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Hope in a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
by Gretchen DeWees Kennedy

2011 Facebook article targeted to automotive dealers:

Has Facebook Reached Its Peak?

This question was asked in 2008 by Wired Magazine when Facebook's population was ONE-FIFTH the size it is now, and I saw it again recently in one of the automotive dealer forums. Here is my answer:

The only thing that's reached its peak is our ability to understand the sheer potential of Facebook.

If Facebook users can organize quickly and cohesively enough to bring down a government (Egypt), it's word-of-mouth potential is far greater than we can appreciate. Moreover, many businesses are just starting to recognize that the data potential of a portal where nearly 600 million people give up very intimate details about themselves is insanely valuable–the likes of which we've never seen before. They struggle with understanding how to leverage all that juicy information, but dealers should seriously ponder the myriad of ways they can connect with people here because at any time, 5% of them are actively shopping for a car. And another 65% are going to be buying a car within the next few years. Think of Facebook as an easy way to connect with all of them.

Please note that I said "connect." Listing your inventory on your dealer fan page limits its exposure to just your fan base of 200 (or however many) fans. It's also the easiest way to LOSE fans: who wants their Facebook news feed filled with your vehicles, particularly if that Facebook user is in the 95% who is not shopping for a car? Or, even if they are actively car shopping, who wants to see all your pickups, SUVs, etc. if they're looking for a convertible? No one… not even you… I'll even bet you've "hidden" a dealer who abuses Facebook with their undiscriminating inventory feeds (just like people have done to you if you're "that guy.").

The far more powerful–and appropriate–alternative is to list your inventory on Facebook's Marketplace, where Facebook users go TO SHOP, attracting 15 million unique visitors a month. Plus, on all of your Marketplace listings, all the friends of each person in your fan base will see that their friend "likes" you, lending instant–and invaluable–credibility to your dealership. And, of course, each time anyone comments on a vehicle (fan of your dealership or not), all of THEIR friends see that post… and if one of their friends comments on top of it, then all of THAT person's fans will see it, exponentially leveraging your exposure to people who are not in the Marketplace.

With social media absorbing so much of our attention, we've become a nation of headline readers, so whoever on your staff is posting onto your Facebook page needs to be a headline writer. Posts must be short, clever, and use plays on words. They should also occur once a day at minimum. Three to five times a day is ideal, but only if you have something interesting to say--quality always reigns over quantity.

60% of the posts on your fan page should showcase the HUMAN side of your dealership… Give me a chuckle with a joke. Post pics of your staff working on a Habitat for Humanity project, the company picnic, and your bring-your-dog-to-work-day. Another 20% of your Facebook page should be educational in nature. Save me a few minutes or a few bucks with a quick tidbit. Tell me something I don't know that will help me. These are what people will find interesting on a daily basis, particularly if they're not actively shopping for a car. The point is when they are finally shopping for a car, yours is the dealership they "have a relationship with," even if it's been all online. They know you. They know Salesperson A tells funny jokes. They know Salesperson B had a baby last year. They know you raised money to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf. They know the brands you sell.

The remaining 20% of your posts can target the active shopper and be about incentives or coupons or posts of truly stellar testimonials (presented humbly and graciously), and pics of happy people with their new cars… And, you can post the occasional hot piece of inventory you just got in.

By keeping most of your inventory in the Facebook Marketplace--and linking to it from your now-more-interesting Facebook page, you're respecting the way people use Facebook. You're staying visible by presenting compelling, interesting, attention-worthy content that even appeals to people who aren't car shopping, and you are benefiting immeasurably by giving folks great reasons to shape wonderful opinions about your dealership.

How to get started? HomeNet Automotive sells unlimited, premium listings on Facebook Marketplace for just $200 a month. HomeNet also lists its dealers' inventory on a separate inventory page attached to their fan page for free. Now you can stop hassling your Facebook fans and start engaging them. Click here for more information:

© 2011, Gretchen DeWees Kennedy 

Please contact Gretchen DeWees Kennedy for more information on marketing consulting, writing, and corporate communications needs.

Who Sings Your Praises?
Creating "Evangelical Customers" Who Spread The Good Word About You

Although this appeared in AutoSuccess Magazine (1/2010) and was written for auto dealers, it pertains to anyone in a customers service or sales role.

When faced with a problem that only an expert can fix, everyone feels vulnerable if we don’t know a trustworthy expert to call upon, someone responsive, experienced, and reliable who we know will give us a fair price in exchange for quality service that they stand behind. Without such an expert in our phone directory, a small matter can become a big source of worry.

Let’s say your family doctor says you need a knee replacement. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s not likely that you would drive to the local hospital and ask for the next available orthopedic surgeon. You would probably spend a few months getting mentally ready, unsure how to research surgery options, surgeons, and facilities. Feel the anxiety?

Many people feel the same way when buying a car.

Now, suppose a colleague had a knee replaced last summer. She can’t stop telling people about how wonderful her new knee feels. She talks about her doctor like he’s a god (regardless of the actual qualifications of the surgeon). She tells you about how the physical therapy facility sent a van, so her husband didn’t have to take off from work three times a week to drive her. And, when you share that you need your knee replaced, your colleague earnestly responds, "You need a knee replacement? I’ve got a guy who’ll fix you right up. Just look at me! I’m walking three miles a day! You really need to call my guy. Here’s the number. Call him now."

Ah, you're saved!   Someone’s got a guy! 

They’re everywhere, these "guys." You need concrete poured? I’ve got a guy. Need your pants taken in? I’ve got a guy for that, too.

I’m sure you know a "guy" in the car business, too, the industry veteran who seems to have a lock on your local community. Everybody in town, maybe even your uncle, buys their car from this guy. He knows everyone by name, their kids, too. Forget "taking ups" or prospecting using the CRM, he has a large book of customers that he sends birthday cards to and always seems to have people referring him business. Yeah, you know the guy.

Wouldn’t you LOVE to be the "guy" to your customers?

What does the guy know that you don’t? What every guy knows how to do is create what marketers call an evangelical client, a customer who enthusiastically promotes their "guy’s" business, product, or service through word-of-mouth without solicitation. Evangelical customers feel great reward from helping both the person in need and the business they are promoting. They enjoy the fact that because of them others are having the same successful experience they did. They believe in a better world and this is one way they actively contribute to it; in essence, they feel their community worth is enhanced with every "convert."

An evangelical client is the ideal customer for several key reasons:

1. He genuinely likes you and wants you to do well.

2. He is willing to pay more because you offer the whole package (decent product, fair price, you’re here to stay, and that certain "guy"-ness).

3. He wants to help others, and that motivates him to tell others about you (that also makes him credible).

4. He is a not just a happy, repeat customer, he is a walking testimonial, working for you without compensation.

5. He refers "softened" customers to you, meaning they’re already sold on essential intangibles like trust, reputation, and fairness before they walk into the showroom.

6. He offers you solid suggestions on how to improve your business.

7. He sends you more business than your brother-in-law.

Priceless, right?  You bet.  We should all be so lucky… and we can.

How do you create evangelical clients?

1. Be trustworthy. Even if you have fierce sales skills, if your mentality is that every deal is a notch on your quota bedpost, customers’ radar will go up, and they will get a sense that they mean nothing more to you than cash. The only customers you will attract in that case are the ones looking for the best deal… in other words, they’ll be using you, too. Worse, without solid referrals to carry you through times of lean advertising budgets, you’ll go hungry. You also won’t last long in any one dealership, which makes it impossible to build an evangelical client base. Voluntarily ensuring transparent, win-win transactions will build trust and pay out far more in the long run.

2. Treat every customer right. Listen, put yourself in their shoes, and do whatever you can to meet their needs. Every once in a while, exceed their expectations, like the van that shuttled your colleague to physical therapy appointments.

3. Care about your customers. Keep notes on every one of them, including the names of their spouse and kids, birthday, anniversary, hobbies, etc. Take a photo of them with their new car and create a scrapbook with their testimonials for prospects to flip through on your desk.

4. Be human. Show your personality. Create a photo montage screensaver of your family. Whatever your hobbies, put evidence of them on your desk to help you connect with your customers on a personal level. That emotional connection is imperative for the evangelical customer.

5. Be personal. Today, technology is widening the gap between consumers and the car sales professional by providing all of the information the consumer needs online and removing all personal interaction until the customer finally shows up on the lot after weeks of research. If technology is removing so much communication throughout the buying cycle, how can an auto sales professional become the "guy?" The exact same way the "guy" became the "guy" before all of this wonderful technology. Take the time to truly get to know your prospects and communicate with them (utilizing technology) throughout the buying cycle and beyond, even if they do not buy from you. Let your CRM do the work of the follow up, but know what "work" it is doing. Know what each email says, and follow up with your own personalized emails and phone calls. Get out and become a positive part of your community. If you want to be the "guy," you have to invest the effort necessary to cultivate meaningful interactions with your customers in all stages of their buying cycle.

6. Be grateful. Stop and appreciate what they’re doing for you and actively thank them. Write thank you notes after every referral, whether the deal closes or not. After they’ve sent you a few customers, send them a small but highly meaningful gift, like if your customer likes to fly fish, send them a dozen hand-tied flies. The point is not the expense, it's to show that they mattered enough for you to remember something important to them.

7. Be humble. Ask them how you can improve and listen carefully to their ideas. These people like to feel needed and helpful. They will appreciate the opportunity to better the world. Even if their suggestion is something you already do, don’t dismiss the idea (instead, look at how you can better create consumer awareness around that service since your best customers don’t know about it). Appreciate that they took the time to think of an idea and be honest with you.

8. Be responsive. When an evangelical customer calls, answer the phone. It’s usually important. In fact, it’s usually a lead or a complaint. In either case, it’s important that you’re on top of it. Most amazing about evangelical customers is that they are so loyal, they will excuse the occasional poor experience, even going so far as to rationalize a bad experience had by a convert with a stream of logical reasons ("Maybe their website was down…" "Maybe there was an emergency in the family…" "Maybe it was defective. It happens. Mine still works great. Call my guy, he’ll take care of you," etc.). The evangelical client doesn’t want to be wrong about you.

And you don’t want the evangelical client to be wrong about you.

As passionately as the evangelical client sings your praises, he can also ruin your name in his circle of influence… and do so with that same passion. Remember, he’s out to create a better world, and if that means people should avoid your business, he’ll freely tell them to do so. To him, spreading a cautionary word is just as helpful as a recommendation.

The good news is evangelical customers are naturally forgiving people. Should something happen that causes your customer to slip out of evangelism or flip alliances, go back to #1 and work toward renewing your relationship. They’re worth it. Just ask any guy.

For more information and resources on creating evangelical clients, please check out these sources:

Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba (Kaplan Business, 2002)

There's a Customer Born Every Minute: P.T. Barnum's Amazing 10 "Rings of Power" for Creating Fame, Fortune, and a Business Empire Today - Guaranteed! by Joe Vitale and Jeffrey Gitomer (Wiley, 2006)

Managing the Customer Experience: Turning Customers Into Advocates By Shaun Smith and Joe Wheeler (FT Press, 2002)

The Brand Who Cried Wolf: Deliver on Your Company's Promise and Create Customers for Life by Scott Deming (Wiley , 2007)

Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales by Jeff Thull (Wiley, 2006)


By Gretchen Kennedy
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