@ccelerating @utomotive e-Sales
Information Overload. A consultant is someone who borrows your watch and then charges a fee to tell you the time – so runs the joke. In today's business environment, two resources above all others vie for primacy. Time and information. Good business demands good information and sufficient time to use it effectively.
In Business at the Speed of Thought, Microsoft's Bill Gates claims that “the most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose”. Few should argue.
In a notoriously volatile and over supplied marketplace, beset with auto makers' demands and uncertain legislation, selling cars was never for the faint hearted. Here is no place to re-enumerate the lengthening catalogue of problems daily facing business management. But at no time have they been more complex. Never have competitive pressures seemed so threatening as traditional customer and brand loyalties evaporate, quite literally at the click of a mouse.
The true cost of winning a new customer may be as much as eight times the cost of retaining an existing one. Today's IT conversant car buyers are well informed, dispassionate and expect honest and professional handling if and when they are actually prompted to visit a dealership.
Personalising Relationships. Used effectively, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is so much more than a Contact Management tool. The latter, often simply another name for an unintelligible, ill maintained and managed file in a salesman's desk, is of no use to anyone else when that person abruptly leaves – even if it can be recovered before the final farewell.
Amongst software application packages, CRM is a simple concept. Easily understood, it should readily receive the endorsement of everyone and every department concerned with a customer and his car. Integrated with a Dealer Management System and central to the business process, the data capability offered by current packages can bring order to anarchy and lay the ground for more assured prospect conversions and enduring customer loyalty.
There is a great deal of legitimately held* customer information to be reviewed systematically and regularly in pursuit of a relationship that ethically optimises dealership profit and assures genuine long term customer satisfaction.
(* Note. The provisions of the 1998 Data Protection Act unarguably apply to all categories of personal data held in any form of storage and those setting up or simply maintaining such systems are urged to familiarise themselves with the key aspects of the Act, and if necessary to seek professional advice to ensure compliance.)
Bill Gates again: ”On today's computer networks you can retrieve and present data easily and inexpensively. You can exchange information and ideas with other people. We need to break out of the mind-set that getting information and moving information around is difficult and expensive. It's just basic common sense to make all of a company's data just a few clicks away from everyone who can (or should) use it”.
He goes on to acknowledge the obvious practical need for various levels of confidentiality with certain data categories He might have added that it is in every company's best interest to make very sure that those who ought to be able to use it, are actually trained to do so.
But the information wave has engulfed us all, and customers too are now empowered with new knowledge and new levels of buying independence. Is this a threat, (if so to whom), or can it be turned to mutual advantage? Unsurprisingly, the answers are 'yes' and 'yes'.
A Cost Effective Example. Consider for a moment the Massachusetts Ira Motor Group. Their interactive web site at http://www.iramotorgroup.com/ is a good example of time sensitive, user friendliness. It presents potential customers with straightforward and realistic answers to vehicle stocks, model availability, likely part exchange values with tips on condition assessment, and the complete process for seeking and obtaining advance finance approval.
The e-mail link auto acknowledges enquiries almost immediately. A detailed response usually follows within an hour. (The current US average is said to be 2-4 hours). Ira expects 7-9 % of “genuine” web enquiries to lead to sales. Put bluntly, this is incremental business which might otherwise go elsewhere, were it not for an effective web presence.
For the confident browser-buyer, there are also showroom-based touch screens offering the same facilities and the option of printing preliminary documentation prior to final negotiations with a member of the sales team. It is important to remember that customers are no less conscious of their time than are those who sell to them.
The Time Bonus. The point about all this is that there is never sufficient sand in the hourglass. Rightly, we begrudge wasting time – our time, and resent having it wasted for us. Throughout business, whether as supplier or a customer, the weight of information to be digested (somehow) just to keep up, increases daily. Actually getting ahead of the game requires time, knowledge and resources which may not be on tap.
Recognising the need for help, for succinctly presented data and new ideas is one step in the right direction. Making sure the purveyor of that help is already wearing a watch may be a wise precaution.
Freelance marketing consultant and an associate of Woods & Seaton: automotive distribution and retailing systems consultant.
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