Ok car biz, we need to talk.... about social
Social Media, Social Networking, Social Selling... all terms that have been the center of MANY conversations at car dealers across the country and Canada over the last year or so. The problem is that like many (some would say ALL) changes that the car business is slow to embrace, these conversations are years and YEARS too late! There seems to be so much focus on whether or not sales people should be using social media as a sales tool, lead generator etc when the real issue isn't a lack of sales people willing or wanting it is the extreme lack of automotive leadership that is willing to except that social is here and it isn't going away!
I have to admit that I do live in some what of a self created bubble, I am fairly open minded and always looking at whats new and trying to use it for the dealerships I have worked for to increase visibility, engagement and ultimately sell more cars and I quite often assume most other managers are the same way however; I am not the typical car dealer manager! Recently I have hit the streets in search of my next opportunity and my journey has been equal parts exciting and depressing. Exciting because there is still yet SO much opportunity for real growth in this business at so many dealerships who are still stuck in the 'that's the way we've always done things' and depressing for the very same reason! Time and time again I have interviewed with pretty much the same guy, an old school dinosaur who's first though when they hear the term social media is; "oh that Facebook crap". I have had to wait an additional 45 minutes to speak with a GM because he had corrections needed on his weekend ad and ten minutes into the interview boasted that his receptionist posts to Facebook all the time for the dealer so their digital presence was awesome. More than a few have stated that its easier to just pay the company that their OEM recommended/forced them to use and not worry about it. Believe it or not, in 2018 I have been told by TWO GM's that they have social sites blocked on the company internet because they don't want the salespeople wasting time. After having my fill of 'dino speak' I asked one of them to look at the ELEVEN salespeople standing outside calling ups and pointed out that 5-7 of them had their heads down and phones up, I asked him what he thought they were looking at and when he said they were probably watching videos I had to simply excuse myself and leave. The world has gone social, be it a good thing or not it has happened and not just recently! The manufactures have started to wake up and now are pushing social onto their dealers hard, even 'partnering' with approved companies who will manage it for dealers. Most of the dealerships employees are active on social as are nearly ALL of the customers walking in. The only ones not engaged on social media are the old dinosaurs running things, and THAT is the block that is keeping this business from progressing. The same GM/DP that will often times pay for a salesperson's Rotary or Lions Club dues because its a great networking opportunity will block access to social media! A GM will scream at his desk guy to get his salespeople pounding the phones and making appointments but will cringe at the though of a salesperson working on his circle of social influence because he doesn't want that guy watching cat videos all day! The car business has many examples of salespeople doing digital and doing it awesome, selling cars and growing the dealers business not wasting time, there is no shortage of salespeople with innovative and exciting ideas to better market themselves and their dealership. What there is a severe lack of is willingness to let go of the past at the management level, and until the folks making decisions and signing checks understand what social selling actually is the business is stuck. When someone doesn't understand something one of the first reactions is usually fear and that fear of social media is what creates the false beliefs that its a time wasting fad that will keep salespeople off the floor and not selling cars. If a GM doesn't understand social media how can he possibly manage a staff that is using it? Yesterday a sales person was supposed to call a sold customer one day after the sale and then again at three weeks, three months etc etc... Today that salesperson tells his customers to follow him on social media and engages with them keeping his name in front of them, entertaining and educating them and when they know someone who is in the market its a no brainer where they tell them to go. And that is only one very small example in a sea of amazing and creative ways social is being used to find new customers, keep old customers loyal and build what used to be know as a 'book of business'. The true difficulty getting Dealer Principals/GM's to accept social as a sales tool is ROI. When those old dinosaurs decide to save a slow week by running an ad in the weekend paper they (think) they have a real way to track the business generated by it, even if it results in a net loss of profit they can still pound their chest and say they sold cars. Tracking results gained through social can be a bit tougher, not to mention it isn't an immediate gain the way other forms of advertisement can seem. And one thing that almost all dealership General Managers lack is patience! When you try to explain that a good social marketing effort may not really gain serious traction for three months they tune out immediately, they all want a magic bullet, results NOW or at least some fancy graphs and charts that make it appear that they got results! Recently a respected auto industry consultant posted that he could not believe some of the absolute B/S that so called 'gurus' and 'experts' were actually spouting off as valid. When I read that I had to agree, its almost comical to read some posts from these folks but then I realized why they keep getting hired...
Aristotle once stated that, "Nature abhors a vacuum" and I would add to that, "so does business"! When there is a lack of real understanding in any form of business there will always be those willing to fill the void for a profit, even if it means filling it with bullshit. Snake oil salesmen used to profit on the ignorance of people who knew no better and today they seek out auto dealer owners and GM's with no idea of social media and will buy into their pitch of instant digital success as they seek that magic bullet. For one thing its easier to hire an outside guy to do the work that they don't want to take the time needed to understand, and as a follow up if it doesn't work as well as promised its easy to end the agreement and find another keeping the actual responsibility OFF of their own shoulders; "that company we hired to manage our social failed not me". That is not to say there are many folks out there who know what they are doing and have great reputations of integrity and actually want to help dealers get better, but in most cases it doesn't matter because they usually tell it like it is and GM's want to hear magic! Tell a GM' that it would be great to have employee participation in a social media effort and all he hears is that his staff will be online all day watching trailers for the next Avengers movie. Tell a GM that cleaning up all of his business profiles and having good content posted will help organic visibility and he wants an absolute guarantee that his dealer will show up #1 in Google search, because the last guy that was here said HE could!
As I stated earlier, I sometimes lose sight of the world as it is because I have been lucky enough to interact with and learn from some of the real leaders in the auto industry. As I have walked into many dealers here in So Cal over the last two weeks and been brought back to reality I realize that the folks I follow represent the upper 3 to maybe 5 percent of this industry. The rest of the car business is working on tomorrows newspaper ad, having their staff balloon the lot trying to dream up a new spiff to motivate some sales and that is tragic. As the economy gains in strength and sales increase without real effort from the dealers it gets even worse and even easier hold on the the good old days. I dont think there is a dealership leader out there that wont say they WANT to build a better store, but very few are willing to open up to today's ways of doing business, in other words: "you can lead a dinosaur to water...."
Thats my $0.02 for today anyways :)
Hey there, I'm Mike theCarGuy and here are some of my thoughts about cars, the car business and sales! Take a look around, maybe you will learn something or at the very least find your self smiling, and if you do... leave me a comment so I know I at least did something right! Thanks for stoppin by...
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