Agent Evolution in a Changing Automotive Landscape
Agent Evolution in a Changing Automotive Landscape

"What is it you do?"

That was the seminal question posed by dealers that plagued me when I first started calling on them 20 years ago. My original answer was: I was a “credit insurance/service contract” representative of XYZ Company. Dealers quickly categorized me and sent me on my way unless they were desperate. I quickly refined my answer to; “I increase dealer income, drive down expenses and help limit the liability associated with the retail sale of vehicles in this area.”

That answer served me well for almost 20 years, but our industry has changed and the needs of our dealer clients have changed almost overnight. While it remains true that our clients need increased income more than ever before and that keeping expenses low continues to be a concern, liability and compliance issues are still on the forefront of our minds.

Pressures on the auto industry over the last three years have shifted the focus to the health of the ENTIRE dealership, not just these three mentioned areas.

The attrition rate in dealerships across the country has created a “sifting” effect in our industry with agencies being forced to evolve or die. The most successful agents now are the ones who can demonstrate increased dealer retained earnings and higher PVR income through the agent's proprietary developmental process. Common traits of these successful agents are persistence, the ability to think “out of the box” and accountability.

Your dealer clients should be able to count on you as an agent to provide, for the entire dealership, aggressive yet reachable goals that should include a specific written plan for achieving those goals. The key to differentiating yourself is to demonstrate to the dealer, and to the market, that the dealer and his or her success is the most important thing the agent has to discuss.

An example of a revision to the original answer we have used is: “We drive qualified buyers to our dealer’s stores, increase their sales rate and profitability, impact service absorption to 100 percent while making sure the customers you sell to have finance options available so that you get paid.”

It is a precise and powerful answer that differentiates us from our competition. To deliver on that answer, we analyze the dealership's current needs and expand our consultative practice to set up goals and plans in a number of key areas inside the store, not just in the F&I office.

Dealers need qualified customers more now than ever. With shrinking inventory levels, qualified and focused consumers are gold on a dealer’s lot. We have focused on bringing to dealers marketing tools that generate quick consumer calls and dealership traffic. We do research looking for the most cost effective and successful providers we can bring to our clients. In circumstances where we can't find any that we are satisfied with, we develop our own. In the case of our regional market, we have developed our own media company to provide a combination of online and print advertising to the consumer on behalf of our clients. This gives us more control as we track all generated traffic leads to use as validation for marketing effectiveness as well as a training and accountability tools for continued staff improvement. We also take advantage of current trends in technology such as the explosion in social media resources such as Twitter and Facebook to use for our dealer's benefit.

Closing at a higher margin. The dealership’s financial statement is the single most important piece of information the dealer looks at. As an agent, it is important to understand all of the challenges our dealer customers confront on any given day. The road to F&I goes directly through the sales department. Helping define the delivery, sales and desking processes ensures front-end profit for the dealer. Plus, it stacks the odds in the finance and insurance department's favor. All training and lead generation programs we deliver to the dealer help him earn the greatest front-end revenue. So once a customer is in the dealership, we deliver tools to close the customer quickly and at a higher gross profit. These tools include a comprehensive “certified program” that we customize for the dealer to make their inventory stand out against the competition.

Always be looking for new tools. The products I sold back when I started in this business are still important today; however, they no longer define who we are. They are the tools we use in the business. As a successful agent, you always have to be on the look out for new ideas, products and techniques that you can use to achieve the goals you set for your dealers. As an example, besides developing our own lead generation media company and our certified program, we have developed a new F&I product for our dealers that can be sold to customers who cannot afford, or who do not qualify for, a vehicle service contract. This product creates higher penetration and gross profit and is designed to drive used-car customers back into the selling dealer’s service department, where retention can be poor.

As an agent, having a new product that the competition and OEMs do not have separates you in the marketplace. Finally, we complement our new products with a portfolio of fully insured standard F&I products and training to give F&I increased penetration, higher PVR and improved CSI.

Service drive consultation. The largest buzz word for dealers now is “fixed absorption” and has become the focus of every dealer. Bringing programs to the dealer to help with service department efficiency and profitability creates huge returns for the dealer and cements our value to the dealership on a total revenue basis. As an agency, we have searched for and found an outside provider that delivers on all aspects of dealer service training. This is a guarantee to the dealer for increased absorption in service. Expanding our development in this area to give service advisers the tools and strategies to achieve that 100 percent absorption gives us an advantage in the marketplace.

Providing financing options. Accelerating cash through the dealership keeps the dealer's engine running. We have had to develop solutions to help finance customers who don’t fit the captive mode. We ensure that all deals written in the store that can be financed are finalized. We have had to secure lenders for our dealer customers and staff an off-site finance option for the dealers in our area. Our agency ensures dealers that when they sell a vehicle, they get paid.

Going forward. The most significant hurdle an agent is going to have to overcome is the old saw we hear all the time: “This is how we’ve always done business.” Well, we will never again see the way we did business five years ago or even last year. Our business is reinventing itself daily and we have to reinvent ourselves daily just to keep pace. It is essential that we look at all things from the dealer’s perspective.

By providing services based on our dealer's needs, we have solidified the relationships with our current customers and increased the value proposition to our prospective customers.

The future of the car business is being written every day by the men and women who work on the front line of our industry. Three years ago, the industry was like “Humpty Dumpty” sitting on a wall. When it fell, it broke into many pieces. The big corporations do not see the value in the scattered pieces and are unwilling to pick them up and put “Humpty Dumpty” back together again. The opportunity to pick up the pieces has fallen to us, the agent entrepreneur. We see the value of the pieces and the opportunity provided to use our skills to put our industry back together again, one piece at a time. Seize the day and charge forward with confidence and courage because our industry and dealers need us more than ever.