Author Archives | Rick

Lightbulbs, Microphones and a Tattoo Machine!

Lightbulbs, Microphones and a Tattoo Machine!

Determination is the real story behind Thomas Edison. He didn’t just invent the lightbulb in a day. He tweaked a tiny little filament over 10,000 times, leading the inventor to famously quip, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He kept going, consistently putting in the long hours required to reach his goal of a commercially viable light source. The result of his determination, the lightbulb, was one of the most important inventions in history. There were two powerful principles that drove Edison into the history books and they will also drive us to historic levels of success.

1. Determined Individuals Always Work Until They Find a Way.

Less-determined individuals will always find an excuse. Moving from an excuse level to an execution level is the challenge of every individual working toward success. Success cannot survive in an excuse environment. Those who enjoy a high level of success are determined to eliminate excuses whenever they arise. However, excuses are only a symptom of the root problem: lack of commitment.

As Kenneth H. Blanchard once said, “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”

The hard reality is that when we are working to achieve a goal whether it is to improve our skills, our income or our physical or financial health, the issue is our level of commitment.

Each month, I work with dealership personnel to raise their production and skill levels. Often, I encounter excuses that reveal legitimate obstacles to their progress. Those obstacles hindered others and they can’t see a way through to success. The common denominator is always the obstacle. When an extraordinary level of commitment and determination is present, that individual can do what others could not. The proverbial light comes on and they find a path through the obstacles and to great levels of success.

The difference between the Edisons of the world and others is rarely intellect, charisma and ability. It comes down to how committed they are to succeed.

2. Success Achieved in One Area Drives You to Pursue It in Others.

Edison lived for another 52 years after the first successful lightbulb. He kept working, filing over 1,000 patents in his lifetime and contributing to numerous inventions he’s not as well-known for, like the microphone and an early version of the tattoo machine. Success and excuse-filled living are both addictive! If we can break out of the addiction of excuses we will find ourselves experiencing one success after another. This also reminds us, as leaders, of how powerful guiding others to kick the excuse addiction can be. It unleashes a surge of creativity and focused effort that leads to levels of success thought to be impossible before.

One of the reasons success leads to even more success, is we become more confident in our abilities and are willing to attempt greater things. Edison felt invincible after his success with the lightbulb and was confident he could do more. It’s a natural progression of champions in any area of life. We often see amazing things accomplished and assume it comes because of great talent. While a factor, it is always a part of a larger process that began with eliminating excuses. My birthday is October 21, the same month and day as the day in 1879 that Edison finally succeeded in inventing a working lightbulb. It reminds me each year I have numerous areas that deserve more commitment and fewer excuses. How about you and your team? I will forever be indebted to Edison for the lightbulb and the microphone. I’m not too sure about the tattoo machine.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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The Chick-fil-A Difference

The Chick-fil-A Difference

Chick-fil-A draws from the same pool of individuals to hire employees as Taco Bell, McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants. Yet their customer service skills and intentional effort to respond with “Please,” “Thank You” and “My pleasure,” has been one of the core principals of their success. While other fast food providers have a consistent process for preparing food, Chick-fil-A is very focused on the customer experience.

So what makes the difference? One simple word: training! If you haven’t viewed their training video, entitled “Every Life Has a Story,” Google it and be prepared to be challenged on how we should train our team to treat customers. While there are many benefits of training your team, here are two of the most powerful:

1. Training Changes Behavior.

The only difference perceived by customers in today’s retail market is their experience while interacting with the members of your team. Great companies focus on creating a climate customers enjoy and one that is driven by what the customer wants. For far too long, we have expected our customers to acclimate to us. In the automotive business, we have our thoughts concerning everything from how long the sales process should take to how long the F&I process should take. It really doesn’t matter what any of us think. What matters is what the customer thinks!

Training turns the vision of a company into logical steps to follow, providing a more consistent customer experience. While the food is more expensive than their competitors’, drive up to a Chick-fil-A during meal times and you will always see a long line both inside and out. When customers enjoy the experience, they will spend more money. Higher profit levels are easily achieved when a well-trained team provides a great experience. Training not only changes the behavior of your team, it also changes the behavior of your customers!

2. Training Lifts Everyone and Everything.

Every team member will grow because of consistent training. A growing employee will grow the company! Well-trained employees communicate better, provide higher levels of customer service and produce more profits than those less trained. They are more confident in their abilities, feel more valued and focus more on helping customers, not selling them.

A recent survey revealed that 35% of millennials consider training provided by their employer as a desired key benefit and those that feel there is no investment in their professional growth are 12 times more likely to leave.

With well-vested employees, a more consistent process and a laser focus on the customer experience, you will see consistent increases on every side. On the other hand, without a consistent training plan, employees will be left to their own ideas of how to treat customers and will always be looking for a better opportunity.

And don’t worry about investing in an employee and having them leave. It costs much less than not investing in them and having them stay. We are all in the same business: the people business. We just have different products to sell. Sell them well and sell them with well-trained employees that love what they do every day!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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That Crazy Columbo!

That Crazy Columbo!

Most of us have laughed at the crazy efforts of Lieutenant Columbo to lull criminal suspects into letting their guard down and then watched as he would get information that no one else could. An article in the American Bar Association Journal even reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to “Think Columbo.” I loved the TV show and what the character has taught us about human behavior. Here are two reasons why his efforts worked so well.

1. People Will Open Up Once They Feel the Interrogation Is Over.

Many times, a customer in a car dealership is subjected to a process that is nothing less than an interrogation. The value of a customer interview at the salesperson’s desk has long been debated; however, most customers feel they are being interrogated.

I have always advocated that we ask the questions needed once we make them comfortable in the F&I office. If a customer encounters the typical list of discovery questions, they know we are just like everyone else and that we are digging for something. One of the most valuable efforts an independent agent can provide to dealerships is to assure that the F&I process is a comfortable conversation, not an interrogation.

Everyone who has ever undergone an “interrogation” knows that the person asking the questions is trying to harm them, trap them, or move them to say or do something they don’t want to. In the F&I office, it comes across more like we are trying to sell them something, not help then make a good decision. Using a little creativity can gather the information you need and, more importantly, once they realize the interrogation they were expecting is not happening, they will open up and tell you more than you may even need to know!

2. Charisma, Great Salesmanship and High-Pressure Techniques Don’t Move Customers to Buy the Products They Need.

Columbo was known for his disheveled appearance, rumpled trench coat and a stumbling command of the English language. I am not advocating we dress shabbily and butcher the King’s English! However, I am advocating we stop trying to dazzle customers with what we are all about and focus more on what they are all about. It’s not the most charismatic person that moves customers to consistently buy. It is the skilled and practiced professional who knows how to build deep connections that lead to real discussions.

The person who uses the Columbo perspective from the start of their engagement with each customer experiences a much easier effort to move them from “No” to “Yes.” We don’t get paid to sell products. We get paid to guide customers through a process that makes “Yes” easy. And when they don’t see that “Yes” is the best answer, the effort of using their own words to enable them to see their need of the product you are discussing is effective and fun! That demands that we focus on urging the customer to do most of the talking, not listening to us.

When a customer says no to everything, simply state, “Absolutely! These are just options, and if you thought you were going to have problems with this vehicle, you would have bought something else, right?” Then have them sign the menu and put it away. Break eye contact and turn away to start the next task. They just got away with murder. They told you “No” and you dropped the subject! Their guard is down. So now re-engage them with a question that piques their interest. “I am a little confused. I think we might be missing something, especially after what you said earlier.”

If you have spent most of your time with the customer focused on getting their guard down and listening to them, your next statement is a response for more information. That’s a different and more productive discussion.

Crazy Columbo could discover things that no one else could find, and you will too — if the focus is on them, not on you. The truth is many of your customers need the products you offer and will buy them if they meet a skilled professional who knows how to make it comfortable to open up. It’s the Crazy Columbo characters that win in the end. Want more winners on your team? Teach, support and train your team to focus on getting customers to open up, so the closing is easy!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Your Competitive Advantage

Your Competitive Advantage

During a recent (and rare) vacation along Florida’s Gulf Coast, I watched more evening TV than I have in quite some time. I was amazed by how many dealership commercials I experienced. It appeared that everyone was trying to gain a competitive edge with the cleverest marketing ideas and the guaranteed lowest price.

With today’s customer it is not marketing, price or product that will cause you to lose to the competition, it is the customer experience! The F&I experience is the one that customers remember the most, and since it is the last step in the car-buying process, it has a tremendous impact on overall satisfaction and the likelihood of repeat visits. If we want to change customer behavior, we must change the experience.

There are three specific demands that customers are making concerning the F&I experience. That represents three opportunities to gain a competitive advantage!

1. Value My Time!

Customers value their time almost as much as they value their money. The one thing we all find frustrating in all our retail purchase efforts is the time we must wait. If we find ourselves waiting in line at a fast food counter, airport travel desk, supermarket checkout or gas pump, we become very frustrated. Should we expect anything less from a customer who has just purchased a $35,000-plus vehicle? And if a customer is frustrated when they finally enter the F&I office, profits suffer.

Eliminating the wait for the F&I process produces a customer who is still excited about the purchase of their vehicle, and that is a definite competitive advantage.

2. Meet Me Early!

When the customer meets the F&I manager for the first time at the end of the buying process, they are defensive and filled with questions. They want to know who this person is, what are they going to do, and how long this is going to take. The F&I manager should meet the customer early in the process and, if they are financing, offer to take their information and submit it to the lender. Then the customer sees the F&I manager is working for them and trying to help them get the vehicle they want at a payment they can afford.

Once the customer reaches the F&I office the F&I manager has already had an opportunity to make a connection with them, get excited with them about their purchase and assure that they are perceived as someone they can be comfortable working with to complete their purchase. That’s another competitive advantage.

3. Help Me, Don’t Sell Me!

The process we use to build value in F&I products will determine if we are perceived as trying to help them make good decisions in connection with their purchase or if we are just trying to sell them something. If the F&I manager provides a lot of the two “L”s: laughter and listening, the process is comfortable and one in which the customer feels at ease asking for the knowledge and expertise of this helpful person.

We should never forget that money follows service everywhere it goes. Want to produce more profits and income? Help more customers! Providing a comfortable and helpful experience will do more to move customers to buy than any sales technique we can employ. And you guessed it: That’s another competitive advantage.

Customers’ frustration with the F&I portion of the sale is not a resistance to the products themselves but rather the experience. Great companies such as the Ritz-Carlton, Apple and Disney have all become leaders in their markets due to a focus on providing a great customer experience. And the profits seemed to take care of themselves. Their competitive advantage was the experience they provided and it is the same for the F&I office.

When it comes to providing a great experience for every customer in your dealer clients’ F&I offices, demand it, support it, train to it and compensate effectively to those that do it well. Hopefully I can go back to the beach and do some more research on this and get back to you!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Hooked on a Feeling

Hooked on a Feeling

I’m revealing my age when I recount “Hooked on a Feeling,” the 1969 hit by BJ Thomas. This song intimates the importance of an emotional connection. Emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, exhibit less price sensitivity, open up and talk more, and are more likely to recommend your dealer clients to their friends and family. Facts can help eventually get a customer to take action; however, that only happens after they have become emotionally attached to the product or what it will do for them.

The attempt to outsmart customers, back them in a corner with facts or overwhelm them with ‘knowledge’ went out with eight-track tape players. (Anyone under 50 is excused from knowing what that is!) There are several reasons why the endeavor to emotionally connect with customers is a trait shared by the most successful companies and individuals. Let’s review just a few.

Customers Remember the Way They Are Treated.

Customers don’t necessarily remember what you do for them as much as they remember how you made them feel. Emotionally connected customers are convinced that “This person gets me.”

Customers are not focused on understanding what their F&I managers have to offer. They are focused on finding someone who understands them. Many times, our effort and training to reach higher levels of profit is concentrated on techniques that will help customers understand our products more deeply. That effort should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself!

When we ask genuine questions to learn more about our customer, they naturally will do more of the talking. When a customer talks 70% of the time, and their F&I manager is intentionally listening, they feel they are understood.

Emotional Connections Make Customers Feel Special.

Emotionally connected customers feel the process is uniquely built upon their needs, not a scripted presentation. Questions uncover unique information about each customer. That leads to a personalized discussion based on what the F&I manager has learned.

The connection must go beyond the surface and focus on getting the customer to open up and talk about themselves. A connected customer will share things they never planned to because they never thought they would feel as comfortable as they do when a connected conversation takes place.

You Can’t Fake Listening.

To prescribe a product or solution before you have diagnosed why this particular customer needs the product being offered is F&I malpractice.

I was privy to a customer interaction involving an NFL player. He expected the conversation to turn to football. However, when the F&I manager discovered the customer had a twin brother who also played in the NFL, the conversation became more comfortable. An emotional connection took place resulting in laughter and in-depth insight into the needs of this customer.

Connection leads to comfort which leads to the result we are looking for: customer buy-in. Your training should focus less on getting buy-in and more on creating comfortable conversations.

General agents are well-versed in making great connections with dealers and dealership personnel. The same skills that have forged those relationships should be utilized to encourage the F&I team to focus on the strength of consistently connecting with customers on a deep level. Once the connection has been made, the F&I manager’s knowledge of the products will help seal the deal. The customer feels they have found a great place to buy a car and the dealership can count on their returned business. Everyone is “hooked on a feeling” That’s a win for everyone!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Change Is a-Coming!

Change Is a-Coming!

The year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car. In that year, German inventor Karl Benz built the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Cars did not become widely available until the early 20th century. One of the first cars accessible to the masses was the 1908 Ford Model T, and the transportation industry was forever changed.

I remember the story told to me by a dear friend, Della Weeks, who was born in 1901 and lived to be 102, about her first ride in a Model T. The top speed was no more than 45 miles per hour, and she thought she would surely die! Her father, driving for the first time, couldn’t remember how to stop the car, and he ran directly into a tree!

You would think everyone would be ecstatic about the dramatic change in transportation. Not at all. There are two things about change they learned in the days of the Model T and that we should remember:

1. Change Is Hard and Usually Slowly Embraced.

Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths made their living fitting shoes for horses. Another 100,000 or so built and repaired carriages. Some of these accepted changes and looked for new and better opportunities. Some resisted the change and made efforts to help everyone see the harm these new ideas would bring. Great craftsmen and sales skills would still be a premium even in a new phase of the transportation industry, and they were great at both!

Regardless of which side you fell on this issue, one statement could be assured of its accuracy, “Change is a-coming and you’d better get ready!” True in 1908 and true in 2017.

We have dramatic change happening in the automotive business. The manner in which customers gather information about vehicles, how they arrange financing and decide about products to protect the newly purchased vehicle has all gone online to some degree. This challenges us to decide which side of the change will we put our energy.

Some will go to one extreme and decide technology will fix everything wrong in the car business. However, we must realize that technology is a facilitator, not a fixer. Others will overreact and push back against the change. Neither effort will stop the change that is happening and gaining even more momentum.

2. Embracing Change Accelerates Production.

Embracing change assures the days ahead will be much more productive than the days behind! Every forward-looking change, painful as it may be, will launch us further down the path of development as individuals and an industry.

I have attended two conferences in the last three months. At both, there were calls for change that just makes sense and will make for a better customer experience. There were also calls that appeared to be asking for change for change’s sake and should be viewed with caution and, at times, rejected.

The wisdom to know the difference is a greater need than many of the changes themselves. At times, I felt that the discussion at the conferences was more thinking out loud and looking for direction. And we only have to look inward to find the wisdom we need to navigate through it.

Our business needs forward-thinking champions with the wisdom to know what to embrace and what to reject. We must all admit that we’re not sure what this business will look like five years from now. The vehicles and the processes we use to sell them will continue to evolve. However, if those that are forward-thinking and wise lead us, we will embrace the changes ahead and ways to utilize those changes to make our industry more customer-centric and more helpful to them will be developed. That is a recipe for a great future.

The strong partnerships between automotive dealerships and general agents will prove to be one of the keys to chart the path ahead. For general agents and dealers alike, it’s the most exciting time ever to be in this business — and the speed of change is faster than ever. It’s going to be fun, because “change is a-coming and we’d better get ready!”.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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