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The Essentials of Marketing Ourselves (Part Three)
by Michael Hargrove
We've bought into the philosophy that we don't get wealthy in the car business by simply selling each client a car. We believe that we get wealthy in the car business by creating a relationship with each client that allows us to make a reasonable profit, five or six times, over the next twenty years.
Okay, so now we've transformed the delivery from a function of the sales process into the foundation of a long term marketing program. We've committed ourselves to using the phone only for our 24 hour, 72 hour, 7 day, and 30 day contacts relying on thank you cards, newsletters, post cards, anniversary letters, service walks, and occasional faxes or e-mails for our long term marketing efforts. We even send out birthday cards and holiday greetings for good measure.
But how do we keep it all straight? How do we keep every one of our customers in the loop? And how do we keep our sanity? By choosing to get organized and staying that way!
One method of managing our customer base is the use of an index card and file box system. Most good systems have two cards per customer; one for an alphabetized index (for quick access to individual customer information) and one for a chronological index (to organize and schedule our marketing or follow up efforts). It should include alphabet tabs and month tabs for sorting. Each card should have the following information: name, home & work addresses, home/work/cell/fax phone numbers, e-mail address, vehicle information, purchase or lease terms, date of purchase, family members' names, hobbies or interests, number & type of vehicles in household, source or name of person who referred them to us, names of prospects they have referred to us, and plenty of room for contact notes.
After each contact, we need to update the chronological card and file it in the month of the next scheduled contact. Some sales people keep a card in front of the box for each unsold customer until they are ready to file as sold customers or are no longer in the market. This method of using index cards and a file box is expandable but over time can become very cumbersome, some growing to three and four boxes. Also, it is virtually impossible (certainly impractical) to duplicate. So, fire, theft, or loss can prove devastating.
Another method of managing our customer information is to use a prefabricated binder system designed specifically for the automobile business. There are several variations of these on the market today. Some are better than others, of course, and only a few allow for both alphabetical and chronological sorting of our clientele base. Fewer still include room for all the customer information I've listed above. This method is certainly more portable and less physically cumbersome than using index cards, but virtually none are expandable. They rely on us purchasing a new binder every year or so and don't take into account long term (10 or 20 years) customer retention. This method too is virtually impossible to duplicate. So, fire, theft, or loss are still issues. Still, some sales people swear by them.
My preferred method, and the method used by the vast majority of the "top guns" I've interviewed, is a digital database. Having our customer database on computer allows us the most flexibility, and the most functionality of all three methods we've discussed here. It's also easily duplicated (just save the database to disc and store the backup disc somewhere safe), so fear of loss is eliminated.
There are several good database programs out on the market today but, by far, the majority of our clients who choose to manage their customer base by computer use the program ACT. A distant second would be the program Goldmine. There are many others, of course, some even designed specifically for the car biz, but most tend to be either too inflexible or ridiculously expensive. ACT and Goldmine both allow us the flexibility to customize it to our specific needs, so all the customer information we can include on index cards can be included here too. Also, virtually all programs will allow us to sort by any field, thus enabling us to send out any note, article, or story to a specific customer or group of customers that may have an interest in it. Most good programs will also allow us to set a follow up schedule for each client and then it will remind us of each marketing step currently due. Some will even print up a daily work schedule for us each morning!
The bottom line is to make a decision. Choose a customer information management system, get it current with our existing clientele base, and then be disciplined enough to use it and update it every day. It is initially a bit more work than just waiting for the next walk-in prospect but, in the long run, it's a heck of a lot easier, and much more effective and profitable than relying on fresh ups to make a living. Beside, getting organized and staying that way is simply a sound way to run a business.
We did know we are running our own businesses now, didn't we?
Michael D. Hargrove is President of Bottom Line Underwriters Inc. and can be reached at the contact points below.
Toll Free: 1-888-My Success
Fax: (503) 638-0602
P.O. Box 1218
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Copyright © 1998 by Bottom Line Underwriters, Inc.