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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Building a Self-Sustaining Business Through Customer Experience Marketing

A New Car Dealership Organization Model: The Business Development Manager as Dealership Evangelist

Business Development has been called the bridge between Sales and Marketing in conventional businesses, however, in the evolving car dealership, the BD role that I see emerging is a bridge and a driver linking Sales, F&I, Service, Parts, to the Customer Experience. I’m not talking about the typical BDC Manager position running a call centre. I am looking at Business Development as a “function” in the dealership that could be the “new idea” that changes the game provided this function can give the entire dealership a way to focus all activities and personnel on creating the perfect customer experience. Before we go further, let’s first talk about how the “customer experience” is already re-ordering (or should be re-ordering) the priorities at your dealership.

The term “customer experience” is more than just what we used to call “customer satisfaction” because in a marketplace where it is difficult to differentiate your business on the basis of your product offering, your facilities, or the professionalism of your team, customers and prospects are looking for more than a satisfying transaction. They are demanding an efficient and rewarding purchase experience (or the promise of such an experience) to rank order your business against others being considered. In Autotrader’s recent Car Buyer of the Future Study, less than 1% of shoppers and buyers chose the current process as their ideal experience. In fact, 54% said they would buy from a dealership with their preferred experience over the lowest price. When you combine that with the findings that 84% of consumers actually prefer to buy vehicles in person and 73% are willing to drive farther for a great salesperson, it seems clear that orchestrating a great purchase experience at all points of contact is the key to building a sustainable business. Autotrader also found that 56% of consumers said they prefer to negotiate but only because they believe this is the only way to get a fair price. Another opportunity to engineer a better purchase experience.
Customers give us their business based on their EXPERIENCE when they come in contact with the dealership or its personnel. The contact could be in person, on our website, via a newspaper ad, or more indirectly via online reviews, comments on forums, and through word-of-mouth. In truth, it’s all of these touch points for most shoppers. People also come in contact with the dealership when they are NOT in the market for a new or used car so we need to be cultivating those potential customers, as well. When they enter the market, will your dealership be top-of-mind?
“Cultivating”, of course, does not mean pitching or selling. It means providing valuable information, assistance, and resources such as vehicle maintenance advice and answers to frequent questions so we build our own lead generation system from our own database of happy customersprospects, and followers (on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc). Cultivating a loyal base of customers and prospects can put a dealership on the road to dominating its market but it requires integrating all its customer interactions (digital and conventional) as well as using all available communications technologies in a coordinated way across the whole dealership (Sales, Parts, Service). Using the tools available, it is possible to build the dealership’s presence, reputation, and traffic by making enthusiastic followers of all those who visit or do business with the dealership. Those “visits” are increasingly online visits so being found online and being favourably reviewed by those who have “experienced” your business is now your most important marketing program. The person to lead this initiative and develop the dealership’s brand is the BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER.

How Would This Work?

The Business Development Manager is the Customer Experience Manager. Managing the “experience” of each person who comes in touch with the dealership is the first step in building a self-sustaining business. It means staying connected with customers beforeduring and after the sale (and between sales) as well as staying in contact with all prospects who do not buy. To accomplish this, the Business Development Manager needs to be managing:

  1. The CRM System. The system needs to be capturing every person who contacts the dealership (internet leads, walk-ins, referrals, repeat customers). The BD Manager develops and implements follow-up systems to keep these contacts engaged. This includes Orphan Owners as well as Service customers whose repair history can suggest communications that will keep them loyal and engaged and, ultimately, repeat customers. The BD Manager responds to and/or assigns leads and follows up with unsold customers to support (but not replace) the salesperson’s actions. Given the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule is always operating), to ensure that 100% of customers and prospects get valuable and targeted communications that support the continuous engagement approach being advocated, the BD Manager becomes the backup for salespeople and service advisors who are often the weak link in any follow-up system.

  1. Dealership Website. To optimize the site for search engines requires regular maintenance as well as creating original content, building out landing pages for specific search terms, and setting up promotional offerings for Sales, Service, and Parts as well as for the overall dealership. Treating the website as a lead collection and incubation mechanism means evolving the website to a more research friendly outpost for prospects at all points in the buying cycle. Depending on the dealership, much of this work can and will be outsourced, however, the BD Manager is the quarterback who ensures content is created and presented in a customer-friendly (as well as SEO-friendly) way.
  2. Social Media Marketing. A key element of engaging with current and potential customers is meeting them through social media connections which requires useful and newsworthy content in writtengraphic, and video format. Writing a blog, posting to Twitter/Facebook, communicating through a regular newsletter, and creating videos becomes one of the BD Manager’s most important responsibilities. The more these things can be done in-house to reflect the personality of the dealership, the more leverage can be gained. Creating a "personality" for your dealership can be best accomplished by featuring dealership personnel and happy customers, which provides authenticity; the most valuable currency you can have online.  For example, one video embedded on your website and attached to a Facebook post, a Google+ post, a Twitter post(s), and a blog post has an immediate multiplier effect. Now spend a few dollars to promote all of those posts and direct traffic back to your website and the results can be staggering. Multiply that by 50 or 100 videos created over time and you have the makings of a viral loop.
  3. Advertising & Event Planning. The BD Manager should also be part of developing and managing email marketing and direct mail campaigns for the Sales Department as well as coordinating such activities for the Parts & Service Departments using customer data from the CRM system. And let's make sure the BDM is part of managing and coordinating online advertising programs (Google AdWords) either directly or with suppliers as well as supporting the advertising campaigns for Parts and Service Departments to achieve a consistent theme, message, and voice that ensures messages are reaching all audiences as intended. Communicating and scheduling Special Events at the dealership might also fall within the BD Manager’s responsibilities to maintain consistent messaging across all activities.
  4. Sales Leads & Follow-Up. The result of successfully accomplishing the first 4 points (above) will be the generating of Sales, Service, and Parts leads that the BD Manager can distribute, respond to, or follow up with the short term objective of booking appointments and selling/servicing vehicles (in cooperation with the managers of those departments). Booking appointments and following up to ensure that “no shows” are minimized (as well as confirming whether the prospect did or did not buy) will be a key function of the BD Manager who will track and coordinate all leads (phone, email, internet, and lead provider partners).
In many dealerships, thousands of contacts (who could be marketed to and turned into future customers or referrers) are being lost because floor traffic, phone ups, and general inquiries are (only partially) being captured by the CRM system and are effectively being discarded as dead leads by the assigned sales staff. Nurturing these contacts through regular communications that talk about what is happening at the dealership, what is new in terms of products and promotions, and what great information resources the dealership can provide in a number of automotive related areas, will help turn these contacts into followers. This is how we build an enormous database of friends, followers, and advocates that will lower advertising costs over time and make it possible to grow your own (pre-qualified) leads.

The Organizational Changes and How to Implement Them

Organizational Changes Will be Needed to Implement Customer Experience Marketing.
The vision is to embrace the Customer Experience Management model in a real way as the 21st Century approach to a profitable and sustainable business based on developing ambassadors (not just satisfied customers). This requires changes to (or an adaptation of) the current dealership organization structure. What I am proposing is a specific person/department that “rides with the customer” from their first contact (often online) through the purchase and after-sale experience (including regular service visits). The position is essentially responsible for developing business for the dealership by managing the experience of each person who comes in touch with the Dealership (from both online sources and conventional methods of communication) by understanding the psychology of customers and prospects and by using that knowledge to induce them to identify themselves and to visit the dealership. The BDM becomes responsible for staying connected with customers before, during and after the sale (and between sales) as well as staying in contact with prospects who do not buy to nurture and develop relationships that will lead to future business.

To carry out the tasks and responsibilities summarized above, the Business Development Manager should report directly to the General Manager or Dealer Principal and work, in a cross-functional team format, with each of the other department heads (New Car Sales, Pre-Owned Vehicles, Parts, and Service). Compensation should reflect the developmental nature of a large portion of the job as well as the goal of generating qualified traffic for the store. This suggests a fixed and a variable component. The variable component that is most commonly employed at dealerships with a similar kind of business development structure pays the manager a salary plus commission on actual sales plus a bonus on appointments booked, appointments showing, and appointments sold or simply a bonus on each car sold at the dealership. However, the scope of the role as proposed in this article goes beyond a traditional BDC Manager position and suggests that the Business Development Manager should be viewed as an equal member of the senior management team and compensated in line with the sales and fixed operations heads.

The Business Development Manager described here is essentially the “General Manager of the Online Dealership” whose key responsibilities include finding and attracting customers online, engaging them and orchestrating their visits to the store, meeting with them in-store and facilitating the sales process and vehicle delivery as well as managing the customer’s post-sale experience. Therefore, the BDM role transcends traditional departments as the online store caters to all current customers and prospective customers. This means the BDM role must include the following responsibilities:
  • Website Design/Maintenance
  • Social Media Management
  • Lead Management
  • Training & Development
  • Advertising/Events
  • Delivery Process - The Delivery Coordinator
  • Customer Retention & Nurture
  • CRM & Database Management
  • Community Engagement including Community Events & Sponsorships
For a large dealership, the new Business Development Department will require a small staff which will normally include the following supporting players:
  • eCommerce Coordinator and/or Internet Manager to handle leads, website, and social media administration
  • Delivery Coordinator to schedule and deliver vehicles as well as provide initial post-delivery follow up
  • Appointments Coordinator to book and confirm Service appointments (reporting to the Service Manager with dotted line connection to the BD Manager).
In many smaller dealerships, some of the tasks and responsibilities I am proposing to be handled by a Business Development Manager may already be handled by the General Manager or Dealer Principal, however, a person with strong digital marketing skills, a feel for the sales process, and great leadership skills is still needed at any dealership implementing these reforms to ensure that the dealership's brand identity is consistent across all communications with all customers and potential customers. Using this roadmap and staying focused on optimizing the customer experience at all points on the path to the sale (and beyond the sale) will put your dealership on the road  to best-in-class.

Please comment on how your dealership is evolving to a more customer-centric model and how challenging the transition has been. What organizational changes are being made to get out in front?