Professional Community for Car Dealers, Automotive Marketers and Sales Managers
Before you get started reading this, let me warn you that it is about twice as long as my normal posts, over 1200 words. I got started and the words just started flowing. I hope you find this useful.
I’ve been in the car business almost 30 years now and it seems like one of the topics that never goes away is customer loyalty. Every year salespeople and management bemoan the fact that customer loyalty is less existent than it was before. After 30 years of hearing this, you would have to think that loyalty can’t exist at all anymore.
However, we know that isn’t true, either. Many dealerships have a strong base of loyal repeat customers and great salespeople make their living serving a large base of happy, loyal customers and their referrals without ever taking a fresh UP. They must be doing something right to generate this loyal following.
Let’s take a look at the three levels of loyalty and what you can do to improve performance at each level.
People generally dislike change. We all get in our own comfort zones and tend not to like to venture very far outside of them. When an individual finds a vehicle that they really like, they are inclined to stay with that same kind of vehicle. If there experience with a certain manufacturer is a good one, they are likely to look on that manufacturer favorably and want to do business with them again.
The manufacturers spend millions of dollars every year to try to reinforce brand loyalty. They know that brand loyalty is the weakest form of loyalty and the easiest to overcome. Public perception is that all brands produce vehicles of similar quality and technological advancement. Manufacturers spend huge sums of money trying to differentiate their products, reinforce current customer loyalty and attempt to convince consumers loyal to a competitor that it is worthwhile to for them to switch brands.
All of this happens well above the dealership level and many salespeople pay little attention since they have no effect on what the manufacturer does. However, what the manufacturer does has a great deal of effect on the salesman and how he does his job. For that reason, the professional salesman needs to pay attention to what his brand is doing to maintain brand loyalty and capture brand loyalty from other nameplates and what those other nameplates are doing to try to ‘steal’ his customers.
I started in this business when the Internet was still a newborn. Dealer advertising was predominately done through the local newspaper and radio station and, since this was also during the infancy of cable television, through broadcast television for larger dealers. The dealer I worked for was considered very aggressive because he bought time on broadcast television in the bigger city that had a station 45 miles away in an attempt to lure customers to drive that far to buy a new vehicle but he was the exception rather than the norm.
Dealers predominately competed with other dealers within a 20 -30 minute drive, which generally meant only one or two other dealers of your own franchise. Dealers built a large following of loyal customer who bought several vehicles from that dealership and hesitated to even shop anywhere else. I’ll never forget the soul searching my father went through when he made the decision to buy a new vehicle from a dealer other than the one he had purchased from for years.
Cheap advertising via cable television and the growing use of the Internet put an end to that kind of loyalty. Potential customers could now shop from more dealers farther from their home and, for the past decade, can do so without ever leaving that home. Dealers themselves contributed to this problem, as well. In their quest to reach out to more and more potential customers, many dealers lost track of taking care of their loyal customers. Perhaps they assumed these customers would remain loyal but, whatever their thinking, they left these customer ripe to be picked off by another dealer who paid more attention to them.
Today, the pool of customers loyal to a particular dealer has shrunk; partially due to market conditions and partially self-inflicted. The top dealers have always tried to serve this group and the good news is that more and more dealers are, once again, paying close attention to their loyal customer base.
This level of loyalty is closely aligned to the next, Salesperson Loyalty. The dealer can do everything absolutely right and the wrong salesperson can destroy that in an instant. Conversely, a salesperson can do a near perfect job of instilling loyalty in his or her customers but poor service at the dealership can annihilate all of those efforts.
This is the ultimate level of loyalty. Zig Ziglar wrote, “Every sale has five basic obstacles; no need, no money, no desire, no trust”. It is that last part that defines customer loyalty for a particular salesperson. People buy from people they trust. As my friend Jeffrey Gitomer says, “It’s not about closing a sale; it’s about opening a relationship”.
Back in the day, as they say, salespeople stayed at one dealership virtually their entire career and the job of automotive salesperson was highly respected in most communities. When my father agonized over changing dealers, it was as much about leaving the salesperson he had always done business with and had grown to be friends with as it was about taking his business to a new dealership.
Society in general has become more mobile as far as jobs are concerned and this is as evident in the car business as it is anywhere else. Salespeople seem particularly susceptible to the “grass is always greener somewhere else” philosophy and some move dealerships several times in their career. It is rare, however, to see the top salesman leave a dealership and move. Why do you suppose that is?
I am both amazed and amused when I see salespeople move from one brand to a competitor. After years extolling the virtues of one brand, suddenly they are touting a different brand as being even better. If you don’t think the vehicles you sell are the best available, can you really do a great job selling them?
I experienced this once in my own sales career. A friend convinced me that I could make more money by switching to the dealership he worked at. The problem was, I never really like that particular brand and don’t to this day. I lasted there 6 months.
To be a top salesperson, you need to believe in your product, believe in your company and believe in yourself in order to do the best job for the people who put their trust in you. You must constantly be looking for and learning about new ways to help your customer better. This is the kind of dedication that creates the kind of loyalty that keeps customers coming back and asking for you and makes them willing to send their friends and relatives to do business with you.
To be the best of the best, all three kinds of loyalty need to be in harmony. If you don’t believe your brand is the best one on the market, you will not succeed to your full potential. If your dealership does not support you fully and provide your customers with exceptional service, that will undermine your efforts. And if you focus on your career as being all about “making the Benjamins” and not about helping your customers to satisfy their wants and needs, you will never be all you can be.
Start today to improve your deficiencies in all three areas and tomorrow you can be the star you were always meant to be.