Staying Ahead of the Pack
Staying Ahead of the Pack

Bruce Sievert, partner of Cornerstone Automotive Programs Inc., and president Centurion Automotive & Powersports Inc. has a long history in this industry, although it wasn’t his first career. He spent 22 years in the banking business before joining Mark Brown, Sievert’s current partner at Cornerstone, at SouthWest Dealer Services. He was with SouthWest for six years before he and Brown decided to form Cornerstone.

“I love the people in the business, the competitiveness and the chance to succeed in a results driven industry,” Sievert noted.

From Cornerstone, Centurion was founded as an offshoot in 2008. “The original mission was to provide a partnership in cross selling opportunities for Cornerstone and Centurion,” he said. “Not much has changed since then.”

A Product-Driven Business Centurion offers a wide range of products, from service contracts and GAP coverage, to paint & fabric, tire & wheel, and key replacement. Sievert noted that, ultimately, products are chosen to be part of the Centurion package because they meet both dealer and consumer expectations and needs. And he is always looking for new opportunities. “We are constantly keeping an open mind to vendors reaching out to us and what dealers are using and requesting,” he noted.

Part of that strategy has been for the company to try and choose products that meet the needs of a changing marketplace, and get them out there faster than the competition. “We also want to be on the point of the spear when it comes to new products and be the first in our market place to offer them,” he said. “In the past we have taken advantage of changing laws — such as hands free calling in California — and offered Bluetooth to dealers, service contract follow-up programs and customizable maintenance programs, and some ‘front end’ products that can enhance a dealer's sales success, such as QR code driven technology.”

In addition to choosing the latest, and greatest, products to offer dealers, Sievert noted that a big part of the strategy is also to use income development strategies to build new business. “We will continue to march down this two-pronged sales process in the future,” he said.

So how does he then measure the success of any given product? One way is by the traditional method of volume, Sievert noted, although he also went on to point out that you have to keep an eye on the amount of time spent servicing those products, as well as the end user feedback, to get a full picture.

Agents and dealers are also evaluated for success rates, looking at benchmarks such as the number of accounts and referrals for agents, and the willingness of a dealership to refer the company, as well as the bottom line numbers.

When it comes to giving both agents and dealers the tools they need for success, Sievert stressed that training is important. “We offer in dealership training on sales, products and presentations” he explained. “We will also do remote training sessions annually, and we are currently in the process of providing an online training resource for our clients that will be available 24/7/365.”

Looking to the Future When it comes to building and maintaining a successful business, Sievert noted that there are several key components. “Persistence, education on current trends and products, and an ability to built relationships on trust and performance. And did I mention persistence? Since this business is very relationship oriented you must be able to gain a dealers trust by being the most educated agent and have a willingness to work as hard as any of their employees. Persistence is critical as it may take months and even years to close or get deeper in an account,” Sievert said.

He went on to note that anyone interested in becoming an agent should find a few mentors who have been successful to start, and be prepared to use some of that persistence he mentioned. “Be prepared for the long haul as success isn’t built overnight.”