Training to Win – Principles of Marketing

With as much as the industry has changed and as fast as the industry evolves, there are certain core principles that remain the same. Back in 2015, I had an interview with the publication Auto Success where I shared an analogy between sports and marketing. I find these principles ring true even in today’s marketing landscape.


From the Industry Publication, Auto Success, April 2015:

Training to Win:

While running a successful dealership may feel at times like a sprint – with special events, thrust months and the like – it’s actually more like an endurance sport. The same mental fortitude that it takes to compete in the Tour de France, for instance, is what allows some dealers to achieve victories that others just can’t fathom.

Just like cycling, having success in your dealership starts with vision. My goal was to compete at the highest domestic level of professional cycling. To accomplish that, I had to have a clear vision in my mind of what that looked like, and what steps I’d have to take to achieve that goal. Dealerships need to have that same vision. Do you want to be the No. 1 dealership in your city, your state, your region, or in the whole country? Are you planning to cash out in 10 years, or are planning to pass the store down to your children?

Whatever the goal, you then have to envision the steps to make that happen. Digital marketing is just one of those steps, but it’s one that many dealerships overlook. Do you want to be a 100-percent digital dealership and not spend any money on traditional marketing? Do you want to be able to generate all the leads you need off your website and not rely on third parties? Do you want to create a massive social media presence to drive grass-roots marketing? Compiling the answers to these and other questions will ultimately craft your business plan and help to make your vision a reality.

Once you have your vision in place, it’s time to set realistic short-term goals. In the cycling world, these goals typically relate to incremental improvements in performance. The same is true of dealerships, though it can seem daunting at times. We need to start by deploying a strategy and tracking the early results. We can tiptoe into the water with a highly targeted eblast, for instance, or launch a model-specific PPC campaign. Say you’re a Toyota dealer and your goal is to sell 20 more Camrys in a month. DOM360 can deploy a model-specific PPC campaign that ensures maximum visibility and clicks and drives form submissions and phone inquiries. If done correctly, you’ll immediately see the results. This method is especially helpful when there’s a soft demand for a specific vehicle that a dealer needs to move. Success here will give the dealer the confidence to take bigger steps into the digital realm.

It’s important, though, to remember that this is just one success, just one piece of the larger puzzle. Set more short-term goals, and not just performance-related ones. Do you want to foster greater employee happiness and retention? Show them that you appreciate them after a good month. Have a pig roast for everyone in the store and invite their families. Would you like your dealership to be known in your town for supporting disabled veterans? Sponsor events to raise money for service animals. Employ that same focus and vision, set realistic short-term goals and measure your success in achieving them.

While setting achievable short-term goals is necessary for immediate results, setting ambitious long-term goals – what I like to call “big, hairy, audacious goals” – can be the key to sustained growth. We have all heard the stories of the single-point dealership in a bad location that achieved the impossible and grew into a widely successful multiple rooftop group. That’s a dealership that didn’t think small. What is your wildest dream? Most people never dream beyond what they think might be possible. Don’t be most people. Dream big!

“With the growth of digital advertising, we were able to move to a complete digital strategy, decrease our total budget and continue to grow our business sustainably” Adam Zuckerman, Owner/GM, Curry Honda Atlanta

If you’re currently getting 7,500 unique visitors to your website, you should have a long-term goal of 20,000 visitors. The long-term goal is the seed. If you plant that seed in your mind and nurture it through your actions, you’ll be surprised what happens next. You might top out at 15,000 visitors, but guess what? You still doubled your traffic! This can be applied to any metric in your store: your Facebook likes, your lead volume, your conversion rates, etc. It’s all thinking about it and willing it into existence.

You have the vision. You’ve set the goals. Now it’s time to start training to obtain the success you desire. In both cycling and in automotive retail, it takes hard work to achieve what few others would even dream of accomplishing. In cycling, this means daily practice and endurance training. In retail automotive, this means constantly improving your processes in every aspect of the business. Don’t try to do it alone. Athletes get help and guidance from others to increase performance. You likely need this in your dealerships, as well. At DOM360, we do secret shops of our clients’ websites to see what the internet sales process is like from the customer’s point of view. Did their response state the exact vehicle of interest? Was an alternate vehicle provided? Was an appointment or test drive request included? Look at it from both the new and used car sales process, then use that intel to coach and train the people who handle leads at your store.

It’s also important to know your competition. In cycling, a rider might break out in front with 40 miles to go. Is he for real? Does he have what it takes to finish? If so, you need to follow if you have any hope of winning. Or, will he burn out and fall back? If you follow, you may eliminate yourself from the race, too. Dealerships are no different. You may have a large volume competitor in your market that you have no hope of outspending in radio.

Instead, shift your focus and dominate digital. On the fixed ops side, service departments need to not only look at other competing dealerships, but also at the local Goodyear, Midas and Pep Boys stores, when plotting their marketing strategy.

“The eblasts DOM360 provides help increase my leads, showroom traffic and sales. We can directly relate those leads to the final sale.” Frank Marsala, GM, Kendall Toyota

On race day, it’s time to execute. You have formulated a vision, set your goals accordingly and trained for success. All that is left between you and victory is the will execute – both your will, and the collective will of your team. If you have shared with them your vision, involved them in setting goals and provided them with the tools and training for success, they will want to win the race as much as you do. Give your team the best chance for success on race day. And in automotive sales, every day is race day.

Tracking and accountability are the final pieces of this puzzle. After each day, weekend, week, month or super sale, you need to review your performance and determine where you need to improve. Set goals, get the training and tools you need to succeed and execute. This process repeats forever for every athlete, business and successful person. Cyclists have teammates and coaches to hold them accountable. For dealers, though it’s not as easy. Dealers are often isolated at the top of their food chain, with no one to hold them accountable. While 20 groups are an attempt to introduce peer-accountability, they can sometimes fall short of what is really needed. Dealers need someone to push them to improve their business the same way a personal trainer pushes you to improve your workout. The personal trainer is not worried about being fired for pushing you. Empower your trusted vendors. They work with many dealerships and have a unique perspective. Enroll the ones you trust in holding you accountable so you can achieve both your immediate short-term goals and your “big, hairy audacious” long-term goals. Make sure they understand that you want them to hold you accountable and that you will not fire them for helping you achieve your dreams.

Finally, once you achieve your goals, it’s time to celebrate. Share your success with the people who helped you get there. This is a team victory. Send your employees out to dinner with their spouse on the dealership. See how much goodwill this buys you. Your people will be there to go the extra mile to help you reach your next set of goals and win the next race.

“Our bi-weekly meetings with our team have helped keep both sides accountable, helped us set efficient timelines, and increased our opportunity for growth and advancement.” Frank Reynolds, E-Commerce & Business Development Director, Nimnicht Family Dealerships