Are You a Vendor or a Trusted Partner?
Are You a Vendor or a Trusted Partner?

This should be the time of year when you start implementing your annual growth plans. Like many agents, you have most likely spent considerable time and treasure over the past couple of months looking ahead, forecasting all areas of your business. I am also certain your plan includes improving your agency’s financial performance year over year.

Where is your growth going to come from this year? A merger or acquisition? Increasing production from your current clients? Or perhaps taking business from a competitor?

Can you think of any business that is more competitive than the car business?

Consumers have many choices of where and with whom they do business. They want to buy from a dealer that values their time, gives them a fair deal, understands their needs, treats them respectfully, is transparent, and provides an easy and professional buying experience.

These dealers are usually benchmarked in departmental performance in their 20 Group composites. They experience low employee turnover and usually are very sound in their business practices. They bring discipline and ingenuity to expense control. Often these dealers enjoy high or benchmark CSI scores as a reward for their customer focus. They have also seemed to figure out how to instill customer loyalty and dominate their competitors. As an agent entrepreneur, these are the dealers you want to do business with.

How Do You Compare?

Part of any good plan is an evaluation of your competitive advantage, where you need to improve, and what your opportunities are. Also, where is your business at risk and vulnerable?

Can your competitors drive a wedge between you and your dealers?

When you signed that agreement with your dealer, he or she was convinced you were going to perform as promised, and most likely you did. But what about now?

When objectively assessing your dealer relationships, here are some classifications that might describe you and your relationship from the dealer’s perspective:

1. Vendor: As a vendor, you have little constructive interaction with the dealer. You provide the basics, but the relationship isn’t strong, and you know it is not working. If you are reacting to the dealer more than engaging the dealer, that may be a symptom that this client is on their way to a competitor.

2. Friendly supplier: You are a little more aligned with the dealer’s priorities and are more engaged and interactive, but the dealer may see little equity after interactions.

3. Valued partner: You bring more to the table than most other agent entrepreneurs. You not only understand the business, but bring value by understanding their business, you are the go-to in training and developing their key team members. You are relied upon.

4. Trusted partner: Joint planning and growth discussions occur with you regularly, your input is valued and sought out, training and development is all custom and designed to align with the dealer’s needs, employee development and to support growth.

The bad news is that, if one or more of your dealers fall into a vendor or friendly supplier category, their business is most likely part of your competitor’s growth plan for the coming year.

The good news is, if you go after these dealers like you plan to go after your new acquisitions, they might resist the urge to make a change and stay with you.

Make the time you spend in stores invaluable to your dealers, find out what their needs and priorities are, and be willing to provide solutions. Be flexible. They may have priorities and needs outside of F&I that you may have experience or expertise with.

Be transparent in what you are doing and why you are doing it. Make it easier to do business with you and harder for them to move their business to a competitor.

Dealers are a lot like the customers they serve. They too have a lot of choices. Finding new business takes time, resources and expenses. Now is the time to identify and invest in the business you have that may be at risk. This process can contribute to achieving your goals in the coming year. If you don’t do it, you may be helping your competitor achieve theirs.