Try, Try Again

Will Otis' pre-paid maintenance program pay off?

I was all prepared to tell everyone about the fabulous pre-paid maintenance program we implemented at one of the dealerships we manage, but I’m sorry to admit that I cannot do so in this installment. Why? Because it fell flat on its ass!

So now I’m sitting here at the keyboard feeling like a failure, desperately wanting to write about some great, powerful and revolutionary program that we’ve gotten off the ground so as to inspire anyone who has ever failed to try, try again. But no, I’ve gotta tell you a much more common story instead. You’ve gotta know that I know how hard it is to get anything off the ground, and this is my chance to stand before you all and tell you that I blew it.

It failed due to a lack of buy in. I failed to sell the program to the team, but mostly I failed to sell it to the finance director, and he’s the one person in the dealership who has the most to gain from it in terms of commission, right? But no, he doesn’t believe that it’s good for the customer. He can sell concepts. He can sell intangibles all day long. But sell this stuff? No!

Thankfully, there is a tiny spark of life left in the whole thing, enough that I’m laying it all out here in this column about failure in hopes that it’ll get traction and become a success.

I’m always telling folks that the only thing worse than a failed initiative is yet another failed initiative. And here I am telling you about my failure. Why would I do that? Because one of the managers may have pulled the program back from the brink of certain death, that’s why.

Tell me if you have this guy working in your dealership: He happens to be the sort who doesn’t buy any back end products. He frankly believes that extended service agreements, GAP, or any insured product for that matter, is evil. And yet he may have breathed the needed life back into this program when he looked at our finance director and said, "But pre-paid maintenance is the only tangible thing you offer; it’s the only thing you sell that I’d buy from you." When that little chunk of reality fell out of his mouth, the whole room just went quite. Everyone in the room had that blank stare you get just before the proverbial light bulb flickers on atop your head.

"Well, maybe I just don’t understand exactly what we’re selling with this pre-paid maintenance," was his reply. The ensuing discussion was amazing.

I’m not going to try and sell you on pre-paid maintenance in this column. New initiatives are all about change, and change is almost always a challenge. I know I won’t have the results to look at here; all I can tell you now, this close to the deadline, is what the management team decided to do once they all bought it.

Right now they’re having a "name the program" contest with a pretty large cash prize to the winner. This initiative will hopefully get everyone involved in the process, and as they try to come up with a cool name that’ll get ’em paid, they’ll all buy into it.

The dealer also designed a spiff program for salespeople when they properly introduce a customer to the finance director, opening up a conversation about the program. They intend to make it a contest with a cash prize and to track the contests openly. They even talked about encouraging the salespeople to "work the system" by calling existing customers.

The finance director will be training the entire staff on how important the maintenance program is both to the customer and to the dealership. This will help the team come up with some good names as well.

The service manager talked about putting a sandwich board in service welcoming all customers with appointments, noting "Advantage/Edge/Priority" (or whatever the name of the program ends up being) so as to induce conversations with existing customers. That’ll give the service department personnel an advantage in the spiff program.

The PG&A guys are planning to ask customers when they check out, "May I see your Advantage/Edge/Priority card so I can get you your discount?" Again, we’re hoping to get more customers talking about it.

Stay tuned for the results. I’ve seen a properly run, well-understood pre-paid maintenance program make a lot of dealers a lot of money over the years, but only when the entire team believes in the product. I feel that we now have a team of believers at this dealership, so let’s let the thing run its course. I hope to have a great success story to tell you about next month. Keep your fingers crossed.

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