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10 Things to Consider Before You Blow Off the Idea of Transparency

Dealers are constantly looking for ways to get an edge in the digital age, yet many continue to follow the same sales and advertising practices that they’ve been using for decades.

The problem is that the game has changed and consumers have access to much more information and choices than ever before. In the past the dealer controlled all of the information, but today it’s just the opposite. Any information you offer is now carefully scrutinized and validated by a vast amount of online data. As a result, the likelihood of old-school sales practices backfiring has increased substantially.

So what type of “old-school” practices am I talking about? How about pricing vehicles without disclosing that there are rebates that most people don’t qualify for; trade-in values where the selling price is increased; trade under-allowances; withholding information on phone pops and internet leads (“just get ‘em in”); write-ups and F&I presentations (four-squares & payment packing); bait & switch advertising; and non-disclosure of vehicle histories and add-on fees?

I have spoken to many people who think this new-fangled transparency talk is just nonsense. After all, we've been doing business the same way for decades and it’s been wildly successful. If it ain't broke we’d be stupid trying to fix it.

I get it. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent most of my career as a poster child for the “but we've always done it this way” mindset. My thinking has changed though. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some amazingly-smart automotive thought-leaders who have taught me that there’s more to success then the “whatever it takes to make a deal” mentality. While the business-as-usual way of thinking sure is comfortable, I’ve come to realize that it’s probably not the key to long-term success.

So before you discount the idea of transparency in your dealership, you may want to consider these 10 potential benefits.

Increase Lead Conversion - The ultimate goal is still to “get ‘em in” and close the deal, but for an increasing number of shoppers, transparency is the only thing that will get them in. Not being upfront about details used to have its benefits. Up until recently, the salesperson could control the selling process because he or she controlled the information. Today, it’s just the opposite - consumers have all the information they need at their fingertips. If you resist answering customer’s questions, chances are you’ll never hear from them again.

Increase Closing Ratios - Higher levels of satisfaction with the selling process result in higher closing rates and higher sales. A recent survey by Maritz Research of over 163,000 Americans found that 64.0% are completely satisfied when one person with pricing authority negotiates a car deal vs. 20.7% when two or more with no pricing authority are involved.

Improve Your Reputation (your REAL reputation, not necessarily the one you “manage” online) - A dealership’s reputation is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain when staff members depend on “old school” practices. Customers often make decisions during a vehicle sale transaction that they come to regret after the “ether has worn off”. You can be sure they’re telling somebody about the transaction.  Or perhaps they’re telling thousands of people online?

Avoid Legal Problems - State & federal regulators frequently target “non-transparent” dealer practices as unfair and deceptive. These practices include bait and switch advertising, failure to sell at advertised prices, payment packing, vehicle history disclosures, yo-yo financing, improper fee disclosure, and misleading pricing.

But it ain’t illegal if you don’t get caught, right?

The new reality is that “getting “caught” is no longer likely to be just a fine and slap on the wrist. Regulators now have a new trick up their sleeve - using the media to humiliate those dealers caught in order to intimidate others. There’s plenty of political capital in going after car dealers for ambitious regulators. These regulators want press, and the tougher and more far-reaching the press the better. As a result, the severity of the offenses is often exaggerated (think about what the FTC did to those 5 unfortunate dealers last year). You need to ask yourself what the cost of that kind of negative publicity would be.

Increase Customer Satisfaction - Lack of transparency and old school tactics invariably diminish the customer experience. Nobody likes surprises. Sure, you made the deal but are your customers truly satisfied with your processes or do you just wear them down?

At the end of the day higher customer satisfaction translates into more repeat and referral business.

Increase Customer Loyalty - Customers only have loyalty if you earn it from them.

Transparent processes help build customer loyalty and retention. You’ll find that customers will be willing to spend more when they feel they’re buying from a business they can trust.

Your Customers Have Unprecedented Access to Information in Real Time - A recent JD Power report highlights a growing trend called 'Showrooming' where prospects sitting in your showroom are actually price competing your deal with another dealership using their mobile devices. Consumers not only have more access to information but also have access to more dealers. In the past, consumers were limited to dealers in their local area. The increase in the amount of information available to consumers has brought consumers a quick and easy way to analyze not only different prices via internet quotes but also to identify who they want to do business with. Customers simply have too many choices and will quickly discard dealers they feel are hiding something. Holding back information will only make them trust you less.

Reduce Chargebacks – What happens after the ether wears off and the customer goes home and reads the contract? I’ve found that the percentage of chargebacks and cancellations is directly related to transparency in sales and finance processes. For instance, staff members who participate in payment packing typically have a much higher chargeback rate. Once customers figure out that the “protection package” wasn't really only a “few extra bucks a month”, they want to know why. You can only hope they don’t ask an attorney that question.

You’ll Stand Out From Your Competition – Let’s face it, there just aren’t a great number of dealers who are transparent yet. Progressive dealers can easily differentiate themselves by marketing their transparent processes and demonstrating their honesty. Consumers will respond - after all, how many consumers prefer old-school tactics?

Transparency is what consumers have been begging for so why not treat them the way they want to be treated? – Here’s a hint: it’s happens to be the right thing to do. In my opinion, subjecting customers to old-school processes doesn’t give them the respect they deserve. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The good news is that transparency can be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A transparent business model can greatly enhance your sales, reputation, customer retention, and bottom line. But first you must find the vision and courage it takes to break down deep-rooted stereotypes and embrace transparency.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Transparency is not a dirty word but complacency is. Do you have the vision and courage it takes to embrace transparency and go from being good to being great?

Views: 394

Tags: Jim Radogna, car dealer, compliance, internet sales, marketing, pricing, transparency

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Comment by Thomas A. Kelly on March 19, 2013 at 3:51am

Lie, cheat, mislead or steal? Hell no. Advertise what I am willing to sell my product for under the most common circumstances? Hell yes. What it costs me to bring anything to market is my business. If I choose to share part or all of my true costs with the consumer, that is my decision. If I am able to drive my costs down with efficiencies or economies of scale, do I somehow, some way owe any portion of that to any one? Am I obligated to show my true costs to bring goods and services to market? How does the word “transparency” apply? Suppose for the moment I had invented the Zorch Speedy Recon System and was able to reduce my clean up/recon time and material by 50%. What if I turn my inventory twice as fast as most of my competitors? Can I keep my reduced interest expense or do I owe it or any part of it to anyone? David is correct. It is the perception of transparency we are talking about here. Transparency “to a point” is really not transparency at all.

Comment by David Ruggles on March 19, 2013 at 12:56am

  In a negotiation, if neither party gets their feathers ruffled, money was left on the table.  When you play poker, do you show your cards to your opponent before it is necessary?  You want to pretend this isn't negotiation?  Will someone kindly define transparency in this context?  You guys are making up new definitions for words that already have definitions.

Comment by David Ruggles on March 18, 2013 at 7:28am

Anyone want to define the word "transparency?"  How many of you are negotiating the margin? 

Comment by Tom 1TeamSynergy Wiegand on March 18, 2013 at 6:27am

Well stated, Jim.  Personal video validation and transparency will prove the leading indicator of "Wow moment" trust factors that take a business viral for all the right, positive reasons.  It starts at the business-person level communicating and relating with prospects and customers, allowing them to brand one or a team of validating and transparent customer enthusiasts. 

Retention's leading indicator is "price" while Loyalty's leading indicator is "people relationships."  Retention is only as good as the price.  Loyalty is that unconditional reciprocity factor a customer just must speak about openly conveying to their world: "these people (plural = more than one) at this business are the best, most validating and transparent people to do business with, and I recommend them, and their business, without hesitation." 

If this is not what you are out to achieve right now, others seeing the light will not only beat you to these people wanting "loyalty", once loyalty is engrained with others at the other business, forget about even trying your slickest tricks, they are gone from your business forever! 

If you are not moving your people and your team from "Retention" practices to "Loyalty" practices, all your intentions of moving forward will be questions of "what happened" as others win them and keep them.  And, we're not talking years here, we're talking soon here, very soon! 

Comment by Thomas Reidy on March 17, 2013 at 4:54pm

It amazes me the bellyaching that dealers do about how the business isn't fun or profitable anymore: The squeeze is on from their OEMs; Buyers won't close unless its below invoice; sales are down because the sales force isn't hungry enough, yada, yada, yada. Old-school tricks don't work anymore because the buyer has read the old-school playbook and knows what's coming next.

If a dealership is closing 30% in its Ups--it is considered a superstar. But think about that for a moment; 70% of the prospects sold the sales team that they should give them valuable information for free, so that they can go do business with the dealership's competitors. Of course, the actual national closing ratio is closer to 20%. Who's closing Whom?

Dealership sales and profitability revolves around new-school transparency. Heavy-weight marketers like Dan Kennedy and Jay Abraham teach the value of building a value proposition not on pushing a product, but rather, solving the customers' core pains (Building sales through the speed of trust).

Stephen Covey in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" talks about the rules of engagement in Win-Win negotiations. Guess who sets the rules of engagement in a dealership (hint: its not the customer).

Dealers entrenched in old-school sales tactics have no reason to complain about how the business is so tough these days--move toward the light by thinking Win-Win.

Comment by David Ruggles on March 17, 2013 at 4:17pm

We'll have transparency when dealers become transparent with their sales people and managers, and not a moment before.  We're talking about the perception of transparency here, NOT REAL transparency.  REAL transparency would be when we disclose our triple net cost and negotiate the margin.  REAL transparency would be when we take the customers trade in to the auction, then hand him over the check.  How many customer want us to pay them more than wholesale for their trade?  Yea, they'll be reasonable with us if we're transparent, right?

It has NEVER been about transparency and has alwasy been about perception of transparency, just like perception of a good deal.  Let's start calling it what it is.  Otherwise we're just bullshitting ourselves.

Comment by Roosevelt Gist on March 17, 2013 at 4:11pm

Agree 100%. Lack of transparency is stressfull selling...not knowing if the total deal and/or parts will unwind.

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