Posts tagged vendor relations
Let’s say that you’ve had a persistent cough for two weeks, but haven’t had time to go to the doctor. You finally break down, and go to urgent care one night because you’re not getting any better. After waiting four hours, you finally get seen by a guy in his early twenties with acne still on his forehead. After going through some cursory checkups, he tells you that you have syphilis. He hands you a prescription slip with someone else’s name on it, and wishes you well. Given that you haven’t been to Bangkok lately, and that you’ve never cheated on your spouse in the thirteen years of your marriage, you decide that maybe you ought to get a second opinion.
If you’ve read some of our recent blog posts, you probably know that Joe Webb and I have gone off a bit on those who are new to consulting. Trust me when I say it’s not meant to personally attack anyone. Unlike the medical world, there is no certification, title, or otherwise, to indicate one’s level of expertise. In fact, there is no state licensing to make sure that you are sound to practice. There is no governing body who administers examinations, or confers expertise. Instead, we have resumes and word of mouth. That’s it folks.
Many of us in the dealer, consulting, and vendor world have spent a tremendous amount of time educating ourselves. Besides the obvious attendance at retail auto conferences, we sit in on webinars, read books, and some of us even take classes. While some were educated at the school of hard knocks, others learned (and survived) in active combat, and still others have excelled in postsecondary education. Because all we have to rely on is resumes and word of mouth, there is no way to distinguish those of us who have dedicated ourselves to mastering our craft, and those who haven’t. More specifically, there is no way to distinguish between those who are in it for a quick buck, and those who are in it because they care about the condition of retail auto.
Because there is no way to formally differentiate between the practicing experts and the self-proclaimed experts, the dealer loses. The dealer loses on beta-quality technology sold by a good salesperson. The dealer loses on vendor-driven training administered by people who have never sold a car before. Most of all dealers lose money on (one nefarious consultant after another) consultant who have nothing to offer other than their level of expertise. If the dealer loses, then everyone loses.
This is probably the same reason why so many vocations have adopted formal licensing. Think about all the professions that require passing an examination to practice. Everyone from physicians and attorneys to hairdressers and tattoo artists have to pass at least one administered exam. Why? Because someone who did not care about their practice (or reputation) swindled someone out of money, gave someone septicemia, burnt someone’s scalp, or gave some unsuspecting schmuck syphilis. Organizations were born to make sure you didn’t eat rancid meat, get electrocuted by your lamp, or use snake oil as a cure. Most commonly these organizations, laws, or entities evolve to make sure the consumer is protected.
As I commonly posit, why should we be any different? Why aren’t we working harder to create a governing body to allow those who want to become certified as experts take an examination to do so? I know individuals have tried to do so in the past, however this is bigger than one person. It’s time that we put our egos aside, and work together towards something for the greater good. I know there are many true professionals out there who would like to demonstrate their knowledge. I know many more who would seek the protection of an umbrella organization. We need to give them the opportunity to do so.
I’m not beginning to say that I have all the answers. What I can say is that if this organization is going to exist, it can’t be a club (the last thing we need is another Good ‘Ole Boy Network). It can’t be an offshoot of an existing organization, rooted in the traditional ways (old habits die hard). It can’t be formally sponsored (it’s already too hard to cut through the vendor noise). It can’t be easy to join (take a look at the requirements from the Project Management Institute or the CFA Institute). It can’t be governed by a few, because nobody has all of the answers.
The next time someone approaches you about how to improve your business, think of all the licensed and certified professionals you deal with on a regular basis. Think about the police officers you know, the teachers in your kids’ classrooms, the EMT that gave you CPR training, and the electrician who wired your garage. Think of all of the training they went through, and the continuing education they’ll have to go through. Then ask yourself: Don’t I deserve the same?
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.
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?