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It's as cliche as it comes. The best defense is a good offense. The best offense is a good defense. We've heard it a dozen times in different contexts, not the least of which are sporting events like football. As strange as it may seem, the saying has its most profound meaning when it pertains to car dealers.
Everyone in the car business love to get conquest sales. Whether they're pulling a Chevy buyer over to their Ford store or if they're grabbing a customer from a different Ford store, we enjoy taking what once belonged to a competitor. It's like double-dipping. It's fun!
Unfortunately, if your competitors are on the ball, they're trying to do the same thing to you and there will be times that they accomplish their goals. For years, the only way to defend against this has been to make customers as loyal as possible by giving them a great experience at the dealership and with the occasional follow-up call or birthday card, but that's not enough today. Thanks to the decrease in loyalty and in the improvement of shopping tools through the internet, dealers are more easily forgotten than ever before.
Rather than deliver the car and hope they come back next time, aggressive dealers are going on the offensive. They are taking nothing for granted when it comes to achieving lifelong loyalty. That means they have to be in front of their customers on a regular basis.
This doesn't mean spamming. Anyone can set a CRM tool to automatically email them every few months to see what's going on. That's a cheap, ineffective method of staying at top of mind during the times that they're not looking for a vehicle in order to be remembered when they enter the market.
If your competitors are getting in front of them two different ways, you need to get in front of them four different ways. If two of your competitors are contacting them, you have to double up your efforts and be the ones who care the most about their business. We're beyond the concept of "not wanting to bug them". They're getting so many messages on a regular basis that the chances of you bugging them by over-communicating are very slim.
Going on the offensive isn't just about getting out enough messages through enough channels. You have to craft messages that will resonate with them as well. It's not enough to simply "touch base" every now and then. You have to get them excited. You have to get them involved. You have to demonstrate that you appreciate their business more than any of your competitors and you have to show them that you're willing to fight to keep them.
Customers are fickle. They bounce between brands. They bounce between dealerships within the same brand. This is why conquest today is easier while retention is harder. You have the ability to keep conquesting while defending your own customers. You can have your cake and eat it too. The key can be broken down into one sentence that is overused but under-appreciated:
Get the right message in front of the right people at the right time.
If you can do that with your current customers as well as those you're trying to win over to your dealership, you will beat the competition. If you don't, someone else will do it better. You can't afford to let that happen.