How to Shoot Professional Quality Videos with a Smartphone

When dealerships first start their video marketing programs, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “Will I have to buy an expensive camera?” The answer is no. Just about everyone these days has a smartphone that can shoot HD video. When used properly, the quality of video produced can be exceptional. All it takes is practice.

Most dealers start with inventory walkaround videos and these are probably the trickiest videos to shoot, so that’s what we’ll focus on here.

First, to ensure a good high-resolution (and non-pixelated) video, adjust your camera setting to record video at 1920 x 1080 and 30 frames per second (fps), unless you plan to extract your still images for the inventory from the video. In that case you may want to utilize 60 frames per second (fps).

Next, invest in a stabilizer. Most smartphones have a pretty good stabilizer built into them today, but they will only make a good video better. This is the merchandising layer for your inventory that most shoppers are going to view, so invest in the tools that you need to provide the best experience for your shoppers that you can. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can walk around the vehicle while holding the smartphone steady in your hand. The result will be a bouncy video that will make your viewers seasick and result in low video completion rates.

A hand-held stabilizer or tripod is better than nothing, but if you want to produce the best quality video invest in a 3-axis gimbal for a couple hundred bucks. It is worth every penny! For top of the line stabilization a 4-axis gimbal is even better, but may run you a couple thousand.

Currently we recommend using a set-up that includes your smartphone, and the DJI OSMO camera/gimbal combo. This is a really cool camera that takes amazing quality video and connects wirelessly with your smartphone, so you can use your smartphone to view what the camera is recording.

You can find a DJI OSMO starter kit for around $500 and depending on how you want to accessorize it, you may spend $700 to $800. This is a small investment that will make your inventory shine! GoPro also offers some great camera/stabilizer combinations that cost less and produce very good quality videos as well.

Once you have a stabilizer, the next thing you’ll want to address is lighting. Smartphones have small lenses so adequate lighting is critical. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re shooting outdoors, but always position the vehicle so you will not be pointing the camera into direct light, such as the sun.

When you first begin shooting walkarounds, you may want to allow extra time to shoot the entire video two or three times. With each ‘take,’ experiment with different ISO settings, which measure your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. On a sunny day your ISO settings will be lower and on cloudy days your ISO settings will be higher. If you do shoot on a sunny day, avoid shooting midday because that’s when the sun casts the harshest shadows. Instead, schedule shoots for early morning or late afternoon.

For vehicle walkarounds, you want to feature shots panning the side of the vehicle, as well as the front and back so the viewer has a good sense of what the vehicle looks like from all angles. Open the doors and shoot the interior, both front and back.

Then focus on shooting the features that you will use to sell the car, such as the Infotainment system, new tires, safety features, etc. The total length of your walkaround videos can range from one to four minutes. Don’t believe experts who tell you that all videos have to be one minute or less. Though this is probably true for a bad or dull video, if the presentation is informative and entertaining, two, three or even four minutes is okay. There are plenty of dealerships that get 80 to 90 percent completion rates with videos that long, and plenty of dealerships that only get a 50 to 60 percent completion rate with their bouncy and dull one- minute videos.

If you are worried about the audio track for your videos, you can have your photographer shoot your videos and have a data driven audio track added to the video automatically. If you are adding your own audio while shooting the videos, or if you decide to shoot your walkaround videos featuring a salesperson or spokesperson giving a live presentation, invest in a good noise-cancelling microphone.

Either way you can always go back and replace the audio layer of the video if you want or need to without having to re-shoot the video. You can even personalize the audio layer of the videos for specific leads (personalized walkarounds) without having to shoot another video, saving you a LOT of time while producing an identical personalized walkaround video to one that was shot from scratch.

Finally, expect that the first few videos you create will probably suck. Don’t be discouraged! Practice makes perfect. Keep doing it and eventually things will click. Pretty soon you will find your own unique style and every walkaround video will become a mini-masterpiece.

What tips do you have for shooting professional quality video with your smartphone?

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Sustainability through Accountability

“The best sales process in the world is worthless without accountability,” according to John Fairchild of Fairchild Automotive Solutions. “If you don’t inspect it, you can’t expect it,” he continued.

I met Fairchild a couple of months ago at one of our mutual dealership clients. I was struck by his passion, his energy, and his ability to quickly diagnose problems while seamlessly moving toward solutions.

As a high-performance fixed ops coach, Fairchild is committed to implementing service drive processes that lead to increased service sales. But more importantly, he realizes that accountability is a critical component in overall service sales success. In fact, he puts as much emphasis on accountability as he does the service sales process.

If you are in a management or leadership position, you already know the importance of accountability…AND you know it’s the hardest part of your job. Most folks have spurts of accountability, but consistent accountability…I’m talking about day-in-day-out, like-your-life-depended-on-it accountability… is hard.

“Accountability isn’t a four-letter word; it doesn’t mean micromanaging, nagging, being an ogre, or acting parental to your employees.”

Have you ever considered that sporadic, occasional accountability may be worse for your employees than having no accountability at all? For example, management says “thou shalt,” but the employees don’t…and there are no consequences. In a short time the employees realize the manager barks a lot, but he doesn’t have any teeth.

Meanwhile, the manager mutters about his worthless employees never following his processes and directions. (Of course he never teaches, coaches, or mentors his team on how to succeed. He is way too busy for that.) He internalizes his frustration; then one day it bubbles to the surface and he erupts like Old Faithful. Heads roll and someone gets fired. Everyone suddenly gets religion and becomes good soldiers for a couple of days—and then the pattern starts all over again.

Now, don’t get all smug and pious on me. You’ve seen this happen at your dealership, too, haven’t you?

Accountability isn’t a four-letter word; it doesn’t mean micromanaging, nagging, being an ogre, or acting parental to your employees. It is simply communicating your expectations, teaching them your processes, monitoring their performance, and coaching them on how to achieve greater outcomes. Simple, right? Hardly.

But why is accountability so hard? Could it be because in order to effectively have the moral high ground to hold others accountable, you must first hold yourself accountable?

“Do what I say, not what I do” is an absurd leadership mantra. The Apostle Paul said it like this: “The things you have seem in me, do.” It’s called leading by example. If you don’t, your credibility is shot.

So, what is Fairchild’s solution?

  1. Sales Process
    First he implements a three-fold sales process:

    • Sell repairs and maintenance related to the primary customer concern.
    • Sell service needed immediately to address safety issues and avoid expensive catastrophic failure.
    • Sell maintenance services that are due now based on mileage or inspection.
  2. Monitoring Process
    Fairchild has designed an uncomplicated, uncluttered sales report so managers and advisors can see how they’re doing compared with everyone else. The report focuses on customer-pay sales performance—nothing else. Since the primary job of an advisor is to sell service, Fairchild’s report cuts to the chase.
  3. Accountability Process
    While this is the most important of the three processes, it doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming. In fact, if your advisors have a competitive spirit (or an ego) then the sales report will go a long way in creating a culture of self-accountability.

Jim Norton and David Croteau have recently built a state-of-the-art Chevrolet dealership in the Tulsa, Oklahoma suburb of Broken Arrow. The place is beautiful. It’s bright, it’s inviting, it’s customer-friendly, and the building is designed to create a synergy between sales and service. Joe Gibson, fixed operations director, and Kyle Thompson, service manager, have embraced the selling, monitoring, and accountability process.

In short, it works!

In February, the advisors sold 771 fluid maintenance services; in March, that number jumped to 942 services. All of the advisors have access to the sales report and they can see how their numbers are stacking up to everyone else’s.

Senior service advisor Russell Pearson is “all in” with the process. He had sales of $192,000 in December, $183,000 in January, and $177,000 in February. (To put that in perspective, he used to average $125,000 monthly—which isn’t bad. But now he’s really on fire!)

Fairchild monitors the dealership’s performance and sends weekly updates to management and advisors. Additionally, he visits the dealership several times a year to “inspect” what he “expects.”

Hats off to the staff, managers, and owners of Jim Norton Chevrolet for implementing an effective sales process, making the sales reports available to everyone, and holding everyone accountable to perform!

Happy sales to you!

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Who/What Are You Really Hiring? I’ll Help Ya Find Out

Ok, raise your hand if you have been properly taught how to determine who / what you are potentially hiring?  Ah, only a few came up.  Ok, raise your hand if you have hired what turned out to be a complete “dud”.  Hey, lots of hands that time, including mine.

“When I meet successful people I ask 100 questions as to what they attribute their success to. It is usually the same: persistence, hard work and hiring good people.” Kiana Tom

The reality check is that few and I mean “few”, automotive professionals have been taught how to analyze (dissect) the people they are considering to employ.  The new gig (say, expense) is to hire a human resource professional; but frankly, after working with quite a few, dichotomizing (cool word, huh) is not their strong suit either – in fact I haven’t met one who had been taught any significant science related to figuring out who the hell they are really talking to.  Not their fault, it isn’t in the HR curriculum as far as I can tell.  Yes, I am aware there are so-called “tests” for this product for a fee, and I have used many only to determine that I could essentially accomplish the same for no charge, and often more accurately (say body language and appearance).

“The reality check is that few and I mean “few”, automotive professionals have been taught how to analyze (dissect) the people they are considering to employ.”

Screwed, blued, & tattooed
Meeting a prospective employee for the first time is like a first date.  It starts with the perfect face, hair, shoes, clean underwear (ok, sometimes), and more importantly attitude.  Everything gradually begins going downhill from there, but only slightly, until the ultimate “total comfort” moment begins to encompass their relationship.  I refer to it as the “I’m in syndrome”, where property ownership becomes the predominant piece of the association.  How many times have you encountered a technician who has determined in no uncertain terms that the stall(s) he/she/it works in are absolutely his/hers/? and no one else’s damn it?  Try moving one of your established techs and you will get likely get the gist quickly.

After your associate, we will call him Sid-2, has determined ownership and its related comfort, another level (usually lower) creeps into the said employee’s performance.  Suddenly the so-called honeymoon is over and the real Sid-2 begins to surface.  The Sid-2 who begins coming in later, disappearing during the day, and friendly Sid-2 now finds the ability to cop an attitude if the circumstances don’t fit his current desire – even with you!  I am certain you are inserting another name here as you read.

Now, thanks to the acquired HR pro, who actually knows (hopefully) the rules, regulations, and related laws of the locale, state, and big brother, it’s hoop-jumping time.  To blow out Sid-2 and find Sid-3, becomes a significant task.  And who knows if the next Sid isn’t Sid-2 too, since you got rid of Sid-1 in the first place for basically the same reasons?  And all of this in your unending spare time – yeah, right.

A start at least
All this being itemized and after getting bitten numerous times, I began developing interviewing questions as the years passed, in an attempt to discover the real creature underneath the façade of the normal hollow interviewing process.  As you have likely already experienced some candidates interview well and yet turn out badly, while others interview terribly, yet they become superstars.  Where’s the rhyme and reason here?

Calling past employers is nearly useless in these times, and in fact, getting inaccurate information helps make the absolute wrong decision seem right (“Jamey was the best employee, we hated to lose him” -not).  Most past bosses state positives because they want ex-staffers to be off their unemployment roll, or working somewhere so they won’t try to find their new income from a lawsuit.  Can you blame the employer for their response?

I have determined that the interviewing procedure, especially for what appears at first to be a prime candidate, needs to take up important time and include a lot of intimate questioning. These develop discussions which help identify the genuine motivations, energy, goals, and ultimate performance the prospect would be contributing.  Getting good peeps to talk about themselves is smart.  Marginal peeps have less to say or offer, and I have found most ultimately shoot themselves in the foot during this process.  Just recently while assessing a manager; I discovered excess imbibing after some intimate questioning beginning with how much I like a nip after work – turned out he was nipping in mid-day.

Since most of us aren’t in a position to monitor brain waves for deception versus the truth of our interviewee, the next best thing is to study responses, body language, facial expressions, and emotions (especially attitude).  The trick is providing the right stimulus in order to make these judgements, and that is where effective and operative questioning comes into play.

So, I will provide you with a list of sample questions you can make your own (four pages).  If you have an HR guru, take a few and review them together to finalize your overall approach.  Every manager in the joint might want to use at least some of them and probably should.  Send an email to and put on the subject line “Interview Questions: Cutting the BS” and like magic I will send you my queries.  If you can’t use what I send you, line someone’s bird cage with it and the bird might learn a thing or two.

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Information Hiding in your DMS

Peter Drucker once said, “We’ve spent the last 30 years focusing on the T in IT, and we’ll spend the next 30 years focusing on the I.”  Information gives us the power to increase profits.  Information tells us the best price to sell our parts, service, and vehicles to customers and when.  Information informs us when an employee is non-productive, missed an important deadline, or stole last night’s deposit.   During the past few years, dealerships have purchased billions of dollars in technology, but are you getting the information you need?  I like to separate information into three main categories; financial, customer and employee.  Let’s take a look at each one and find out what information is available.

“During the past few years, dealerships have purchased billions of dollars in technology, but are you getting the information you need?”

Financial information has historically been presented as accounting data.  Most managers get too much data.  An example of this is the DOC; daily operation control.  I’ve seen DOCS that were over twenty pages long and ignored by busy managers.  This report has line after line of data; parts sales are $93,432, service sales $147,391, new car gross is $431,900.  What does that mean financially?  Information is what managers need, not data.  This is an example of valuable information; Parts and service gross is projected to be $350,000 and sales gross is tracking at $400,000.  Our estimated expenses are $600,000, so our net profit is estimated to end up at $150,000.  It is a simple piece of information that I call the Net Profit Wizard.  Email me if you’d like this free spreadsheet.  Another piece of financial data is our Schedules.  These can be thousands of pages long; detail data of every account and who owes who what.  Information is a condensed form of this called a Heat Sheet.  I’m not sure I like this title, but it is a summary of key balances from specific accounts.  Typically it contains contracts in transit, lien payoffs and vehicle receivables but it can also have other accounts.  One of my first jobs in the accounting office was to type this report daily and I cheered when it was added as a standard DMS report!

Employee information is another area that often sets DMS systems apart.  Most core DMS systems report technician productivity and counterperson sales, but more advanced systems go a step further and report overrides that cost the dealership profits.  Your DMS can have reports that tell you when parts are deleted, cost amounts changed, labor removed from a repair order, parts and labor are sold at less than the matrix price, and discounts are given.  I’ve seen repair orders where the dealership actually lost money after paying commissions on the gross sales amounts before discounts.  Look in your DMS for other reports that tell you when overtime is being paid, credit limits increased, and deal gross profit doesn’t match the accounting gross profit.  Deadlines can be monitored by using an office CRM product.

The final area of information is about your customers.  Although CRM tools have made amazing strides in providing information about your customers, the data they get often doesn’t have the all the information.  For example, repair order and deal data might be flowing into your CRM, but rarely are parts transactions extracted from the DMS and sent to the CRM.  More advanced DMS systems have Parts CRM that shows your best parts customers and their gross profit averages.  Parts CRM tracks phone calls, emails and other contact with parts customers.  This feature displays their AR balance, and stores their purchase history to make it easy for your parts department to give their valuable Parts customers a fantastic experience.   Yes, the data is all there in your DMS, but putting it into a Parts CRM tool transforms this data into information.  If you want to know if your DMS has any of this “hidden information”, contact the DMS support department.  DMS systems are typically only 35% utilized, but since you’re paying 100%, why not discover ways to increase profit by using technology you already own?

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Interview with James Thorp and Gregory Merchanthouse, Quirk Chevrolet

Quirk Chevrolet, in Braintree, Massachusetts, is one of 15 dealerships under the Quirk Auto Group brand. Started by Dan Quirk more than forty years ago, Quirk Chevrolet was the #1 Silverado dealer in the country in 2016 and ranked 5th overall for Chevrolet stores. Plus, the store has earned the #1 Chevrolet dealer in New England designation for over 4 years in a row.

In addition to Chevrolet, the Quirk Auto Group, with stores in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, offers several popular brands including Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, Ram, Subaru and Volkswagen. The stores sell new and used vehicles, as well as provide state-of-the-art service and repair.

General Manager James Thorp and Gregory Merchanthouse, Business Development Manager, took time out to discuss their experiences at Quirk Chevrolet, why they believe the dealership has been so successful, how technology contributes to their success, and where they see the auto retail industry headed. Thorp and Merchanthouse work closely together to help deliver a steady stream of new and repeat customers to their sales team. The dealership is fast on its way to becoming the highest volume domestic store in America. 

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today about Quirk Chevrolet and your respective roles at the dealership. I’d like to start by learning more about your professional background. First James, how did you get started in auto retail?

James: I started working here at Quirk Chevrolet in Sales when I was in college and I’m still here. That was 13 years ago. I worked with a lot of good people over the years. It’s a challenging and competitive industry. As General Manager, I enjoy dealing with people every day and I like new technology.  What I like most, perhaps, is how every day is different. We have a great owner, Dan Quirk. He’s very supportive, dedicated and always open for new innovative ideas.

And Greg, could you briefly summarize your background for us?

Greg: I started in the car business in 2002 at Quirk Chevrolet as a salesperson. I left for a while and did business development at a couple of other stores. I returned in 2012 to become the BDC manager. I have a seven-person department at the moment. In 2012 we really started clicking, when James became the general manager. We came up together in the car business. With other dealerships, they put their BDCs as icing on the cake and don’t train them a lot. James has a different approach. Business development is a lot easier when you’ve been a salesman before.

Back to you, James. Could you talk about your experience as one of many franchises under the Quirk brand?

James: All the Quirk franchises are doing very well. Quirk Chevrolet is the first dealership Mr. Quirk purchased, and that was over forty years ago. Today, Mr. Quirk owns 15 dealerships, across both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Quirk Auto Dealership employs more than 1,500 people. His main office is at the Quirk Chevrolet dealership in Braintree, which was his first franchise, so he spends a more time here than the other dealerships. It’s a tribute to Mr. Quirk that the employees across all his dealerships are dedicated and hard-working and, like Mr. Quirk, they enjoy dealing with people. His motto is “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” We work hard and we don’t see much employee turnover.

Last year Quirk Chevrolet finished 5th in the USA overall and was the #1 Silverado dealer. Those are certainly impressive, if not unexpected, numbers for your region. If you don’t mind sharing, what’s the secret to your dealership’s success?

James: Our dedicated people. We have meetings every day and are consistent with our follow up system.  I try to make sure everyone here maintains a positive attitude and is enthusiastic. When you deal with as many people as we deal with in a day, you need to stay positive. We also have great and simple pricing strategy.  We’re very straightforward and offer a transparent, competitive pricing structure. When people inquire about a vehicle, our BDC department responds quickly and answers customers’ questions, which makes our entire sales process run smoothly.

Quirk Chevrolet has experienced dramatic growth, including 25% during the last four years in a row. Could you speak to the benefits and challenges of such growth?

James: Fortunately, we have a great owner in Dan Quirk. He’s very supportive and always up for trying new things.  We’re a good team. We all work well together. The technology has made the industry more competitive, in my opinion. Think of buying a car—or just about buying anything—these days. Car shoppers can go to ten or more dealership websites without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Ten years ago, it wasn’t like that. Now we’re all on board with the power of technology. Not just Quirk, but every dealership in the country.

Let’s stay on technology as a topic for a moment. Greg, as the BDC manager, what digital tool (or tools) does your team use with the greatest success?

Greg: We’ve invested time into social media and realize it’s become a great asset for some dealers.  We just haven’t found a worthwhile payoff as far as time invested translating into solid leads or sales.  Maybe we’re missing out, but our biggest pipeline is generated through our website in the form of vehicle or price inquiries, Live Chat, Trade value requests, and Finance applications.  With email and internet inquiries our focus is generating a phone or text message dialogue, which should lead to an appointment.

James: Our marketing team is great and they are always looking for new ways to give us an edge on the competition. They go to expos and conferences and pick up the latest and greatest ideas. Another important digital tool for us is Google Adwords. That said, I agree with Greg. Our website, which is maintained by our own marketing team, is our strongest digital tool. About eighty percent of our leads come in through our website.

Greg: Our BDC doesn’t manage the website but the pricing, payment and lease examples are determined by James.  For each model, we’ll offer the same discount across the board. 

Greg, could you walk us through a typical day at your BDC?

Greg: We arrive in the morning and answer inquiries from the night before. Because American consumers have become saturated with spam and fluffy pitches, people appreciate a straight answer. They want answers and are more educated than ever about shopping for cars. Dealerships don’t hold any cards anymore. I think people like it when you speak to them like normal humans and give them pricing. Our pricing is very aggressive. We don’t send them long emails and harass them. Of course, our goal is to set up appointments as best we can. Our BDC brings in about 130 car buyers a week. Our focus is just on bringing them in and we let our talented Sales team do the rest.

How do you keep your salespeople motivated and engaged with your customers?

James: Chevrolet has some very effective product knowledge training programs.  Our entire sales team are Chevrolet Certified, Certified Pre-owned and Commercial Sales Certified.

We have twenty-nine Sales people and seven BDC. We have a lot of administration support and we have four Tech Team members. They’re the younger staff members, usually high school kids who demonstrate how to use the vehicles, the On-Star and the navigation system, Bluetooth, all other technology stuff like that. They answer customer questions. It’s really an amazing thing they do. They’re young and technology doesn’t faze them at all.

James, roughly what percentage of your store’s business is from sales? From parts? From service?

James: We do about 55% of our business with lease agreements. The lease fulfillment is something we’re constantly going over. Our BDC team begins contacting them over the phone when they have about a year left on their contract.  Our sales team, on the other hand, stays in touch with each customer throughout the life of the lease. We know the people who are coming off lease and how many miles are on the vehicle, how often it’s been serviced, what was done, and so on. We can start talking to them about getting into something a different or into another lease. That helps a lot, especially with the Silverado.

Talking about our sales in general is difficult, however, because they all work together. As an example, we have an active parts department. They work with eBay and do about 45,000 transactions a month. I know that’s not sales in a traditional sense but it contributes to the Quirk brand. Getting back to your question, when it comes to our sales breakdown, I don’t know the exact percentages.

It sounds as if lease agreements are an integral part of your operation. What else is Quirk Chevrolet doing to help separate itself from other dealerships?

James: Another thing we’ve been doing lately is concentrating more of our efforts on electric vehicles. That’s been a huge success for us. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. On our floor, we have four dedicated electric vehicle sales people. We are allocated more electric vehicles in our inventory from GM than any other dealer because we keep selling them so fast. About twenty percent of our sales come from electric vehicles.  In the US, federal fuel standards require manufacturers to achieve a fleet average of 34 MPG in 2016 and this will increase to 49 MPG by 2025.  Ironically, the more electric cars we sell, like the Volt and Bolt, would significantly boost GM’s average fuel economy which would allow GM to be able to sell more trucks and SUV’s.  Focusing on electric vehicles is working out great for us, and these cars raise the average. As a result of our commitment to electric vehicles, we’re partnering and joined with several consumer alliance companies, like the Sierra Club, Plug-in-America, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance and a few others. We just became recognized for meeting the requirements of the GM Green Dealer Recognition Program 2 months ago.  We’re very excited about this. Speaking about YouTube, we just did a few commercials last week on the Volt and the Bolt, our electric cars, and the ads are hilarious.

Do you use any third-party vendors to assist in generating leads? If so, which vendors do you use?

Greg: Essentially just our own website and leads we receive from the GM/Chevy websites. That’s pretty much it.

James: We do a little of commercial advertising, like print ads, letters and television. But not too often, because it expensive and it’s not as effective like it used to be. We might do a couple of ads here and there during the year. Our marketing team pretty much handle everything.  Instead of TV, we’re focusing more on creating online ads and posting them to YouTube.  We do a lot of creative stuff in-house. When we make a YouTube video, we can reach a lot of eyeballs, we can get ten thousand views. They’re real professional commercials, only they’re on YouTube and not regular television. It’s part of our marketing strategy.

Greg: I totally agree. Behind Google, YouTube yields more searches than any other site on the internet.  The investment cost is set up very fairly, where an advertiser gets a few seconds to pitch their ad, but they only have to pay if a viewer watches the entire commercial (in other words, doesn’t press the “skip” button).  How can you ignore so many focused eyes without the huge traditional TV, radio, or billboard investment?  The challenge becomes creating something people won’t skip in the first few seconds. 

Customers find much to like about Quirk Chevrolet, based on the reviews posted on your website. What steps to you take or processes do you follow to help create a positive customer experience?

James: We stay focused on why customers are here. We don’t talk about ourselves and we are organized. We try to answer questions that are relevant. Our sales people have a good attitude, have a good appearance and they smile. I always tell our staff to be thankful we have people here. We don’t really have a customer loyalty program. We got into it a while ago but we just try to make people happy by giving them good prices and good service. It helps that our employees have an average of six or seven years at Quirk. Their experience in dealing with customers is invaluable. I think what makes buying a car at a Quirk dealership special is a combination of things. The service we provide. Our transparent pricing structure. The website design, which initially brings people here. The follow plan after customers purchase a vehicle here.  A simple “Thank You” card goes a long way especially if it’s hand-written with a meaningful message.  Those things add up to a positive customer experience. I should add, our customer retention is great. We have a lot of repeat customers and referrals for more customers. 

In your opinion, James, what was the biggest game-changer in the retail auto industry over the last five years and what do you see as the next big game-changer?

James: The greatest game-changer for me over the last five years has been the way people purchase cars. Whatever it is, eighty or eighty-five percent of car buyers get their information online prior to visiting a dealership. Having a good search presence is important. Having a strong strategy and an efficient process for implementing it are, of course, important as well. The next big game-changer, in my opinion, will be electric vehicles which we are well-prepared for.

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Success Secrets of Used Car Marketing

It’s been my good fortune as an ad guy to work with some of the most successful franchised used car dealers in America over the past 30 years.  When I say successful, I’m talking about consistent profitability coupled with exceptional customer satisfaction.  A recent research report summarized that the highest customer ‘loyalty’ (read: repeat business and referral business) is directly correlated to the CPO market.  That just makes sense.  If you’re selling a newer vehicle with an outstanding warranty for 20-40% less than the original msrp, you’re winning a lot of hearts, minds and wallets.  Not only that, you’re shortening the buying cycle with that customer.  A substantial percentage of CPO customers are trading 24 to 36 months.  But certified success is not the only reason used car sales are thru the roof.  Today’s used car, even with 125,000 miles on it, is a whole bunch better than the sleds traded 20 years ago.  More and more dealers are retailing mileage vehicles with confidence.  

So what are the ‘heavy hitters’ doing to ring the bell with used cars?  

“Today’s used car, even with 125,000 miles on it, is a whole bunch better than the sleds traded 20 years ago.”

Superb management.  You will never achieve the level of used car success without a person who truly understands the pre-owned market.  Not just in your own backyard, but regionally.  Vehicle preferences can vary dramatically within population clusters in your primary marketing area.  If you don’t have the best people in charge, do whatever you have to do to make that happen.  You can pay a GM too much money.  You can pay a new sales manager too much money.  You can never pay a top notch used person too much money. 

Crossed trained salespeople.  You may have great new car salespeople and you may have great used car salespeople, but every salesperson should be focused on the needs, desire and financial ability of the customer.  Your marketing efforts may bring in a customer on a used vehicle, but that customer might be better served with financing opportunities on a new vehicle.  Conversely, a new vehicle shopper might be thrilled to find out the new model they were shopping has a low mileage sister in the exact color, with the exact options they were looking for at a substantial discount with your certified availability. 

Presentation.  Who’s doing the best job in your marketplace with used vehicles?  Take a look at their lot.  This is marketing 101 for a profitable turn on used cars    A consistent fresh look.  Vehicles clean and standing tall.  Display end caps that scream value.  Pricing and payment signage that hooks attention without looking like a flea market.  A lot that looks so nice, your customers will walk thru it and ask where the ‘used cars’ are.  If you have a separate used lot, it shouldn’t be a downgrade in presentation from the new vehicle display. 

Showroom cred.  A number of franchised dealerships who do a big job in used have taken to displaying their best inventory on the showroom floor.  In fact, once such dealer has a 30 car showroom displaying ONLY certified vehicles.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can engage conversation on a vehicle that looks new with a factory warranty and a price several thousand lower than the market price of similar new models.  

Electronic media in the mix.  If Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti and others devote substantial budgets selling ‘certified’ on traditional electronic media, maybe some of your ad spend should be there also.  Radio is a particularly powerful medium for creating interest in used/CPO offerings.  You can sell a lot of sizzle in a 60 second message and you can capture a lot of attention with pricing and value, along with a sense of urgency since YOU are the ONLY dealer with this specific vehicle. 

The message.  Advertise value, buying experience and trust.   Recently one of the New York newspapers offered the following reasons for buying used vs new:  Save money on the big depreciation hit.  Save on sales tax and insurance.  Reliability of better quality in todays used vehicles.  CPO programs fueled by leasing.  Vehicle History Reports.  Drive ‘more car’ with more options.  Those are the messaging hot buttons.  I would add inventory into that mix.  People love choice and the love shaking hands with the door handles.  

Even though new vehicle dealers will sell about 16 million used vehicles this year (out of about 50 million vehicles sold nationwide this year), there is still a strong preference for used vehicles sold by franchised new vehicle dealers.  A big part of that is trust.  No matter how thorough a reconditioning process is or what the ‘carfax’ says, there is still some inherent risk in a used vehicle purchase.  Franchised dealers are trusted more than corner car lots, and substantially more than private parties.  Your strong brand, longevity and historical performance are the biggest assets in marketing a used vehicle.  

Remember, no matter what the market does, what the economy does, who is President or how deep a recession, Americans still get to where they are going in a motor vehicle.  Balancing your sales portfolio with at least 50% used vehicles is a great way to survive and prosper in any situation.

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Successors: Getting out of the Middle

With more family businesses then ever seeking succession through the next generation of family leadership, a change to a multigenerational management structure is occurring with regularity all over the country.  Owners are counting on the seasoned professionals who have carried the day to day operations of dealership management for the past 20 plus years through a conservative approach.  Their experience and reliability are depended on to continue selling cars, maximize margins, and maintain customer relationships. At the same time, many dealers understand the industry is changing and as they groom successors, are capitalizing and embracing a move to a modern approach to dealership management that focuses on innovative selling, advertising, managing and capitalizing on the customer experience.

As this generation of successor candidates emerge, they often find themselves caught in the middle of the “way it has been” and “where we want to go”. It becomes a true challenge of maintaining conservatism and innovation.  Who are successors supposed to be as they work to gain respect, earn trust, perform at the top of their class while continuing to be humble.  The goal is to be the best so there is no doubt he or she is the next leader of the organization, but the task at hand is to fly under the radar to not step on the toes of those currently in charge.  It is a daunting, nearly impossible and often very frustrating task for all involved. Unreasonable expectations accompanied by a general lack of functional and productive communication between the two sides generally leads to extreme frustration.

“…they often find themselves caught in the middle of the “way it has been” and “where we want to go”.”

The divide generally starts with facts: successors tend to be young, innovative, ambitious, and headstrong. When it comes to the family business, they generally have a deeper understanding of the family side of the business do to the mere fact that they have a familial relation to the owner/mother/father which has given them a different perspective of the business.  In contrast, the steadfast managers generally have a “let’s get to work” and a bottom line approach to performance based upon measurable statistics. Thus, more than ever, successors ability to understand the situation at hand, work to understand all sides, navigate conflict, and develop management relationships is critical to successors developing out of the middle.

The first challenge to successors in the middle is to recognize the situation.  Managing in the middle is very much like being in a game of dodgeball.  You stand there against an opposing team trying not to get hit with a ball, while all of your teammates are also trying to keep from getting hit. It is a game where the only benefit of being on a team is in hopes the guy next to you gets hit before you do.

Similarly, in business, managing in the middle is just as ineffective. It creates behaviors that make us less effective and ultimately keep us from upward movement or growth that we desire. We often get pigeon holed in a spot that is very hard to get out of, while enabling those above and below us to be more effective in their positions. Sadly, the reality is that we rarely know when we are having to manage up, or down, or anywhere in between.  If you have the personality traits of a strong leader, you often just do what you need to in order to get the job done, even if that means doing the job of others around you.

Managing Up
When you find yourself in a situation where you are having to make recommendations to your leader or supervisor, you might be managing up.  When you are strategically identifying ways to navigate around them, either because they are unable to make a decision, too concerned about being wrong, or even too afraid the decision they make could create conflict, means you are managing up. Regardless of the circumstance, managing up is frustrating, tiring and often, demoralizing. You find yourself building resentment because you begin to lose confidence in the effectiveness of leadership. You can become deflated in the direction of the family business and sink to the feeling that you will never have the opportunity to step-up and lead. You might even become frustrated enough that you simply do not want to do it anymore, and leave.

Managing up can become even more frustrating when the senior leader does not have the requisite skill set to lead people.  Sure, they may be able to lead the dealership, but it does not mean that they are a very good leader of people.  Therefore, identifying and understanding the importance of leadership development and soft-skills training as it relates to managing and leading people is critical to the success of the current or future dealer.

Managing Down
Building up and coming leaders in the dealership, sometimes means that we are blurring the line between mentoring and managing down.  Mentoring provides the opportunity to help build relationships. A mentor is responsible for establishing a trusted relationship with a “student” to offer perspective on the frustrations, challenges and confusion the “student” is experiencing. Mentorship, however, should not be confused with coaching. Coaching is where “managing down” occurs, in effectively setting a standard and holding those below you accountable.  We sometimes get coaching or management confused with trying to “mentor out” behaviors that are deemed not legitimate leadership traits. As successors attempt to navigate the murky waters of living in the middle, wanting to be liked can often get in the way of affective coaching. As a result, the line can become blurred because we do not realize what is actually going on and miss the real issues at hand.

When we manage down, we decrease our effectiveness as a leader. We also diminish our ability to perform at a higher level because we are in the weeds focused on downward pressure. Too often, we do not realize we are doing it until it is too late and before you know it, the person(s) being managed are growing into new and bigger roles, while you are still, right where you have always been.  Here to, you grow frustrated, resentful and perhaps become unhappy enough to potentially want out of the family dealership.

Don’t Play Dodgeball
Rather than volunteering to stand and try to not get hit by a ball, perhaps you can take control of your situation. The first challenge is recognizing the situation.  In most cases, you are not going to change what has currently been placed before you.  But you can change yourself; in fact, one of the best quotes ever written is “the most versatile person in the room wins”.  Therefore, recognizing that you have the ability to capitalize on every situation put before you is the first step to getting where you want to go; the top! Don’t prevent yourself from learning from each obstacle or individual put before you as an opportunity to get out of the middle.

The changing dynamics in our industry require us to be leaders with emotional intelligence, as well as business intelligence. No longer can we lead, or expect to grow into leadership roles based on “how it’s always been done.” A as a current or future dealer, understanding the situation, embracing what it takes to properly lead, and committing to enhanced leadership training is a valid avenue to take in order to achieve leadership success.

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After You Click “Send”: Tracking and Best Practices

Targeted email campaigns and content marketing are very popular right now, and for good reason: Useful, valuable, and actionable content tailored to specific consumers drives results for businesses.

But, have you considered your work doesn’t necessarily end after you click “Send”?

Once you send an email, a variety of things can happen on the other end. No matter how well crafted the content of your email, the reality is there’s no guarantee the recipient will open it.

Fortunately, there are solutions available that track what happens to sent emails. Utilizing such a solution will assist you in measuring the success of your email approach. Let’s look at some of the email analytics these solutions measure and what you can do about them.

Delivered, But Not Opened
The email you sent may not have come back undelivered, but this does not automatically mean your email reached the recipient’s inbox. It’s possible your email was delivered, but sent straight to the junk folder, or it could simply be left in the recipient’s inbox, ignored.

If this happens, go back and review the messages you sent that were never opened. What might you have done to make the subject line or first line of text stronger and more relevant? Compare the unopened emails to the messages with a high open rate, and use this analysis to improve future email campaigns.

In addition, be sure to use the recipient’s first name at the beginning of the subject line (ex: Matt, We just got a new shipment of F-150s you may like)so it’s important to make sure your list, query, or other data source contains first names.

Also, it might be a good idea to follow up with these customers on the phone or text. This will show you are serious about doing business with them while providing a personal touch that is absent in so many of today’s business transactions.

Opted Out
There’s always the chance that an email recipient will request you stop sending emails.

Do not send another email to this address, ever. By law, you must respect the wishes of the consumer by ceasing all future email correspondence. Sending just a single email to someone who opted out can result in a hefty fine.

Marked as SPAM
If too many of your emails get marked as SPAM by recipients, it can lead to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) blacklisting you or your company.

Major ISPs constantly monitor what you send. They look for characteristics and trends that match SPAM criteria. To decrease the chance of an ISP flagging you, send mass emails no more than once or twice a month, and be sure to target your mass emails, making the marketing message relevant to the recipient.

Additionally, keep clients who’ve received a mass email within the past 90 days off the distribution list of the next mass email. Neglecting to take these precautions will lead to ISPs blacklisting you with the dubious title of “frequent SPAM sender.”

You can also consider sending certain emails through an OEM program or a third-party marketing solution to safeguard against blacklisting.

For best practices, when a consumer marks an email as SPAM, treat this situation as if the individual opted out – avoid sending further emails to them.

Bad Addresses
Keep in mind an email may not even reach the recipient due to a bad address or domain name. If an address is bad, the ISP won’t deliver your message and will inform you it was undeliverable.

If your emails are getting bounced, check to make sure you entered the email address correctly. Maintain up-to-date notes for situations like this to constantly improve the quality of your consumer data.

In a perfect world, consumers would open every email you send. But, since we know this isn’t the case, you must be prepared to take the proper steps when an email isn’t opened.

You don’t want your dealership known for aimlessly sending emails that are destined for the trash bin. Sending emails featuring useful, relevant, and actionable content, plus analyzing the results and sticking to best practices, goes a long way in helping you maintain credibility and a great reputation.

The post After You Click “Send”: Tracking and Best Practices appeared first on Digital Dealer.

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