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Vendors: Don’t Be So Darn Annoying!

As a PR professional, my primary goal is to assist my clients in achieving the most exposure possible and build top-of-mind brand awareness among their potential customers. To help better understand how to best position my clients for success, I did a little research on how dealers perceive vendors and their practices.

 

I reached out to Bobbie Herron, Digital Sales and Marketing Manager for the Garber Automotive Group. Herron was recently named to Automotive News’ “Retail 40 under 40” list and she was kind enough to share a few things with me that vendors do to irritate her, causing them to potentially lose her business.

 

Herron responded with what irritates her, along with some best practice tips on how vendors can better approach dealers as follows:

 

  1. “I’m a very progressive person and willing to try new solutions if I feel that they will benefit the stores in my group. One of the things that irritates me is when a vendor asks me to participate in a beta test of their product and then wants to charge me for it. In my opinion, I’m doing them a favor. They are getting access to my data and getting feedback from me as a user, which assists them in fine-tuning their product. This is very valuable data for them to have and for them to try and charge me for it is ridiculous.”
  2. “When a vendor reaches out to me trying to solicit their product or service, my first piece of advice is to back off with the constant calling and e-mailing. Most vendors don’t provide me with any useful information in these communications. I either get a generic voicemail or an obvious e-mail template that offers me no reason to return their call. The best way for a vendor to earn my business is to learn about me and my stores before they contact me. Give me a reason why their product is a good fit, with examples and data specific to my group. Most of the time, it is obvious that I’m simply on a list and have been placed on a CRM cycle. That drives me nuts. If a vendor doesn’t care enough to take time to learn about me, and can’t provide me with a thoughtful and logical argument for why their service will help my group, then they won’t get my attention.”
  3. “Vendors who approach me with over-the-top claims and promises might as well stop. I know this business very well. If you think you will earn my business by making outlandish claims that are impossible to achieve, you’re wrong.”
  4. “When I get calls from vendors that actually do get through to me, have managed to get my attention, then cannot answer my questions, they’re done. If you’re going to try and sell me something, at least know your product and enough about the automotive industry to give me practical examples.”
  5. “The fastest death sentence a vendor can achieve is by overstepping a hierarchy. I understand that the obvious assumption most vendors make is that they need to contact either the General Manager or Dealer to speak with a decision maker. The fact is that there are many stores in which an Internet Director, e-Commerce Director, or Digital Marketing Manager are the actual decision makers. Make an effort to know who the decision makers are. There’s nothing I hate more than being called into one of my General Manager’s offices to be confronted with a vendor who managed to skip over me. They’re only going to throw the vendor back to me. Even worse is when I walk into a meeting in which a vendor proceeds to criticize and blast all of the things we’re already doing in an effort to prove how much their product or service will improve our existing marketing.”

 

Herron didn’t stop there, however. She also had some valuable advice for her existing vendors as to the three things they do that make her question their partnership:

 

  1. “One of my biggest pet peeves is a vendor who never reaches out to me. I feel like once they got my business, they stopped caring. They should be reaching out to me regularly; if only to check in with me and see if I have any questions. Many vendors don’t do this very simple thing and then wonder why the dealer cancels their service. Maybe if they had ensured that the dealer knew how to use their product properly, and were using it to its fullest potential, they wouldn’t have lost a client.”
  2. “Many vendors, especially at the start of the relationship, will automatically advise me to change my process to whatever process their best clients are using, without taking the time to learn my existing process. Rather than trying to transform everything we do immediately, they should take the time to see how their product or service can fit in with what we are already doing. I’m not opposed to changing processes if they will help my stores sell more vehicles, but don’t come in with guns blazing and shoot down everything we’re already doing before even knowing what those things are.”
  3. “Last, but not least; when one of our existing vendors makes additions or changes to products or services we are already using without notifying me. One of the first things I do at each conference I attend is visit the booth of every vendor we use. I have them give me a product demo as if I were a prospect, rather than an existing customer. By doing this, there have been many times where I have learned of new features or services that I already had, but didn’t know about.”

 

Taking the time to listen to feedback from a dealer can help all of us vendors better evaluate practices so as to offer our clients a first class experience; from prospecting to customer service. Dealers share stories about companies and products in the same ways that consumers do about dealerships. Every employee and customer touch point shapes a company’s personality. Knowing what irritates potential and existing clients is the first step to earning and keeping business. To your success!

Views: 1045

Tags: automotive, barber, communication, digital, industry, marketing, news, public, relations, relationships, More…service, solicitation, vendors

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Comment by Tom Gorham 12 hours ago

Bobbie, great response to Todd who I also am acquainted with and have great respect for.  We, as dealership employees face the same kind of criticism from our customers and try to adjust our behavior accordingly.  Our job is to convert prospects into customers.  We are persistent in our quest.  So are vendors who consider us prospects who need to be converted into customers.

If nothing else, it gives us all pause to consider what we are doing within the perception of a customer, whether that customer is a car buyer or a dealer.  I mentioned this article to a vendor we do business with today and they did not take offense.  They took notes.  To me, that is a healthy response.  I must do the same when the criticism comes from a potential car buyer.

There is always a place for best practices, and we must be cognizant of that.  But we must never write it in stone as best practices change with the evolution of the culture of the industry.  We live not just in an evolutionary environment, but I dare say, a revolutionary environment within the car business.  To both car dealers and vendors, I say, listen and learn without a defensive attitude but one of "what will work"?

Comment by Bobbie Herron 21 hours ago

Todd- In my business I not only reach out to customers by way of phone and email to gather reviews, I have also retained partners such as Digital Airstrike to assist us in this. We do this because we know that we as dealership personnel can also be "annoying". I welcome the input from my customers so that I we can change our strategy and adapt constantly to what fit's them. It's not always what I want to hear, sometimes it stings to hear it and almost always we suck it up and try to fix whatever the perceived issue is. In the dealership, I face every type of stereotype you can imagine and I find none of it "offensive". I work harder every day to improve our skills in a way that will be more appealing to our customers. Just as our vendors/partners do for us. I think it’s important that we remember that the truth can be hurtful of our feelings but is intended as an opportunity for growth. I have a lot of respect for what you guys do every day. Don't misunderstand that notion.

Comment by sara callahan yesterday

Thanks everyone for the comments and I appreciate all of the positive feedback. 

@Todd - You hit the nail on the head with the title of the blog. A great headline CAN make or break an article. It certainly wasn't meant to "label" vendors as universally annoying. There are many vendors (some that have commented in this thread), that understand the point of this article. It wasn't to put down vendors, it was to provide feedback from a manager of a dealer group on what challenges she faces with vendors (whether they are ones she is using or ones she isn't). I apologize if you were offended by the title. It wasn't designed to offend anyone. Simply to catch attention. 

...and, for the record, I do no public relations work for the Garber Automotive Group. Bobbie was introduced to me by a friend and she agreed to assist me with this article. 

Comment by Todd Vowell yesterday

So Sara, I stopped commenting on ADM because dealers never jump in and I care about automotive dealerships and what they think, feel, believe, etc. But your blog strikes me in the heart. I know the title will make or break a blog but calling out “Vendors” as “annoying” is offensive to me and probably many others who have committed their lives (or at least the past 30 years) to serving car dealerships and helping them:
 

  • Increase profits in Fixed Ops
  • Generate leads, service, prospects, traffic
  • Increase profits front & back
  • Increase market share
  • Create more jobs
  • Train salespeople, F&I, Service, etc
  • Cut cost
  • Improve customer service
  • Crush the competition
  • So many more!

When you say you did a little research, how much is a little, asking one manager at one dealer group? (Just asking, respectfully)

You are not from the car business and your job is to “assist clients in achieving the most exposure possible and build top-of-mind brand awareness among potential customers.” (Over 800 views, #1 ADM blog right now, congrats Sara, good job!)

BTW, who is your client, Garber Auto Group? If so, how did you earn their business, through Bobbie? (I have more questions but too busy calling on dealers today.)

I do feel a responsibility to pass the baton to the next generation (not yet, but one day) so I am hoping that you also want to help the people calling on dealers?

Since the blog participants here are 97% “Vendor”, 3% Dealership, I want to help everyone who calls on dealerships and offer this to all the hardworking, creative, job creating, mind bending, technology whiz kids, entrepreneurial spirited, result driven, risk taking, innovative, crush the box, Ah-ha moment, 24/7 no sleep, idea machine, Nasty ass Honey Badger “Vendors” out there!

(AND I SUGGEST THIS WITH ALL DO RESPECT TO AND FOR THE BARBER GROUP) This may be the “how to guide” for earning their business, but not the other 70,000 new and used car dealerships across these United States of America…
Trust me on that… ITS A BUMPY RIDE BUT DON'T QUIT!

Here is an email from a multi-dealership owner I have been working on for six years (yes, the owner and sometimes it takes that freaking long baby!); I just received last week, made my day…


"Todd, Well, Just back from vacation…I have to give your credit..You KEEP sending me things!!..i mean that in a good way!..So?..What is this "New" thing?..Send me more info..You know, I opened a CJDR store in XXXXXXXXX.?…Maybe this would be something for it?…We have been open X months…Let me know…"

Just remember, you will succeed if your approach is that more of a “partner” not a “Vendor”. (Larry is right…)

Sara, we do agree on one thing, Bobbie Rocks! :)

Good luck, good selling to all!

Comment by Brian Bennington on Monday

Attention Fellow ADM Members: The following is a possible solution to the complaints about vendors put forth in this excellent post authored by our own Sara Callahan.

Initially, I want to thank Mr. Steve Duff, my new friend at John Lee Nissan Mazda in Panama City, Florida for reminding me of the "stand out" power of italicized type.  (Thanks Steve!)

This post seems to be exceptionally well-described in that famous observation given in the 1967 Paul Newman "Cool Hand Luke" movie, that, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Thinking what might work to improve dealer client–vendor relationships, here's a suggestion to ease tensions, save time, eliminate misunderstandings, and separate the vendor “believers” (they believe in their product because they’ve learned its value) from the “non-believers” (they don’t know or care enough about their product to believe in it.).

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "An ounce of prevention (preparation by the dealership client) is worth a pound of cure" (frustration of dealing with an “out-of-touch” vendor).  Bobbie Herron, and all who are delegated by their dealerships/groups to vet & buy from vendors, are wasting time when they're complaining about the results of bad communication instead of initiating a solution to improve them.  It begins with preparing a list similar to the complaints here and whatever else they want vendors to know, and then couch them in a friendly yet respectful, considerate and informative manner.  Now, before you think to yourself, "That will take too much time to do for every vendor," relax!  You only have to create it one time, because if it is written properly, it will work for every new vendor solicitation you'll get.  IMPORTANT: DO NOT SCHEDULE OR PERMIT A FACE-TO-FACE MEETING OR PRESENTATION UNTIL THE VENDOR ACKNOWLEDGES, IN WRITING (see below), RECEIPT OF YOUR "LIST" AND AN UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM THEM. 

It should be condensed (edited) into an easy-to-read single page and postal mailed (absolutely not emailed) to every new vendor inquiry received. Why snail mail, you say?  Primarily, because it will slow down the process which will automatically force the vendor to put more thought into their response, especially by the dealership client requiring the vendor's reply to also be snail mailed.  Believe me, it will keep 'em honest, and inevitably they'll put more time and effort into their response.  Now, here's where it gets interesting.

The one page you're preparing should be divided into three or four paragraph, in order to accomplish the goals you decide ahead of time.  You want to move far beyond the complaints listed in this post, as any pin head can make a list of rules they want followed.  Most Important, you want your dealership to appear in the best light; honest, open to new ideas and well controlled.  You might title the page something like, "A VENDOR GUIDE TO DELIVERING A SUCCESSFUL PRESENTATION TO ABC MOTORS."  Nothing will get a vendor's attention like a "road map" to writing new business at your dealership.

The first paragraph might read something like this:

Initially, thank you for your interest and inquiry about presenting your services (s)/product(s) to ABC MOTORS.  We look forward to considering and evaluating it (them) at the earliest opportunity.  Our vendors have proven to be an important component of our success, and we are extremely interested in what you may offer us.  In order to expedite your request for a special presentation appointment, please review this "VENDOR GUIDE" and acknowledge your understanding of it and how your service(s)/product(s) will benefit our dealership/group, via postal letter to me, Bobbi Herron, ABC Motors, (mailing address.)

The second paragraph should give a brief general history (three or four sentences) of the dealership and its accomplishments and goals. You should give the vendor enough information so they can logically assess if what they have is a fit for you.  Don't make them guess what you like, inform them up front.

The third paragraph is where you cover how the vendor can avoid creating the complaints you listed when you started this (possibly with bullet points), but remember to make it read "friendly," not demanding.

A fourth paragraph is a pleasant, optimistic close, and as an option, the sender can introduce themselves and possibly mention something personal, like "When I'm not at ABC Motors, I spend my time hiking with my family," or whatever you do, and finally reminding the vendor you're looking forward to their response as soon as possible.  Done correctly, you will impress the vendor and very likely create a new friendship, whether you buy from them or not.  That should be your goal.

THIS RESPONSE'S "AUTHOR DISCLAIMER:  While I am a vendor, I can count the number of times I've pitched my business in the past 20 years on one hand.  Every client we have was referred or we've work for the GM/buyer at a different dealership.  I don't mention the many and varied problems like this I've helped dealerships solve on my website, which I suggest you don't (as in do not) visit unless you have a thorough understanding of selling in general, and not just vehicle sales.  You'd find it boring, has way too many words and not enough pictures, and besides, I'm one of the few vendors on ADM not looking for business.  Really, the qualifications I want in a client dealership are tough to achieve, as my work is my passion and I don't give the love it takes to just anyone. 

Comment by Tom Gorham on Sunday

I'm with you Larry.  You know, I try to be a polite person.  I hate to tell someone I think their career concept is hogwash.  It seems so rude.  I try to respect what they are attempting to accomplish.  But if I'm not at all interested, I try to make it clear.  Doesn't work.  I'm not the ultimate decision-maker but I happen to be the default gate-keeper.  I usually know without asking what will resonate with the decision-maker and try to discourage further attempts.  More often than not, it does not work.  What, in your opinion, will halt further attempts that seem aggravating?

Comment by Larry Bruce on Sunday

Agreed Tom, I am not suggesting a relationship with every salesperson that walks in the door by any means. 

If you are going to contact a dealer to introduce your product... provide something of value to that dealer, other than how great you product is. 

We're all busy and we all have a job to do, let's help each other do it. 

Comment by Tom Gorham on Sunday

Nice rant Larry Bruce, and right on target.  We do need each other and we are in this together.  However a dealer can't have a relationship with every sales rep that walks in the door.  That's where this post comes from, I think.  It's ironic actually.  Customers think that car people are too aggressive and overly persistent but we call it best practices.  But dealerships don't want an outside "vendor" (there's that pesky word) being aggressive and persistent trying to get their foot in the door. 

It may be that it is no longer a best practice to be annoying and persistent in either case, the dealer or the vendor.  At least the customer wanting to buy a car took the initiative and requested assistance. Unannounced and unrequested phone calls and visits from a vendor, even accompanied by a fake apology, risks rejection.  Oh well...

Comment by Larry Bruce on Sunday

Interesting and well written post, Sarah and Bobbie. I have to be honest I have always hated the term "Vendor" here is how "Vendor" is defined when you do a Google search

ven·dor
ˈvendər,-ˌdôr/
noun
  1. a person or company offering something for sale, especially a trader in the street.
    "an Italian ice cream vendor"

"If you are my client I assure you I AM NOT YOUR VENDOR."

This definition is reason for your biggest pet peeve Bobbie. To many companies selling products and services to auto dealers see themselves as "Vendors". This is largely due to auto dealers seeing and treating them as such. 

My biggest pet peeve is being treated like a "Vendor" by clients. We care about every client we have and their success is our success, it's how we get paid.

The smartest man I ever worked for in the car business Jay Marks told me this once when I asked him how I could become a General Manager of one of his stores, he said... 

"Larry if you want to be a General Manager... start acting like a General Manager right now today and you will be one soon enough." 

Those words have stuck with me from that point forward and if you want to be a company that is not regarded as a "Vendor" in this industry start acting like a partner today. Have the best interest of your client and your company at heart in everything you do change your pricing and payment structure to align with your client not to exploit them and soon enough you'll be a partner with your clients. 

I have been on both sides of this issue and I can assure dealers and providers alike YOU NEED EACH OTHER. We are well past the days when any dealer can be successful alone. 

Thanks for the post and allowing me to rant a bit. 

Comment by Steve Duff on Friday

Brian, I am quite sure we'd get along well over a drink or three. You made me go back and read my own profile (I hadn't remembered what I put in there, especially the part pointing out to Yankees that a harp is a harmonica... believe it or not I actually have to point that out to many southerners too or else they are thinking I'm strumming on one of those big harps they play in heaven).

So you too have a sense of humor. I figured as much. You have to have one to be in this business. So check this out. I have also been on the side as a (gasp!) VENDOR! In fact, I was calling on the company I now work for to be their outside marketing consultant. I just wanted the marketing gig, not a job! Six months I worked to get the account, and what I ended up getting was a job offer. The wife really liked that part! And now 4 years later I look back and marvel at it all. It's been a great experience. But I'm digressing beyond the point, which is that I have done a lot of B2B work, and yes I've done the old school stuff that I now defend against. My hands are dirty.

Which leads to my conclusion here... and that is that we can all learn how to get along. This article and subsequent thread is about vendors not being "so darned annoying". I didn't start it, but I felt like I had something to contribute having been on both sides of the coin. Believe me now that I'm on the receiving side of the sales calls (and I get all of them here... well anything having to do with marketing or digital solutions, they get directed straight to me), I have a much greater understanding of why I had such a difficult time cutting through to the decision makers when I was on the other side. And if I were to ever one day be back on that side of things, I think now I would be much better equipped. It would definitely be more of a relationship building thing rather than trying to bamboozle them with bullshit in a 30 second lightning round barrage after getting past the gatekeeper (which I think is still the toughest challenge a vendor has, so yes I can understand why they feel they need to be deceptive in that area, although there are other means).

Ok, so you are telling me that you are too far to come out and buy me cocktails? Well that's a bummer man.

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