Tag Archive | "management"

IT Firm Launches Specialized Services Aimed at Dealerships

ALTOONA, Pa. — United Datacom Networks Inc. (UDNI) announced the launch of Dealers Edge, a new IT support program designed to help dealers meet their legal obligations with respect to data privacy and security. Services include remote management and 24/7 monitoring.

“The core elements of the program are centered on maximizing existing technology, lowering costs, streamlining operations and advising dealers how to best leverage new technology to grow their business,” said Britt Sutcliffe, director of sales and marketing at UDNI.

“We found that many automotive dealerships do not have a dedicated technical resource, and even fewer have a CTO or CIO. With the need for increased data security and rise of internet based automotive applications, keeping a network running quickly and securely is critical. We are able to fill these needs at a fraction of what it would cost to hire and manage direct employees.”

UDNI’s technical advisory service is the cornerstone of the platform. According to the company, the service includes designated account managers who perform CIO or CTO duties. They also provide consultative guidance for vendor selection, technology budgeting, technology planning and implementation.

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How Entrepreneurs Can Get More Bang For Their Buck While Spending

Those who know me well know I am obsessed with travel, and with traveling on the best deal possible. At one of my first jobs, back in 2001, I managed the travel department for Crescent Heights, a large national condo developer, reports Forbes.

I was originally brought on to sell surplus items on Ebay—things left behind by the previous owners of an office building that Crescent Heights had purchased. Going about my business one day, selling everything from computers to servers to art, I heard a co-worker talking about an upcoming trip from our office in Los Angeles to a corporate retreat in Miami, a trip that the company’s outside travel agency had just booked. The cost of the ticket, in coach: $1800. I couldn’t believe my ears. I quickly jumped online and found multiple flight options for much more reasonable prices. I emailed the CEO to tell him that if I took over travel I would save his company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The CEO bit, and I spent the next two years as the go-to guy for travel. If any one of the hundreds of employees needed to fly or stay at a hotel, they went through me. I used my travel booking skills to save the company money, day after day.

Any good entrepreneur knows that one of the most important trait they need is frugality. Being cheap isn’t a quality you may want in a friend or spouse, but it’s crucial for a small business owner. My parents didn’t instill a frugal attitude in me, but for some reason, when it comes to travel, I turn into Mr. Scrooge. I take such pride in my mastery of travel sites like Priceline and in my tricks for traveling cheap that I literally get a high from landing a good—or better yet, free—travel deal. And one of the best ways to land good travel deals is credit card points.

Your mother always told you nothing is free in life, but your mother was wrong: points are free. Points, or credit card rewards, have been around for a long time. Before sites like The Points Guy or Dan’s Deals were popular, I was obsessed with maximizing points for free travel. As entrepreneurs, we don’t get many perks with the stressful job of building a business, but if we purchase correctly, we can build up a lot of points. You can use points to keep your company’s travel budget low, and you can use points when you need a get-away but you don’t have a vacation budget. As someone who has maximized the use of points for both business and pleasure travel, here are my tips for those new to the points game.

Make Sure Everything Goes On A Credit Card.

In my opinion, American Express is the business credit card to sign up for if you want to subsidize company travel with points. The AMEX Gold and Platinum cards have some great bonus offers, and their rewards can be transferred to many different airlines, hotels and rental car companies. Once you’ve signed up for your new card and received your bonus points, you need to start spending. I suggest using your new credit card for all business purchases. Most vendors say they don’t accept credit cards, but there are ways to convince them to make an exception. Back in 2012 I decided I was tired of not earning points with our largest vendor, Sysco. Despite spending millions of dollars a month, my company wasn’t earning rewards points because Sysco didn’t accept credit cards. Deciding this was no longer acceptable, I told Sysco we wouldn’t pay the next invoice unless they accepted our credit card. They made a “one-time” exception, and thankfully that “one-time” exception lasted over a year.

Make Sure You Aren’t Paying A Fee To Use Your Credit Card

Despite success stories like the one above, some other of my experiences were not as positive. After convincing another vendor to accept credit card payments, I noticed that their product prices had increased. Some quick investigation revealed that the vendor had raised our prices in response to our switch to credit card payment. When you do switch to credit cards, make it clear to the vendor that you expect your pricing to stay the same—they need to take the hit from the credit card fees, not you. Of course if you can’t convince them to do this you’ll have to decide if higher pricing is worth the points; usually it is not.

Make Sure You Are Enrolled In Your Rewards Program

I recently took back the day-to-day operations at Fresh Diet. When I came back to the office as CEO for the first time in almost three years, I wanted to see how many points were in our account. What I found was devastating. Although the company had spent over one million dollars on our American Express card over the last year alone, we had no points. No one at the company was thinking about points so they didn’t enroll in the points program when they signed up for the card. For a $90 annual fee, we would have earned over one million points that could have saved the company over $25,000 in travel expenses, or more.

Unfortunately, now I can only dream of how I would have used those million plus points. But if you’re reading this now, perhaps I just made sure that you won’t miss out on accumulating points while building your dream.

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Ten Things to Think About: Picking a Business Form

1. Cost. A sole proprietorship or general partnership can be set up very inexpensively, reports Reuters. A limited partnership and a limited liability company are more expensive to set up. Setting up a corporation can be a very expensive undertaking.

2. Ease. A sole proprietorship is easy to set up; sometimes all it takes is opening up a business checking account. Similarly, a general partnership is easy to set up, although a partnership agreement is something that the partners should create prior to beginning operations. A limited partnership, limited liability company, and corporation involve more work. Since all three entities must be recognized by the state, it is important to adhere strictly to the state requirements or run the risk of losing the advantages that the particular business entity provides.

3. Termination. Some business entities automatically terminate upon such events as death, the withdrawal of a partner, or even divorce. In addition, some businesses are allowed to exist only for a state-mandated period of time.

4. Public Information. How much information do you want the public to know about your business and finances? A corporation is required to provide much more information to the state, which is then available to the public, than a limited liability company or a limited partnership. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships offer the individuals involved a great deal of privacy.

5. Risk. If the business involves a great deal of risk a sole proprietorship or general partnership may be a bad idea because the owner and general partners are personally liable for the business debts and obligations.

6. Operation. The form of the business entity may dictate how it is operated. If you want total control, a sole proprietorship provides the businessperson the greatest degree of control (and the greatest degree of potential risk).

7. Capitalization. An undercapitalized business may result in a loss of protection provided by the business entity. In addition, some business forms make it easier to raise capital when it is needed.

8. Selling. A sole proprietorship is easy to sell; usually you sell the assets of the business, and your business ceases to exist. Selling a partnership interest or a member’s interest in a limited liability company can be tricky because it requires approval of the other partners or members.

9. State Taxes. Some states have begun to levy taxes on the business entity itself. This is becoming a big issue with limited liability companies. You should know whether your state will tax your business entity before setting it up.

10. Expansion. Every entrepreneur wants to be as successful as possible. Some business entities are limited to the number of shareholders they may have. A sole proprietorship ceases to exist the moment the sole proprietor takes on a partner. It is important to choose a business form that allows you the greatest room to grow if that is what you envision. Although the business form may be changed, this involves additional expense and energy.

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8 Steps to Having Wildly Productive Mornings

You’ll wake up for about 25,000 mornings in your adult life, give or take a few, reports Entrepreneur.

According to a report from the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in the United States is 79 years old. Most people in wealthy nations are hovering around the 80–year mark. Women in Japan are the highest, with an average life expectancy of 86 years.

If we use these average life expectancy numbers and assume that your adult life starts at 18 years old, then you’ve got about 68 years as an adult. (86 – 18 = 68) Perhaps a little less on average. A little more if you’re lucky.

(68 years as an adult) x (365 days each year) = 24,820 days.

Once I realized this, I started thinking about how I could develop a better morning routine. I still have a lot to learn, but here are some strategies that you can use to get the most out of your 25,000 mornings.

Here are eight strategies that I’ve found to be most effective for getting the most out of my morning:

1. Manage your energy, not your time.

If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably realize that you are better at doing certain tasks at certain times. For example, my creative energy is highest in the morning, so that’s when I do my writing each day.

By comparison, I block out my afternoons for interviews, phone calls, and emails. I don’t need my creative energy to be high for those tasks, so that’s the best time for me to get them done. And I tend to have my best workouts in the late afternoon or early evening, so that’s when I head to the gym.

What type of energy do you have in the morning? What task is that energy best suited for?

2. Prepare the night before.

I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, but if you only do one thing each day then spend a few minutes each night organizing your to–do list for tomorrow. When I do it right, I’ll outline the article I’m going to write the next day and develop a short list of the most important items for me to accomplish. It takes 10 minutes that night and saves 3 hours the next day.

3. Don’t open email until noon.

Sounds simple. Nobody does it. It took me awhile to get over the urge to open my inbox, but eventually I realized that everything can wait a few hours. Nobody is going to email you about a true emergency (a death in the family, etc.), so leave your email alone for the first few hours of each day. Use the morning to do what’s important rather than responding to what is “urgent.”

4. Turn your phone off and leave it in another room.

Or on your colleagues desk. Or at the very least, put it somewhere that is out of sight. This eliminates the urge to check text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. This simple strategy eliminates the likelihood of slipping into half–work where you waste time dividing your attention among meaningless tasks.

5. Work in a cool place.

Have you ever noticed how you feel groggy and sluggish in a hot room? Turning the temperature down or moving to a cooler place is an easy way to focus your mind and body. (Hat tip to Michael Hyatt for this one.)

6. Sit up or stand up. 

Your mind needs oxygen to work properly. Your lungs need to be able to expand and contract to fill your body with oxygen. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the problem: most people sit hunched over while staring at a screen and typing.

When you sit hunched over, your chest is in a collapsed position and your diaphragm is pressing against the bottom of your lungs, which hinders your ability to breathe easily and deeply. Sit up straight or stand up and you’ll find that you can breathe easier and more fully. As a result, your brain will get more oxygen and you’ll be able to concentrate better.

7. Eat as a reward for working hard. 

I practice intermittent fasting, which means that I eat my first meal around noon each day. I’ve been doing this for almost two years. There are plenty of health benefits, which I explained in great detail here,here, and here.

But health is just one piece of the puzzle. I also fast because it allows me to get more out of my day. Take a moment to think about how much time people spend each day thinking, planning, and consuming food. By adopting intermittent fasting, I don’t waste an hour each morning figuring out what to eat for breakfast, cooking it, and cleaning up. Instead, I use my morning to work on things that are important to me. Then, I eat good food and big meals as a reward for working hard.

8. Develop a “pre–game routine” to start your day.

My morning routine starts by pouring a cold glass of water. Some people kick off their day with ten minutes of meditation. Similarly, you should have a sequence that starts your morning ritual. This tiny routine signals to your brain that it’s time to get into work mode or exercise mode or whatever mode you need to be in to accomplish your task. Additionally, a pre–game routine helps you overcome a lack of motivation and get things done even when you don’t feel like it.

For more details about why this works, read How to Get Motivated.

The Power of a Morning Routine

Just as it’s rare for anyone to experience overnight success, it’s also rare for our lives crumble to pieces in an instant. Most unproductive or unhealthy behaviors are the result of slow, gradual choices that add up to bad habits. A wasted morning here. An unproductive morning there.

The good news is that exceptional results are also the result of consistent daily choices. Nowhere is this more true than with your morning routine. The way you start your day is often the way that you finish it.

Take, for example, Jack LaLanne. He woke up each day at 4am and spent the first 90 minutes lifting weights. Then, he went for a swim or a run for the next 30 minutes. For more than 60 years, he spent each morning doing this routine. In addition to being one of the most influential people in fitness in the last 100 years, LaLanne also lived to the ripe old age of 96.

This is no coincidence. What you do each morning is an indicator of how you approach your entire day. It’s the choices that we repeatedly make that determine the life we live, the health we enjoy, and the work we create.

You’ve got 25,000 mornings. What will you do with each one?

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Training for Growth

On Monday, March 10, day one of the fourth annual Agent Summit concluded with “Training for Growth,” a panel discussion led by Lyle King. King is a founding partner with Forth Worth, Texas-based Auto Group Services. He started the discussion by assuring the crowd that the panel would not discuss “basic training,” choosing instead to focus on topics that would help attending agents bring value to their dealerships.

“If you are in the agency business, you are engaged, in one way or the other, with F&I training,” King said. “Whether it’s in the classroom, in the dealership, in the hotel next door to the dealership … it’s a basic tenet of what we do.”

King was joined by Craig Almon, a partner with PRO Consulting LLC in Tukwila, Wash.; Mike Marchione, the Washington, D.C.-based corporate director of training and development for Interstate National Dealer Services; Tony Troussov, director of training for Automotive Development Group (ADG) in Bloomington, Minnesota; and Chad White, national training director for Lee’s Summit, Missouri-based Mechanical Breakdown Protection Inc. (MBPI).

Management Training

King started the conversation by addressing an often-ignored facet of dealership development: participation from middle management; specifically, sales managers, general sales managers and F&I directors.

White stated that, as the market began to recover, mid-level managers complained about their struggles to hire and retain talented salespeople. White said he took that as a challenge and began to focus on teaching managers how to find and keep their best producers. “Dealers talk about ‘customers for life,’ and I think if we focus on getting managers to retain their best people, ‘employees for life’ falls under that as well. … We’re getting more deals back to F&I because we’re selling more cars.”

Marchione identified a systemic problem: Dealers send salespeople to sales training and F&I managers often attend F&I school; both groups are more likely to be sent to training in the early stages of their careers. When they become managers, their own education often stops, and they find themselves managing groups of students — but not their own students.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t understand and have not been exposed to the process we just trained their salespeople or their F&I folks on, how do they coach and counsel, and how do they police those activities on a go-forward basis?” Marchione asked. “The sales manager, the GSM [and] the GM ultimately become the trainers when we leave. … The more training you have at a dealership, the more tenured people you will have, because they feel that their employer is making an investment in their growth and their success.”

Almon agreed, noting that dealers trust proven processes but often lack the tools to reinforce them. By involving managers in sales and F&I training, he said, agents can help them prepare their staff to respond properly to customers’ objections. “You like to hope that, once you train them, well, that’s it; they’re good to go. The reality is, there’s an instantaneous disconnect, usually at the first ‘No’ if they’re in F&I. In the sales process, it’s the customer who says, ‘I don’t have time’ for a test drive or the walkaround … That’s a key component to the big fix.”

Troussov added that service managers should be involved in training as well. Dealers are increasingly dependent upon revenue from fixed operations, and Troussov believes the same disconnect between staff and managers is prevalent in that department as well — and some dealers simply don’t invest in that type of training. “There’s this big gap of actual sales process training. There is definitely an opportunity [for] agents or trainers to step in and be of value to the dealer,” he said.

White recalled a meeting with a dealer and mid-level manager that took place in the week prior to Agent Summit. After deciding on a steps-to-the-sale process, the trio created a self-assessment sheet. “I’ve had a lot of luck with this, because … when they don’t sell a car, too many times, they leave and they don’t learn from it. It allows the salesperson to assess themselves and to take it back to that mid-level manager for a great one-on-one conversation.”

Troussov advised agents to develop recruiting and hiring training for mid-level managers as well as a written “onboarding” process for new hires. “What are we doing to help our dealers change that trend and be more effective in retaining the best talent?” he asked.

Marchione challenged agents to attend training themselves. “Most dealers don’t sign up because the product is better. They’re buying your experience [and] your ability to help grow their business. I would have you all ask yourselves, ‘When was the last time I sat through training? Is there a new slice of bread out there that I haven’t heard of?’ You gotta do your homework to role-play through presentations better than anyone at that store,” he said.

Delivery Systems

King asked the panel to list effective methods for delivering training, listing in-dealership and offsite sessions as examples. Almon said that, no matter the method of reinforcement, “it’s got to start face-to-face and one-on-one.” Marchione stressed the need to teach more than the process and emphasize the psychology behind each step, especially in off-site training, noting that helping students understand why a process works helps the training stick. “If they buy into the ‘Why’ … they’re more likely to go back to the dealership and utilize it.”

“The classroom is important. I think it has to be engaging and it has to be what we call ‘scrimmaging’ rather than role-playing, where people actually practice and work with each other and learn from each other,” Troussov said. “But, ultimately, it’s still that one-on-one involvement and follow-up coaching and training at the dealership.”

White shared a trick for getting managers involved in the reinforcement phase. “We have them write down all their salespeople’s names. I know that seems real simple, but you’ll be surprised. Sometimes those managers will say, ‘What’s that one guy – the goofball – what’s his name?’ It happens. And go a step further. Have them write down personal things they know about that person … Wife’s name, kids’ names, ages, because if they don’t know their people, and can’t understand their people, they can’t motivate those people.” Whether in sales or F&I, he added, training must be ongoing to be effective. “Whether we’re in the stores working with people or in the classrooms or in the online videos, we have to follow up.”

Marchione said he prefers live, offsite events in which trainees are away from the dealership and can absorb the information, role-play and review videos without distractions. “The question then becomes, ‘What type of video training do we use on a daily basis back at the dealership?’ … It can be on-demand-type training and it can be at the dealerships, if you do it weekly or monthly … But really, there’s no medium that you couldn’t use to do training. I think the disconnect is always that there’s no accountability.”

“So if a live event is our preferred method, how can we work video into how we deliver training?” King asked.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep their attention on the task at hand, which is learning, because there are all kinds of distractions,” Marchione said. “I think that if you’re logistically challenged with dealers agreeing to send their people away — and we recognize that can be a challenge — you want to say, ‘Mr. Dealer or Mrs. Dealer, why don’t you let me take the next day and half and work with so-and-so and so-and-so in a back room somewhere and there will be no distractions whatsoever. They’re mine for the next day and a half.’ … And videotape them while they’re going through each stage in the process.”

Game Film

The conversation then turned to video training and whether dealers should record every actual F&I transaction and archive the recordings. Troussov said he was working as an F&I manager in 2002 when his Minneapolis-based dealer group began recording his meetings with customers.

“I tell you, I fought that tooth and nail,” Troussov said. “Being a finance guy, I don’t want anybody to see what I’m doing, you know, get my magic.” The turning point came, he said, when he realized that the recordings were to his benefit, because customers were unable to claim he or his colleagues had misled them. “During my time with that dealer group, I can tell you that on many occasions, [the recordings] actually saved those dealerships a lot of money.”

Marchione said there is “zero value” to F&I recordings that are archived but not reviewed. “If they’re watching them on a regular basis, both from a compliance standpoint and a skill set-growth standpoint, coaching and counseling, using the videos is a powerful tool.”

“We utilize it specifically as game film,” Almon said. “If you have a dealer group with multiple F&I people, pull everybody together, and then ask for a best and worst video for each finance manager.” He recalled one “best video” in which a customer blanched at a monthly payment inflated by the addition of several F&I products. The finance manager offered to recalculate the payment with an additional $2,500 down, and the customer agreed. “If you’re going to talk development, straight development, in any context — even in your golf game — then videotape is key,” Almon said.

When he worked in retail, White said his employers introduced DMS-integrated video recording, a move that caused dissention in the ranks. “We lost a lot of employees. I mean, people quit. They didn’t want to be videotaped. We stepped back and looked at that and realized those were probably not the people we wanted in that F&I office.”

Ultimately, White said, the risks were outweighed by the benefits, including a pronounced effect on training. Today, White said he reviews videos before visiting clients. He said that it helps him to engage in more effective “target training.” However, he warned, recordings could become a liability for dealers who haven’t invested in a robust compliance program. “If you don’t have those things in place … I would probably tell you not to record.”

Accountability and Desire

Marchione said that when properly utilized, video helps promote accountability among managers and staff. But he reiterated that agents themselves must be accountable as well. They need to know the presentations better than anyone so that when they point out weak spots in the video presentation, they can then turn around and role-play what it should sound like.

White said he is working with a 20-store dealer group that doubled their dollar per copy after sending their F&I team to offsite training and adding cameras. “If sports teams analyze game film to get better, why wouldn’t we want to analyze what we’re doing to get better?” he asked. “If you’ve got good training and you get the guys that buy into it, it’s … helping our dealers be more profitable. And they need those profits nowadays, obviously, more than ever.”

Almon brought up “The Challenger Sale” (Penguin, 2012) by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Almon said the authors theorized that, after the Great Recession, in business partnerships, “relationship became less important than results.” He said that, in recent years, his company has earned appointments and conquest business because “we could bring the rain. We could make it happen. The overarching theme of training in general, is teaching. And teaching gets people to a level of belief that then creates the next connection to desire.” He asked the agents in the crowd to think about the best finance manager they had ever worked with and ask themselves what set that person apart.

“Some of it is force of personality,” Almon said. “Most of it is tenacity, and really, for all intents and purposes, they’re just not going to be denied. It’s that person that says, ‘Tell me what I can do better.’” He said the economic downturn forced the entire industry to think in terms of dollars and cents and applied that to his initial-training strategy. “I usually start a training class by saying something like this: ‘What kind of guy are you?’ … And they say, ‘What do you mean?’ And I convert that into, ‘Are you a $30 an hour guy? A $40? A $50?’ If you don’t know, $50 an hour is roughly $100,000 a year. ‘Are you a $100 an hour guy, a $200, a $300?’ Think about it in terms of yourselves. Where are you at in relationship to your time? … If you’re not thinking $500 an hour, go rethink it. … I’ve found that it’s the beginning of that thought process that puts people on the path,— and I believe wholeheartedly — of wanting to know how to get better. And without the want-to, the how-to doesn’t matter.”

With time waning, King asked the crowd if they had any questions for the panel. A gentleman in the audience came forward. After commending the panel for a “great job,” he offered his own take on training and accountability.

“You were asking the question earlier about how can we use the technology [in] training the people today. As they mentioned, the weakest link in every dealership is middle management. You send the salespeople to training, they come back, and the first thing the sales manager says is, ‘Man, you don’t need to be doing any of that. Sell some cars.’

“The problem with most managers is, they make it about them, not their salespeople. If you’re going to become a great leader, and a great manager, the first thing you gotta do is make it about their benefit, not yours. Do you all agree with that?” The members of the panel nodded in agreement. “So the way you use the technology, from my experience, sit there with your salespeople … Play that DVD for 10 minutes, stop it, find out what they’ve learned from it, and rehearse and practice, rehearse and practice. Just like the gentleman said, if you’re going to train your salespeople, you’d better be better than any of them. If you’re going to ask them to get uncomfortable in front of the customer, you need to get uncomfortable as a manager. Yet 85% of the managers out there think their job is penciling a car deal. It’s nothing about leadership. So it was a great panel.”

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12 Shortcuts to Be a Better Boss

The business of business is usually simple, reported Inc. Take management, for instance. You can read management books or spend hours in the classroom… or you can just follow some simple shortcuts:

  1. Manage individuals not numbers, because the only way to change the numbers is to change people’s behaviors.
  2. Adapt your style to each person, because management is never a one-size-fits-all proposition.
  3. Measure only what’s truly relevant, because measuring what’s not creates irrelevant behavior.
  4. Set only one priority per person, because “multiple priorities” is an oxymoron that creates indecision and chaos.
  5. Stay even-tempered, because your employees need a leader who keeps a cool head in a crisis.
  6. Take responsibility for your low performers, because they are the measure of your management skill.
  7. Share your thoughts and ideas, because only then can they will they truly be honed and sharpened.
  8. Ask questions rather than provide answers, because that will teach your employees to think for themselves.
  9. Treat everyone as equally as possible, because “teacher’s pets” and “golden children” are ruinous to morale.
  10. Expect only what you’re willing to give yourself, because a true leader must also be a role model.
  11. Explain the reasoning behind your decisions, because that helps your employees understand you better.
  12. Make decisions quickly, because it’s better to act and fail than to prevaricate and learn nothing.

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