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Russell Grant

Why Your Best Conquest Sale Isn’t a New Customer

magnetOver the past 20 years, one of the most common questions I get from dealers is: “What can you do to get me some conquest business?” My response is, “Why is that so important to you?” And they usually respond by saying they need new business to grow their business. Their statement is true, but that approach is also much more expensive per vehicle sold—and the grosses are usually lower. My point is that if a dealer just wants incremental business because they want to grow their business; they’re missing out by not focusing on customers who are lost or inactive.

The Sales Department sells the first car; the Service Department sells vehicles two through ten.

Your lost and inactive customers must become a vital part of any owner marketing strategy or customer retention plan. What is your dealership’s strategy and do you have a plan? Most dealerships have touch points with service customers while they are active, but not with lost customers. And if the dealers do reach out to lost customers, they use techniques similar to those for their active customers. The problem is, you can’t approach lost customers with the same plan you used when they were active customers and expect the same results.

There’s a reason customers are inactive or lost.

Most customers become inactive and defect at the point the warranty expires. They leave because, in most cases, the value proposition from an independent is more appealing to them. This is usually a perception issue, because quite often, dealers have very competitive pricing, are just as convenient, employ factory-trained technicians, and use genuine parts.

Do you have a value proposition?

Dealers need to address the value proposition with customers to make sure they understand the difference between what an independent offers and what the dealership offers. In order to do this, you need a marketing strategy that communicates this effectively using three important techniques:

  1. Identify the best customers to target. Defining an inactive customer will not be effective by just segmenting your data. You can’t just target customers who have not been to your dealership in 12 months. Every customer has different driving habits, so a customer who drives 7,500 miles per year may still be active, while a customer who drives 30,000 miles per year may have become inactive six months ago.
  2. Employ multi-channel marketing. The customers you’re targeting are important—so contact them in multiple ways. Consider social, email, mail, digital and mobile techniques with your offer.
  3. Provide multiple ways to respond. Your marketing strategy must make it easy to respond—building microsites for each customer is an excellent way to do this.

Make it an event.

After identifying which customers to target, invite them to a service clinic that includes a free inspection of their vehicle. The goal isn’t to just get the RO, but to keep the customer coming back. To do that, you need to sell your value proposition to the customer. And if you’re successful, then not only will they keep servicing, but they will buy their next vehicle from you. In fact, customers are six times more likely to replace their vehicle at the same dealership if they’re an active service customer. It’s why I say your best conquest sale isn’t a new customer, it’s the one you’ve already had and lost. And that’s why it’s so important you develop a multi-channel owner marketing strategy to win them back. service_mgmt

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Russell Grant

Five Must-Ask Questions to Better Position Your Marketing Spread

puzzleAs I speak to dealers it is clear that it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop a marketing strategy as more and more services and programs are being offered. Innovation due to big data has flooded the marketplace with plenty of marketing options. Dealers are left with tough decisions with respect to their ad spend.

Here are Five Questions to Consider with your Marketing Budget

1. Are you at the front of the food chain? Not a day that goes by that a dealer doesn’t tell me that more and more customers are shopping them on the Internet. Because of this, once the customer gets to the dealership the profit in the deal is minimal. Even this is a best case scenario because sometimes the customer doesn’t even get to the dealership. This is when I ask dealers this question: Tell me about your lead generation and your spend?

Dealers usually tell me how much they spend on 3rd party leads and how frustrating it is. I ask them about using their owner data so they achieve more 1st party leads than 3rd party leads. The key is using the data to drive your marketing so that you can identify your customer at the front of the buying cycle. The more 1st party leads you create, the less 3rd party leads you will need. Remember, a 3rd party lead has been passed out to several other dealers. Your success rate and ability to make more gross is diminished the further down the line you are.

2. Are you spending the majority of your budget on the people with whom you will have the greatest impact? I would compare this to politics. The first goal is to rally and excite your base. Second is to go after the swing votes. The further you move from left to right or right to left, the less impact you will have. The same is true in marketing. Start with an Owner Marketing Plan. Next, look at becoming more strategic with conquest marketing. Conquesting has become more cost effective with digital techniques. In the future, this will become more advantageous as you will be able to use better data to streamline your efforts.

3. Are you staying in front of customers who have shown interest? This has become a point of emphasis as dealers can drive a lot of visitors to their website, but conversion to an actual appointment is often low. Retargeting has become a great way to stay in front of these customers. Remember, customers are now in the market and doing research for up to 180 days before they buy. It is vital that we stay in front of this customer beyond initial contact. Email campaigns are a cost-effective way to accomplish this goal.

4. Are you making it easy to buy from your dealership? Great marketing should go beyond a response; it should also make it easier to buy from your dealership. When we get a customer response, if we don’t make it easy to buy, then it becomes too easy for the consumer to just go to another dealer’s website. Marketing has to push people down the sales funnel. By engaging your customer this way, it takes your customer to a deeper level within your dealership and diminishes the need for the customer to visit other dealership websites. We should value marketing that creates more dealership appointments and test drives.

5. Are we measuring correctly? Every dealer I speak to wants measurable results. Who can blame them? The challenge is: are we using measurements that correctly gauge how customers buy? Measuring customer timeframes will help us calculate the effectiveness of our spend. We should also calculate how much time on average it takes to close the sale. For example, if it takes an average of 62 days from initial contact to close of sale, then you need to figure how to lower the average number of days to close. Choose a sales process or marketing tool that will help you better track each customer, expedite the process and keep the sale in-house.

Look at your budget and ask these five questions, then look at programs for the future. This should give you a great start and, more importantly, a better position for your dealership’s budget. Innovation is coming to the marketplace – make sure you’re positioned to benefit from it.


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Russell Grant

Traditional Dealership Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

digitalmarketingAs I speak to dealers and GMs a common question they struggle with is: “How much of my budget should go to traditional marketing and how much should go to digital marketing?” It is an interesting question because everyone is trying to find the magic formula.

The first part of this question is easy for dealers to answer, as most dealerships are going to stick with the traditional media that works best for them. The tougher issues are how much to spend on digital, what is the correct ratio and where to invest those digital dollars. This becomes even more difficult as digital marketing is expanding into new and innovative products — and also blending with our traditional media. This is where it becomes trickier to calculate the correct percentages, as you have to drop your media into one of the two buckets.

Brand and Impact Marketing

I would like to look at this from a different perspective. I was speaking to Jared Hamilton of DrivingSales, and it is his opinion that dealers should measure it in two ways. Your marketing dollars should be spent on brand and impact marketing. The bottom line is that you should either be building your brand or driving response. Building your brand creates awareness, and impact marketing creates the response a dealer needs to excel. I thought this was a brilliant idea because the most successful vendors and marketing concepts will combine traditional and digital strategies.

For example: all of your TV campaigns will tie back to your dealership’s website. In fact, most if not all of your marketing spend will include your dealership’s website. Digital marketing, as we see it today, will be become traditional in the next 10 years, if not sooner. We also see direct marketing becoming more effective by using digital components, and vice versa. As this trend continues, it will become more difficult to decipher which of your spend is digital and which is traditional.

What Do We Measure?

As dealers, we want to have measurable results for our spend. That is the same now as it was 10 years ago. It is my opinion that dealers should be educated on all the new ways to reach customers, but not limit themselves to trying to find the correct percentage of traditional vs. digital. The goals of marketing have not changed. All we have to do is figure out the best way to brand our dealership and the best way to have immediate impact. So, the next time you get pitched the latest and greatest concept, you will have a better way to decide if you should move forward. More importantly, as the market continues to redefine itself, it will be easier to keep your marketing aligned with your true visions and objectives.



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Russell Grant

Five Mistakes Dealers Make With Their Owner Marketing and How to Avoid Them

marketing-strategyOne of the best things about my job is the fact that I get to talk to so many owners, GMs, dealers, sales managers and service directors about their dealership’s owner marketing strategy. Or, in some cases, need for one. That’s when I find my work the most rewarding, when I’m speaking with dealers who are ready to reap the benefits of developing and implementing a strong, sustainable owner marketing strategy.

Because remember, there are only three ways to grow a dealership:

  • Increase your number of active customers
  • Increase your profit per transaction
  • Increase your customers’ repurchase frequency

And the most effective way to accomplish these goals is with a well-planned and sustainable owner marketing strategy.

But over the years I’ve heard some of the same responses again and again when discussing owner marketing. It doesn’t matter what part of the country I’m in, the size of the dealership, or the OEM. They’re the same five mistakes and they have the same damaging results.

Number 1: “I need to focus on new business.”
Dealerships often concentrate on bringing in new customers, and that’s important. But the fastest way to grow business is to focus on previous customers. More than two-thirds of consumers have two or more vehicles, yet less than one-third have purchased them from the same dealership. If a dealership builds on relationships it already has with satisfied customers, it can increase driveway share and see that percentage rise much more quickly and cost-effectively than with traditional conquesting.

This strategy also has the added benefit of improving retention, which means being able to close a higher percentage of deals with higher profits. Because it’s a proven fact that previous customers are willing to pay more and negotiate less.

Number 2: “I already have a marketing plan.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a dealer tell me he’s running a promotion because, “I’ve got to make my month” or “I need to hit my numbers.” That’s not a marketing plan—there’s no strategy, there are limited targeted communications and virtually no data mining. If you’re lucky, it might get you out of a tight month, but it’s not a sustainable growth strategy plan.

Dealerships need an owner marketing program that’s strategic and data driven. Fortunately, dealers have an enormous amount of data about their customers’ sales, service and F&I histories, which means they can develop extremely competitive offers, communicate them via multi-channel campaigns and target those customers who are most likely to respond. A dealer needs to communicate with his customers when it best serves them, not when it best serves him.

Number 3: “My CRM does that.”
Sure, a CRM can identify customers with good equity. It can generate birthday reminders and supply email templates. It provides resources and information, but it doesn’t create a strategy. It can help dealers communicate with customers, but it doesn’t help them motivate customers. And that’s a critical difference.

Data should serve as the foundation of a dealership’s strategic plan, driving its marketing decisions. But data alone is not the plan. The data needs to be used to develop compelling offers that get customers to take action. And for that, a dealership needs an owner marketing strategy. Not just a CRM.

Number 4: “My service lanes are already too busy.”
The easiest way to activate a customer is through the service drive, and it should be a part of any owner marketing strategy. Period. Not only for the service revenue, but because an active service customer is six times more likely to buy their next vehicle from that dealership than a non-active one.

Number 5: “The OEM doesn’t give good enough incentives.”
A dealer’s strategy shouldn’t be based on something he can’t control — incentives alone won’t give his dealership a competitive advantage. He needs to dig deeper. Talk to customers sooner. Say something different. Everyone may have the same incentives, but only a dealership has its customers’ data. The dealer can use that to create multi-channel communications that motivate customers by displaying their new payment versus their old payment — without even showing the incentive. That’s a marketing strategy that puts the dealer in control.


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Russell Grant

Nine Things You Can Do Right Now To Increase Your Data Security

Security concept: Lock on digital screenLast month’s article focused on how to determine whether a vendor has what it takes to keep your data secure and what to look for in a vendor before granting them access to your DMS. But the truth is, data security starts at your dealership with the policies, processes and procedures that you establish. Here are nine things you can institute right now to improve the security and integrity of your dealership’s data.

  1. Conduct Background Checks
    Any employee you bring on will have access to, or will be in the vicinity of, customer data. When hiring new staff, conduct background checks: drug, criminal and credit. Contact references as well. 
  2. Establish a Confidentiality Agreement
    Establish and enforce an agreement that states confidential and proprietary information belongs to the dealership—and have all employees sign it. 
  3. Limit Access to Data
    Determine which employees will be granted access and/or administrator duties to what resources, including CRM, DMS, Intranet, social media, website and email. Document user names and passwords. 
  4. Institute Password Best Practice
    Passwords should be unique to each individual, at least eight alphanumeric characters in length, and account access should be blocked after the fourth invalid password attempt. Password changes should be scheduled and not permitted to be the same as the previous four passwords. Passwords should not be displayed near workstations, shared with other staff, or transmitted via insecure technologies (email, IM or fax). 
  5. Invest in Data Protection Software
    Invest in protective software, including anti-virus, anti-spam, firewall, data encryption and virtual private networking (VPN). Institute protective data measures as well — servers should be at a separate location or in cages, backups should be performed, and data retention and destruction policies should be established. 
  6. Disable Access Upon Termination
    When an employee is terminated, make sure to collect and/or disable their key, security code, remote access to any systems, Intranet access, email access, and phone extension and voicemail. For the benefit of both the employee and the dealership, conduct an exit interview if possible.
  7. Require a Non-Disclosure Agreement
    Require all vendors you share data with to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
  8. Partner with an SSAE Certified Vendor
    Our industry has not yet established a standard for policies, processes and procedures that work to ensure data security and protect the privacy of consumer information. The financial industry, however, has—SSAE-16 Certification, developed by the American Institute of CPAs. By partnering with a vendor that has achieved SSAE-16, you know they uphold the highest level of security and can protect and secure your data; guard its integrity and confidentiality; and prevent unauthorized access to it. 
  9. Require Documentation
    If a vendor is not SSAE-16 Certified, request and require that they provide documentation of restricted access to buildings, data, computers, technologies, resources and systems; scanning technology at entrances (cards, fingerprints or retinal scan); government-issued ID required of visitors; password policies and best practices; firewall, anti-virus, anti-spam and data encryption software; equipment monitoring; data retention and destruction policies; backups; and a business continuity and recovery plan in case of disaster.

For more information about increasing data security at your dealership and partnering with vendors that are qualified to provide the data security your business demands, visit Easy-to-follow checklists are also available, as well as fast facts about SSAE-16 Certification.

NCM axcessa

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Russell Grant

Getting it Right: The Right Message at the Right Time

Today we’re featuring the first article from our newest Up To Speed Guest Expert, Russell Grant of J & L Marketing
h--common-marketing-images-guest experts-russell-grant-thumb_It’s easy for us to get so caught up in “the business” of selling cars that we sometimes forget what really drives the business—our customers. When that happens, we no longer view customers as individuals with unique circumstances and needs. We reduce them to categories, interacting with them as prospects, conquests, previous or inactive customers instead of as people. And that’s not an effective way to build lasting and rewarding relationships.

It’s About Your Customer, Not You
It’s important to remember there’s not a tool or system out there you can buy to earn a customer’s trust and loyalty. That’s your team’s job. And once they’ve established a relationship with a customer, it’s critical no one takes that customer and their future business for granted. These people—your previous customers—are your most valuable asset. And if you want them to return to your dealership for sales, parts and service; keep in mind that it’s always about them, not you.

Too often, a dealer panics and decides to run a promotion because “I’ve got to make my month” or “I need to hit my numbers.” There is little strategy, limited targeted communications and virtually no data mining, which typically results in lackluster profits that do not capitalize on a dealer’s full sales potential.

What to Say and When to Say It
Customers want to know that a dealership is thinking about them and paying attention to the details of their situation. But they don’t want dealers to communicate with them all the time—and if a dealership does, the customer will stop paying attention. Customers also don’t want dealers to clutter their inbox and mailbox with offers that aren’t relevant to them and their lives. That’s why you want to make sure your data, tools and owner marketing strategy are up to the task of making the most of your hard won customer relationships.

Sometimes it’s not even a matter of “selling” a customer on a deal. If your owner marketing strategy is solid, the deal can sell itself. All you have to do is get the communications out there. Because with incentives, rebates, special offers and trade-ins, you could be doing a customer a favor—like helping them upgrade their vehicle and lower their payment. Or performing a free multi-check vehicle inspection to prevent breakdowns and avoid costly maintenance issues. Those are the kind of messages they’ll want to hear.

Getting It Right
When you get it just right—when you target the right customers at the right time with the right message and you’ve got a great sales team to back it up—you might receive an email like the one a GM recently shared with me:

Hi Glenn,

Thank you for the email letting me know about purchasing my new truck with no money out of pocket. I cannot tell you enough how much my wife and I love this dealership.

We have purchased three new Toyotas from your dealership so far.…I only wish it was closer to where we live. Thanks for the best car buying experience that a person could ask for.

Gregg and Kelly F

I’m not saying everyone is going to thank you personally for sending them promotional materials about a sales event. But I bet a lot more customers than you realize are ready to come back to your dealership, if only you’d send them the right message at the right time.

Russell Grant is Vice President of Sales at J&L Marketing, the nation’s highest rated Automotive Owner Marketing Agency by DrivingSales. He is a featured speaker at 20 Groups, DrivingSales Executive Summits and Digital Dealer.  A 20-year veteran of the auto industry, Russell also served as National Sales Manager at eXteres Auto, specializing in SEO and online reputation management, and as a Business Growth Strategist with J&L Marketing for 18 years. You can contact Russell at


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