Article

Marketing "Outside The Box"

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Ryan Linnehan - Also by this author

Anyone who has ever spent much time watching sports has no doubt been bombarded with many of the more common clichés that seem to pervade broadcasting booths and locker room interviews. Just a few examples are:

“We had to bring our ‘A’ game today!”

“They really dug deep when it came down to crunch time!”

“He gave it 110 percent out there today.” (A classic that makes Math experts shudder!)
However, just because a phrase has become a cliché, doesn’t mean it isn’t true (OK, except for that 110 percent example). One such term from the world of business is the classic phrase, “Think outside of the box.” Though that term is tossed around lightly in many industries, it truly is applicable to our industry, especially as it relates to marketing in the realm of Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH).

Most dealerships probably have tried the “Big Four” marketing arenas (newspaper, radio, television and direct mail) to varying degrees of success, and each of those do have their place, depending on your individual situation. There are, however, more unconventional approaches that successful dealerships have implemented that can really make your BHPH operation stand out from your competition.
Web sites – It’s amazing the number of BHPH dealers that are still not taking advantage of the opportunities available by having a presence online. Almost everyone now realizes that the Internet isn’t going away, and more and more customers are doing research on the Internet. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only new car buyers look for information online. The Internet is an ever-growing resource for all automotive customers, including BHPH customers! I know I wouldn’t want to forego the 250+ Internet leads we receive every month.

The Web site need not be complicated, nor packed with bells and whistles. Actually, there is a lot to be said for the simple but modern, functional approach. Be sure to include pictures (small file sizes) of your facilities, your ownership & key management and your inventory. Provide as many options as possible for the customer to contact you, including a simple, user-friendly credit application. Put a link to your credit application on every page.

Once you have the site, be sure to promote it at every opportunity. You want to not only mention it in all traditional advertising you do, but also be sure your Web address is on or in every form of media you use, including your banners, signage, business cards, front plates, rear tags and letterhead. Of course, once the customer does contact you online, follow these two rules:
1. Reply. Over 50 percent of dealers never reply! Don’t be part of that group.
2. Reply quickly. Thirty minutes or less is a good goal. The quicker you respond the higher your odds of conversion.

Payment Counter Marketing – Everyone’s setup is a little different, but almost everyone in BHPH has a central person that a customer can make payments to. This person is in a prime spot to influence customers as they make those payments. First and foremost, they need to be courteous, respectful and friendly to the customer making the payment. Just like in sales, the more the customer likes, trusts and respects the person to whom they are bringing their payment each week, the more likely that person is to be able to influence future buying decisions.

Have some promotional material available regarding any specials that might benefit the customer. Train the person at the payment counter to recognize when a customer is reaching balance levels that make trading a realistic possibility. It can be beneficial to spiff this person based on the number of qualified leads they convert into prospects for your sales department as a result of their interactions at the payment counter.

Database Management – Another often overlooked area in the BHPH industry—actually, the entire automotive industry—is the consistent, systemized marketing approach to your own database. Your customer base is a gold mine sitting right in your dealership. We’ve been in business over 55 years, but it wasn’t until 1999 that we started a systematic approach to compiling a master list of all sold customers and other people who have contacted us. I still get a little nauseous thinking of all the years we didn’t focus on this area, but in the past six years we have created a 50,000 name database/gold mine.

While there are many ways to skin a cat (Can’t..Stop..Clichés) in database management, investing in a computer system to handle this area will yield an excellent return. Proper utilization of a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution will dramatically improve the consistency and monitoring of your database management. Focus on following up on your customer’s satisfaction and to keep your name in front of them. Prospecting to see if they are ready to trade or purchase a second vehicle and asking for referrals.

Referrals! - Ask for referrals at every opportunity. This includes during follow-up calls, at time of delivery, even when initially taking an application. Have this well scripted so it flows naturally. Create your own, or use a script recommended by the various training experts, such as the Joe Verde Group.

It’s also a nice plus if you have a program that rewards customers financially for recommending you. Review the laws in your state to ensure that you are in compliance. For each referral, you might offer a free payment or two, or possibly just a straight cash incentive. Sometimes a bonus for multiple referrals adds excitement to a program. Another tip is to double the amount of the reward for referrals sent to you within the first week or two after purchase, when the customer is normally most excited about their purchase and about your program. However you structure it, the important thing is to be always asking for those referrals.

So now the ball is in your court. Get out there and show ’em what you’re made of! After all, today is the first day of the rest of your life, and the early bird gets the worm. And remember to…..think outside the box when it comes to your marketing!

Vol 2, Issue 12

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