Do You Treat Your Customers Like a Deal or a Relationship? A Lesson from McGee Toyota

What’s more valuable to your business – one customer deal or a lifelong customer relationship that results in repeat business and referrals? You’d think the answer is obvious, wouldn’t you?

My family is in the market for a new SUV. We’ve got a Toyota Sequoia that’s nearly a decade old with about 160k miles on it – and it’s time for us to get a new one. It’s been a good truck for us – so naturally, looking at new Sequoias was part of our purchasing plan. After some other research and a few peeks at various other brands and models, we narrowed our search down to a Toyota Sequoia or a Ford Expedition.

After a lot of discussions, research on both brands and price negotiations, we decided to stick with the Toyota. So my husband struck a good deal and signed the papers with McGee Toyota in Hanover, MA, on Friday. We bought our last Toyota from McGee and we have gone there for every service need for the last decade. So, it seemed to be a natural and feel-good move.

He had such a good experience with the salesman on Friday that on Saturday, after running a road race, we headed right back to the dealership with my sister-in-law who was also in the market for a new SUV.

After another great experience with the same salesman, we sat down do talk price – including an option for trading in her existing SUV (which we were driving, so the dealer could see it on the spot). The natural back and forth took place with the manager in his office (ivory tower) and the poor salesman running back and forth between him and us – trying to strike a deal.

Let me just point a few things out:

  1. We’re repeat customers
  2. We’ve been loyal customers for a decade
  3. We brought in more customers/referrals
  4. We just bought a car the day before
  5. We came after a road race – in our running gear!
  6. The point being, clearly, we were serious buyers.

As I mentioned, my sister-in-law had a car to trade in. And the manager refused to tell her the estimate for the trade in – or negotiate the cost of the car she was trying to buy – until she would commit to buying RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen if a) she didn’t know the value of her trade-in, and b) the bottom line cost of the car she wanted to buy, and c) her husband (who wasn’t present) had an opportunity to see the car and hear the possible deal (i.e., value of the trade-in as well as the deal for the new car after negotiation). Oh, and also – why would we commit to buying something without knowing the cost? Who does that?

This was the exact opposite experience than the day before – with a different manager (same salesman). What a shock.

After several rounds with the poor salesman – embarrassed and frustrated, recognizing we were serious buyers and repeat customers, shaking his head and apologizing – that went nowhere, we decided to get up and leave. My sister-in-law wasn’t about to commit to buying a car without understanding the costs or even the courtesy of an estimate or starting point. Why were these games necessary when we were obviously serious about buying?

Before we left, my husband (keep in mind, it was his sister he brought in and thus, he’s naturally protective) stated that he couldn’t believe the way we were being treated after having just bought a car yesterday. And he began asking about the timeframe available to us to change our minds on our earlier purchase, considering we were not only being treated rudely, and being toyed with, but the manager didn’t even have the courtesy to come out and thank us for not only buying a car the day before – but coming back the next day with another customer.

So my husband said he was going to look into the time we had to change our mind on our purchase – unless we heard from them on an estimate for her trade in soon. (Keep in mind, it’s not that he didn’t know the estimate – the salesman confirmed the manager had a price; he just didn’t want to give it to us – wouldn’t write down a number – until she committed to buying on the spot.) The salesman said “I don’t want to tell him [the manager] that, you tell him.” And my husband said, “I would if he ever had the courtesy to come out here and talk to us.”

So we walked out and as we were getting into our car, the manager finally found a reason to walk out and talk to us. He boldly sauntered to our car and walked right up to the window as my husband got out. The manager then said, “Oh, you wanna call off the deal? That’s fine, we’ll rip up the contract right now.”

SAY WHAT?

Does this bullying tactic work on others? Because it didn’t work on us. This man couldn’t give us the privilege of a face-to-face discussion when we were ready to buy another car, and insisted on playing unnecessary, old-school games with a serious customer – and then he comes out with bravado and ego and tells us he’d rather lose TWO SALES than give us a simple estimate?

What is going on here? Would YOU do this? Is this how you treat your repeat customers? I sure hope not.

I can tell you what’s going on now:

  1. McGee Toyota just lost two car sales – over ego. (Ask yourself, will your investment matter to them either?)
  2. They just lost a loyal, potentially life-long customer
  3. They showed how little their customers mean to them
  4. They created a negative brand experience associated with Toyota
  5. We’ll not only never return, and never refer someone to them again, but we’ll continually tell everyone we know not to buy from them – ever
  6. We’re now back to discussions with Ford and may abandon Toyota altogether – we’re still negotiating
  7. They showed that the value of a deal is more important to them than the value of a customer relationship.

A customer deal is great. But a salesman – especially a sales manager (or, perhaps he was the owner, which makes it even more ludicrous) – should be savvy enough to recognize when a customer is a serious, loyal and repeat customer who not only continues to give you business, but also refers others. This manager basically took the customer referral pyramid and chucked it out the window.

Am I out of touch here? Are $40-50k cars flying out the door in this economy? Are ready-to-buy customers flocking to the doors for you? Even if they were, would you treat a long time, loyal customer in this manner?

Make sure your sales team can recognize the difference between a customer deal and a customer relationship – and if you care about your business, train them to treat every customer with respect and gratitude. Even if you are in the car sales business.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 11/08/10

Mobile Users Want Branded Apps that Are Useful, Not Just for Marketing
Thinking of building a mobile app for your brand? This ReadWriteWeb post from Frederic Lardinois highlights recent findings and advice from app development agency EffectiveUI – to point you in the right direction.

Want to Lead Corporate Social Strategy? Read This.
Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Company, shares highlights from Altimeter‘s “Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist” report. The Slideshare version of the report is also included.

Could Facebook replace your e-mail inbox?
Mashable‘s Pete Cashmore speculates on Facebook‘s rumored plunge into the email provider space. Do they have what it takes to lure people away from the likes of GMail and Yahoo Mail? Read on for one perspective.

B2B Social Media Resources
Chris Brogan shares a plethora of great B2B resources that go beyond his ongoing collection of case studies on Delicious.

Social Media’s Impact on Offline Sales
Elizabeth Glagowski explains how social media can impact the bottom line through actual sales and provides several real world examples of businesses that are doing it right.

Client Service – Deliver What They Don’t Know They Want

The other day one of our clients asked us for something that was relatively easy to do – something that we could have handled with a quick email response without even knowing why the client needed the information. But I tend to be nosey, so I asked. The client contact needed the information to share with superiors to show the success of a recent campaign. So, we had a choice – we could have simply delivered what was asked of us, or we could think about this further and deliver something that they did not even know they wanted – or didn’t realize they could even ask for – but that would provide greater value than expected.

We ended up delivering a document that, although it did not take much longer to produce than the original request, put the information in clear context for the client in a way that they could see not only the success of the recent campaign, but also its relation to other campaigns. We knew that this would be more beneficial and would make our client contact look good in the eyes of superiors, so we took the longer road.

I started really thinking about this and wondering how often I do this, or how often I push my teams to do this. Are we delivering what they ask for, or are we thinking about what they really need? Are we checking off tasks on our list, or are we thoughtfully delivering information in ways that will make our clients more successful?

Because, quite honestly, going the extra step on this one felt good – it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was actually kind of fun. I liked the idea of delivering a surprise to the client – giving them what they asked for plus a little bit more. And it made me think twice about how we can present what we do in a more meaningful way.

When you do a job for a long time, certain tasks can become routine or mundane, and it’s easy to just check things off. But when clients give us references or talk about us, I want them to say that we didn’t treat anything as “routine” – that we were always thinking ahead, differently and creatively. I am very proud that we have a staff here that keeps me on my toes, challenges me to do better and who aren’t afraid to push me, even when I’m the boss.

To keep us all fresh, I want to make sure I challenge myself and my teams constantly and always ask – are we just checking off boxes, or are we giving our clients everything we have? Let’s strive every day to deliver what they don’t yet know they want.

Claire Russell and Wayne Sutton at IMS10 – Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA – Part 2

In Part II of my interview with Wayne Sutton, we talk all things geolocation and location based services. A self-proclaimed location based services “geek”, Wayne is the Business Development/Marketing Strategist for TriOut, a location-based services application developed to help individuals explore the Triangle area and discover its cultural treasures.

During this interview, Wayne shares great insight on the location based services market landscape, how it works and what it means for consumers. And, most importantly, what retailers and brands need to think about when considering a location-based campaign as part of their marketing strategy.

Marketers – considering geolocation or location-based services as part of your future marketing campaigns? Which services are you reviewing and why? How will location tie into your online and offline initiatives? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Claire Russell Interviews Wayne Sutton at IMS10, Part 1

Last month I attended and presented at the Inbound Marketing Summit 2010 in Foxboro, MA. It was great to be back in Boston, catching up with friends and colleagues. But a true highlight of my visit, ironically (since we live in the same area), was finally getting the opportunity to catch up with Wayne Sutton – or SocialWayne as he’s known here in ‘The Triangle’ of North Carolina.

For those that may not know Wayne, he holds nearly 10 years of experience in technology and social media. He is the Business Development/Marketing Strategist for TriOut, a location-based services application developed to help individuals explore the Triangle area and discover its cultural treasures. Wayne is also a consultant, helping start-ups and established businesses succeed in understanding how to best communicate their brand strategy through social media, as well as location-based services.

In this first of a two-part series, Wayne shares three tips for new entrepreneurs thinking about launching in today’s market:

  • Hire good people you can trust
  • Build a revenue model that adds value and solves a problem
  • Try not to spend or take money if you don’t need it

He also gives his take on the Raleigh tech/social media scene.

I hope you enjoy the interview  – our Part II interview will feature Wayne talking about the impact of location-based services on corporate marketing strategies. What should marketers be thinking about as they plan their 2011 Marketing budgets? We’d love to get your thoughts/advice.