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Long-Term Strategies for Long-Term Growth

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Auto consumers are more sophisticated than ever before. They know what they are looking for, and they know where to find information before they ever step foot on a dealership lot. So, how can you put your dealership at the top of their list? While there are certainly ways to see short-term gains, dealerships looking to grow and thrive long term need to connect with customers not just for their next vehicle or repair, but to become the business they, their family and their friends see as their dealership. Here are some ideas for positioning your dealership to earn that title:

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Your Company Culture

There are several factors outside of your control — economic conditions, decisions by the manufacturer, competitor’s programs, weather and so on — that impact your business. One factor that is in your complete control, however, is your dealership’s culture. How do you treat your team? How does your team treat each other? Do you even have a team, or just a collection of employees?

One factor that can set your business apart from the competition is having a dedicated staff who are on your team for the long term. Cultivating a team-focused atmosphere is the best way to ensure your valuable employees stay under your roof. It’s the difference between a job and a career.

Building this workplace means having a vision you can share with your team where all will see the fruits of their efforts. This means creating opportunities for your team to grow, learn and progress. This means making the dealership an enjoyable place to come into every day, and not drudgery. This means your team seeing the leadership roll up their sleeves and working alongside them, not handing down edicts from on high. And, yes, this can mean retraining or removing certain employees who consistently bring morale down.

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Knowing Your Customers

Besides making for a more positive work environment, having long-term employees is a great way to distance yourself from the competition in the eyes of your customers. When customers see the same faces each time they come into the dealership for sales or service, they automatically have more confidence in your dealership’s ability to meet their needs.

When your staff has a relationship with the customer, they don’t have to start from the bottom building a rapport. The process goes smoother, and each visit builds upon that relationship. When your customer feels like they know you — when they can go to “Sam” to fix their vehicle, rather than “make a service appointment” — they’re much more likely to be loyal to your dealership for their next maintenance, next repair and next vehicle purchase.

Your Sales Approach

We all cringe at the stereotypical image of the car salesperson, ready to say anything to make the sale and willing to use any kind of pressure to close the deal. It’s no surprise when studies show that many people would rather go to the dentist than the dealership.

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The upside to this situation, however, is that it’s an opportunity to pleasantly surprise your customers when they see your dealership isn’t like that. In fact, your dealership can bust the stereotype by listening to your customers’ needs, hearing their story and helping them select the right vehicle. When customers come onto your lot, the vast majority are ready to make a deal, or are at least serious about buying. If you apply pressure, you set up an adversarial situation — it’s “them vs. you” for the best deal. If, instead, you demonstrate you’re on their side and want to find the best vehicle for their needs, and don’t try to close the deal before they’re ready, you become their advocate. Put yourself in their place: Between the “us vs. them” and the “win-win” scenarios, which one would you rather face?

Your Reputation

No matter how careful we are with our processes, or how hard we strive to serve our customers’ needs, there will be times when things don’t go well. In the past, this mean that the customer told their friends and family about how the dealership disappointed them. Whether the customer had unrealistic expectations or the dealership actually did drop the ball, the damage was done, but didn’t go much further than the customer’s immediate circle.

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Times have changed. With online review sites, a bad experience can be shouted far and wide to thousands. When deciding to do business with your dealership, either for sales or service, most consumers research you to see what others’ experiences have been. What will they find about you?

There are companies out there that will monitor your online reputation and help you fix problems and build your dealership’s good name. There are, however, some simple things you can, and should, do to protect your dealership online. Regularly look at popular review sites to see what’s being said about you. If you find someone with complaints, contact them and see if there’s a way to make it right. A formerly unhappy customer can be one of your biggest advocates if you show you care enough to listen to them and remedy their complaint.

Social Media and Community Outreach

Never neglect the role of branding in your overall marketing strategy. When the community is familiar with your dealership — for good reasons — it’s that much easier to be at the top of their mind when it comes to buying or servicing. With social media and other online forms of communication, this is easier than ever. One of the best ways to connect with your potential customers is to have regular, relevant content that they actually want to read. Instead of flooding your feed with vehicles for sale or irrelevant content — let others take care of the cat videos — post links that might be of interest, such as recall information, summer/winter car preparation or other items. Also, don’t forget the tried and true methods of connecting with people — sports team sponsorships, charity drives and other ways that show you’re a caring, vital, stable part of the community, there for the long term.

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Susan Givens

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