Legendary showman P.T. Barnum once said, “I waste half my advertising dollars; the only problem is I don’t know which half.” Since then, thousands of entrepreneurs have likewise shared this frustration, leading to the discovery of direct response advertising. Essentially, direct response advertising is any form of media in which your message includes a call to action and a deadline; plus, it’s 100 percent quantifiable.
Today, customers have more options, more tools and more resources than ever, which, in turn, gives them more power. This vast increase in resources has brought about more competition, distractions and clutter than ever before; an ever-evolving landscape is forcing entrepreneurs to embrace new, less wasteful, methods of advertising. It’s becoming more evident that you must present yourself and your dealership in a unique way to your specific target audience with the right message via the right media at just the right time. And above all else, you must be able to measure what’s working and what’s not.
I just returned from another dealer group meeting where I witnessed the dedication and determination of several dealers who have reinvented their dealership business models to be profitable, even if it meant accepting a significant reduction in overall sales. I also observed dealers who were lackluster, indifferent and content to rely on “hope” as their primary strategy.
One of the common themes among the high performers in this meeting was a commitment to a “back to the basics” management style that includs a strong emphasis on cash flow management, as well as sales and marketing. While many dealers are trying to cut expenses by reducing office supplies and toilet paper, most of them have tens of thousands of dollars in lost cash flow due to unpaid warranties, obsolete P&A, used bikes buried in service, internal department account abuse, funding delays and so on. All of these cash flow deficiencies affect a dealer’s ability to spend money on direct revenue generating expenditures such as advertising and sales training.
Perhaps the most powerful fundamental I observed from these “A” level operators was the ability and willingness to create and embrace a sales culture. That is, embrace a bona fide passion that starts at the top with the dealer principal and his commitment to drive traffic into the store with effective advertising, as well as his dedication to the showroom, P&A and service sales process. That’s right — everyone works in sales.
What good is your advertising if you can’t sell? And what good is a masterful sales team if you aren’t driving traffic to your store? Additionally, today’s economy exploits the need to train your entire team to become salespeople, not just order takers.
Trying to penetrate your specific market with traditional mass media advertising via a bland message is far too expensive, wasteful and frustrating. When I was a kid we had five main television stations and two of those were fuzz. Today my satellite TV has over 400 channels, which is the perfect illustration of how fragmented and specialized media has become — this, of course, doesn’t factor in DVRs, Internet and satellite radio. This further exploits the need for you to hunt your prospects with a rifle, not a shot gun.
To cut through the clutter and maximize every dollar spent, many dealers are placing more emphasis on database marketing. This means going after your past and present customers who have a proven interest in your products. Database marketing mixed with direct response advertising is far less costly and easier to measure than mass media image advertising.
Image advertising is all about building your brand, or, as mass media sales reps love to say, “creating top-of-mind awareness.” This may work for huge companies like Microsoft or Budweiser who have millions of dollars to spend and plenty of time to wait on the results. However, most small-to-mid-size businesses are looking to leverage their advertising dollars to generate red hot sales leads right now. In fact, we joke that most dealers are looking for their advertising to generate leads before their check has cleared! Essentially that’s exactly what direct response advertising is all about. It’s not designed to get your name out there; it’s designed to get your customers in here.
The incremental increases to be gained by focusing on the fundamentals of cash flow management while creating a dealership-wide sales and marketing culture can go a long way in tough times.