Calling on dealers is a fascinating game. You learn a lot about people and their dealerships when trying to find out if there is opportunity between them and you, particularly in how they respond to you.
Most dealers assume you want their business. After all, you’re the one calling them. But me calling you doesn’t necessarily mean I want your business. You might not be a good match for me at all. That’s why I’m calling you, to determine if there could be a potentially good match.
While nothing is for certain, you can typically get a sense of potential synergy quickly. Why we don’t back away from seemingly inharmonious relationships is a human phenomenon. Often times our interest in the deal outweighs other priorities such as a harmonious partnership.
There is one thing however that I look for when getting to know a dealer, that helps me determine if there might be a potentially good fit. In a matter of seconds on the phone or in person I’m able to make a swift assessment and categorize dealers into one of two primary buckets – Savvy or Average.
Savvy dealers are typically organized and will listen to why you are calling. I imagine this is because they always have their radar on for innovative ways to excel with their business. Savvy dealers tend to value relationships and are more empirical when engaging with you.
When I encounter savvy dealers, their dealership’s online reputation typically looks good, their social media presence is relatively strong, their websites perform well, and most importantly, the people working at the dealership usually enjoy working there. They aren’t in the middle of a crisis and they have time to learn about what you do so they can make an informed decision quickly on what to do, or at least set an authentic expectation with you if they can’t.
Average dealers stand out like a sore thumb. Whenever you reach them they are in the middle of something, be it “with a customer,” or “in a crisis,” or “end of the month,” or “almost is” or “just was.”
Average dealers are typically annoyed by your attempt to reach them. They don’t appreciate that you could possibly have anything of value for them. They won’t commit to a future time to talk with you, telling you instead to “try them another time” or “send them some information.”
Average dealers often think highly of themselves as well, and like to exercise their control of a situation.
Vendors vs. Partners
One common theme you can use to differentiate savvy dealers from the average ones is how they view relationships with outside companies, particularly with marketing and technology providers. The de facto term used to identify outside companies is “vendor,” but that is not always a proper term. By definition, a “vendor” is a person or company offering something tangible for sale.
Marketing and technology providers aren’t doing that. They are providing a service, or software as a service (SaaS). With these relationships, both parties have skin in the game. Therefore, dealers should be approaching these relationships as partners, not as vendors.
Savvy dealers do this. Average dealers don’t.
Average dealers view their relationships with these companies as disposable commodities. Reality is, problems are never resolved as a result of switching providers. They are resolved by forming good partnerships.
Savvy dealers are thoughtful going into these partner relationships and they are thoughtful throughout them. They recognize that they too have a role in the success of the partnership.
While not all dealers are concerned about being above average, or savvy, most are. Most recognize that their future depends on it. The days of the franchise dealership business model as we know it are undoubtedly numbered. The idea of the next generation or two of your kin operating precisely what you’ve built or inherited is not going to be a reality.