Steve Smith is managing partner of EquipmentFX, a technology-based marketing solutions company. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Peter Drucker, famed management theorist, once said "business exists for two reasons: marketing and innovation - everything else is a cost".
That's a pretty profound statement and requires deep thought to understand. You've got millions invested and personal fortunes at stake. What does that really mean, especially for an equipment dealership? Aren't we all about equipment and relationships? This is just a simple business, isn't it? A box of cards, customer list, occasional updates into our CRM system and good ol' fashioned relationship skills are all that is needed, right? Not anymore.
What is "good marketing"?
At its core, good marketing consists of the following basic elements:
1) Have something good to say,
2) Say it well,
3) Say it often, and
4) Say it to the right prospects.
Have something good to say means you have evolved your business, your product offering or your service to warrant consideration from new prospects and to keep your existing customers happy. Saying it well means your copy, your material, your website, your follow-up processes - anything that says something about your dealership - are professionally done and leave a great impression. Saying it often takes into account buying cycles and required customer impressions on a continued basis to stay "top of mind" when they are ready to buy, not when you are ready to sell. Saying it to the right customers and prospects means good use of data, technology to build consistency and replication into processes, and information to see what is working so you spend your money in the right areas.
Belief in your Brand
But, even before good marketing can have a meaningful impact on your bottom line, your dealership needs to understand what you stand for, what makes you unique so you can promote the heck out of it. Do you have a "positioning statement" that clarifies to all employees, customers and prospects what you mean to them, why you are different and why they should spend their money with you? And how is this being communicated throughout your organisation, in your material, on your website? Do your processes reflect an organisation that cares, on every level, about personal interaction and responsiveness? Or, is there an air of indifference that is outwardly reflected in what your company says, does or doesn't do? Understanding this is critical to moving your dealership forward.
A lesson from Dr. Offut
Dr. Offut is our children's dentist. You enter the waiting room, they ask if you need anything, direct the kids to the playroom, offer you the latest magazine selection and coffee, and ask about your day. They make sure the kids are happy, comfortable and leave with a lollypop and a smile on their face. They send a follow-up sequence of thank-you cards, and ask for input on how they can better serve. Then they call you personally and ask if everything was to your satisfaction and if you have any suggestions on how to improve. Then they ask for referrals. Why would we consider anyone else? They charge a bit more, but who cares with service like that? Customer service, relationship management and customer experience in today's hyper-competitive world are a must. Prospects, like children going to the dentist, have a healthy fear of anything new, so you've got to create a positive experience in everything you say, do and promote. It is a proven fact: price is not the primary driver when customers make decisions, but it will be with nothing left but price to fall back on. What is a dealer's plan to understand this opportunity, how to act on it, and how to build it into a sales and marketing process that communicates your uniqueness? The best source of business is to build promoters of your business; what is the plan to make this a part of your business and your culture?
Customer and Prospect Behaviour
It used to be "see 20 people" was the SOP for a sales staff. Not anymore. For reasons we can all understand, time is at a premium. They find companies and products by going online and increasingly so. Studies show that 88% of capital equipment buyers go online first, regardless of whether they have a relationship or not. The way relationships are being created is changing, and changing fast. It is hard to strike the balance, not to call too often, not blast a meaningless email that offers nothing of value to them and not to be intrusive by contacting them too often. But you don't want to miss the next purchase because you had constraints on your time either. And with staff cuts, territories in a constant state of flux, information that needs to be managed, what is the plan to make sure you increase your awareness of the opportunities that still exist? How do you plan the detail and prepare for the future? How do you make your company the first to be found, thought of, first to respond and best at managing the information over the buying cycle of several hundred, or several thousand, buying cycles?
Ask "What If" to everything and re-frame what is possible
Equipment dealerships, historically, have not employed the best sales and marketing practices. Yet, we invest millions annually in inventory, people, facilities and equipment. We have shareholder and manufacturer goals to hit, so they maintain their health. What if there were low-cost, proven, straight-forward alternatives to what you currently do? What if we applied high-level thoughts, strategy, execution and technology gleaned from other industries to our "simple little business"? What if this was done in a systematic, organised, predictable way, instead of a "little of this, a little of that"? What if we re-framed what is possible and took proven techniques, case studies, hard-core data and results and applied the same to our business? What if there were better ways to do things, not spend a fortune, build predictability into processes, use information better, not add bodies or expense, and tell your company story for less? What if technology and related marketing processes could be combined with relationship selling? What if you knew the answer to the statement... "I know I'm wasting half of my advertising dollars, I just don't know which half." What if?