We have talked at length this year about how to communicate with customers. Our visual, verbal and in-person contacts with customers are the baseplate on which they build their opinions and assess our value to their organization. In a personal contact, experts say it only takes seven seconds for the other party to form an initial impression about you, and subsequently, your organization.
This is why it’s vitally important to engage customers on purpose and find ways to quickly and artfully express messaging that properly sends the image that you want the customer to have. I spend a great deal of time in my consulting work teaching dealers to: “Create your image on your terms.” We have so many opportunities to do this every time we engage a customer. Sadly, many dealers don’t do this on purpose. Sadder yet, many have not assessed or defined their value proposition in ways that their employees can easily communicate.
Defining, and being able to articulate a company’s value proposition is what separates market leaders from mediocre
Without a well-defined and properly communicated value message we end up with the trite, tired, worn-out platitudes that even large companies still use to try and get the customer to pay attention to them.
Over 30 years ago (wow, time flies), I was visiting a friend in the Houston area. I had met Mark while attending college, and years later he would be a groomsman at my wedding. While I was there, Mark and I went out car shopping. There was a certain model of car that he was looking for, and he wanted to visit several area dealers and see what kind inventory they had on hand, and what kind of deal he could get.
At that time in my life I was a territorial equipment salesman for a Caterpillar forklift dealer. One of the things I enjoyed was watching how other salespeople navigated the sales process. What did they open with? What questions did they ask? How well did they communicate? What did they spend their time talking about? With rare exceptions, most auto dealerships did, (and still do), a less than stellar job when it came to customer engagement. The process quickly degenerated into a price volley, back and forth, with plenty of “let me talk to my manager” moments.
One thing that both I and Mark noticed about every dealership was the way they were fixated on being “number one.” During our last stop of the day, we were laughing about how EVERY dealer we visited was the number one dealer in Houston. A salesman behind a partition heard us, stood up and popped he head over the wall, and said “but we really ARE number one! Mark stood up and replied (louder than he needed to), “I really don’t care if you’re number one. NOBODY cares about that. All I want is to get a good deal on the car I want, and to get out of here in less than 4 hours!”
A hush fell over the showroom. How could this be? How could customers not value the coveted number one status? It was unthinkable!
What is really amazing to me is that nothing has changed in over 30 years. Automobile OEM’s and dealers alike, spend untold millions of dollars on advertising campaigns that still have the central theme of “we’re number one.” How many people make their final buying decision based on the awards granted by J.D. Power & Associates? I’d venture to say few, if any. All of the plaques adorning the dealership’s wall, and all of the emblems on the letterhead distinguishing an organization as a “dealer of excellence” are certainly a valid source of pride and measure of accomplishment for the dealership. I’m not discounting this. These awards are important, both for the dealer and the OEM. They are a touchpoint that builds morale with employees. But, what do these awards really mean to your customers?
“We’re number one” is not the only low value claim out there. Another one is: “We’re the biggest dealer in the (insert territory here).” Many customers have come to the conclusion that bigger is not necessarily better. Again, we make “size” sound like a value, but a customer who has never done business with you before may worry that your immensity may cause you NOT to focus on THEM. Just because your company has 15 branches, doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the customer will consider that as a point of value.
I have gone back to my “we’re number one” experience many times over the course of my career, if only to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what I value, or even what I think the customer might value. The secret to resonating with a customer, is to discover what matters to the customer and stay focused ONLY on addressing those issues. Your value statement has to be client focused, and widely appealing to the customers in the marketplace you are serving.
When engaging customers, your goal should be to translate every capability that you articulate into a customized value point. I like to use the phrase: “what that means to you.” For example: “Our service department has earned OEM Platinum standing for five straight years.” This statement, on its own, means very little to a customer. So, let’s change the statement.
“Our service department has earned OEM Platinum standing for five straight years. What that means to you is that the technician we are sending to repair your equipment is trained, certified and capable. It means our service vans are properly stocked with the right parts, and it means that our ratio of ‘first time fix’ is over 80%.”
This second statement connects the award with multiple value components that are significant and really mean something to the customer.
I even use the “what that means to you” method when reviewing my own bio during a training session. My standard bio includes the distinction of being awarded by Unicarriers, with a “Pinnacle” award for “lifetime achievement in aftermarket sales.” I usually follow that up with this statement: “This award certainly means a great deal to me. What it means for you is that this OEM recognized meaningful value in the programs, policies and training that I put in place at my dealership. I am here to share those same practices with you.”
The bottom line is to know your value statement. Also know that those people representing your value both understand and are able to articulate your dealerships value confidently. Most important of all is their ability to connect these points of value to the individual needs and desires of the customers being served.
Doing this produces resonance, and success normally follows.
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 33 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Dave.