Posts tagged structure
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 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.
Like most of you, I “work” a lot. I spend countless hours a day, reading, writing, videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and on the phone. I also find myself constantly checking and updating the calendar, checking my phone for text messages, chatting on more than one chat client, and conversing on Twitter. It’s typical that I have a minimum of two browsers open, with at lease four tabs running on both (closer to 10 on Firefox). I also have a PC running a couple different CRMs that only run in a Windows environment (yeah I know, some vendors are too cheap and/or lazy to create products that operate in different environments, but I digress). Still I find some time to run a business. With all of this stuff to handle, the “work” is really managing it all.
Most of my clients have it worse. They also have the various channels of communication to manage. They have reports to run. They have people to manage. They have discussions with their managers. They have storewide meetings. And, best of all, they have customers that show up at random. The lucky ones have the budget to work with external resources to help manage and streamline operations, but the majority still find themselves trading their personal time for work time.
For those who keep trading their time, I got bad news for you: There are only twenty-four hours in a day. End of story. Your kids are going to grow up. Your spouse is going to grow older. While your clients are going to put that gold watch on your wrist, they’re not going to come to your funeral.
Time is the most valuable resource. Once it’s gone, you can never get it back. It’s time to fanatically manage your time. If someone wants to take your time, push back. Learn to prioritize your day. Learn to stick to accomplishing what’s most important, and move on. People understand that you will call them back. They’re busy, too. If emails required an immediate response, they would come in the form of a phone call or a knock at your office door. Manage your time wisely, and have the time to enjoy the results.
Like many of you, I have sat through multiple presentations and webinars regarding social media. While some may touch on it, and others may focus on it, the term “brand building” comes up quite frequently. While on the phone with a dealer recently, it occurred to me that a good portion of our peers may not quite understand brand building, and hence, have a hard time applying it in the real world. For social media, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Simply put, a brand is the identity of a business, product, or service. What comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about Nike? Now maybe Apple? I’ll bet somewhere in your mental imagery, classic white script across a red background came up, along with a swoosh, and a glowing white apple with bite taken out of it. These companies have done an extraordinary job of marketing a consistent brand image, and have created a culture surrounding their businesses. If you need more examples, just walk into your showrooms. You will see brand imagery everywhere.
What comes to mind when you think of your own dealership? (Note: this works best when you think of the positives.) Is it a dedicated, veteran sales staff? Is it consistent OEM recognition? Is it community involvement? What makes your store different from the one down the road? Hopefully, multiple things come to mind. Take those thoughts and jot them down.
Now think about how you want your customers to perceive your dealership. When they think about your store, what images do you want them to conjure up? How are they perceiving your identity on your website’s homepage? If you are drawing a blank, then it’s time to start working on that. Ultimately, it’s up to your business to craft that identity.
I think we are all well aware that Coke, Nike, and Apple have millions of dollars to commit to advertising agencies, not to mention the top-notch marketing talent they have available to them in-house. They are global brands competing on a global scale. Should you aspire to have their type of brand awareness? Absolutely! Do you need their millions of dollars to reach your market of 30,000 people? Absolutely not!
You have the advantage over national advertisers. You understand your own market better than they do. You understand how your closest consumers talk, think, and dress. If you are using your CRM properly, you may even have notes on where people go to church, where their kids attend school, and how much their fifth-wheel weighs. This information is available to you for free!
Speaking of free, those commercials you normally fast forward through are full of free inspiration. Try actually watching some commercials. What messages are you taking away? What tag lines are you hearing? Tune-in the next time you see commercials from mega-brands like IBM, Microsoft, GE, Red Bull, Starbucks, and UPS. Pay extra attention to what your OEMs are advertising and the images they are reinforcing. Take note of the fact they are not advertising “the largest inventory,” “rock-bottom prices,” or “(region’s) number one (whatever)…”
When you are ready to start coming up with brand ideas, talk to others. Bounce ideas off your spouse. Ask your friends. The wider the variety of people, the better. Then, sit down with your coworkers over some pizza and start brainstorming. Try to come up with one sentence that best describes your dealership (or department).
When you feel good about what your network has to say, have the same conversations with your most loyal customers. In fact, take a walk down to the service department and have that conversation with customers while they are having their maintenance performed. Find out if your brand identity is in line with a perceived value (be prepared for the worst). Compare notes. If the messages are the same, fire up the marketing machine. If they are not, you need to dedicate yourself and your teammates to bringing the ideas closer together. This is when you employ brand-building efforts (like social media, video marketing, and dare I say, a TV ad) to distill your message down for consumption by the masses.
Sounds like hard work, right? It can be, but it’s well worth it. Your customers will know what separates you from the competition. You will attract customers who are looking for an alternative to their local dealer. You will create a value proposition beyond price. Best of all, you and your teammates always have a guiding principle to fall back on in times of question. Trust me, you’ll forget about the hard work when you immediately start reaping the benefits. It’s “time to change everything,” “have a Coke and a smile,” and “just do it.”
There have been several great books that have been published about brand building or indirectly touch on the subject of branding. One that immediately comes to mind is the Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph Michelli. While it wasn’t written specifically about branding, it caused me to evaluate my business practices and offered some great perspective. It’s a short and compelling study so you should have no trouble finding the time read it. (I read it in one plane trip). If you have some books that have been inspirational to you, please share. Now that the gift-giving holidays have begun, we can add some books to our wish lists.
I was on-site training a new dealer client’s BDC team last week when I heard the most disturbing thing. The phone rang and the BD agents began a discussion that went something like this…
“Who’s turn is it?”
“Not mine either.”
“Well I just had one, like, two minutes ago.”
“So did I.”
“I think it’s your turn so you take it.”
“I’m in the middle of an email. Can’t one of you?”
“But it’s not my turn.”
It was about this time, during the 9th ring of the phone, that I raised my voice and hollered, “Someone pick up the (darn) phone! There’s a customer waiting!”
That outburst immediately got their attention and at least motivated one of them enough to answer the call. With a little side-by-side guidance from me, she was able to set an appointment with the prospect. I wonder how many more rings that customer would have waited through before hanging up and calling another dealer.
Your dealership team must realize that the phone is the lifeline into the store. I am of firm belief that if you know how to handle an inbound sales call, you never have to take an up in your life. Maybe it is just the fact that in most Business Development Centers, the phone rings so often it is overlooked. Had that call gone to the sales floor, in this economy, someone is liable to get stabbed by a coworker for the chance to get the lead.
This was a terrible game the BD agents were playing with an inbound sales call. It is the automotive dealership’s version of playing Hot Potato. I see it happen with both phone calls and internet leads now and again during either my in-store consulting or Virtual Dealer Training. When I asked them why that exchange took place, their excuse was that they only wanted to be fair to the other team members. They want everyone to have a shot at setting an appointment. But when do you say enough is enough? I didn’t want to “tattle” on them to the ownership and suggest they might have a crew too passive to be effective as appointment-setters because I feel everyone can be trained. Everyone can get better with some coaching. In this instance, my first lesson to them was that sometimes it is better to be greedy than it is to be fair.
Let it be known that I am 100% in support of having a trained, aggressive Business Development Center team handling inbound sales calls much the same way I believe there is a value to having prepared professionals in an Internet Sales Department managing leads. There is a benefit to having specialized workers with defined skill sets in these positions. I’m also all for having a fair distribution of opportunities (phone and email) between those team members. What I cannot support is when department policy interferes with the level of support you should provide a prospect.
When that phone rings, imagine it is a mystery shop you are receiving from your owner’s 20 group. You do not want to be the reason your dealership scores low marks in front of their peers. That could lead to a job loss if the call is mishandled poorly enough. But let’s look beyond your job security and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. When you call into a place of business, do you want those employees to look at the ringing phone as an albatross? A chore? Of course not! You are a potential customer that wants, nay, deserves a professional greeting, a kind response, and an intelligent answer to your question. Recognize this and handle all calls accordingly.
I know this doesn’t happen in many places, but it does indeed happen. Watch out for it. Listen to how the calls are being handled and make adjustments… for your sake and the customer’s sake. And for gosh sake, please stop playing hot potato with your sales calls.