How does a stay-at-home mom – with no experience in selling cars, who threatened to drive her leased Expedition through a car dealership’s showroom window – land a great job as customer relations director at that same dealership, one of the best-rated Ford dealerships in New Mexico?
Her recipe for success was simple: Be spicy, deliver sweets, and just be Della.
Della Andersen, customer relations director at Rich Ford in Albuquerque, has confided in Digital Dealer magazine the quirky tale of her remarkable rise to her leadership position at Rich Ford – where she works with a highly successful team of Internet and telephone salespeople.
How did you get into the car business?
That’s a funny story. In 1997, I had leased an Expedition from Rich Ford and took a trip to Nebraska with my family. It was a nightmare. The car was a lemon. What normally would be a short drive back, took us 20 hours. The car kept breaking down.
As I drove into the dealership to complain, I thought about the Discount Tire Company commercial where the frustrated old lady shoves the tire through the store’s window.
I walked in and demanded to see the owner. Dennis Snyder stood up to shake my hand and what came out of my mouth was: “You know the Discount Tire commercial?’ He said, “Yes.” I said, ‘Well I’m going to drive my car through your blank-itty-blank window if you don’t get this Expedition off my hands! I’m sick of it.’ I just went off like a bat out of you-know-where. And, that’s how I met my future boss.
Wow, he didn’t hire you on the spot, did he?
No, he fixed my problem. Long story short, he said: ‘If you have any questions or concerns, I’m here for you always.’ So, my husband and I continued to bring our business there, and whenever I visited, I would always bring in cookies or brownies for the staff and Mr. Snyder.
Cookies and brownies – really?
That was a trait I picked up when we lived in Nebraska for three years. It’s farmland, and you don’t do anything but bake all day. If I was going to the gas station, I’d take cookies. If I went to Home Depot, and some salesperson was helpful, the next time I’d bring cookies to show my appreciation. So when I came to Albuquerque, I continued to do that. I like to make something, give it to somebody and see the surprise on their face. That’s the high that I get.
Certainly, it wasn’t the cookies and brownies that got you the job!
No. But, we continued to use Rich Ford to service our cars, and I’d always bring them sweets. Months passed. We needed a new vehicle, so we went to Rich Ford. But, the sales person didn’t offer me what I wanted in trade value, so I bought at another dealership.
Later on, I stopped by Rich Ford with bread I made for the service department and Mr. Snyder. He asked me how everything was going and I said we bought a truck the other day. He said, ‘Who’d you buy it from?’ I told him the competitor’s name and, oh my gosh, did I get myself in trouble. He said: ‘I cannot believe you did that. Please come to me and I’ll take care of you!’ He gave me this Daddy type lecture. And I said: ‘Yes, I’ll never go anywhere again but to you.’
So, I continued to stop by and one day he said to me: ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ I said, ‘Nope. I’m not going to be that person that stands by the door and just annoys the heck out of customers.’
So, I went to work for Wells Fargo. Didn’t like it. Then I went to work for the county. Every time I saw Mr. Snyder for the next two years, he’d say: ‘Come work for me.’
The tipping point came in February 2000: We only had one truck, and my husband was going on a work trip. So I called Mr. Snyder to rent a vehicle. He said we don’t do that, but what do you need it for? I told him. He said, ‘I’ll have something for you tomorrow.’
Next morning, I brought Mr. Snyder homemade bread, and he said: ‘See the Expedition out there? It’s full of gas. Use it as long as you need it.’ He wouldn’t take any money. He said, ‘I want to make sure you are completely satisfied with your experiences here. Obviously you weren’t, because you bought somewhere else. I want to earn your business again.’
I thought to myself: Who does that? How does someone just give you a vehicle for nothing? His efforts to be of service were so sincere and genuine. Well, that’s how he finally convinced me to come work for him.
Did you have any experience in car sales?
No. I was a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t know anything about selling cars. But, when I came to work here, Mr. Snyder let me be Della – not the sales people, not Mr. Snyder, but Della. He said: ‘That’s why I want you, because you have so much spice in you there’s no way anyone could change you. You’re genuine.’
So, I was a salesperson for five years. Mr. Snyder was my mentor and taught me a lot.
How did you progress into Internet sales management?
I fell off a horse — my fourth year here, while riding with my kids. The horse fell on top of me and broke my hip. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get around as well in the winter, so I asked Mr. Snyder if I could work in the fleet department, so I wouldn’t have to work outside.
He countered and said: ‘We have another position for you – customer relations director. You have great follow-up and customer service satisfaction scores and you’re always on top of things.’ (Except for the horse!) Mr. Snyder and our Vice President, Darin Wade, put me in charge of the phones, and the Internet sales, and the CRM. So my broken hip caused a chain reaction.
What does your Internet sales department do best?
That would be our quick response to leads and our long-term follow up procedures.
As soon as we get a lead, they get an automatic response email, and we call them in 10 to 15 minutes. If we don’t reach the consumer right away, we send another email with information on the model they inquired about, plus a model up and down, and we also suggest a used vehicle. We continue over the next few days and weeks with intensive follow-up.
We regularly follow up for 180 days, but sometimes, we’ve followed up a year and a half or more with customers, via our IMN newsletters and e-mail contact through our Reynolds and Reynolds Contact Management.
Customer feedback has been: ‘I wasn’t ready to buy when I inquired a long time ago, but you kept sending me newsletters and emails and I thought of you when I did go looking for a car.’
It was Darin Wade, Vice President, who has been with Rich Ford for 18 years – I call him Mr. Analytical – who taught me how to do follow up, when I first started here. He showed me his system over a three-day period.
I would follow his process to a ‘T.’ I would send out letters, call customers, and send ‘thank you’ notes. I’d send follow-up letters six months, a year later, etc. Pretty soon, I had customers buying cars from me two or three times a year — for themselves, their friends or their families. I went from selling four cars a month to selling eight to 10 cars a month.
As a salesperson, I tracked and did all this follow-up myself. When I became customer relations director working with the Internet team, I had never used the Reynolds and Reynolds CRM – Contact Management – that the people I would be working with were using.
I never knew what had been in Contact Management, because I hadn’t taken the time to learn it. I was like an old dog that didn’t want to learn new tricks. So I had to overcome a few hurdles.
We have four Internet sales people, two Internet sales managers, two phone managers and one person that works service, but we are all multi-taskers. Our two locations – the Albuquerque store and the Edgewood satellite store – run off the same inventory, DMS and CRM and all the phone calls get fed into Albuquerque. If it’s a phone lead, it goes through our BDC. If it’s an Internet lead it goes into our CRM automatically, and then goes to round robin.
We take care of the service bay calls and reappointments. We call customers to see if they’ve had a good experience and to remind them of their next service. So, we get them back in the door. That’s been a big success for us. You sell the customer one time, but you service them three or four more times a year. That’s why our CRM is so important.
Now, I’d tell any Internet manager starting out in the business: Make the most of your CRM! It’s there for your dealership, more so than for your customers and sales people. If your sales people and BDC put good information in there and you have your processes in place, you’ll reap the rewards. If any sales person leaves, you’ll still have that sales person’s customer information in your database.
Rich Ford has been using the Reynolds and Reynolds Contact Management for more than 10 years now and it interfaces perfectly with our DMS, which is also Reynolds and Reynolds. When you have a DMS and CRM talking to each other efficiently, that’s the best thing you can do for your store, your employees and your customers.
I have to say Contact Management is very easy to use and if you have a question, Reynolds and Reynolds’ customer service is totally amazing. They help you six days a week.
Contact Management does the job for us. There’s no doubt. We use it for all sorts of follow up, including unsold follow-up. In March, we had close to 50 unsold leads in our CRM and sold 27 vehicles from those leads – the benefits of that kind of tracking and follow-up are obvious.
It seems you were reluctant to use technology in the past, but your attitude has definitely changed.
Oh yes, and now my biggest challenge is keeping up with the latest digital technology. The texting, the mobile web sites, the Google Ad Words, the Google Analytics – you’ve got to be one step ahead, because that one customer using new technology will become 10 customers, then 50 customers, then 150 customers and more by the end of the year.
How do you keep one step ahead?
Two ways: By reading my Digital Dealer magazine and by going to my Digital Dealer Conferences. That first Digital Dealer Conference I went to two years ago was like a wake-up call. Where have I been?
It is so awesome to go there and be with peers — GMs, Internet directors, BDC directors – and each one of you is learning best practices from the other. You get a couple of pointers here or there, and there’s no way you can implement everything. But, if you hear about 20 best practices, and you come back to your dealership and you’re able to implement five of them, you’re better off than you were before.
Plus, I’ve built a network of experts and that’s important. I met Rechelle Gryparis from IMN at the Digital Dealer Conference and that turned out extremely well.
There are several third-party vendors that are my biggest assets, and IMN is one of them. IMN creates a custom newsletter for us every month that is emailed to our head of household customer and prospect list.
Our newsletter talks about Ford cars, specials at our dealership and a little bit about what’s going on this month in New Mexico – lifestyle stories, recipes, etc. – so it’s very appealing and is widely read. With this exposure, every time our customers and prospects think about buying a car, they’re going to think about Rich Ford.
And, Rechelle is awesome. She just gives, gives, and gives. She’s always there to help me out. IMN is an awesome vendor.
Black Book Online is another awesome vendor. We use them for trade appraisals. It’s so amazing. We get so many sales leads from Black Book Online, when prospects use it to check on trade-in value.
Where else do you get your Internet sales leads?
We get quite a few leads from FordDirect, and we get a large portion of our leads from our e-commerce web site, www.rich-ford.com and that’s it!
March was our best month so far this year, with 1,700 leads total. Out of those, 875 were from my department, with 467 from the Internet, and the rest were phone or magazine leads from ads in local publications, such as New Mexico’s My Car and Truck Magazine. We don’t do newspaper ads, but we do TV and radio and those also bring in leads.
Mr. Snyder does radio spots every morning at 6:30 on the top shows and stations, and people come to the dealership and say: ‘I heard Mr. Snyder on the radio talking about a certain vehicle and I want to buy it.’ That happens every day!
In all, we convert our sales leads to sales at a rate of 10%. There’s no doubt we felt the recent economic downturn, but we always stayed in the black and this year we are skyrocketing in leads and sales!
You highlighted your e-commerce site as a very efficient lead producer. What makes it work so well?
We consistently drive traffic to our e-commerce site. Every ad, every TV or radio commercial, and every single thing on our building says come visit us at Rich-Ford.com. We advertise our web site on everything that goes out – e-mails, newsletters. The web site URL is linked to everything we do. People remember a consistent message.
Plus, ADP hosts our e-commerce site and drives traffic to it by managing our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and our Search Engine Marketing (SEM). They are also one awesome vendor! If you Google: Ford Albuquerque, we are at the top of the page. People love Google. That’s where you want your brand to be visible.
How do you handle social media?
ADP also helps us with social media and online reputation management. ADP works with us on Facebook, Twitter and DealerRater.com, and they manage our dealership’s social media community: www.rich-ford.org.
Social media is not something you develop for instantaneous rewards. It gives you benefits down the road. You build relationships with consumers, so the next time they buy a car, they’ll think of Rich Ford.
We’ve had several people complaining on Facebook. We contacted these customers and said we were sorry they had a bad experience. We got one of them to come in and we sold him a car two days later. We’ve also had people discover us through their friends on Facebook and come in and buy from us.
We have 96 reviews on DealerRater.com and a 4.8 rating out of a possible 5.0 for customer service, quality of work, friendliness, overall experience, and price. After each sale, we send an email out to the customer with links to Google, DealerRater.com and Edmunds.com and ask the customer to rate our service.
We’ve had plenty of awards recently, and over the years, to attest to our success as well. We’ve been a Ford Top 100 Volume dealer for 25 years, and a Ford President Award Winner for 2010. We rank 48th nationally among the 3,500 Ford dealers. And, we are the number one dealer in the Phoenix region and we were among the top 100 e-Commerce Award winners for Ford nationally in the last three years.
Another part of our recipe for success is the longevity of our team and the dealership itself. This year Rich Ford is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Mr. Snyder has been our GM for 35 years, and our Vice President, Darin Wade has been here for 18 years. We even have an employee who started here 50 years ago as a mechanic and he’s still working as our Service Greeter, Wes Dubriel. So we have a great spirit of teamwork and great feeling of continuity from our founder, Mr. Rich Richardson, who passed away a few years ago. I’m a relative newcomer and I’ve been here 12 years.
Another ingredient in Rich Ford’s recipe for success is Ford’s leadership under Alan Mulally. That is one man who totally amazes me. He’s saved Ford in so many ways: he’s provided leadership in quality, safety, and technology. He is the person who made the difference for us as dealers. He’s very humble and down to earth. I met him in Detroit at a meeting on the Ford One Plan that he put together; he talked about one team, one plan, one goal, and he has stuck by that, and my hat’s off to Alan Mulally for making a difference.
And that’s why I joined Rich Ford, so I could make a difference. I love the car business. There’s nothing that better suits me and my personality. When a customer buys a car from Rich Ford and Della Andersen, I make a difference in their lives.