Getting your foot in the door with auto dealers

by · April 14, 2016

The idea of “selling” to a car dealer is somewhat of an oxymoron. In one sense, dealers are tired of being solicited to and have a tendency to reject or put up a guard when they sense that’s what is happening. By the same token, unless dealers know about your product and enough of their peers are raving to them about it, dealers won’t be coming to you to buy your product.

4 tips to get in door with dealers

This presents a significant challenge for the majority of solutions providers – how do you get your foot in the door?

Once you are able to get a decision maker to engage with you, a skilled salesperson has a good shot at qualifying the dealer prospect that quickly leads to a sale. But getting to this point, literally is half the battle.

When I first began working in the auto business, in 2001, high-speed Internet access was pretty new. The race for the best broadband was on – Cable vs. DSL. Dealership websites we only an idea yet to be proven, and so selling them took a lot of convincing that the Internet was not a fad that is going away. Many dealers that tried having a website found it ineffective, and some wound up rejecting the idea as a result. I always wonder how that worked out for those dealers.

Back then, getting in the door wasn’t too difficult. Email was so effective at getting your foot in the door that cold calling seemed ridiculous. An email to a hundred random people typically returned 10 or 15 responses.

Not today! Email has become such a tricky sales tactic, it’s hardly useful as a marketing tool except when done with thoughtful precision and only while applying permission-based tactics.

Don’t Send Unsolicited Group Emails

As far as I’m concerned, sending unsolicited B2B group emails to random people about your product is an utter waste of time, plus, I would argue it presents more problems for everyone.

When I hear of companies buying or acquiring lists of dealers, blasting unsolicited emails out to drum up leads, I cringe. It’s this very approach that makes it more and more difficult for legitimate emails to reach their destination.

While I’d love to talk on the evils of unsolicited group emails, that will have to wait for another day. The point is, axe this approach if you’re doing it because you’re ruining it for everyone.

Produce Great Content, Consistently

Chances are, if you’re sending unsolicited group emails to promote your product, you’re probably too lazy to put time into creating great content. Creating content is one of the most time consuming activities, but in today’s B2B sales world it’s essential. Quite frankly, you can’t produce enough of it.

Content has life. It’s like oxygen for your audience, and nobody will really complain if you’re helping them breathe. Unlike printed content, digital content can last a long time. And can be used and re-purposed for many things such as personalized email and in social media.

You don’t need your own blog to create content. LinkedIn Pulse is an ideal place to publish thoughtful authoritative content because each time you publish it LinkedIn notifies everyone following you. Not only can LinkedIn users see and engage with your content and share it with others, but LinkedIn shows you how many views your content gets so you get a real feel for how receptive the message is.

Medium is another useful B2B source for publishing content. I don’t utilize Medium is much as I’d like, but others are having tremendous success increasing their exposure and getting their message across using Medium.

Other useful places to create content include Google+, YouTube, and oh yes Facebook.

Avoid Being Promotional

One of the keys to creating engaging content is to avoid being self-promotional. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially for those in sales. Salespeople want prospects and when they produce content they tend to forget their own rules of selling – listen and identify a person’s problem before you attempt to offer them anything.

When you produce content designed to help people, making them comfortable to engage and share, then you are one step closer towards your goal of finding good prospects. When you get too pitchy, engagement rates drop and eventually you lose readership by doing this. Be sure to keep this in mind when producing content. Make it about the reader, not you.

Focus on Personalized Interactions

Now that you are refraining from sending spammy unsolicited group emails pitching the features and benefits of your product before people have expressed any interest, and now that you have quality relevant content you can share with your targets, now is the time to work on more personalized email communications.

Think about it from your perspective, if you aren’t asking about a product and suddenly someone with a vying for your attention appears on your radar, what are you going to be most responsive to? Something generic, impersonal, and intrusive, or something thoughtful, personalized, and timely?

That’s a rhetorical question of course.

The more time you spend studying your targets, the less time you will spend going after the wrong targets.

In my post Breaking Down the Automotive B2B Sales Funnel, I explain how I first identify and then distinguish my targets. I also explain about breaking the ice, leveraging referrals, and using your content to create engagement. This is something I’ve worked on for years and continue to enhance as I go along.

The process never ends. Refine. Refine. Refine.

With such a framework, you gain much more traction on your target list by understanding who is in it and why. They don’t realize this initially but when you attempt to contact these folks, be it by phone, by email, social connection, you (ideally) already know a little bit about them.

You know how long they’ve been in their position, or with the company. You know a little bit about their previous work experience, maybe even mutual contacts they’ve worked with. You should know where they are located, and what kind of information they’ve shared recently on LinkedIn, Twitter, or maybe even Facebook.

All these little things add up. You don’t walk into a store, or a networking event, and start pitching yourself. You exchange names, you ask questions, and you try to find something in common to talk about, other than the weather. Well, I do at least.

These are some basic tips for what I refer to as “breaking the ice.” When I first began applying these techniques they seemed awkward at first but that’s only because they were new to me. But as I got more comfortable with my approach, I found breaking the ice to become only natural.

By putting my agenda to the side, initiating contact with folks like we’ve known one another for years and I’m just trying to stay in touch, your subject begins to see you offer something different and fresh, but since you’ve avoided telling them what it is, their curiosity is piqued and they will be more inclined to invite you in so they can learn more.

As you reach this point, remember to keep the focus on them, and not you. The more you can allow them to realize on their own that you can help solve one of their problems, the less selling you have to do.