEY DO NOT CHANGE.
Is your current digital marketing vendor or representative telling you how to sell when they should be asking how they can help? Has your local radio or television representative miraculously become a digital marketing “expert”? In not such a direct fashion, are the digital marketing “experts” in front of you telling you how your bounce rate is too high, your CTR sucks, SEO needs to be much better, impressions do not matter, your website is a joke, your social media footprint is non-existent, and your tracking of absolutely every sale is critical? Surprisingly, while we were selling 300 plus vehicles a month without a care in the world, these “experts” have slowly convinced a growing number of successful dealers that the way we think to do it is all wrong today. You probably know what I think of opinions when it comes to running a profitable, thriving dealership.
As a quick response to these “experts” with their opinions, dealers must ask themselves. If impressions didn’t matter, why do we ever put a logo on a shirt? Why do we love balloons and inflatables? Why do we bother to have our salespeople clean their work area or even wear a tie? Why do we line vehicles up on the lot? Why would we ever sponsor an event, little league team or anything? Or if the bounce rate is too high, is it possible that your customers weren’t there to just browse your website? You see, these digital marketing “experts” do not understand and appreciate that if someone is on your lot or website for even a few seconds, they are BUYERS. What should we do with any sales person that tells us their customers were just looking? So then why are so many successful, knowledgeable dealers allowing these digital marketing “experts” to break so many of our sacred industry commandments? In another blog at another time or at one of my future 20 group presentations, I will go into much more detail about these roadblocks that digital “experts” unknowingly put in front of dealers.
So, what is really going on? Because the terms are so foreign to dealer principals and/or general managers the industry has allowed digital marketing “experts” to tell us about the world they understand and live in, without having a clue as how to sell more vehicles. When you give it real thought, it makes sense how this disaster has and is evolving. Yes, digital marketing is important and it is not going away. However, exhale, slow down and find an agency or representative that understands both the big picture and all idiosyncrasies of why and how our industry sells more volume while maximizing profit month after month. By seeking a true automotive focused agent with superior experience in both industries, all dealers would reap the benefits of having a hyper-focused, tunnel vision representative that is part of the solution and not the problem.
Advertising has always and should always begin with one simple philosophy. Tell the most amount of people about your dealership for the least amount of money possible. Then use common sense, creativity, urgency, and down right will to grow sales numbers, month in and month out. WAKE UP and quit letting “experts” convince you they know more about our industry, when they clearly DO NOT.
Author: Terry MacCauley
Terry MacCauley, Founder and CEO of Big Time Advertising & Marketing, has been directly involved in the automotive dealership industry for over 20 years. Previously managing OEM dealerships and now consulting over 50 dealerships nationally with all sales, advertising and marketing needs.