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From the Trenches - Let's Get Personal


As a practice, relationship marketing differs from other forms of marketing in that it recognizes the long term value of customer relationships and extends communication beyond intrusive advertising and sales promotional messages - Wikipedia


Getting Personal with Relationship Marketing


Some will maintain that new cars are not a commodity.  I respect that opinion in that manufacturers must sell the benefit of a product versus their competitor’s product.  In my mind, I assign this responsibility primarily to the manufacturer.


For dealers, I respectfully beg to differ.  By the time a customer arrives at a dealer’s website, they are generally sure about what brand of vehicle they desire.  A dealer’s main competitor is a same-brand dealer.  This is especially true in over-saturated urban markets such as my own in the Chicago area.


When a customer has decided on your brand, they are no longer searching for a vehicle; they are searching for a dealer.  They may believe they are searching for price, but when competition drives the price to the bottom, as it has in Chicagoland, the competition becomes personal.  Who is the better dealer to do business with?


Relationship marketing is mostly retention-based marketing.  However this is deceptive in itself because in creating loyal customers through trust and transparency, we create advocates.  Advocates create new business on your behalf through referrals.


Referrals used to happen privately among friends.  Today it happens publicly among Social Media “friends” and acquaintances and their exponentially larger lists of friends and acquaintances.


Social Media is not a tool for transactional marketing where you ply consumers with ads to get them in the door.  It is primarily a relationship tool for encouraging trust and friendship.  People buy from people they like.  That is not a new concept.


I submit that you can hire a Social Media company to supply the meat of a relationship, but dealers or dealership personnel must supply the flavor and the gravy personally.  Relationships cannot be outsourced. You must participate!


The definition of relationship is: a connection, association, or involvement.  Dealership personnel MUST build that connection and be personally involved in it’s continuation up to and through the next transaction.


Customer reviews are merely a reflection and verbalization of that relationship.  Recent manufacturer requirements that dealers hire a “Reputation Management” company are simply misplaced priorities.  If outside companies offer a dealer tools to track and measure their online reputation, that is for the good of all.  But dealers cannot and should not put their reputations into other’s hands. 


Your reputation is yours alone to earn and be proud of or regret and try to hide.


The Internet and technology has given us unprecedented tools to communicate with, interact with, and build relationships with our customers. 


Word-of-Mouth marketing has been given new life and new meaning.  Live with it, submerse yourself in it, and make hay.  If not, you’re running out of time!


Time to get personal!



Written by
 Tom Gorham

Editor, From The Trenches

Automotive Digital Marketing

Professional Community

Views: 579

Tags: Customer, Digital, Management, Marketing, Media, OEM, ROI, Relationship, Reputation, Service, More…Social, Transactional


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Comment by Tom Gorham on November 24, 2012 at 1:27pm

Tom Hawkins, relationship marketing is not new.  In days gone by, salespeople joined groups like Jaycees and Lion's Club to circulate and build relationships and referrals.  Small town dealers helped to support local groups and charities (still do).  But today, a lot of those things are focused through the Internet.  Social Media and reputation are tied together inextricably online.

There are companies out there (I use one) that will work with you on your terms.  But as I said in the article, you, the dealer or dealership employee reflect the nature and character of your business.  While the SM company can provide daily communications and ideas for your social media, you can inject that unique character into it without massive amounts of time involved.

As I stated earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  You can tailor it to your needs and situation.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 24, 2012 at 1:15pm

Daniel, the focus of reputation management companies tends to be on reviews and SEO.  They have software tools to monitor and report comments about the dealer online.  They can provide those tools to dealers and dealers can respond accordingly.  It's not a full-time job in and of itself.

Many dealers have been misled and damaged by poor advice and attempts to manipulate review sites by reputation management companies.  Some have been guilty of fraud and uploading fake reviews.  Dealers must be vigilant in whom they put their trust when dealing with something as valuable as their hard-earned reputations.

There are obviously dealers out there that need real assistance with a poor reputation.  Those dealers would be better served concentrating on customer service and building good relations with their customers than with trying to manipulate review sites and SEO. 

Word-of-Mouth takes place on the web (not sure about the ink) today.  Reviews, Social Media, and Advocates are all part of that word-of-mouth marketing.

Comment by Tom Hawkins on November 24, 2012 at 10:27am

Not everyone has a "Tom Gorham" at their dealership.  Using a reputation management company is a good idea ONLY if you have someone at the dealership with half of Tom's knowledge and passion to work with them on a consistent basis.  In small dealerships, it's too much work  to do it my opinion anyway.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 24, 2012 at 7:25am

Martin, thank you!  This is why one-size-fits-all marketing approaches don't work, one-size-fits-all Social Media doesn't work, and one-size-fits-all Reputation Management doesn't work.  Dealers have to take a personal approach to relationships with their customers.  I appreciate your comments!

Comment by Martin Logsdon on November 24, 2012 at 6:36am

Right On, Tom. I have been in many Dealers promoting retention for @ 20 years and it took a while to catch on.  Also, 20 years ago I developed and managed an in-house advertising agency for a growing dealer group for many years.  I remember one of the things the managing partner drove into me : "It is the manufacturers job to promote their vehicles, it is our job to promote OUR stores."

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 23, 2012 at 8:54pm

Ralph, you have mentioned what I consider to be a systemic problem.  I don't believe management personnel are necessarily negative, although that can be true, but there can be a problem in perception as to what is right and doing the right thing.

Emphasis on customer service must begin at the top and the dealer must create that atmosphere, sometimes at the expense of profits.  Hiring and training are obviously key and the being persistent and clear in one's expectations and follow-through.


Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 23, 2012 at 8:37pm

Tom, thanks for the great insight... I particularly like your emphasis on taking responsibility for your dealership's reputation, and your own personal reputation. The reality of reputation is that there are few if any car dealerships that are going to be able to out-manage their reputation around poor customer service.  Eventually, if you irritate and disappoint enough people, the word gets out... Gaming any of the online customer review systems is a temporary distraction because the delivery of actual poor customer service by a dealer's employees is met with the concerted and determined efforts of many pissed off customers who will get the word out.

Which brings me to a point that his been confounding me for several years... So many car dealers, the owners, the dealer principals are truly dedicated to delivering exceptional customer service, but the people they hire and put in charge are not.  That is the Catch-22 of dealership reputation management, "Ralph Paglia Motors" can get a bad reputation even if I am personally dedicated to customer service and resolve every customer issue I personally get involved with... Bad managers or employees with a negative attitude towards customers will undo a dealer's own personal commitment every time, because there are so many more of them!

The consistently difficult Reputation Management objective to achieve is the embodiment of the dealer's own personal commitment to customer service amongst the employees and managers.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 23, 2012 at 8:07pm

Brian, thank you so much!  I am always happy to hear about sales experience outside of the car business.  Your experience is much like the real estate business in that nurturing your customers is a long-term project that pays off in spades.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience!

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 23, 2012 at 7:36pm

Thank you Tom Hawkins.  It's not hard to like those who like you!  Appreciate them and think of them as friends and they will do likewise.  Don't turn relationships into business that you can outsource to more congenial souls.  It is fake and phony.  Be that trusted and friendly person that customers turn to and refer to.

Comment by Tom Hawkins on November 23, 2012 at 6:43pm

You are so right, Tom.  Those who realize that this is a relationship business and use today's technology to leverage the relationships will be the successful salespeople in the future.

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