Posts tagged pitfalls
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.
If you happened to study business in college, or are a corporate strategy junkie, you’ve probably heard of Michael Porter. If you haven’t heard of him, Porter is an esteemed Harvard Business School professor, served on Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, authored nearly 20 books (Amazon carries thirteen of them), and has published countless articles. Most would agree that Porter’s prophetic work has laid the foundation for the last 30 years of competitive strategy. I’d have a poster of him on our bedroom wall if my wife would let me. While Porter’s work has spawned numerous books, essays, and academic articles, I want to concentrate on one key piece: core competency.
Simply put, a company’s core competency is what only that company can do best. Ideally, this particular factor is not easily imitated by its competitors, and can be leveraged widely through many products, in many markets. For example, ADP was able to adapt its payroll technology it developed in the 50s for use in multiple industries, in multiple markets, and plays an integral roll (like it or not) in the car business. The better a company understands and develops its core competency, the more dominant position it will have in its market.
A lot of things happened long before you got into the car business. Slow, unreliable, cars made a dealership on every corner practical during the time franchise laws were written. An onslaught of foreign competition flooded the markets during the seventies because the domestic car business wasn’t prepared for rampant inflation and a decade of oil crises. The widespread suburban sprawl of the last twenty years has only paved the way for upstart competition that never existed across town. Oh, and that Internet “fad” happened, too. You can’t count on your location, your OEM, or having the most/newest/cheapest/bestest cars in town. In a 100-year-old business, it’s all been done before.
What hasn’t been done before? You.
You are an individual. You’ve collected years of rich life experiences that make you unique. Nobody can replicate you (scientifically, maybe, but not your personality), just like you can’t copy anyone else (unless you want to be known as a fraud). You are not the cheapest available option (and neither is Apple, Nike, Ducati, or John Deere, by the way). You have values, you add value, and people gravitate towards you because you possess certain qualities. Understanding these qualities not only allows you to transact with customers, but it will allow you to mentally connect with them, as well.
Many of us fall into the of trap copycatting. We feel that if we follow in the footsteps of someone we know, or a brand we admire, we can achieve the same success. How did Microsoft do with the Zune (you’ll never get that $200 back)? How’s IBM’s PC business working out for it (congrats, Lenovo)? How’s Buzz doing for Google (that buzz you hear is Twitter laughing)? Even the best companies can fall short when they fail to connect with the customer by straying too far from what they do best.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to read articles, attend webinars, attain OEM certifications, and comb through blog posts. Reading and retweeting the latest Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki post only takes two clicks. Simply following the pack doesn’t create any hurtles for someone who just wants to copy you. In fact, it makes it much easier for them to follow. If everybody is following best practices, you aren’t creating any distinction to set yourself apart to the customer.
Instead, use best practices to create a foundation for you to build on. Understand the philosophy of the author or presenter. Frame it in the context of who they are, where they’re at, what they know, and more importantly, what they stand to gain. Now focus it through your lens. Apply it using your words, your emotions, your experiences, your research, to your customers, in your market. Measure your results (every variable you can think of, not just what’s required), and discover where you excel. Use these strengths as the bedrock on which to build your core competency.
Unfortunately, Michael Porter is too busy solving global issues (seriously) to turn his attention to the auto business. It doesn’t mean you can’t. Understand those qualities that your competition can’t emulate. Don’t count on someone else to carry you to success. Dedicate yourself to recognizing and measuring your strengths to feed your core competency. Be proud of what you do. Blaze a trail that no one can follow, create an unbreakable bond with your customers, and build a fortress that no one can knock down.
High School was a difficult time for most people. What wasn’t important just a few years prior, becomes essential in just days. It’s a time when we become aware of who we are, and who we want to be. It’s when we realize, that despite our misgivings, we want to be popular.
When I was growing up, your shoes could either make you, or break you. There was a general hierarchy of shoes, with the generic pleather shoes on the bottom, and the high-tech, athlete endorsed offerings on top. If you weren’t wearing Nikes, you were just on fringe. If you were at the pinnacle of popularity, you were wearing Air Jordans.
What many kids came to realize, is that simply wearing a pair of Air Jordans did not miraculously transform them into the most popular kid in school (or a star basketball player, for that matter). Yes it may have given them access to the upper ranks, but it didn’t necessarily guarantee them the hottest girl in school. Because of this, some kids only owned one pair of Air Jordans.
In the retail car business this same mentality exists. There is this attitude that because someone in the twenty group is having success with a vendor, that everyone in the group can repeat that success elsewhere. Although a pair of Air Jordans might have taken you from zero to hero as a kid, buying the best technology can’t.
Popularity, like many other attributes, depends on many variables. Your parents’ social status, general attractiveness, athletic ability, and intelligence all played a roll in how your classmates looked at you. The same holds true for your dealership. If your parents owned the dealership, that’s going to play a roll in your success. The image your brand portrays is also going to play a roll. The dynamism of your staff to quickly move to beat opponents is going to play a roll. Your ability to utilize the collective knowledge of your team is going to play a roll. Understanding these variables, and many others, are going to contribute greatly to your accomplishments. As hard as you may try, you can’t buy popularity, just like you can’t buy success.
Before you sign another contract, think about your life as an adult. Did you have to buy a pair of Ferragamo’s to become successful? Are you losing track of how many vendors you are contracting and canceling? Have you realized that there is no such thing as a magic bullet, or is there a pair of $125 tennis shoes sitting in the corner of your room that you outgrew after six months? Mars Blackmon was wrong. It wasn’t the shoes.
Like some of you, I am just getting caught up from nearly two weeks of conference action in Vegas. After attending and participating in three conferences (I only know a few who stayed for four!), my head was left full of charts, graphs, concepts, and ideas. Beyond the sensory overload from all of the content, one thing became abundantly clear to me: I was surrounded by people with passion. Pure, unbridled, go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, passion. Hearing people tell their story, wildly gesticulating with their excitement. The enthusiasm was contagious!
Many of us have passions in life. For some, it’s the outdoors. For others, it’s sports. Still for others, it’s working in the garage. You can debate for hours about the best way to rebuild a carburetor. You work tirelessly on your fantasy football team at all hours of the night. You spend weeks scouting out the best place to put a deer blind. You have rooms dedicated to mounted fish, classic Fords, and the New Jersey Devils.
I’m one of the guys who’s extremely passionate about his career. I love what I do! I rarely ever stop thinking about how I can improve processes, discover efficiencies, or make people more productive. I’m bouncing ideas off my friends in the industry all of the time (and they are always bouncing ideas off of me). I know my wife wishes I’d take a break in the evening, but she tolerates it because it’s what I do. I feel like the car business found me and I’m going to give a 100% back.
I know many of you, however, don’t feel that same passion. Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a dead-end job or someone around you constantly drags you down. Well I have bad news for you: your customers can hear it, see it, and feel it. How are they going to tell you “yes” when all they see is ‘no’ ? Unfortunately, the car business is not one of lateral moves. You’re either productive or you’re packing.
If you’re lacking that passion, you don’t need to get a prescription. I’ll leave the pills to Pfizer, Glaxo, and Bayer. I’m merely suggesting you change your outlook on what you do for a living. When asked, I’m guessing most of you would say that you sell cars for a living. I would argue that the sale is the end result of what you do. Before that vehicle puts rubber to the road, rolls over the curb, and starts killing bugs (did I miss any?), you need to sell yourself first. If the customer is not buying what you’re saying, then you have a tall hurdle ahead of you.
So how do you change your outlook? It’s actually pretty simple. Start thinking about what you really do every day. You’re not some robot that picks up the phone, pecks away at the computer, and shuffles papers around. You’re a cheerful voice after a hard day at work. You help people save their hard earned money. You are your own business. You assure people that they are making good decisions. You’re solving people’s problems. You make lasting friendships. In some cases, you’re even helping people achieve their life’s aspiration. You’re not selling cars: You are changing people’s lives!
Now I can hear the skeptics out there now saying that I’ve read too many books (and some other things that can’t be written here). To the naysayers, I say give it a shot. Talk to your customers with the same energy you would talk about college basketball during March Madness. Remind yourself that you are providing a valuable service to people. Sometimes it’s simpler than metrics and technology. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make all of the difference. What do you have to lose?
Originally posted 10/6/2010 on DrivingSales.com
For most of us, the fair season has come and gone. As I’m writing this, my son is at the county fair in the rural Michigan town where my wife and I grew up. Like most fairs in the Midwest, it’s all about 4H and Future Farmers of America; kids showing off their pigs, goats, and cows (consequently, my niece’s rabbit is Grand Champion). Like most other fairs in the Midwest, local businesses set up shop, politicians are there to shake hands, and all of the food is available on a stick. The car dealers all come armed with Mustangs, Duramaxes, Chargers, and the omnipresent balloons.
Then there are the carnival rides. Personally, I don’t ride anything that can be assembled overnight. The kids, however, go crazy over them. The one ride that always intrigues me most is bumper cars, or Dodgem, as it’s known in fair parlance. There are always three or four maniacal, fuzzy lipped, teens chasing down a dozen other people. One would think the whole point would be to live out one’s favorite traffic jam fantasy, and just plow through everything that gets in the way. That’s where the intrigue comes in: everyone drives away from each other.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I perform a lot of mystery shopping. One of the biggest fumbles I consistently see is that dealer personnel don’t ask questions in their email responses. Over these last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that most dealer personnel don’t seem to be good at answering questions either. A lot like Dodgem, a customer tries to bump their email into a dealership, only to have his or her efforts dodged.
First, let’s put ourselves in the customer’s comfy shoes. As John and Jane Customer, we work hard for our money and we don’t want to pay anything more than we should. We go to the Gap when things go on sale, and we go out of our way to Costco to get a 55 gallon drum of shampoo to save a few pennies per ounce. When it comes to cars, we are blissfully unaware of dealer allocations, regional option groups, and targeted residuals. Our grandpa was somehow able to order a L72 big block Malibu with dog-dish wheels and no air conditioning. When we drive by the dealership, we see an endless sea of vehicles with infinite possibilities.
Now let’s get back to reality. As dealer personnel, we know that manufactures build what they want, when they want. Our dealers still shotgun it and order what they think people want. In all actuality, most customers have no idea what they really want. This is how many good salespeople make great careers by becoming a valuable resource to their customers, then their customers’ families and friends. They know all of the subtle intricacies and help their loyal customers select the right car.
Is there any reason why the digital-age should change this? Absolutely not! If a customer was sitting in front of you and asked if a Grand Cherokee had full-time four wheel drive, you’d explain the difference between Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. But somehow in the email world, the response is “…we have plenty of Grand Cherokees to choose from. When can you come to the dealership to drive one?” Why not just answer the question: “The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is equipped with three highly sophisticated AWD systems. Are you looking for something to take you through the snow or do you plan on going off-roading? I can walk you through which system might be right for you” (that response took 57 seconds to write). Which email do you think is going to solicit a response quicker?
Before you sell a car, you need to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment. If Toyota is not building Spruce Mica Tundras, let the customer know it. If Honda only ships two-wheel drive Pilots to your region, say so. If Fiestas with manual transmissions are in short supply, then give the customer a heads up. Facing these questions head-on allows you to build rapport, add value, and start a dialogue. It makes you that valuable resource, thus making it much easier to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment.
The next time a customer emails you a question, think about bumper cars. Imagine your competition driving away madly from potential customers, while you square up for a head-on collision. Think about what you know and what the customer doesn’t. Make yourself indispensable in the shopping process. Now take your right foot, slam down the pedal, and go in for the hit!