Is Your Dealership Attractive?
There’s an old adage that says, “A business must grow to survive.” This is especially true for automotive dealerships. Over time, some of your customers will move away, some will change lifestyles, and others will leave for a myriad of other reasons that are beyond your control. In other words, if your dealership isn’t constantly attracting new customers to replace them, you will eventually find yourself with no customers left.
This Issue Paper will give you the keys to bringing new customers into your dealership. To show you how all of the pieces work together, we have broken the process down into 3 phases:
* Create the appropriate messaging and branding
* Reach out to new customers
* Get the right resources, practices, and tools in place
Messaging and Branding
In order for your messaging to have an impact on your customers, careful planning is required. Don’t slip into the common pitfall of just coming up with some catchy slogan, slapping it on an ad, and sending it out to the masses. Good messaging is very specific to the needs of your audience, and must speak to them on a personal level.
Your “target customers” are those who are most likely to buy from you. Resist the temptation to be too general in the hopes of getting a larger slice of the market. That’s like firing 10 bullets in random directions instead of aiming just one dead center of the mark – expensive and dangerous.
-Isabella Trebond, Entrepreneur Magazine
To start, get a good grip on the overall brand messaging and target markets of your OEM. Then determine how well your dealership fits that image. Do you effectively reinforce the manufacturer’s messaging? Are you focusing your efforts on reaching out to the right target market? If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, fixing your messaging and
branding should become a top priority. Your reputation as a dealership is built on how well you fit the brand image of your manufacturer, as well as the kind of experience you give your customers.If that reputation is not a positive one, word-of-mouth will most certainly hurt you, and you will find yourself struggling to attract new customers.
If you evaluate your target market and discover that it is not big enough to sustain ongoing business growth for your dealership, it’s time to consider marketing to an additional target market. For example, you could potentially increase parts business by marketing to do-it-yourselfers. Perhaps expand marketing to younger (or older) customers. Consider opening an online parts hub to become your area’s leader in wholesale parts sales. There are countless target markets you can explore to increase business. However, it’s important to remember that your dealership must maintain a consistent overall position in the marketplace for each brand. Attempting to be “all things to all people” for any given brand will only result in confusion and alienation of your target audience.
When your target market segment is established, you need to develop effective messaging by putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes. Ask yourself, “Why should they come to visit my dealership?” What advantages do you have over your competitors? Do your customers already know about those advantages? Perception and reality may be two very different things. For instance, you may in fact have the most efficient and professional service department in your area, but if your customers don’t know or believe it, it really doesn’t matter.
Now that you know your target market and what your message will be, it’s time to look at different ways to reach out to bring new customers into your dealership. A great place to start is your existing customer list. As you know, many people who purchase vehicles from your dealership don’t return to you for service. These customers are your low-hanging fruit. You already have their contact information and they have a history with your dealership, so you are in a great position to win their service business. And when you succeed in bringing them back, be sure to ask them to refer friends and family to your dealership. Referrals are very powerful tools, and they don’t cost your dealership a dime.
If a dealer sells 100 cars in a month:
* 28 of those people will be “loyal” service customers, returning regularly
* 32 of those people will never set foot in the dealership again
* 40 of those people will visit the service department 1 or 2 times, and then never return
Source: A MarketView360 survey of 800 dealerships.
Your Web site is another cost-effective method of reaching out to new customers. Most dealerships these days have a relatively comprehensive Web site, but too few are actually using it to gather customer information. Make sure that every page on your site has a “contact us” icon or some other call to action. Do anything you can to entice prospects to give you their email address before they leave your Web site…then contact them IMMEDIATELY. If a potential customer is on your Web site, you have a limited amount of time to contact them before they make their vehicle purchase decision (either from you or your competitors).
Now that you have your customer referrals and Web site working for you, you can look into more traditional mass media advertising to get new customers into your dealership. Find out what publications your target market reads (newspapers, magazines, etc.), what local television channels they watch, and what radio stations they listen to, then build your advertising plans accordingly. Based on your knowledge of your customers, include some kind of incentive to get them to come to your dealership. This should be something that will really speak to your customers (tent sale, free gas cap check, appearance by a NASCAR driver, etc.).
Of course, direct mail is always an option as well. You can create helpful and informative articles, company newsletters, special offers, and other messages to include in a mailing to everyone in your area. Anything that helps you to maintain a personal relationship with that customer is beneficial. Lastly, try to develop symbiotic relationships with other industries. For example, real estate organizations are a great source of new prospects moving into the area, and may even be willing to pass along a flyer to all of their new clients for you. In turn, perhaps you can offer the real estate staff some kind of special discount or some other kind of incentive. The possibilities are endless.
Google research dated August 2007 indicates:
* 73% of vehicle buyers perform online research
* Two-thirds of vehicle purchasers spent four weeks or less researching vehicles before buying. Over one-third spent less than seven days.