Looking to the Past for Success in the Future

With every press release about autonomous vehicles, or targeted ad for a product that you literally just talked about, or price tag that adjusts based on purchasing habits, it’s easy to feel that we are barreling into a futuristic world à la the Jetsons. (Thanksgiving-flavored dinner pill, anyone?) Hell, I read an article the other day talking about how FB discontinued their artificial intelligence efforts because “the robots became too smart and developed their own language.” Think about that one for a second. MIND=BLOWN.

Our industry is no different as we try to navigate through this constantly changing world of digital marketing. It seems like every time we turn around there’s a new concept we have to learn, a new acronym to google, a new strategy to deploy, while at the same time keeping our eye on the goal that truly matters: selling and servicing more vehicles than we did last month, last quarter, last year. And the scary part is, this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Truthfully, I don’t envy the operators or marketers of a dealership, simply because they have to be a jack-of-all-trades just to keep up with everything.

As we continue to try to keep up with constant innovation and make sense of this whirlwind of information, a lot of us have forgotten the most important part of our business: relationships.

I don’t think I’m saying anything revolutionary, because deep down we already know that relationships are the core of our business—it’s just time to bring them to the forefront of our marketing strategy. And who better to look to for insight on how to build genuine relationships than our previous generations? Our grandparents are more equipped to handle this world of social media because they didn’t think twice about bringing a casserole to a sick neighbor. In business, sales people knew and greeted their customers by name—knew their families, their birthdays, often even what their mutual interests were. In fact, it was these relationships that built the foundation of the dealerships we are operating today.

My challenge for you is this: As we continue to move toward a Jetsons world, it is the Flintstone mentality that will win.

If we match this relationship-focused strategy from the good ol’ days with the capabilities of modern technology, we can scale what our grandparents did so well and build meaningful relationships within our markets. For some of us, this mind shift will force us to change the culture of our dealerships, which at first may seem to be a daunting task; however, here are three things you can focus on today that will have a profound impact on your dealership going forward.

1. Start with the customers you already have.

We get so focused on acquiring new business that we have a tendency to forget about the customers we already have. In fact, when I speak to dealerships, they can generally rattle off stats on how well their internet department is doing; however, if I ask, “How are you following up with your sold customers?” I generally get one of two responses: 1. They have no idea, or 2. An admission that it is the weakest part of their dealership, which is crazy to think about because we have already done the hard part.

We know in this industry, more than any other, in the minds of the customer we are the bad guys. So, for us to be able to tear down their walls, build trust, and earn their business is a massive victory. It is bad that we aren’t placing more effort in making sure our customers know how important they are to us. But you know what is even worse? We are relying on the processes within our CRMs to handle all of the communication to our most important asset, and these processes are often nothing more than guesswork. You can rest assured that most communication going out is the wrong message, at the wrong time. So, all that work building trust is squandered by ineffective follow-ups that disengage these customers from your brand.

It is time to reengage.

At the very least, it is time to do an audit on your CRM. What type of communication is going out? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about how you’d feel if you received this communication. I think you will be shocked by how irrelevant the message actually is. Now, if you’d truly like to have this part of your business covered, consider replacing a “time based” follow-up plan with a “data based” follow-up plan. Find a partner who gathers all the relevant data on your customers in one place to determine exactly who you need to reach out to, with what message, at what time.

2. Empower your employees to be advocates of your dealership.

Your employees hold the key to the relationships in your market. They are the reason a customer will drive 30 minutes out of the way to come to your dealership … because they “know a guy/girl.” If we can agree that relationships are the foundation of our business, then let me ask, where are relationships being built in today’s world? On social media! Make it easy for your employees to engage with their friends and family by giving them relevant information to share. Often your employees will have their own demographic reach on Facebook or Twitter that your dealership simply couldn’t reach otherwise. Make it easy and fun with AutoAlert’s PandoSocial. You might not ever know when consumers will decide they are ready for a new vehicle, but your goal is to make sure they know that their friend—your employee—is their insider that will help them navigate the process.

As we continue to move toward a Jetsons world, it is the Flintstone mentality that will win.

3. Your reputation is more important than ever.

Today’s shoppers will seek out your reviews online. They’ll pay attention not so much to negative reviews but how you handled those customers’ concerns. Again, it all comes back to relationships, and they’ll put themselves in these customers’ shoes and want to see you treating them well. Much like in the past, your reputation can make or break your business—the only difference is reputation went from word-of-mouth to documented online for the world to see. “The customer is always right” is an older generation maxim that definitely applies. Use tools like ReputationPro to monitor your online reputation and ReviewBuilder to build positive reviews.

It is important to know that the only thing we can count on in this industry is change; however, as we navigate this futuristic world of digital marketing, it’s Stone Age ideals that stand the test of time. Regardless of what the next “big thing” is, we should always make decisions based on how it will help foster a relationship with each of our customers. Let’s face it: For many of us, this is why we got into the business in the first place—we like people. Care about your customers and they’ll care about your dealership.

Julian Johnston

Julian Johnston

Senior Director of Product Consulting at AutoAlert
Julian Johnston

Latest posts by Julian Johnston (see all)