The automotive dealership functions much the way the human body does. Each department operates similar to an organ, controlling that given part of the dealer body. When one fails, it affects the health of the entire system. Every single employee, solution, and dollar spent must be cared for and maintained. A dealer’s advertising efforts work much the way a person’s muscles do. They strengthen the body and get the entire operation moving. Stale advertising techniques and antiquated marketing tactics can cause a dealer’s sales to atrophy. These advertising muscles must be exercised, not just when it’s nice outside, but during the slow, lean winter months as well. Thank goodness for the incoming spring, but your efforts shouldn’t change.
When the economic crunch hit our industry two years ago, we saw many dealers revert back to the advertising methods of yesteryear. No medium was left unturned (i.e. dug up from its grave). Some dealers said to themselves (paraphrasing) “Hey, when we were at our best, we were in the newspaper every day, shooting out direct mail pieces monthly, we could be heard on the radio, and had TV spots.” They cut budgets from each department and recreated their game plan from the mid 90’s. Thankfully though, many dealers did the opposite. They dedicated themselves strictly to internet initiatives, buying up leads, focusing on dominating the search engines, delved into social media (even if they didn’t understand it yet) and, in some cases, even overpaid for the newest and best buzzword solutions. If it was online and quantifiable, they’d spend for it. Heck, even if it wasn’t quantifiable, but it was online, they’d spend for it…much to their chagrin in some cases. Few dealers have come out unscathed, but most that took the latter strategy seem to be, not just surviving, but thriving. Dealers that attacked the online marketplace have been pushing forward. Others waited to begin exercising their muscles until recently and realize their muscles have atrophied. They are stuck on a treadmill, not going anywhere fast, just trying to keep their feet under them and stick with the pack.
As we all know, cold weather doesn’t always bring volume sales with it, but springtime is most certainly the best time to flex your digital muscles and try out some new strengthening programs. During these last couple of months, our industry has been outperforming expectations. (Our DealerKnows clients sure were doing that as well). We, as an industry, have been moving units and trying to keep up with the basics of eCommerce: Keep the website updated, inventory merchandised well, stay atop the search engines, play with social media, and handle leads/calls responsibly. Well, we already know that we don’t always do these activities perfectly so I implore you to step outside your normal training regimen and focus on some new exercises. These are the basics that help you strengthen your core. The goal is to make sure you are properly maintaining your digital self by training on getting better at these basics.
As I sit here mid-March, having just returned from Dallas where I spoke on behalf of the Chrysler Southwest Business Center, with my Vice President, Bill Playford, in Austin for the SXSW Conference, I see some great things happening online. We all see Google changing their algorithms every week it seems. Some changes are being made that will drastically affect how you are seen on the search engines. Can I just say – Pay Attention to Your Google Maps and Google Places. Start now. Take the time while it is still a little cold outside (if you don’t live in the south) and flesh out your Google Accounts profile. Explore those tools available to you.
As it is with all conditioning programs (so I’ve heard… I’m in no personal condition to talk exercise for real) that what you put into your body is just as important as the energy you put out. As you prepare for the warmer months, look closely at the ingredients/vendors you are filling your diet with. Are these really the right things to be consuming? Were your eyes bigger than your wallet during the fall and winter months that you may have signed on for unsuccessful or underdeveloped programs/tools? It might be time to trim a little of the fat out of your dealership diet and see if you can replace it with something organic… homegrown…. Do-it-yourself initiatives. It’s the living room TaeBo work-out of in-dealership exercises.
Lastly, database marketing is well overlooked at most stores. If your sales team is no longer busy brushing snow off cars or coffee-clutching, put them on the cycle and have them reach out to past customers. If it takes you bringing in a new tool to data-mine your DMS, do it. Auto dealers have endless opportunities for sales, service and parts if they only mined that gold that is sitting in their DMS. This is the Bowflex of internet opportunities. A vendor and your staff must data mine for your loyal customers’ information, capture email addresses, utilize technology to review buying trends of the customers and develop targeted email campaigns to reach, convert, and attract those customers back into their store. And beyond technology, just give them a call. Wish them a ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’ personally. That type of commitment to customer service goes a long way.
So if you are reading this and you realize the leads have remained a little stagnant from the slow winter months, less customers are walking in, and the phones aren’t ringing as abundantly, don’t sit back and wait. Get up and exercise your digital muscles. You may find yourself getting stronger during a time when you least expect it. The digital cardio you perform now will allow you to keep you healthy and give you the energy to keep moving forward in the future.