The Three Stages of every Vendor/Dealer Relationship
Are you happily married? To better yourself as a dealership, you must always keep a lookout for something better. Changes may need to be made. No relationship is perfect. To grow your business, you may need to break ties with the vendors you’ve been bonded with and see what better fit is out there. Dealers should always be looking for that someone special.
It was this time last year that I was at my very first Digital Dealer Conference. I’ve written about my experience in Vegas before and how beneficial it was to me and my career. I knew I had a supportive owner, a strong staff in my department, and a solid, progressive process. However, I knew that our marriage to my website provider and CRM vendor wasn’t perfect. As a dealer, I wasn’t getting what I needed to flourish. I set out in search of another partner to take their place. My vendors and I at the time had good relationships, but I knew my dealership deserved better. I quickly realized that just looking around to see what other vendors may be in the sea felt, oddly enough, like cheating.
Vendor and Dealer relationships closely resemble the familial relations people share at home. These take place in three, very common, stages: Dating, Marriage, and Divorce. One relationship must end for another to begin. Some dealers love being courted by vendors.Most prefer to have a happy marriage with a vendor. At some point in the relationship, though, someone might ask “Why am I still with this person?! ”Eventually, this relationship will end in divorce. If you’ve experienced a break-up as a dealer, you know that one or both of the parties will end up longing for the other or bitter to the core.
It is necessary to have goals for your dealership. A vendor shouldn’t only meet your needs, but exceed your expectations. You must have specific wants and desires to be fulfilled. The Digital Dealer Conference, much like the NADA convention, is a bit of a meat market in dating terms. Vendors and Dealers slobber over each other showing off the newest technology, building value, and creating a need. As it is in the dating scene, everyone puts on airs for each other. You display only what makes you special and unique, keeping any and all skeletons in the closet. Vendors are only to present themselves in the best light. You must attract dealers to your product/service and sell yourself. Now, I am a dealer speaking on some vendors as I see them. Maybe I am off the mark, but experience tells me I’m closer to the bullseye than off the board.
If it had not been for a great lecture at the conference by Stephen Stauning, E-Commerce Director for the Asbury Automotive Group, detailing how to negotiate with vendors, I’d have been at a real loss during this search. However, I prepared myself with a significant amount of research and narrowed down the list of suitors.I decided to meet with nine CRM firms and six website providers. I didn’t request any to drive or fly in and visit the dealership to present their product, but I appreciated everyone that did.
This wasn’t speed-dating. This was courtship. Time was taken. We went on more than one in-store “dates” with a few of the candidates. We didn’t want to choose a “rebound” vendor. We wanted a match made in heaven. Budgets were checked and rechecked. I created a value-based analysis report between each comparable vendor and our own current vendor. I presented it to our ownership and we made our decision. We alerted the companies that did not make the cut. As I explained our reasoning, some were very gracious. Others were quite upset and rude. (I can’t imagine what that marriage might have been like.) It was then we gave our rose to…
Yes, this is out of place.Before a successful marriage begins, you must end your current relationship. This is where it can get a little rough. Contracts must be reviewed. Cancellation letters need to be written. Crossovers of CRM and website tools are never easy. It is like asking a boyfriend or girlfriend to move out of your apartment as your new one stands in the doorway waiting to move their belongings in. Feelings are hurt.
We had good relationships with our vendors and wanted to remain “just friends”. However, the vendor’s job is to retain you as a partner. Costs are cut. At times, the new vendor may be talked negatively about to disparage their image. The vendor will often bring their “parents” into the dealership to show how much you mean to them. They offer to do more for you. “Things will change.” “It’ll be different this time, I promise.” If they are losing their grasp, threats may be made (yeah, it happened). Eventually, you will both go your separate ways. Time heals all wounds. Maybe we will revisit these vendors in the future and everything would go back to normal. Until then, we cannot think about the past. After all, we are married now.
There is a honeymoon period. Every whim and desire of the dealer is handled promptly. In the beginning, visits to the dealership are frequent and daily calls are common. Everyone holds hands and loves each other. They are there to reassure you that you made the right decision. “You aren’t having second thoughts, are you?” Little problems may arise.Implementation can be a little bit of a headache. There is an adjustment period and you have to get used to living with someone new. Every relationship has minor arguments. That is to be expected. Even with all of the hard work, I will say I have no regrets. I am extremely happy with our decisions. Over the years, some of this love may fade. Only time will tell.
In the future, I will be smarter than I was. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work that implementing both a CRM and a website at the same time would bring. It’s like dating two people at the same time. Not that you have to keep them hidden from each other, but you do have to spend a significant amount of time with both if you want your marriages to last.
I am confident that we have the made the right decision. Every dealer must endure the roller coaster ride that is the vendor and dealer relationship cycle. As a dealer you must choose wisely what vendor you get involved with. As a vendor, you should ensure the dealerships you work with are also, in turn, representing you and your product to the fullest. Everyone deserves that perfect somebody. Never stop looking, but always be thankful for what you have. If you feel the need, find someone new and throw yourself onto the market. Enjoy the conference and I wish you happily ever after.
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