I've been trying to incorporate a customer relations database, better internet selling tools, and more effective phone skills into my sales system.
The hard part has not been finding companies to help with hardware or software. Dozens of them are ready to jump in with consulting, training and all sorts of support. If you have a vision, they'll work with you. If you need a vision, they'll sell you one. That's the easy part.
The hard part is the staffing. The tough thing about dealering these days is the realization that the interaction between customers and dealerships overwhelmingly is in the hands of staffers who are too often short term and underpaid. Because the costs of selling new cars often outstrips the profits on those sales, there's precious little in the deal to support increased staff, training or new systems.
My manufacturer suggests that I should solve this dilemma with an environment that promotes longevity, an occasional rehab of my dealership and some full-page ads in the Sunday paper. My short list of remedies would add training, better pay and perhaps a retirement plan for my staff.
Which brings me to this month's, “What if?” What if my manufacturer replaced their one-size-fits-all programs with a true sharing of pricing and sales strategies customized to my marketplace.
By adapting to “street pricing,” they'd see things differently. For starters they'd see the need for street pricing to support sales pay plans and commissions without mysterious calculations designed to feel like they're paying more while, really, they're not.
Perhaps they'd redesign the holdback formula to accommodate sales people and their long-term family needs. Nothing supports more confidence and career longevity than a solid reliable pay plan.
What if dealers and manufacturers partnered in recruiting and training sales people according to a realistic vision of what a car-buying experience could be?
With a shared approach we wouldn't have to worry that half of our customers are in the hands of the bottom half of the sales force. No customer would have to suffer an almost-ready trainee hired to replace last month's sales loser.
No salesperson would have to learn the trade through a baptism of fire: “Welcome to Bottom Out Motors. Here's your desk. There are the brochures. The cars and trucks are outside. I sure hope you sell more than the last guy. He was nice but didn't last too long. Good luck.”
With a shared training responsibility we could take a longer view of developing our salespeople into career professionals. Where, other than car sales, is a career based on commissions so early in the process?
After fixing the dilemmas of pricing, pay plans and training, we could fix the over dealering thing too. By putting a little breathing room between them, dealers could rid themselves of desperate sales tactics that have customers feeling like a lamb chop in a lion's den upon entering our showrooms.
If the discounts fostered by overdealering were shared by dealer and manufacturer alike, manufacturers could find a way to calculate the value of eliminating excess marketplace competition.
A new-age partnership with my manufacturer would definitely change their approach on how to index the satisfaction of our customers, too.
Immediately they'd be asking fewer questions of customers who are happy, and a more questions of those customers who aren't. They would see that contented customers should not be prodded too heavily to rethink their decision to buy; a happy customer should not have to swear out an affidavit certifying the depth of their satisfaction.
On the other hand, customers who fail to return for service should be pursued vigorously. Even more telling would be surveys from the three out of four shoppers who leave without buying. Among the secrets of those who enter and leave our sales floor without buying are the keys to market share.
Rather than probing customers who buy, how about a deep dive into understanding those who don't.
The list of partnered possibilities is endless, but with a shared responsibility comes a unified vision. With that among auto makers and dealers, there's no telling what we could accomplish.
Peter Brandow is a veteran auto dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.