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If I pay a customer to say all the right things in an online review, that breaks the law, and we know it.  We know you and I cannot pay, reward or incentivize a customer to write good things about us in in a Google Review, Dealer Rater rating or Yelp! blog.

So, does that mean we shouldn't incentivize every salesperson in our dealership to get every customer possible to rate the dealership online?

In a recent DealerADvantage blog, Jack Simmons, Dealer Training Manager,, writes:

"It’s no secret that individual metrics and compensation play a big role in achieving dealership-wide goals, which is why managers have long tied pay to “hitting your numbers.”  Based on the audience feedback I heard during my workshop at Digital Dealer last week, owners and senior managers are increasingly putting their money on dealer reviews in this way, namely for their ability to help differentiate a dealership’s brand and ultimately drive more sales and service business.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways these dealerships compensate individual employees for reviews success:

1. Spiffs...

2. Optional Bonuses...

3. Mandatory Part of Compensation..."

I get it.

We can't pressure the customer, but we can pressure our own people.  Just like we do for CSI, with comparable results.

The spontaneity of the review process is on the way out, as the stakes get raised.  The thrill is gone.

When customers no longer believe what they read, because the review sites are clogged with the overwhelming sameness of Completely Satisfied customers, by then, we'll all have moved on to the next shiny object perceived to move the search optimizing needle, increase sales and service business, or whatever it was that online reviews were supposed to trigger in the first place.

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Tags: CSI, Compensation, Dealer, Google, Motivation, Payola, Places, Rater, Ratings, Reputation, More…Reviews, SEO, Yelp


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Comment by Ryan Leslie on April 23, 2012 at 7:19am

Keith- Fake Reviews aren't just bad marketing, they are FRAUD that carries a $25,000 fine from the FTC.

I gave my answer Joshua, now, here is my optional commentary: J

I do like Keith's idea, let's turn back the clock and look at this from another angle.

Online Reviews are today's WOM. Unearth all of those old marketing plans from 20bti (that's "before the internet") and try to find a line in the marketing budget for WOM. How many dollars did you commit to WOM in 20bti? $0 directly, right? Was there a budget line for "follow customers around and filter their comments so they only say positive things?" No offense intended, but where is the line for "Phone Booth in showroom for customers to call all of their friends and tell them how great we are before they go into finance?" Sounds ridiculous, right?

You can't directly cleanse what people say about you to their friends and neighbors and call it WOM, you can only influence what they say about you by HOW you conduct your business. WOM has always been influenced organically by lots of community commitments, solid process and a superior trained and friendly staff. How you acted and what you did determined what people would say in 20bti.

Fast forward to 20ati (you should be able to figure this one out by yourself ;)) and what has changed? NOTHING and EVERYTHING. Nothing, WOM is still influenced solely by how you act and what you do. EVERYTHING, the Internet has allowed you to be the fly on the wall where your consumer is and see what they are actually saying to their friends and neighbors, AND be a part of the conversation. Brave New World, right? So do we attempt to put up filters and gateways to control what is said about us by massaging and manipulating a collection process with marketing in mind from square one, or do we use the true and organic feedback we receive to market great objective reviews?

Look, you shouldn't massage a process to get only desired content and then try to pass it off to the consumer as objective and truly User Generated. In-store collection to a dealer-owned site that allows the privilege to edit and in some cases choose not to display unfavorable content is collecting marketing, not reviews. To a somewhat lesser extent, a process that attempts to turn every customer into a marketing engine on a 3rd party site unnaturally is just marketing too in my opinion. 5 stars and 5 words on Google isn't a review, it's really SEO marketing!

I realize this opinion won't be popular around here since Ralph is publicly endorsing Business Rater, and the owner of that company is the Editor of Reputation Management for the forum.  Two takeaways:

If you try to massage or manufacture reviews in the showroom to create marketing content you're missing the real conversations that could improve your business ex. long wait times for finance. Real reviews aren't Marketing because some of them are negative messages. If your process is preventing REAL feedback from your potential customers you are missing one of the most valuable aspects of collecting reviews. Collecting Real reviews isn't just about marketing.

Once the consumer discovers you are trying to pass marketing off as objective reviews your Reputation Management/Marketing strategy is at the helm of the Titanic. That ship WILL eventually sink. I'd challenge readers to take off the marketing hat for a second and think about your consumer's expectation of the content with which you are trying to win their business. When you say, "Here is what customers are saying about us" do you really want to NEED a disclaimer that reads "if it was positive only of course and written here at the store before they actually bought the car, and we may have edited out a few lines that we thought might be a little negative, and we did fix some spelling errors too, but other than that..." If you are editing out the negatives or having the customer write a review in the showroom before they've even bought from you with marketing in mind is that fundamentally any different than running a bait and switch print ad?

Comment by Ryan Leslie on April 23, 2012 at 6:56am

Hey Joshua, Sorry for the late response. I had 20 Boy Scouts on a camping trip this weekend in a spot where the only towers were made of Granite. If you ever get a chance to visit Elephant Rocks near Farmington, MO, take it. You won't regret it.

Here is my answer to your question:

To me it's pretty simple. Real Reviews are NOT marketing because YOU don't control the message. By extension, real Review Sites don't give you the ability to remove or edit content, Dealer Owned Marketing sites do.

You have 100% editorial control of the message in your radio spots, your print ads and your signage. The things you have a measure of control over content are marketing, and the consumer recognizes it as such. It has value, but it is ABOUT you, FROM you and that defines the value to the consumer. The consumer perception of online reviews is that you have 0% editorial control. User Generated Content like reviews are ABOUT you, FROM any objective person without your shared interest.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on April 21, 2012 at 6:34am

They're never free, and real reviews are marketing, too.  Fake ones are bad marketing.

Not asking every single customer is smart, and that's a marketing effort to appear real, even though they ARE real.  I think your effort as described is very smart.

Comment by Keith Sponburgh on April 20, 2012 at 9:33pm

Reviews are "marketing" when they're fake, "free advertising" (good and bad) when they're not.


My understanding, manipulation and solicitation of those reviews is very much a marketing strategy.  For example, I know that getting too many 5-star reviews in a short period of time makes those reviews look fake, or at least less genuine, so I don't ask every single customer to post one.  I also know that having a perfect 5-star overall rating looks suspicious so I make sure that if an unhappy customer hasn't posted a review in a while I find one and ask them for a public review. And, I've re-directed unhappy cusomters away from Facebook and to a review site because having a negative review that is resolved can be more influential than yet another positive review but a mad person on Facebook may never quit posting regardless of what you do to appease them.


All of that is definately marketing, but the actual reviews themselves, not so much.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on April 20, 2012 at 4:09am

Joshua, I agree with you and have called it many times "Reputation Marketing" instead of "Reputation Management".  Using the reviews as marketing tools is just like amplifying any word-of-mouth, which happened first in history long about when the first advertising on a sign was done.  Not everyone agrees.

Comment by Joshua Michael Friedman on April 20, 2012 at 3:49am

Ryan, Keith, Ralph and Brian and anyone else who want to weigh in here:

Why are reviews -- or why are they not -- "marketing"?

Comment by Keith Shetterly on April 19, 2012 at 8:45am

Eh.  CSI is so commonly confused with online reviews and it is not the same thing at all.  An OEM survey is an internal, never-published survey of the dealership experience.  It deserves to be "after the fact".  However, they can be, and are, worked for the positive by dealerships across the USA through calls, etc.  And have, in the past, been coerced by "bring the survey back to the dealership and let us mail it, and you get a free tank of gas!" b.s. and the like.

DealerRater, which for the record **I LIKE**, has chosen to support off-site reviews.  I've pointed out several times that you can find 5-star DealerRater reviews and Yelp, Google, etc. reviews will NOT tell the same story.  A dealer I called about that explained it as being a function that they don't push folks to review on those other sites.  Huh?

That part is wrong-headed "eggs in one basket" strategy.  And what's this about "PUSHING" a customer anywhere?  What was all that about coercion or not messing with the review process??

These hairs are split and may as well be "free tank of gas" strategies, no matter who's review site you are using.  As well, frankly, the OEMs are in general the LAST place I look for guidance on most anything Internet.

My $.02.

P.S. Ryan, please just write your opinion blog.  Get it off your chest!  :)

Comment by Ryan Leslie on April 19, 2012 at 6:05am

Jason is absolutely right... massaging review content through in-store collection models on dealer owned sites isn't sustainable. The more powerful reviews become to the consumer the more credibility they will demand from the source. Dealer owned sites aren't credible to the consumer once they find out the dealer has editorial control to remove content. They quickly identify the site as what it is, marketing. Jason's analogy of a report card with everything but the C- in Science is dead on.

I'm going to be respectfully blunt here Ralph and share what alarmed me about your response. In-store collection is not something I agree with for a host of reasons, but in-store collection BEFORE the consumer goes to finance is absolutely absurd to me. That reviewer can't possibly give a detailed and credible review of your business if they haven't experienced it entirely yet, can they? I've used the analogy before here, but THAT is exactly like a server asking for the tip after the appetizer, it lets the service provider off the hook for the rest of the meal. Don't you want the accountability to perform at a high level extended to your Finance team and through delivery reflected in your reviews? Worse than that, what immediately goes through the mind of that consumer when there is a hiccup after they wrote that review? I bet it isn't positive, and it is made worse by the fact that they already gave you good marks.

I think you've explained the "overwhelming sameness" that makes reviews less credible from the OP too. What exactly can the reviewer say? They know they've been asked to write a review BEFORE they've actually bought anything. I'd be tentative too.

Last thing and I'll jump off the soapbox.

We can debate the risk of IP filtering that removes reviews, customers feeling coerced due to a natural imbalance of power in the showroom, risk of a PR nightmare once they leave if something doesn’t go smoothly after the review is written, the quality of content collected, and a host of other things, but there is ONE fundamental and foundational question that needs to be answered. Why are you collecting reviews in the first place, what is the primary reason that you are asking the customer for a review? When you answer the WHY the HOW you do it naturally solves for itself.

When you ask a consumer to submit a public review of your store's total performance in the  BEFORE they've been through F&I, what is your primary goal?

It can only be MARKETING!

I am of the opinion that Reviews can be marketed, but they are NOT marketing! If your process massages the user generated content in a way that limits its affect to change culture at your store or only collects data on your store's abilities prior to finance you're literally selling yourself short... If you have a long wait to get into finance, make changes to make that better. Don't fill that time with an unnatural task for the consumer. Let's be honest, having that customer write a review because you can't get them into Finance for 30 minutes is only "convenient" and "productive" for YOU.

Comment by Jason Manning on April 18, 2012 at 7:56pm
Why aren't manufacturer reviews handed out in the showroom for CSI? There is the answer to your questions, Josh. Too many dealers are being misled.
Comment by Jason Manning on April 18, 2012 at 7:22pm
I work for Nissan currently. If you ask a customer to give you a good rating, Nissan throws it out. I submit to every dealer on the planet that exists in the future, you will have to deal with your unorganic and orchestrated reviews someday soon, as internet companies become more trustworthy with their information. The Googles and Yelps of the world are still defining genuiness and honesty. Part of that will be realigning businesses that have circumvented the organic process of ratings. Would you allow your child to orchestrate a better report card with their teacher before they brought it home? Or would you rather see their genuine grades and efforts? Don't be a yourself and your future. Let the cards fall.

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