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Jared Hamilton
From: Jared Hamilton
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Bryan Armstrong

Bryan Armstrong e-Commerce Director

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Transparency is more than a buzz word

                It’s a rare moment of clarity when a situation presents itself that allows one in digital marketing to put themselves on the other side of the equation and glimpse the possible mindset of the consumer. I was fortunate enough to experience such and the truths revealed were so impactful as to drive me to share the thought process.

With transparency being a buzzword that seems to be prevalent in our industry of late and becoming more bandied about than ever before as the way to entice buyers while gaining trust, I was fortunate enough to be able to understand a new perspective through a random conversation.

                There are many different sites that allow us in the industry to promote our products, processes and our personal brand and for anyone who says they post for any reason but to build their brand, promote a product or establish their proficiency, they would be hard pressed to convince me of their altruism. Even my own posts in the past have either been to report on the strengths/failures of a particular vender partnership, successes I’ve experienced or to try and preach the benefits to the industry as a whole that the days of being able to entice someone to buy simply because you have an inflatable gorilla on the roof are quickly moving behind us all. Simply put, maintaining the status quo is nothing more than glorified stagnation and as more and more information becomes readily available to consumers. The crossroad looms and the choice is becoming more apparent. Embrace it, integrate and use it as a value proposition or be slain (metaphorically speaking) by the slung rock stone against which the armament of huge ad budgets cannot defend. Remember with a couple of clicks your customers can gather information that unless it matches what you provide, immediately will eliminate you as a viable retailing option. So why have I favored certain formats over others? The answer was simple “I know what’s in it for them. I can see the ads down the side of the page and know that my content helps them attract ad dollars to generate revenue and establish themselves and their sites as hubs of vital information where they average car guy (me) can post content, receive affirmation or warnings and feedback from like-minded individuals who are perhaps further down the path than I and be marketed to buy an ever increasing host of “experts” with an agenda to sell. Because I know my environment, it has become a comfortable forum. Those sites that are not so transparent inherently make me distrustful of their motive and think they either have no reach or carry a hidden agenda. Now I’m not being paranoid or trying to “slam” any of the host of great UGC sites out there, but is my experience any different than the average car buyer?

                Most will arrive at my portal already armed with a plethora of information, both accurate and false, that they are using to aid in their decision. By ignoring it i.e. “we will beat anyone’s price” or “any vehicles will be sold at “X” under invoice/cost” we are not building value nor enticing customers in, but rather enforcing the misguided notion that we carry hidden agendas and that all the tales they read about holdback, dealer cash, financial reserve and financing flats and back end money are true.

                Now I’m aware that the argument for “to price or not to price” rages on and the tactics employed range from the vague to actually attaching and sending the invoice or book sheet but what if we were to empower and convert our customers with a logical, clearly defined worksheet that addressed the myths and rumors consumers have run across in their research. It could contain such basic items such as:

                Hold Back- how much is it on this vehicle and how that is money the Dealership uses as potential profit as well as to absorb many fixed expenses.

                Finance Reserve- the amount provided by the factory to pay interest on a flooring line during an average selling cycle and potential profit.

                Dealer Cash- extra incentive provided by OEM’s to stimulate sales on a particular vehicle.

                Spiffs/Spins- amounts paid to salespeople for focusing on and selling certain models.


For example if John Carbuyer sends a VIN specific lead on a new vehicle are you willing to send back a response that looks something like:


Thanks for your inquiry on stock #123456 the 2011 Toyota Camry Le. It is a wonderful vehicle and has received great reviews (link to screen shot of consumer review page posted on your own blog to prevent bounce/brand leakage).It is always a pleasure to deal with an internet consumer as I find that our forthwith approach is refreshing to most and provides for a smooth, seamless and satisfying experience.

                Here is a VIN specific brochure that will show you photos of the exact Camry you inquired about as well as photos so you can virtually walk around your new 2011 Camry (link to your own vehicle details page where you have actual photos/videos of the car as well as the equipment list posted).

                Most research sites, as I’m sure you have seen, deem that pricing should be at 20,469 (link to exact build page or screen shot of like research site, 3rd party affirmation).

                Our pricing structure would be this: (just for the record this is an entirely fictional car and this letter is for illustrative purposes only)

                We received this vehicle 96 days ago; it has an invoice of 20,135. There is also $365 of finance reserve which at our current flooring rate covered the interest for 68 days; the other 28 days have increased my cost in this vehicle by $149.47. However, the factory also has allowed me $687 in holdback bringing my current net cost on the vehicle to 19597.47. Obviously, as a business, there is a certain margin that we must maintain in order to be here to continue to serve you. I am going to pay a lot technician $12 an hour to be here ready to detail your new vehicle (2 hr), the salesman will make $150 so he can provide for his family and have a vested interest in serving you well, it will take approximately $40 in gas to fill your new car and I paid my mechanic $47 to go over it (PDI) and make sure everything was perfect for your comfort, convenience and safety. From this starting point of 19,858.47, my cost to date, I would ask for simply a 2% profit margin of $397.17 bringing the total amount to only $20,255.64 which as you can see even beats the Edmunds pricing referenced earlier. Though there are additional state mandated taxes and fees that will be in addition to this amount, I have in store a Business Manager who will go over these line by line as well as to whether in your particular situation it is better to take the $1,000 rebate, the 60 mos. @ 0% or the $750 sub vented cash incentive and the special lease.

                John, as you can see we believe in being completely transparent in our pricing structure and business practices and would only ask that in your shopping experience you not share our open, no-hassle price with any competitor. Also, if you come across a lower quote please ensure that the vehicles MSRP matches the one you chose here. All dealerships pay the same amount for their cars and anyone insulting you with their “we beat anyone” rhetoric is sure to be attempting to make the same amount or more but make you jump through their “hoops” to get what we give as simply a best business practice. Rest assured that when we meet, if for any reason this vehicle does not meet your expectations, we will be just as up front on any other vehicle pricing as well as any potential trades value.

We know that you have a myriad of options as to where you do business and sincerely appreciate the opportunity; I look forward to providing you a quick, professional delivery of your new Camry.

                Please contact me at your convenience through any of the methods below or simply reply to this e-mail with the date and time you will be in to do as final inspection of the Camry so that I may be prepared.



                                                E-mail address

                                                Cell #

                                                Work #

                Extreme? Perhaps. Transparent? Definitely! Now there is no question that some deals will be lost as you get “shopped”, but price has never built loyalty or referrals the way an honest reputation has. So will you continue to stick your heard in the sand and think a couple emotion-building phrases will “Sell” your consumer or they’ll be so “wowed” by the balloons on the cars they’ll forget to read the contract? Why not provide the total experience and have them know it’s not a show with smoke and mirrors but rather an honest attempt to create a fun environment for what should be a joyous occasion vs. a painful grind. If this is to extreme for you or you’re the ISM that the egotistical manager (who thinks you can tell them what they want to hear just to get them in!) won’t empower to provide information like this, then I will be saddened by your eventual demise.

                Embracing transparency results in more volume, more Dealership loyalty and increased referrals. Whether it’s “word of mouth” or “word of mouse” its reputation you can no longer ignore.


Bryan Armstrong has a very successful background in Automotive and has filled every position in the Dealership from Lot Tech to Corporate Trainer/Director of a large Group. He is currently e-Commerce Director of Menlove Toyota Scion and can be reached at or on his cell at 435-862-1966.

Arnold Tijerina
Great post! That template is awesome. I have several concerns about it. First (and maybe this is my pessimistic side showing), do customers really CARE about any of that? Maybe in Utah but it certainly never seemed like they did in California where the market is extremely competitive. I've lost deals to competitors over $50 in situations where I've done all the work (build rapport, test drive, etc.) and the they left and shopped me. While they SAY they feel guilty about buying elsewhere and I KNOW should I match that price they would buy from me because of the relationship, sometimes you just have to stand firm. Second, even if the did care, would a consumer even take the time to READ that entire e-mail? If they got several e-mails from submitting a lead (and yes, even VIN-specific leads get resold multiple times), it seems they look at price FIRST, weed out the few lowest, then start reading. I'd be afraid that JUST BY APPEARANCE they would think it was another non-personalized e-mail like the ones they got from all of the other dealers. It's great in theory and if you have the customer's attention, could have great results but 1) Do you use this e-mail and 2) WHEN in your internet sales process is this going out? Immediately after the initial inquiry (lead) comes in? After you've established contact and had a chance to build some rapport? Late in the lead's life? Thanks for sharing!
Larry Bruce
Guys I am going to throw a curve at you. The customer doesn't want any of that. Transparency doesn't mean tell me what you pay and all the particulars about your business, nobody is looking to get educated on how the car business works. The phrase “Just tell me the time, I don't need to know how to build the watch” comes to mind. Transparency to your customer means NO SUPRISES! So how do you do that? Tell them what you will sell the car for, what you will give them for their trade and the options they have to pay for it (finance ect.) even going as far as sending them the payments by finance package, if applicable. Give your customer a 360 view of the transaction and you will have been transparent. You will have also been the only dealership to do so making you unique and giving the customer comfort in whom and they are dealing with.
Bryan Armstrong
@Bart- I have not yet implemented anything standardized for every lead but have broken this down for the 4-5 "engineer" types that I have had difficulty in getting in contact with and it has resulted in 3 sales out of 5 attempts. So... @Arnold-this e-mail would not be sent as part of an automated process as I don't believe the average customer requires this much detail. However as a transparency/value builder I have thus far found it to be unique enough to elicit a response and a sale more times than not.
Arnold Tijerina
That's a little what I was getting at in my reply, Larry, when I asked "do customers really CARE about any of that?". I mean, if they are the "engineer-type" as Bryan mentioned and I felt that by doing so it would help close the deal then I absolutely would respond in this manner but I think this is information overkill for the average consumer.
Brian Pasch
I would add, from someone who has not worked inside a dealership, that anytime you use words or acronyms that are not part of the consumer lexicon, you lose or confuse them. These words may breed distrust. Larry's point to making sure there are no surprises strikes me as the consumer view of transparency. I just shopped for a car with my parents and the first dealer was NOT transparent and the second was completely transparent (a la Bruce) and the second won the business. Here is what the second dealer said. "I will sell you the car at invoice, which is $xxxx under MSRP. The MSRP is $xxx and you will pay $xxxx." I asked him to put that in an email and he did. The next day the deal was done. The first dealer, after I advised him of my work in the industry, came to me with a "number" on a piece of paper. He said that he would do the deal for "$xxxx" which was a great deal. I asked him to break out the number, and it was full MSRP. When I asked him why would I pay MSRP for a car he did NOT have in stock, he blamed his Sales Manager. That was when I walked out. The first dealer thought that a few surprises was "cute". I did not. Now if he said that the car I wanted was in high demand and that he had to sell the car at MSRP, that would have been different. Transparency, is consumer simplified communications with NO perceived surprises.

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