The Terminator franchise has been one of the most successful entertainment series in history, ranking up with the Toy Story trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are Amish, and haven’t seen the Terminator, it starts in the near-future where an artificial defense intelligence system becomes self-aware. After the scared military operators tried to pull the plug, the system (Skynet) decides that humans pose a threat, and summarily launches a nuclear assault on humanity. It’s just the type of stuff you want to talk about with your kids before bed. I’ll be back to the Terminator reference in just a bit.
As with last year, SXSW Interactive had some real face-melting presentations. Whether it was in the title or not, geolocation, virtual display of reality, speech recognition, gesture input, and artificial intelligence pervaded many of the sessions. What this means is that location-based services are about ready to go into overdrive. Although, I know a lot has been written regarding location-based services (LBS), including a recent piece by Joe Webb and DrivingSales’ Eric Miltsch, I got to hear about the future of these services from those who created them. I'm here to tell you, those services are not as simple as they seem.
At face value, these applications look like games, or a means to get hammered with your friends in Vegas. However, most of these tools have already moved beyond the game element, and are starting to drive value for retailers. The key thing you need to understand is that these platforms that we are using today are not permanent. The current technology still cannot support the true potential. Most of the LBS technology we are using today will be obsolete in a matter of months, and will be utterly antique within a decade. The millions of users who use LBS technology everyday will continue to jump from platform to platform because they find it valuable. So while I won’t get hung up on the platforms or the different services, I will tell you this: If you are not using LBS, you will be ignored.
Why would I make such a bold statement? The answer is simple: In just a matter of months, augmented reality hardware will be widely available. For those of you who have seen the Terminator, you will soon have the means to see like the Terminator. You will be able to scan objects by simply looking at them, with relevant data popping up in your vision to help you make decisions. Military jets have utilized this technology for a few decades, projecting critical data onto heads-up displays, and even a few cars have adopted this technology. Soon services such Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Wolfram Alpha, and Foursquare, can, and likely will, supply their data directly onto your eyeball. People won’t just see a car lot anymore - they will see OEM information, vehicle data, pricing matrices, incentives, customer comments, and ratings - all without lifting a finger
Before you quit your job, realize that this technology can also be used to your advantage. Remember that CRM your manager has been bugging you about? What if that technology was leveraged in an augmented reality environment? Imagine if a customer’s name, current vehicle, time of last interaction, service visit frequency, website activity, family information, etc., appeared right next that customer as soon as you looked at them. How much easier would your job be? Would you start taking better notes if the information would automatically be recalled later? Would you terminate skating coworkers? I bet you would.
The good news for some, and the bad news for others, is that augmented reality will be available to the masses come Christmas time. Google will be offering glasses that will be connected to your Android device, and will project its Places and Latitude data into the users field vision at the end of the year. Other hardware and software is being evaluated, and will available next year. Contact lenses offering the same technology have already been tested, and will soon follow. Even without the glasses, there are already enough smartphones for nearly every man, woman, and child in the world, and the technology exists to automatically display alerts on those phones. The Internet age is just hitting its stride.
How do we prepare for this onslaught the future? By being better today. Claiming your dealership’s Foursquare/Places/Yelp/etc. location is the first step, and frankly it’s not enough. Understanding the users behavior is the next, and most crucial, step. Even without adding users as friends, you can still gather data about their destinations, achievements, tips, and how many friends they have. If you are able to “friend” them, you can uncover more useful information. Understanding how to navigate this information will allow you to see how your customers interact, what they may say about you, and find out how loyal they are to other businesses. All of this information needs to recorded. Right now people have to take the time to gather information about your dealership. YOU must begin capturing just as much data and developing just as much software before you get overrun as it will be the only thing to save you in the future. There is no avoiding it. Take advantage of today’s technology before customers can gather information automatically, tomorrow.
Ignoring technological advances does not make them go away. Consumers take advantage of new technologies every single day. They buy a car every three years. By not embracing these changes, you accelerate the way these changes impact your business. You have created several opportunities for other companies to exploit your desire to keeps things the same. Don’t let the machines beat you. Take every opportunity to learn about new technologies on your own. Use change to your advantage. As it is with the Terminator, technology will just keep on coming. You can’t stop it.
Periodically, we receive an email or a phone call from an ISM wanting to know how to increase their closing ratio from 30% to 40%. I often have to bite my lip in order to prevent myself from laughing hysterically. Invariably, I start to ask how that dealership is measuring its closing ratio. However, as I am asking that question, I am always asking myself why isn’t there a standard equation for measuring closing ratio?
Let’s think about other forms of measurement, for a second. Although arbitrarily determined, units of measurement have been defined, agreed upon, and accepted for almost everything you can think of. Temperature, length, weight, sound pressure, luminescence, even spiciness, can all be measured. Why? Among many reasons, it’s a way of replicating a result. Imagine Shaq’s “pinch” of salt vs. your grandmother’s, and you’ll get the point. Without using standard units of measure, we can’t replicate the results that another has experienced.
If we can’t replicate the results of another’s success, how can we improve upon it? We’ve all been to conferences where one ISM tells another ISM that he’s closing at a 17.48% closing ratio, while another ISM is stating that they are closing at a 103% closing ratio, while another ISM walks up to them, and quizzically mutters that they are only closing 4%. Who’s right? They all are. Why? Because every ISM seems to have their own equation for calculating their closing ratio.
The simplest measure of closing ratio is sales divided by opportunities (leads) in a given time-frame. I refer to this as a Gross Closing Ratio (GCR). Many times, this simplest of closing ratios, yields a result that isn’t good for one’s self esteem (given the traditions of bigger is better bragging rights in the car business). Self esteem can be further battered by going to a conference, or from reading the different forums, where people can endlessly brag about their closing ratios without the substantiation of results and equations, or divulging their lead-source mix. So ISMs the world-around create complex equations to measure closing ratios that show impressive results so that they can feel like they can offer comparable results.
I have totally been guilty of this. When I first started in the business (before the magazines and forums), I came up with a formula to measure my monthly performance. I copied and pasted the data from the lead buckets in CarPoint (then AVV, and then BzTrack) onto a spreadsheet. I created an equation that netted out all of the leads that were not true opportunities that month (i.e., bogus contact information, people searching for credit approval, people who were 30+ days out, etc.). In my mind, I wanted measure myself against the guys on the lot, and I figured that they didn’t get the same “riffraff” I did. I would divide this number by sales, and miraculously, I closed as well as the most seasoned lot-guy we had. It also gave me a 11-13% bump compared to my GCR. Too bad I didn’t have an Internet forum to share my triumphs on.
However, as I moved on to corporate Internet process development, and then on to technology, I came to realize what the lack of standards really means. When I began to start reading the emerging automotive Internet sales forums, and especially after I started attending the conferences, it didn’t take long to realize that there were no hard-and-fast rules on how to calculate closing ratio. At the risk of causing a stir, I’d go as far as to say it borders on urban legend for some. Given the fact that I’ve analyzed data for well over 400 franchises, just counting the corporates, I’d say often times retail personnel and their management are presented the statistical outliers, as opposed to the norm. Since there is no universally recognized or sanctioned equation to measure automotive Internet sales closing ratio, everyone is right. This is tantamount to declaring myself the tallest person in the world, but not using feet or meters as a measurement, or offering any mathematical equivalent. Without agreeing on the math, we cannot objectively compare anyone’s results, let alone replicate them.
The automotive Internet sales closing ratio is just one measurement that could use standardization. I am hoping that at some point in my lifetime, or before the Yellowstone volcano erupts, we will have a sanctioning body to govern our automotive Internet sales standards. If you honestly want to help someone get better, be more transparent with your calculations so that they can better measure themselves against your success. If we all use the same math, and you’re still on top, then you can shout it from the rooftops. In the meantime, keep asking questions about how your peers are calculating closing ratio; what leads to include or exclude; what time-frames to consider. It’s OK to call BS. Let’s come up with an equation that everyone can agree upon. Here’s looking at you, shorties.
Back and forth. Up and down. Back and forth. Up and down. Back and forth goes the salesperson negotiating with the customer. Up to the sales manager’s desk the salesperson walks and then back down to their desk they go with another price. Another attempt. This volley with the customer has become archaic and antiquated. It is disliked and disgusting. The days of penciling deals over and over must end.
No more No. 2. No more pencils. That strategy is done. It’s finished. Someone tell your sales managers. Break into their desks and steal the pencils and multi-colored Sharpie markers. The consumer has moved beyond this tired strategy and is ready for new days of selling! Stop the negotiating with customers and start the educating.
It is time your sales managers and sales people end the rigmarole they’ve used for years and do away with how they’ve penciled deals. Instead, your managers and salespeople must learn how to overcome objections and negotiate through education. The consumers are coming in with very specific expectations and very detailed research. Why put them through the constant back and forth? Instead, you must utilize the online resources and data at your (and the customer’s) disposal to validate the price you charge.
Dedicate yourself to understanding what all is available to your consumers online and begin using the third-party data as evidence to defend the price you are charging. I’m not advocating a one-price solution here. Negotiation is still allowed and going for gross is still acceptable, but be prepared to answer the “WHY?” question when it arises with real data.
We have now entered the era of Validation Selling. (Yes, I’m coining a new term here). We must prove the reason we price our vehicles by utilizing the data they already have. Moreover, we must eliminate the tactic of writing down our offer on a half-blank sheet of paper with markers and pens and begin presenting our figures on a fully-printed out pricing proposal. All figures must be entered into the CRM and printed out as if it were an official contract. This must happen from the very first offer. Having it printed and available in a clean format lends credence to the numbers your sales team present. Certainly more validity than a four-square with $24,995 scribbled across it in thick blue ink.
Get on board with Validation Selling. Throw out any previously-held beliefs that the customer still enjoys the ‘back and forth, up and down, crossed-off price here and slightly lower price penciled there’ strategies that you’ve grown accustomed to. Educate yourself and then educate the customer with online, third-party data – or be prepared to overcome it. You will sell more vehicles and build a quality customer sales experience at the same time.
This is how to sell vehicles in 2012 and beyond. Education over Negotiation. DealerKnows are the Validation Selling Specialists. Let us explain it to you.
A couple weeks ago, I was brought in to consult with a dealer group on the East Coast. As with most people, I passed the time by reading a book. On this particular trip, I read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. One of the concepts that is used throughout the book, is the Pivot, and the practice of pivoting. In essence, pivoting is understanding your original vision is flawed, gathering all the information gleaned while discovering the flaws, and moving in another direction to maintain a growth trajectory. In layperson’s terms, it’s setting off in one direction, realizing you are lost, and remembering the land marks you passed to get back in the right direction. Without realizing it, we pivot continuously throughout our daily lives, however we rarely apply that concept to our businesses.
On the flight home, I realized that many dealerships have never pivoted since they created their Internet operations. The management took (what they understood at the time to be) best practices, and utilized what resources they had available to build an Internet program. For some, it was round-robining the leads to the traditional sales staff. For others, it was creating an Internet Department. Yet others, thought a BDC would work best for them. From an outsider looking in, it looks like many dealerships ordered the Processus du Jour and are still suffering the from the indigestion.
Let’s eat something a little more digestible. We were all taught from a young age that plants need sun, soil, water, and air to grow. If that were really the case, we could take that free fruit basket that your lead provider sent you for Christmas, dump it out behind the employee parking lot, and grow a lush orchards of biblical proportions. If you’ve utterly failed at gardening like me, you understand that soil composition, species, climate, shade, moisture, insects, ground cover, nurturing, and many other elements play a critical role in the success or failure of a garden (luckily my wife loves to garden!). Simply taking seeds, and planting them in the soil is not enough. Sometimes a transplant will suffice, while other times, you have to till everything under, and wait for next year. Gardeners make hundreds of pivots every growing season to maximize the fruit of their labor (shameless pun), just like car dealers should be making hundred of pivots to maximize human resources, tools, customer service, and Internet market growth.
Operating a car business online is not a decision: It’s a commitment. You can’t just align your staff, create a department, throw the seeds in the backyard, and expect immediate success. You need to make mistakes to learn. You need to pivot when know you’re heading in the wrong direction. Just because it works for someone in your 20 Group, doesn’t mean an orange tree is going to grow in Wyoming. Make a commitment, fail fast, learn from your mistakes, and make the necessary decisions before it becomes too expensive, or worse, becomes too late.
Now go make your garden grow!
It used to be as a Dealer Principal or manager; you would consider yourself lucky to have a salesperson willing to make an outbound sales call, and even luckier still, if the sales person actually asked for an appointment. I have filled out hundreds and hundreds of Internet forms over the past year, and have noticed a new breed of salesperson. This eager, yet untrained, salesperson gladly picks up the phone, confidently dials a number and charges though that call with little or no knowledge of what the customer wants or needs. None of this matters to “Johnny-on-the-phone”, for he is in a race against himself towards an appointment. I am hearing untrained sales people very proudly and abruptly demanding an appointment within 20 seconds of the call. Believe it or not, I see salespeople do the same thing online. Being so bold as to ask for an appointment in an auto-responder. I have even see salespeople ask for an appointment at the end of every email exchanged regardless of the message of the email. It’s fine to focus on an appointment, but don’t charge through your opportunities and ask for an appointment without even addressing the customer’s needs. We appreciate the effort, “Johnny-on-the-phone”. We know you mean well, just… stop.
You need to be prepared to have an actual conversation, via phone or internet. The (again) untrained, but well-meaning salesperson knows this, and will use the weakest technique in the book: “Do you have any questions?” Of course they have questions, why else would they even bother to contact your dealership? Assume what those questions will be and be prepared to answer proactively. Face it… customers are already asking questions; you just might not realize it. They are clicking on buttons with labels like: “Request more info” “Get a Quote” or “Get Financed”. They are leaving comments about their needs. By making them repeat themselves, the customer may think you are playing “hard-to-get” with the information they are looking for, or they will simply think: “Wow. This dealership really isn’t listening.” The 5 little words, “Do you have any questions?” while well intended, can do more harm than good.
Developing rapport over the phone or internet is not easy, so take every opportunity to show the customer you are listening and make a good impression. Be more specific and lead into your questions: “I like the color of this one, what drew you to it?” Be ready and able to engage in an actual conversation about the vehicle by doing some research on it before you pick up the phone to make the call. You must be prepared to build some momentum over the phone and bring the customer to a place where they want to come in.
Having filled out hundreds of those Internet forms, I have had those 5 words thrown at me 75% of the time. My first response is usually: Well I already asked for a question… what’s the price?”. The untrained salesperson usually responds with” “My Internet manager didn’t tell me that.” or “That information wasn’t on there.” Both excuses are Bullshit. Get the information. It exists somewhere and it is up to you to hunt it down. Your contact management tool or Internet lead provider is the best place to start if you are not sure how to find it yourself. If you rely on another person to share contact information with you, make sure you ask the questions: “What form did this customer fill out? Were there any comments with it?” Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. We are in the information age after all, and you are the only one to blame if you are uninformed.
As the vilification train continues to carry-on full steam ahead (not going to mention the hated company du jur), I ask myself, why aren’t dealers looking at themselves in the mirror? No one holds a dealership at gunpoint to utilize their products. I know I rant about this a lot, but when are we, as an industry, going to take responsibility for our own actions? We research every facet of our business, yet don’t take the time to research the people we do business with. For an industry that practically invented selling, we get duped all of the time.
Instead of grabbing our torches and pitchforks every time an outside company wants to disrupt the car business, let’s instead think of all of the reasons companies want to replace automotive sales people (they regularly get outside funding to do this, for $#&@’s sake). Let’s reflect on why the general populace has such a skewed and negative prejudice towards the dealer community. Let’s stop thinking in terms of PVR and start thinking total lifetime value of a customer. Let’s lift ourselves up.
Whether we like it, or not, the world has changed. Pandora’s box is already open. We can’t go back. Let’s embrace the continuing change in buying habits (REMEMBER: Every minute, people gladly pay more not to shop at Walmart, eat at McDonalds, or drink Maxwell House). Let’s add value. Let’s earn our money. Let’s set a benchmark in reputation. Let’s take away all of the negative ammunition anyone can use against us (venture capital money, or not). Let’s stop being the victim.
The best days are ahead of us, friends. Are you going to be a driver or a passenger?
We have already established that communication via telephone is not the most natural form of communication. That being the case, I have heard hundreds of salespeople ask questions that have nothing to do with the task at hand (setting an appointment). Before you ask a customer a question over the phone, first ask yourself this: “Does the answer to this question get me any closer to an appointment?” Here are the top 5 questions NOT to ask an inbound sales call.
Your top sales people have spent their careers fine-tuning their selling skills. Since communicating over the phone is so unnatural for some, they simply default to the sales skills in which they have experienced success with. I hear them say a lot of things that would be best said on the showroom floor. They tend to steer the conversation into a place that is comfortable for them. I have noticed the skill set employed by these sales people seems to be the presentation of the vehicle. With a customer on the floor, giving a detailed vehicle presentation and demonstration would only make sense, after all it is one of the components that pave the way to a sale; That said, it’s pretty pointless over the phone. Reading a mundane list of features, or even worse, a build sheet, to someone over the phone is boring. Obviously, those details are far more impressive to see than to hear. I realize the vehicle description is not a question, but it’s still not something that is going to get you any closer to an appointment.
Generally, after a salesperson has read off a list of details, I hear them ask the customer: “Does this sound like something you would be interested in?” This leads me to the second pointless question: “Does this sound like something you are interested in? Considering the fact that 86% of people end up buying a vehicle other than the one they initially inquired about, the answer to this question isn’t going to make a difference as far as an appointment is concerned. On the showroom floor, the answer would lead to paperwork, and ultimately a sale. On the phone, it only leads to awkward silence.
Number three on the list of worst questions to ask a customer: “Is this going to be for you?” These days, it’s pretty common for a someone to employ a friend or family member to call a dealership and inquire about a vehicle on their behalf for any number of reasons. Mostly, because the potential buyer is afraid of; or is intimidated by, “car sales people”. Either way, the buyer, who has asked their Dad to call your dealership, has decided you need to sell Dad before you can sell them. So, untrained salespeople ask the caller this pointless question hoping for what? How do you plan to proceed with the conversation with a yes or no answer? Asking the caller if the vehicle is for them is not going to get the buyer on the showroom floor any faster or easier. When I hear a sales person ask this question, all I can think of is that they are afraid they may have to do more work. Guess what, it’s your job, so get to work! Assume the person on the phone is the buyer and sell the appointment. Sure, you may have to sell an entire extended family on an appointment before you get a chance to sell the buyer, but the one willing to go the extra mile will get the sale.
Number four on the list of Worst Questions is also a sign you have a lazy salesperson: asking about credit scores, or financial situations. It’s too soon! Let me set a scene for you. During a call, something is said that gives the salesperson the impression that the caller has poor or no credit. Something like: “I need a payment under $150 a month” or “Do I need a cosigner for that $129 a month lease I saw on TV?” Once the salesperson has used their magical mind reading skills and decides within 20 seconds that there is no way this caller could EVER buy a car, they set themselves to the task of talking the customer out of visiting the Dealership. There is no way on earth you can determine whether or not a person can buy a vehicle without that person in front of you on the showroom floor. Nor can you convince them to do anything such as borrow money for a down payment, or ask a friend or family member to cosign for them if there is no value built in the vehicle. If you have this potential customer in front of you, you can develop deeper rapport with them and advise the customer to go to any of these measures. The customer will also have more emotion for a particular vehicle once they have been given a full vehicle demonstration along with a demo ride. You need to have the attitude that you are going to sell a vehicle to every single caller, regardless of the potential obstacles you may have to overcome along the way. Most importantly, you can’t sell them anything unless you’re able to sell an appointment first.
Finally, topping off the list of the 5 worst questions to ask a phone up is: “When are you looking to buy this thing?” Asking this question is a great way to get a customer to put their guard up. It puts pressure on them and causes them to distrust you. Assume and proceed as if the caller is planning on buying today. If they are asking for a price on a new vehicle, quote them with the price of the car today, even if it is the last day of the month and you know incentives or finance rates are due to change tomorrow.
You should always have a reason as to why today is the best day to buy. The reason doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to price either. Perhaps you are having a big sale today, or your manager is in a FANTASTIC mood today, or you are giving away free oil changes today. There is an average of 30 days in a month, so try to come up with 30 reasons as to why today is the best day. This way, you also have a reason to follow up with a customer until they make a purchase. Keep yourself focused on an appointment on the phone, and save those great sales skills for the showroom floor.
It occurs to me regularly that many times we are rewarded in the life for things that we may or may not deserve. We slip into a close parking spot after someone just drove by it. We get pulled over for speeding and avoid a ticket. We use gambling winnings to pay down debt. In many situations we can do everything wrong, but in the end, we still receive a reward for our actions.
I equate this activity to the way airlines treat air travel. When you boil it down, the airline’s job in the equation is to get you to a destination (it doesn’t have to even be the one on your ticket), alive and unscathed. It doesn’t matter when you get there, or even how you get there. Wherever “there” may be, if you make it, the airline chalks up a W.
What happens to you, personally, physically, or emotionally, doesn’t really matter in the equation. If you have to wait three hours longer than intended to board the plane, it doesn’t matter. If they run out of water on the flight, it doesn’t matter. If your connection is cancelled, requiring a day or more of layover, it doesn’t matter. If your luggage is lost, it doesn’t matter. If you have a nervous breakdown on the flight, as long as you don’t appear to be a threat, it doesn’t matter. As long as the plane takes off and touches down without disintegrating in the process, the airline chalks up a W. The passenger chalks up an L.
This same scenario, albeit less dramatic, takes places every day at car dealerships around the nation. Despite dropping the ball repeatedly throughout the entire sales process, if a vehicle (any vehicle) rolls over the curb, it’s a W. Like the airline passenger, it doesn’t matter how the customer was treated, how many members of the staff they had to talk to, how much money was lost throughout negotiation, how many “promises” had to be made throughout hours of back-and-forth, if a transaction was made, sales people are slapping high-fives and exchanging back pats.
I refer to this is as “just get ‘em in” syndrome. By the simple act of convincing a potential client to come down to the dealership, if the collective effort of the dealership sells them a car, it is somehow a victory, no matter the pretenses. “Just get ‘em in” syndrome has been stunting the growth of Internet operations since day one.
For many, the initial draw of the Internet side of the business is the precision of the numbers, and the perceived scalability of operations. Unlike walk-in traffic, demand can be predicted, and even supplemented if need be, to maintain a relatively steady stream of interested parties. Advertising sources are plentiful, and direct actions can be attributed to impressions. Every month’s activities can be broken down and analyzed to look for deviations in patterns. It has always been imagined to be a sales machine.
If an Internet sales strategy is executed properly, it should act as a sales machine. However, with all of the capabilities the Internet has to augment any dealer’s business, like a machine, it’s only as precise as the quality of its components. If a machine is working properly, it repeats the desired results, over and over, with little deviation in quality. When the individual parts inside the machine begin to fail, the repetition of desired results begins to fail. Some consider maintenance vital, and proactively fix or replace components to preserve precision. Some use duct tape and a magic marker to mask results. Some use bonus miles to apologize for rude flight attendants. Some just get them in the door.
If your dealership truly wants to be successful on the Internet, it should stop focusing on the final destination or the end product, and instead focus on what it takes to get there. If you’re thinking in terms of machines, think about all of the actions it takes to create a perfect widget. Think of all of the precise measurements, the wear and tear on tooling, and the sequence of inputs workers have to make. If everything falls within spec, you have successful results day-in and day-out.
If you’re thinking in terms of air travel, think about a free entrance to the Platinum Club. Then, think about a free upgrade to first class, an on-time departure, and an early arrival. When you deboard the plane, the senior pilot then offers you a sincere thanks, and a firm handshake. Think about everything going better than expected. As a passenger, everything went the way you wanted it. For once, it’s you who gets to chalk up the W.
After a couple weeks of decompression from Vegas, I’ve had a few sleepless nights to think about what I learned (remembered?) from my trip. It seemed that calls for branding were even louder than last year. As I listened to said calls, I looked around the room to gauge reactions. Some people nodded in approval, while others looked at each other with a quizzical look on their face, while others mindlessly tapped away on their iPhones. Over the years I’ve had many great discussions regarding branding strategy (When Business People Go Wild, I know). I went on a bit of a tirade on the subject last year, and it looks like it’s time for another one. It’s pretty clear that branding needs to be empirical. If you can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it, then you can’t pass those senses along to potential clients.
Defining a brand is hard, which is probably why so few companies do it well (I’m going to go a little academic on you, so consider yourself warned). Webster’s has a few definitions for brand: a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership; a printed mark made for similar purposes (trademark); a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer (make). Our oft quoted pal Seth Godin goes further, stating: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” In his newest book, “the End of Business as Usual,” Brian Solis came up with 9 Criteria for Establishing Brand Essence: Focus, Feeling, Individuality, Experiential, Consistency, Credibility, Longevity, Personal, and Portable. If you stayed awake long enough to read these different definitions you probably realize that it’s safer to take the 30,000 foot view.
Since we all can’t be Nike or Apple, let’s do an exercise. In Guy Kawasaki’s book “Enchantment,” he mentions his “Enchantment Hall of Fame” to get one’s creative juices flowing. He lists the following categories: car, Macintosh, airline, city, book, political leader, actress, engineer, TV host, female blogger, male blogger, singer, parenting, architecture, and clothes (I’ve included Guy’s list, as well as my own, below). I’m going to hijack Guy list for the purpose of example. Please proceed carefully: it’s not the fastest car, the hottest actress, the best band, or clothes you aspire to own. Just answer the questions (if you’re too cool for school, feel free to skip ahead):
|Car||’65 Mustang||Ferrari 288 GTO|
|City||Istanbul, Turkey||London, UK|
|Book||“If You Want to Write,” by Brenda Ueland||“Infinite Jest,” by David Foster Wallace|
|Political Leader||Nelson Mandela||Harry S Truman|
|Actress||Queen Latifah||Natalie Portman|
|Engineer||Steve Wozniak||Adrian Newey|
|TV Host||Mike Rowe||Jeremy Clarkson|
|Female Blogger||Jenny Lawson||Amber Naslund|
|Male Blogger||Robert Scoble||Christopher S Penn|
|Singer||Corrinne Bailey Rae||Layne Staley|
|Parenting||Adopting Children||Natural Biology|
|Architecture||Antoni Gaudi||Frank Lloyd Wright|
|Clothes||Aloha shirts by Anne Namba||Brooks Brothers|
I agree that some of these categories aren’t things that readily come to mind, however that’s why its an exercise. I’m also not going to argue with Guy Kawasaki because he has a bajillion followers in seven different galaxies, and more than 100 pages of reading after this passage. But let me ask you, can you can you give me at least five reasons why you chose your pick? Here are some easier ones for you:
|Restaurant||III Forks Austin, TX|
|Hotel chain||Marriott (JW)|
|Sports team||The Detroit Red Wings|
Take all your picks, and start asking yourself these questions:
- How do your choices/products make you feel?
- What memories do you have associated with them?
- What are you consuming?
- Where are you consuming it?
- If you have the choice, why are you buying it there?
- Do you feel a twinge of guilt when you do not go with your picks?
- Do you get a feeling of disappointment when something changes?
- Do you feel the need to share with someone at the company when your expectations aren’t being meant?
- Who are you buying it from?
- Where was it made?
- Who made it?
- How was it made?
- Who started the company?
- Where was the company founded?
- Do you ever go with the cheaper option?
If you can’t possibly answer these questions on a regular basis, it’s time to start. Let’s face it: these are gut-questions. These are also the same questions your customers have about you, as well as the products and services you sell. As consumer-facing automotive sites continue to consolidate, and the reliance on social media becomes stronger, the amount of differing opinions will continue to shrink. You need to understand the fundamentals of branding before it’s too late.
Learning what it takes to exude brand from everything you do, takes a great deal of time, consistent effort (ask Tracy Meyers if it happened overnight), and a ton of energy. Hopefully, by going through this process (and practicing) you will not only have a better understanding of your own tastes, but will begin to understand all of the dimensions of a strong brand. Continue updating your hall of fame. Who knows, maybe next year you will be the one doing a brand presentation.
Dealer Principals spend thousands of dollars every month on advertising. No matter what media they choose, from newspaper to magazine ads, posting inventory online or blasting an email, from a direct mail campaign to a billboard, the goal is to get the phones ringing. The main focus of your salespeople and BDC agents should be to turn those phone calls into floor traffic where it is far more likely a sale will occur. Over the past year, I have listened to tens of thousands of inbound calls from all over the country, and noticed that most salespeople have a hard time separating sales skills from phone skills. It is important to recognize the difference and use each set of skills at the appropriate times.
When you break it down, talking to another person on the phone is not exactly a natural form of communication. This is why, despite billions of attempts over the years to interact with pets and newborns using the phone continue to fail. Unlike your dog, your newborn will eventually be able to communicate with you by phone as they develop the skills necessary to do so. At first, they will let you hold the phone to their ear while they glare at you confused. They wonder why you insist this talking toy you are holding to their head is their Daddy. After some months go by, that look of confusion turns to delight as they learn the talking toy has Daddy’s voice in it. Finally, they learn Daddy can hear their voice on the talking toy too which is extremely fun for them. Notice that the entire time a toddler is using the phone they are instinctively looking at your face. Facial expression and body language are the corner stones of communication. Your little one is looking at you for those familiar visual cues we rely on for effective communication.
It takes them a few years to get it, but they have a lot to put together at that age. Your salespeople and BDC team won’t understand the intricacies of phone handling any quicker which is why training them early helps them grasp those skills a little faster than your baby.
One with exceptional phone skills can compensate for the lack of facial expression and body language necessary for effective communication, with carefully selected words, voice inflection and speed. Stay tuned for tips and strategies on how to get your sales team to stop trying to sell cars over the phone, and start selling appointments. While your best salesperson is a master of face-to-face communication, they probably don’t realize how weak their phone skills really are. You know salespeople… they know everything already.