Marketing In The Tough Times

Our industry is currently experiencing our most prolonged downturn in 16 years. It is during tough times like this that the cry of “we need some marketing” is heard the loudest. Everyone looks for a magic pill to get out of the funk we are in; an ad, an event, a direct mailer, an offer that will cause people to rush to our doors with checkbooks and Beacon scores in hand.
Unfortunately, it is not that easy. A recent study by the Association of National Advertisers found that 75-80 percent of sales can be explained by long-term factors such as reputation, customer service and branding. Only 20-25 percent of sales were impacted by sales promotion and offers. Your ability to impact sales today is largely dependent on the way you have built your business over time. Do you have the best team? How are your customer satisfaction scores? Are you capturing every name of every person who visits your dealership, event or show? Are your boats always clean and ready to show? Do you offer your customers a better boating experience than other dealers in your area? If you feel good about the answers to these questions, then great, you are already 75-80 percent there. If the answers reveal some opportunities, start fixing them now. Some of these changes will have immediate impact. Replacing a “C” player salesperson with an “A” player can drive sales better than any ad. Other changes will not drive sales now but will help ensure that your sales increase more in good times and decrease less in bad times.
OK, the long term stuff is great, but how do you stop the bleeding now? First, start with an analysis of what is really going on in your business. Is the issue not enough traffic, not enough leads, not enough prospects, not enough repeat customers, or has your closing ratio dropped?
Let’s assume traffic is down. What is your first response to this? Run ads. Hold an event. Do some marketing. Spend some money. Before you go there, look at what you have inside your dealership today. How many customers are in your database? Include all customers; new, used, service, parts and accessories and marina. Do all of them have a sales team member assigned to them? Have all of them been contacted personally in the last 90 days and invited in for an appointment, an event, a sale, a ride on a new model? How many leads have come in the last three months? Have all of them been actively worked? If not, stop all your marketing plans and fix this. What is more powerful, more effective and cheaper than calling your existing customers and leads? Is there any advertising that works one percent as well as a sales team member personally inviting the customer or prospect to experience what you have to offer?
Before you schedule a sales meeting to hammer home the importance of calling your customers, you need to look deeper into your dealership and how you manage. Why is your sales team not calling their customers? The first place to look is training. The No. 1 reason that I have heard for not calling customers is, “I don’t know what to say.” There are two solutions. One is training and role playing. Focus especially on how to call customers whose sales team members have been reassigned and customers who have not had contact for a while.
The second is to look at your calendar of events and see if you have created reasons for the team to call. Ask the sales team what type of events could your dealership create that would make them excited and comfortable calling their customers? Is it a customer appreciation event on the water? Is it a new product introduction? How about a nice dinner for your best customers? Whatever it is, you will have more success if the sales team has been part of the development of the idea.
Next, ask what type of offer would make them feel like they were doing a service to their customer by calling them? The sales team needs to embrace this and not begrudgingly go into it because you yelled at them during a sales meeting. Make it fun. Create weekly contests for a free dinner for the team member and their spouse for the one with the most appointments. Give a larger incentive for the one with the most sales from the customer database during the promotion period. Set a goal for the store and have a catered dinner for the whole team and their families if you hit it.
Now you have identified the database, assigned it to the team, trained them and created goals and incentives. Now it’s time for good old fashioned sales management. The adage “inspect what you expect” is critical for any “dialing for dollars” program to work. Let’s face it, sales management is not fun. Going over call records and contact reports with the sales team is the most tedious part of any sales manager’s job. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Play off the natural competitive nature of any good sales person. Chart the progress towards the goals publicly. Celebrate successes at weekly team lunches. Nothing you can say or do will motivate the team better than peer pressure and public recognition of a job well done.
This may not be what you think of when you think of marketing, but every marketing program is really a sales program. Marketing’s job is to fill the bucket with leads and prospects. But if the bucket leaks from lack of follow-up or disappointing customer service, then the best place to spend resources is in fixing the leaks, not by refilling the bucket.

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