Without Modern Tools, This 1958 Dealer Relied on Ingenuity

Getting customers to the dealership has always required a fair amount of ingenuity. In his book The American Car Dealership, author Robert Genat recounts one late-Fifties dealer’s clever – if convoluted – path to getting qualified customers into new cars.

Today, tools like AutoAlert’s One-to-One Intelligent Marketing bring customers into the dealership by delivering personalized, attractive, credible deals that they won’t get anywhere else. AlertMiner affords dealers precision by knowing exactly which customers to reach out at exactly the right time.

It was a different story in 1958, when Hodges Auto Sales of Ferndale, Michigan, came up with its own innovative marketing method.

The dealership was staffed with an unusually large number of automotive sales veterans who had to take the initiative without the benefit of much technology. Six of their salesmen at the time had over twenty years’ experience each; no small feat when you consider each got started during the Great Depression. Aside from having excellent employee retention for the time, the Dodge dealer had a novel system for bringing in likely sales.

Each morning began with a sales meeting, after which each salesperson mailed out a specific number of postcards to prospective buyers. None of the 18,000 or so postcards mailed each month contained an invitation to the dealership; the cards merely announced a phone call to the prospect in three to four days’ time. The sales staff would then call the customer and attempt to reveal something about their disposition toward a new vehicle purchase by asking a  provocative question, such as “Would you like your new car this week or next?”

If the reaction was positive, the salesperson had two objectives: to make an appointment, preferably at the prospect’s home, and to ascertain the lady of the house’s favorite color. The challenge to the salesperson was to figure out the latter without explicitly asking. Sales staff therefore had to be crafty to suss out the preferred color indirectly. A clever or particularly creative means of discovering this piece of information often provided a good laugh at the next day’s sales meeting.

Hodges Auto realized that women tended to be the decider when it came to automobile purchases. The idea was to make the appointment at a time and place where a wife would be present to see a car in a hue she’d likely be receptive to. The deal, however, was not to be closed there. An invitation to the dealership to meet some of Hodges’ executives was extended and the sale would be completed there. This laborious process apparently worked – at the time, Hodges made 17 percent of total Chrysler sales in the Detroit area.

Fortunately, these days the path to getting the customer into a new vehicle doesn’t have to be so complicated. Women currently comprise 68 percent of all new car buyers and play a decisive role in 80 percent of all U.S. automobile sales. Hodges Auto Sales did very well back in the day, but their success required casting a very wide net, spending time and effort weeding through thousands of leads to reach the right buyer at the right time.

By focusing contact on specific customers who are in a position to trade keys for a new vehicle today, AutoAlert helps dealers work smarter, not harder – even without knowing a spouse’s favorite color.

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