Posts tagged dealership
Normally, I have the topics of my blog posts picked out well in advance of posting, however this month I can’t stop thinking about the events that are happening right now. During the last few months of last year, and the first couple weeks of 2011, I’ve been involved in some eye-opening conversations. The subject matter of these conversations is now a matter of public discussion (or amusement?). Whether you’re pointing and laughing, or disappointed, we need to realize that we can be our own worst enemy.
One of the reasons I got involved in the car business is that I wanted to help improve the negative reputation car salespeople have. A variety of polls conducted over the years have shown car salespeople to be viewed among the least honest and ethical of any professionals. While some of the sources are questionable, the granddaddy of pollsters, Gallup has shown in a recent poll that car sales people are tied with lobbyists as the least trusted of professionals. Congratulations us.
I’ll admit it’s bad form to send someone off a blog post before it’s finished, but do me a favor: run a Google image search for car salesman (or just follow this link). What do you see? Is that you? Are you the guy smoking the Grenadier? Are you the guy with the Mr. T gold chains? Are you the guy with the plaid suit? Didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this is how people see us.
So, what are we doing to fix it? Apparently, we’re adding more fuel to the fire.
I’ve certainly seen some questionable car sales practitioners over the years, but I’ve also seen a lot of good ones, too. The funny thing is that you don’t hear much about the good folks. Certainly the nefarious ones have customers who are more than vocal about their dissatisfaction (their customers are friends and family to everyone else, by the way). For some reason or another, you don’t hear much about the sales people with strong moral fiber. Or the sales people, who are youth ministers, involved in 4H, participating in Relay for Life, volunteering at animal shelters, or have served their country overseas. Or how about the professionals who have not only read the blogs, but have developed their own expertise, created their own strategies, and have shared their own success with others. We all work with people like this, or at minimum, have made their acquaintance. Why don’t we hear more about them?
Instead of learning more about exemplary sales people, we get to hear and read about new consultants who seemingly pop out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, the term consultant is a bit ambiguous in the retail automotive world. In the rest of the business world, as well as in health care and the public sector, a consultant typically possesses subject matter expertise and pedigree that is well beyond what can feasibly be attained in-house. Look at the executive leadership of Accenture, Deloitte, and Booz Allen Hamilton, to name a few. These folks are among the very best the world has to offer. Our industry, on the other hand, is wrought with empty-chested, fly-by-night “experts”, who glorify the negative stereotypes, charge exorbitant fees, plagiarize material, and seem to multiply by the month.
This is what I find most troubling. The dealerships who have recognized the need to change, and decided to commit considerable resources to bringing in a consultant have to choose from “experts” who fit the negative stereotypes they need to change. How exactly do you expect to overcome these pejoratives if you continue to contract the same type of people who ruin reputations in the first place? Moreover, how can dealers hire them in good conscience when there are videos on YouTube of them publicly flaunting their jewelry, McMansions, and sports cars?
The true measure of a consultant’s success is not what they have financially accomplished themselves, but what their clients have financially accomplished on their behalf.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I too possess some of the above items. I wear a (1) gold chain, and, from time to time, wear an aspirationally branded Swiss watch. The gold chain (and the gold crucifix that hangs from it) was given to me by my deceased grandfather after I went on a pilgrimage to see the Pope sixteen years ago. I’ve only taken it off for medical reasons. The watch I purchased several years before I was in the car business when I was doing due-diligence at a venture capital firm during the go-go dot-com days. I’ve acquired my fair share of material possessions over the years, but you won’t see me flaunting them on YouTube (you’re welcome). I take far more pride in the results I have achieved on behalf of my clients.
Whether you are new to the business or have been involved at multiple levels for many years, it is our burden to overcome these stereotypes. How do we do that? We can start by:
- Offering consistent and outstanding service.
- Overwhelming customers with honesty.
- Educating customers with information that is not available online.
- Adding so much value that we are indispensable to our customers.
- Sharing personal details about ourselves.
- Participating (regularly) in our communities.
- Supporting causes.
- Hiring manageable people.
- Working with skilled trainers that produce verifiable results.
- Resembling the nurses, military officers, pharmacists, and teachers who have strong professional reputations (and who are our customers).
If we do these things every day, we can surely start to chip away at the negative reputation we’ve given ourselves.
If you want to keep reinforcing these stereotypes, just keep dressing yourself like a Kay Jewelers vomited on you. Keep asking customers if they are calling about the (nonexistent) specials. Keep practicing the underallow/overallow numbers game. Keep on not using your CRM/ILM to capture important personal information. Keep flaunting your material wealth (and general douchebaggery) on YouTube. Keep winking sweet nothings at the camera. Keep promoting yourself as an expert when you haven’t been recognized as one. Keep doing these things… and let those of us who want to be recognized as respected professionals blow right by you.
On our DealerKnows’ Virtual Dealer Training program, we help dealerships maximize the technology, solutions, and opportunities already in place. With this comes a considerable amount of negotiating with vendors to improve their products on behalf of our dealer clients. No system is perfect, despite what vendors say, and often it takes a fresh set of eyes to show a dealership what they are missing with that provider. Product enhancement requests flow when we take on a new client and our Virtual Training platform can help evolve your use of a system/site and can help the vendors get better as well. And there lies the rub.
With advancements changing in the online marketplace daily, vendors must realize their products must change as well…just as quickly. Dealers won’t wait around forever as their vendor clients continue to sit on their hands. So here is my challenge to every vendor:
I want a Vendor Scorecard. I believe vendors should create a scoring system that allows all of their dealers to see, review, and vote on what advancements their teams should put into action. Not support issues (though a Vendor Scorecard could be beneficial for this as well), but an idea exchange where people on the ground can tell the people in the high rises what their system NEEDS to be able to do. It could be a small password-protected community within your software that allows ALL dealers to post their product enhancement requests so that ALL other dealer clients can see. Make it available to your own loyal public. Each product enhancement request should be time-dated and stamped so we know just how long it takes the vendor to react. Not respond… react. Fix. Change. Develop.
Then, take it to the next step, and allow every dealer client to VOTE on which product enhancements they most desire to see active sooner rather than later. You will create your own weighted scale as to which improvements to focus on completing. If you so desire, consider giving those few dealers that utilize your system to its fullest, are your oldest clients, or represent you in the online communities a heavier VOTE than others.
The automotive resource site, DrivingSales, has taken one step by bringing Vendor Ratings into the forefront and asking the automotive retail professionals that peruse this site to vote on who and why they recommend the companies they’ve chosen. This has been a good way to help vendors gain exposure and allow dealer personnel to give feedback to their peers. When a vendor’s reputation is questioned on these sites, it is amazing how quickly they respond. They either scurry to cover up the negativity or do their due diligence to correct it before it damages their business.
The end goal here is to let your own community of clients that USE your product to IMPROVE your product. I think there is a progressive way to do this without risking a vendor’s reputation.
If you are a vendor reading this, please don’t hate me for saying it, but your product/solution/sites CAN improve. Not “will”, but “can”. You can enhance your offerings to dealers if you just listen closely to your current clients. Above and beyond negotiating with vendors on behalf of our clients and suggesting new technological opportunities, we help them get the most out of their current solutions and websites. When we look to improve a vendor’s offerings for our dealership clients, though, we see far too many no-brainer enhancements that still are not being implemented. When I request a change from a vendor or give them (free) advice on how to better their offerings, I hear the same responses constantly. “We are working on it.” “I’ll pass it along.” “That is scheduled to be in our next release of enhancements 6 months from now.” What else do I hear? “I don’t understand.” THAT is the problem. You aren’t using the product the same way an Internet Sales Manager or Sales Manager uses it so you have your blinders up to the real needs of your software.
Dealers are asking themselves daily: “Where the heck do all of my product requests go?” “How many times do I have to suggest an improvement for it to go overlooked?” “When will this feature become available or active?” “Is anyone listening to what I want?”
I see no better way to get a vendor’s attention than making product enhancement requests a centerpiece to their customer service initiatives. Customers will finally be able to track their relationship with the vendors and hold them accountable if need be. Make them time-stamped suggestions with enough of your constituents voting for it and there will be no way a dealer can have a deaf ear. It is time more vendors listen to their clients first instead of listening to their own random ideas.
As I said, this is a CHALLENGE. The first vendor who decides to make the direction of their technology a democracy by creating a similar Vendor Scorecard available for all of their dealers wins my approval and another blog post dedicated to their innovative ways. Fair enough?