by Jim Boldebook
Your People Are Your Brand
What is your brand?
It’s likely a combination of name recognition, years in business, innovation, location, consistency, service, and value. But all of these factors are driven by the performance, actions and attitude of the human resources on your team. Today more than ever, people are your greatest brand asset.
When our customers say they ‘trust us’, it’s more than trusting the reputation of the dealer ownership. It’s the confidence and trust that is built and defined daily by the everyday actions of the front line. The receptionist handling a phone call respectfully; a service adviser who listens to understand; a sales person who demonstrates both knowledge and a genuine desire to work in the customer’s best interest; a team member who follows up on promises; a technician who actually does work to make sure the vehicle is fixed right the first time. Every link in the dealership team is critical to the strength of the trust chain.
The most successful brands of our time across a wide range of categories claim the keys to their brand leadership are: consistency, persistence, innovation, passion, knowledge, clarity, communication and value. But if you dig deeper, you find that these highly successful brand leaders place the highest value on their people. They seek out not only individuals with great personal attributes, but those who will be the best fit with the company. Once they find those people, they indoctrinate them with their brand philosophy: what the company stands for, what the company vision is, and what the company’s customers expect. Then these brand leaders train, train, train, inspect what they expect, train, retrain, and never ever let anyone do anything that would screw with the basics of the brand.
I spend part of my year in the great State of Maine where we have the world renowned outdoor outfitters L.L. Bean. They make great stuff. But if you ever find your way to Maine, I invite you to visit their store in Freeport which is open 24/7 year round. There you will have a chance to meet the real L.L. Bean brand in person. Every team member makes you feel important. Like you were the reason they got up that morning.
Reflect for a moment on your own personal experiences. The stores and services that earn your loyalty and repeat business. It’s probably not the toothpaste or hamburger or the wrapper on a clean shirt. It’s more than likely the people, the attitude, appreciation and respect for your patronage that binds the bands of loyalty to that business. That is the top-of-mind reaction that keeps that brand polished in your mind.
Your best investment for brand recognition is your team
Start by hiring and recruiting the best. Why not let some of your best employees, your brand ambassadors, make an ad for the open position. Let them talk about how long they’ve been a part of your team, how happy they are and what a great place it is to work. Include a picture with the number of years the team member has worked.
Make sure someone says ‘hello’ to all job applicants, even if the first step is a computer screening process. One of my dealer friends makes it a point to say hi to everyone applying for a job, even if initial screening suggests a misfit. “One of the best service writers in our company filled out an application for a sales opening,” says the dealer, “I knew from our initial meeting she wasn’t right for sales…but would be a great employee. It was her attitude. She has been here 7 years and she loves us…and our customers love her.”
Train, train, train. Continuously. About 10 years ago I had a meeting with a dealer who wanted to hire our ad agency. I spent two days at the dealership and then sat with the owner. I told him the worst money he could ever spend at that time was advertising and the best money he could spend was training. He subsequently hired a training firm that not only helped him improve his CSI, turnover rate and gross, but engaged that training firm for monthly training sessions 10 months a year. This dealer and I are now personal friends and he tells me my suggestion of training changed his life and fortunes forever.
I’ve read scores of articles on how disloyal the millennial generation is and the high rate of turnover. But last week I read an article that nailed an important point on millennial loyalty. It was in the last paragraph of the article but should have been the opening headline. Turnover rate drops in direct proportion to the amount of training given. Yes, money is important, but training is just as important. You can offer bonuses, trips, pats on the back and everything else, but you make the most points when you make the millennial team member feel like they are learning and advancing in their field.
Let your team tell your story. Dealer principals and managers do a great job on radio and television ads, but other team members can make a powerful brand statement. A local Subaru dealership produced a series of television ads using various team members such as the service manager, sales team members and office staff to do commercials. The ads are great. They are believable and sincere. And the fact that they are running consistently over a period of time tells the viewer that there is stability, a powerful branding element.
Last year I visited a dealership that has ‘walk-around’ contests between salespeople that are videotaped and then posted on the dealership website and social media. The public can weigh in on who they think does the best job of describing the vehicle. It’s fun…great training…and a 3 minute commercial that viewers actually enjoy watching.
Here’s a simple little test to measure how your dealership brand is ingrained in your team members. For the next week ask everyone you meet in the dealership what they think your brand is. Ask them how they think the dealership can better convey that brand to the general public.
I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas, happy holidays as we close out the year and look forward to healthy, prosperous and exciting new year. It’s going to be great!