Jonathan “JT” Thompson, Vice President of Sales at Force Marketing joins Jim Fitzpatrick in our CBT News studio to discuss how dealers can integrate their marketing strategy with other departments, in order to improve the overall health of the dealership.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Today, we are excited to have with us Mr. Jonathan Thompson, who’s also known as JT in the industry. He is VP of sales for Force Marketing. So JT, welcome.
Jonathan Thompson: Awesome. Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re on the front line and working with hundreds of dealers literally around the country from Force Marketing on their digital and social marketing efforts. That being said, what kind of expectations does one of your savvy clients have from a marketing company? What are they looking for when they come to you?
Jonathan Thompson: That’s a good question, Jim. You know, it’s changed. Being in the business for about 15 years, we always speak about trying to get a return on investment. But in working with more and more clients, because some of the services that are offered from websites, digital marketing, from direct marketing, it’s somewhat of a commodity. There’s a lot of companies. What we’re hearing a lot of is customer service, consultation, and really creativity. Not just creativity like does something pop, but actual creativity working with that client. How to work with them and be diligent.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Today, you gotta really think outside the box in order to get the customer’s attention online, don’t you?
Jonathan Thompson: Oh yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And those dealers out there are looking to you guys on the partner side or on the vendor side, I should say, to bring them those ideas ’cause a dealer lives in a cocoon in their dealership, right? They’re like, “Here’s what I know. I know my showroom, I know my lot, I know my salespeople. This is the operation that I’ve gotta succeed in.” But they’re not out visiting tens or maybe hundreds of dealerships like you are. So they’re saying, “Bring us back the best practices. What’s working in other markets for the same type of car.”
Jonathan Thompson: Yeah, that’s absolutely right, and they’d expect that from a marketing partner. If you’re just waiting for them to call and you’re not coming proactively to them, you definitely can get stale. It affects the dealership’s performance, it affects their bottom line as a partner, and that’s where partnerships get lost.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right, that’s right. What are some of the main goals that you’re hearing from stores these days that you work with? What’s their objective when you walk in the door?
Jonathan Thompson: Obviously, every dealer’s like, “I wanna make money,” but-
Jim Fitzpatrick: “I wanna sell more cars, make more money”-
Jonathan Thompson: Sell more cars, make more money, but now we’ve got it really isolated down to growing market share, market effectiveness, are they getting their fair share of the pie. But then used car sales, obviously, everybody knows that’s such an increasing market right now. And then increasing retention. Not just service retention, but also sales retention.
What’s very interesting about that is that trifecta actually affects their employee retention. The longer your employees stay there, that obviously helps your business as well. When you look at it from a true partnership perspective, if the dealership is losing in any of those areas and you can feel it, then that’s where you’ve really gotta take it to the next level and isolate, “Okay, let’s go in a new car market share. What’s happening here? What are the competitors doing? Okay, let’s look at used cars. Do you have the inventory? Do you have the right supply?” And then retention, “How are you communicating? What is the customer satisfaction like?”
It’s interesting. You have some of our clients they go, “Man, I just wanna get my retention up.” And just as simple of a Google review, they’re at 3.3 stars. And they’re not only losing customers, but they’re not even getting new opportunities just from those simple things.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. That being said, what tactics are you and Force … what kind of strategies are you coming up with your clients?
Jonathan Thompson: The thing that we’ve really stepped into is more of a holistic approach. Again, really focused on outcome-based opportunities, “What are your goals? What are your objectives, and let’s focus on that.” Now, as a marketing partner, we usually get stuck in our box of just doing marketing and doing some consulting. But at the same time, there’s all these other levers that we can pull, or at least shine the light on, that can affect the store’s overall strategy.
Mystery shopping a store as a marketing partner and understanding how are they handling the leads that you’re generating to them. That’s a battle that marketing partners have all the time. “Your leads are up. Your website traffic is up. I’m doing my part.” “Dude, my sales are down.” But then once you shine the light on it and you go, “Hey, listen. I’ve listened to a few calls,” or “I’ve watched how some of these leads were … You know what? Instead of putting another five grand in mail this month, let’s take the five grand and put in training, Mr. Dealer.” And then ask them, “What are you investing in training?”
It’s oddly enough as a marketing partner to go, “I know you wanna give me that five grand to throw it into whatever you wanna throw it into. But let’s take that money and actually put it in [crosstalk 00:04:46] for 60 to 90 days.” That’s been an important part where we’ve seen tremendous effect, where almost if you just dialed back some of the marketing and handled in-store processes and training. But that’s one of the things that we’re doing at Force is we’re really looking at, “Hey, could it be training? Could it be process? Could it be something that we can just shine the light on?” Doesn’t mean we need to go in and do it personally, ’cause we don’t wanna do everything. We’re not that all-in-one stop shop. We don’t wanna be the CRM, we don’t wanna be the F&I trainer. But if we notice it and we recognize it …
We actually have broken it down to somewhat of methodical algebraic equation where if this is happening, then we look at this. If this and this … that’s the way you run any business. So our team is getting highly trained to identify that quickly all the way from the account manager level to just ask the dealer the right question, and sometimes a light bulb goes off.
Jim, I know you’ve been in the business a long time. Guys that run stores, the very thing is they walk in, they notice dirt in the floor, they notice the flowers are out of place, they notice all these things. But they’d be there for five or 10 years, they start to forget cracks are in the walls now, and they forget those things. So now having that fresh set of eyes come in and just … because they get [crosstalk 00:05:54]. Absolutely, just a little bit.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And why do you think it is that dealers wanna just continually spend so much money in the way of marketing and advertising and not so much on training? We talk to trainers all day long here at CBT News. As you know, we have some of the top ones in the country that have shows on our network. We have this discussion all the time about dealers spending so much money in marketing, and they never reserve enough for training.
Jonathan Thompson: It’s a double-edged sword, Jim, ’cause if you look at it from a dealer’s spot, you’re spending and investing this money in all these people. And with the turnover that happens in stores, it’s like you invested in it and it’s gone. So that’s another thing is where you step back and go, “Man, I’m losing people. Maybe I’m not hiring the right people.” But at the same time, did you train them properly to set them up for success in the beginning-
Jim Fitzpatrick: Which will lower the turnover.
Jonathan Thompson: Absolutely correct. And so that’s why it’s incredibly important in our marketing reviews, that’s actually one of our first questions. “Did you have any changes in your sales staff? Did you have a manager change? Do you still have 15 sales people ’cause last month you said you had 15? Oh, you’re down to 13, okay. And you’re still wanting to hit the same number that you want to hit with less.” And that’s why it’s so interesting because if they don’t hit their goals, they point their finger at the –
Jim Fitzpatrick:… easiest thing to do. Sounds like you guys shop your dealers continually as well, which is a really good.
Jonathan Thompson:.. first things we do. We mystery shop the store to understand how are things being handled. And we do it on a multiple time basis.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Both online and phone call
Jonathan Thompson:.. multiple. If it’s local, we’ll actually go into a store for a few hours or even a day or two just to see what’s going on, see this culture. We never wanna run any managers or any people, for lack of a better term, under the bus. But listen, Jim, if they’re hiring us in to help them be more effective and be profitable, and we notice that there’s a chink in the armor, they would appreciate if we pointed that out. And it could be a guy that’s been there 10 years.
Jim Fitzpatrick: It probably is.
Jonathan Thompson: Most likely is.
Jim Fitzpatrick: More times than not. If you had to suggest an idea or a tip to the dealers that are watching, the managers that are watching, for the balance of 2019 to hone in on and really focus on, from your perspective working with dealers around the country, what would it be?
Jonathan Thompson: It would be just that, Jim. It would be if you are not investing heavily into training with … look at your advertising budget. If you gotta trim money somewhere, take from there. You’ll see such a higher return because now, if a dealer is getting a thousand leads a month, Jim, and they can just increase their closing percentage just by one percent, take a look there. We’re talking about another 10 car deals. There’s ROI-
Jim Fitzpatrick: … another 10%, if you could do another 10%.
Jonathan Thompson: Exactly, exactly. And so, yeah, you can get more effective, more quality leads from your marketing partners, and that’s incredibly important. When you have dialed in companies like Force that are going audience-driven, are going outcome-based, and we’re trying to minimize marketing waste, if we can minimize marketing waste, I don’t want you to just take that money and put it to the bottom line, reinvest it back into the company, do some training. That’s one of the things that’s been very effective for us.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Well, Jonathan Thompson, also known as JT, everybody knows you in the industry as JT, Vice President of Sales for Force. You guys do a phenomenal job. I want to thank you so much for joining us on CBT News, [crosstalk 00:09:15]. Love to have you back and talk more about these issues.
Jonathan Thompson: Yeah.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Great, thank you.
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