Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures in Automotive Networking

Imagine, if you will, that you are a sales manager. Your income is mostly based on the sales that your dealership make, which is mostly dependent on the ability of your salesmen to make sales. Each and every sale that is made in your dealership is money in your pocket. Now, imagine that a man comes in and tells you that he works with people connecting them to quality salesmen and that he would like to bring some of his clients to your dealership. Not only that, but he will not expect you to pay him until after his client has signed on the dotted line and made a purchase. Perhaps, you might meet this proposition with excitement?

As I have been preparing to do professional problem solving work, I began to think about what the most common needs I might encounter would be. When I sold cars, I learned that the North American Dealer Association estimates that most drivers replace their vehicles approximately every three years. Not having any car salesmen in my network, I felt that this blind spot should be quickly remedied.

Car sales is an excellent area for me to develop the network because it is such a win-win for everyone. For the client, it is great because they don't need to wander from dealership to dealership. They can avoid pushy salesmen entirely, and not have to worry that they will not get a fair deal. They will know that the salesman I send them to will have an ongoing business relationship with me, and that the salesman would not want to jeopardize that relationship by mistreating one of my clients.

For the salesman, it is an equally fantastic arrangement. Most car salesmen, with integrity or otherwise, find a barrier of mistrust when they come into contact with customers. People are very anxious in the car buying process, and they are afraid of being taken advantage of. A customer that I send in to a salesman that I trust will have greater trust with the salesman, making the whole process easier for everyone.

It is a win for me because referral fees, known as "bird dogs", are common and understood in the car industry. Making it easier to arrange these kinds of win-win-win arrangements... usually.

So, the time comes to make contact with car salesmen (and saleswomen). I figure that I can go to reputable dealerships, talk to a sales manager and meet an experienced salesman. The theory is that a salesman who stays in the industry, probably understands a thing or two about the importance of relationships.

I was in for a rude awakening. Apparently, people who run car dealerships are not well versed in a little thing called networking, and I would like to share with you a few of the peculiar reactions I have received in my search.

The first dealership I visited, I thought I would play customer first. I am in the market for a car in the next few months, so it seemed a reasonable idea. I spoke to a salesman and explained that I was looking for a used car, but that I was not looking to buy for a month or so. At this point, in the conversation, when I was a salesman, I would have taken the customer out to the lot to show them a bit of what we have, with the understanding that the inventory will change over time. I at least would get the customer's information so I could call him later to follow up. This salesman had a different approach. With his biggest salesman smile, he said, "come on back when you are ready to buy."

He is not in my network.

A little while later, I stopped at a local dealership and spoke to the sales manager. I explained the program with less polish than I do now as I was in transition between working for The Company and working as a professional problem solver. I also was still waiting for my new business cards to come. The sales manager I was speaking to, it turns out, had only been with the dealership for about three months, about the same amount of time I have been building the Stone Soup Network. He, however, told me to come back when I was "established;" an interesting sentiment from a manager who had yet to spend a winter in his current dealership.

A few days later, I was on my was back from central Massachusetts, and I stopped at a dealership on the way home. I spoke to the sales manager this time. I explained the whole concept, as I explained it to you above. At the end, he looked at me like a cow looks at an onrushing locomotive and asked, "I don't understand. Are you looking for a job or are you trying to sell me your service."

I explained again, and I think he got it this time. At this point, he seemed quite baffled as to which salesman to refer me to. I mean utterly dumbfounded. He finally settled on the salesman who happened to be right behind me. I spoke to him for a bit, and found him about as excited about the program as I was when I received socks for Christmas as a child.

He seems a fair enough salesman, but is not my first choice to send someone too.

There is a dealership which a couple of people had recommended to me, and I felt that they would be excellent for the network. I figured that a place that treats customers well must understand the importance of relationships. I went in the front door and found a bored looking woman behind the counter. I had the names of the owners, so I asked for them. She said that they were were not available, and, looking at me like something she had scraped off her shoe, she asked me what it was about. I started by saying that the dealership had been recommended to me and that they had a good reputation. "Yes, we do have a good reputation," she replied, as if I had commented that asphalt was black. I explained the program, to which she replied that they already get enough referrals from customers and that they do not need anymore.

That's right, this dealership is maxed out for referrals. They don't need anymore.

I will be calling back later when I can talk to an owner.

Fortunately, not all of my visits have turned out this way, and I have found a few excellent dealerships. The difficulty of my search drives home to me to value of what I am doing. I am spending dozens of hours driving from dealership to dealership so you don't have to. If you are looking for a car, don't drive around to a dozen dealerships and deal with people who don't get it. Just give me a call, and I'll point you in the right direction.

On the other side of the coin, if you have dealt with a salesman who treated you right, please send their info to me. Good car salesmen are rare, and they deserve to have more business sent their way.

Normally, I implore you to get up from your computer and deal with live people... unless those people are the salesmen who inspire the story above. Then you might better off just reading back issues of People I Meet.


  1. I'm not surprised, Michael. In my experience, there are many people in sales who are clock-watchers. Who work with the attitude that people want their product so badly that they really don't have to sell, and they can wait for the "right" customer.

  2. "That's right, this dealership is maxed out for referrals. They don't need anymore."

    That reminds me of when someone told me that Terrance wasn't my friend cause he didn't need anymore. "Sorry, he's reached his friend Quota"...LOL

  3. Car dealerships have a world of their own, and while they live and breathe on having customers on the lot, they have insane ways of doing math. Bird dogs are not as simple as a referral, they are usually a contentious relationship between sales and service and management.

    This is why RESPA exists in real estate transactions. If the same deals were cut between appraisers/builders/realtors/bankers as they were between sales/service/parts and management in the car industry, the housing industry would be even more ruthless.

    So, it doesn't surprise me that someone said they were maxed out on referrals because the immediate assumption is that you're coming to them looking for a bird dog, and they don't operate from a mindset of working with people outside the family. You would have been better off approaching them with a list of pre-qualified leads, because that's usually all they care about.

    Moral of the story: Everything you know about business, ethics, and reciprocal relationships is turned upside down and mutated in the car industry.