As providers and administrators, it is very important that your agents and salespeople who represent your companies and products are servicing the dealer clients well. This can be quite a challenging, almost mountain-high hurdle in the world as we know it today. Over the past few years, many things about doing business in the automobile F&I industry have changed quite drastically and the old way that an agency conducted business just isn’t sufficient anymore.
There are a couple of key ingredients that an agency must have just to get them to the dealer’s desk. First, today’s agent needs to be well versed in marketing your products. Second, the agent must have an offering of back-end profit opportunities, including NCFCs, CFCs, self-funded and retro contracts. Third, the agent must provide or have access to F&I training. Finally, he or she must have good account development and maintain positive relationships in the dealership.
Take your product offering, for example. Most providers now offer high-quality products with excellent A.M. Best ratings, and at an affordable price. Some providers would debate me on this one, but I believe most administrators have figured out how to efficiently take care of customers. But having top quality products and excellent service isn’t enough to catch the dealer’s attention anymore.
The dealers left today have come through the most trying business environment that they have ever experienced. Not only did sales significantly decline, but they also had to live under the fear that their franchise could be taken away. Some of them had their dealership confiscated only to have it handed right back.
Anymore, a dealer can’t afford to be loyal to someone “just because they have been doing business with them for a long time.” Even when an agent thinks he or she is safe, the dealer will make a change just for the sake of it.
So, if you don’t assist your agents and salespeople with the provider/TPA-agent/salesperson-dealer relationship and help them continually and proactively change, they are much more likely to lose their dealer-client base. And, that not only means profits lost, it also involves a very time consuming and difficult process ahead to attempt to re-acquire that lost dealer business.
It’s not good enough to be the best of the best anymore. These company representatives (either external or internal) need to be the only ones who do what they do. They must have world-class quality to compete! They, and YOU, can no longer afford for a dealer to say, “Wow, how that product (service) has changed.” You need them to say, “WOW, I have never seen that before!”
How do your agents and salespeople do this? The answer is INNOVATION. They need to out-innovate the competition! Set themselves apart from others. The providers who assist their agents with this will add value to their proposition, and make them stand-out from other providers and administrators.
So, what should your agents and salespeople focus on to out-innovate their competition? I recommend focusing on three key components:
- Establish a unique brand
- Have a powerful website
- Have the right technology to enhance their offering to the dealer
Establish a Unique Brand
Separating themselves from the competition means establishing a brand that differentiates them from others. An agency’s brand needs to be emotional. It must combine vision, visualization and emotional connection. It should show their entity’s culture, personality, products and services.
A part of brand differentiation is having a powerful logo - one that keeps you visually connected to your customer. The company logo can be a symbol like Nike or Apple.
It can be logotype like FEDEX or a combination of both such as AT&T (see below: click to enlarge).
Here are some examples of agencies that have emotionally connected themselves to their customer (see below: click to enlarge).
Have a Powerful Website
The Internet as we knew it is no longer. Today we have Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Hulu. We don’t just surf the web, we live the web! Companies that differentiate themselves today use their website to attract and retain customers.
Companies that are out-innovating the competition have developed powerful websites using the latest technology. The website is not just an electronic brochure, or a table of contents with no introduction and no brand message. Translation….no foreplay.What should a good website have:
- Mission Statement: It needs to be specific as to what you do. The customer shouldn’t be thinking, “What is it exactly that this company does?” This may be your unique selling advantage, such product offering, training available, or services, both via a company representative as well as online.
- Intuitive Navigation System: It should be easy to maneuver around in the site, and it should be very clear as to where you will arrive when you drill down on an item as well as easy to get back to where you began.
- Slider intro page: A slider intro page, on the home page, gives the customer intuitive navigation without them doing anything. It cues up important information for the customer. Our website (www.visionmenupro.com) gives you an example of a slider page after you hear the introduction.
- A great visual experience coming into the website: Give the customer a memorable visual experience with navigation systems, clarity of offering and service that will make the customer stay and want to come back. The presentation should grab their attention immediately with sound and colors.
- Great Logo: Stay emotionally connected to your customer with your company logo uniquely displayed on your webpage. It needs to say you!
- RSS Feed Reader: All informational driven websites today have RSS feeds. These are stories or items of information that are of interest. This is a great reason for your website to be a destination for your sales people, agents and dealers alike. ADM Marketing Group has an example of this on the right hand side of their homepage, www.adm-fi.com.
- TV Capability: Streaming video is very easy to do today. A video on your website allows your company to share messages to those customers who visit your site. Technology is the easy part. All you need to do is provide training videos, product presentations, company president intro messages, etc.
- Newsletter: A company newsletter will keep your audience connected to you. They can sign up for it at your website, and your website provider should be able to send it out for you for little to no charge. All you have to do is provide the content.
- Description of your services that differentiate you from your competition: Clearly define the services that you offer. Define them in such a way that differentiates you from others, but don’t make it a laundry list of services. The customer is not going to want to know every detail about everything you do. So be clear and concise!
- Have logins to your technology tools on your homepage (i.e., Menu, Reporting, Desking, Claims Processing, Online training, etc.): This makes your website THE destination! I would suggest that you even private label your tools so that they have your personalized look and feel.
How do you make your website the destination?
Now that you have that powerful website, how do you get people to come there? Victoria's Secret was the first company to see the importance of this. In a 1999 Super Bowl commercial, they encouraged viewers to come to their website to see a super model show. The main goal of this ad was not to create awareness for the Victoria's Secret brand, but to encourage people to log onto the site.
I know that since you are not likely to have a super model show, I should provide you with some suggestions on how you can make your website the destination:
- Collect e-mail addresses: It should be a primary company mission to collect as many contacts as you can. Contacts should consist of both customers and prospects. We started doing this at The Vision of F&I and VisionMenu from our infancy. We now have thousands of contacts who we can stay connected with. Of course, you’re going to need a tool to categorize your contacts and leads. We use www.salesforce.com, which is a Cisco company.
- Have an administration person collect e-mail addresses. You would be surprised at how many people will give out an e-mail address when it’s properly asked for. Links to your website: Ask your product providers if they can link your site to theirs. They will probably initially say legal won’t allow it, but keep pursuing them until they relent.
- Social media links: Do you know where 10 percent of all time on the Internet is spent? Facebook. I personally don’t get it, but it certainly can’t hurt to be socially connected to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Have the Right Technology to Enhance Your Offering to the Dealer
Below are some examples of the use of technology to enhance website and software capabilities for the dealership (see below: click to enlarge).
Yes, life as we know it in the automotive F&I business has changed. It is not enough to offer great products, services and training, or to simply ‘maintain’ existing relationships. Your agents and salespeople need to WOW their dealer clients. They need to say, “WOW, I have never seen that before!” And an agency needs to say of their provider, “WOW, that’s different!”
You can do this by helping out-innovate your agent’s & salespeople’s competition. You need to have a unique brand, and you need the right technology tools that will help your salespeople and dealers make more money!
In the environment that we are in today, only strong, innovative companies will survive. The others will wither away...