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?