By Tiffany Peeler, VP of Sales and Operations, Proactive Dealer Solutions
What is business development? Ask five people and you’ll get five different answers. The fact is that business development IS NOT one department, it’s NOT a basement room full of phone agents, and it’s definitely NOT stale, templated follow-up emails that hopefully will provoke a response and magically make a sale.
Now that we know what it’s not, how do we define what it is and inject it into dealership culture? At its simplest, business development is the ideas, initiatives, and activities that make a business better and that extend across all departments. It’s not a job function of one group of people, but rather of the whole dealership working together to bring in new customers and repeat business.
That sounds a bit overwhelming, right? It doesn’t have to be. You can take baby steps to bring development back to your dealership. Here’s how to get started.
Top-Down Idea Brainstorming. Business development involves high-level decision-making and should start with executive management. That’s where ideas must be born. Once those at the top have ideas, bring in mid-level management to help narrow down brainstorming and then secure buy-in so everyone can propel the idea forward.
How do you generate ideas? Look to what’s happening in the industry and the economy. Interest rates are rising, vehicle inventory remains low and prices high, and Wall Street is warning of a recession. With the average new car payment today hovering around an astronomical $1,000/month, sticker shock and worry over the economy may drag profits down in the coming quarters. How can you get ahead now, so when the party’s over and the hangover sets in you can still succeed and grow?
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Analyze your competition to see what they’re doing well and if they have ideas you can borrow. Another tactic is to complete a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat) analysis to evaluate your competitive position and uncover fresh perspectives and new ideas. Finally, consider expansion plans and operating costs so your entire dealership is functioning as an ecosystem to drive growth.
Determine Initiatives. Once you have an idea to combat market conditions and continue to grow, it’s time to think about initiatives to put your idea into play. An initiative is typically an internal and/or external strategic plan or action to solve a problem. It’s your plan to bring an idea to fruition.
For example, let’s say your idea to combat changing market conditions is to boost your service department business. Doing this requires several initiatives across departments, potentially including a cross-channel marketing strategy, discounts and coupons, and retention tactics.
The key to successful initiatives is employee training. You have to explain the what, why, when and how to drive participation and buy-in. It’s crucial to enlist your management teams and core influencers to help enact change and make it work. Train your managers first and rely on them to champion initiatives and help train personnel.
Don’t forget to train on soft skills such as negotiating and networking. Too often these skills are a forgotten part of business development, but they are a huge part of today’s world especially with the proliferation of social media and networking sites.
Assign Activities. Activities drive your initiatives and should be specific to departments and job positions. Use your CRM to track and measure activities so you can do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. Track communications and channels, do A/B testing for emails and texts, measure appointment sets and appointment shows.
Bear in mind that cold-calling is not dead, it’s evolved. Forget spray-and-pray campaigns and instead use your CRM to create highly-targeted contact lists that will allow BDC agents to make revenue-producing outbound calls and then turn promising leads over to service advisors or sales.
Activities can be time-consuming, so outsource where possible or leverage technology to reduce the workload. For example, an outsourced automotive-focused BDC can do a lot of the cold-call heavy lifting and can scale up or down depending on your needs.
Another example is implementing a Digital Voice Assistant (DVA) integrated with your online service scheduling tool and DMS to answer inbound phone calls, set service appointments, and send automated reminders via email or text. This frees-up BDC agents and service staff to jump on revenue-generating outbound activities.
You have numerous fires to put out every day, but don’t stick business development on the back burner. Generating a culture of development requires ideas, initiatives and activities that span departments – not just the BDC. Take the time to make development a cornerstone of your culture and you’ll gain a competitive advantage now and in the future.