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.

The “R” in Marketing – Marketers (and Politicians) Still Missing the Point of MRM

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “R” in marketing lately – the relationship factor, if you will. That word has always been in CRM but what about MRM? Marketing Relationship Management? I’ve been thinking about how the best marketers today really get this – they aren’t just about pushing content or messaging, but about building the right relationships in order to be heard. Marketers have not traditionally been “relationship” focused. They have been “megaphone management” focused.

Then last night I received a long, two-sided paper letter from a local politician’s party, telling me his long tales of woe and determination and why I should vote for him. And I thought, “Wow, this is so lame. How about trying to build a relationship with me all along, not just days or weeks before a vote?” (Note – this has nothing to do with my respect or thoughts on this candidate so please don’t go there – it’s about their tactics, not my political opinions.)

Marketers (and politicians, essentially your lobbying for votes is marketing) – let’s get smarter about the R in marketing. What does the “R” stand for today and how are you implementing it in your campaigns – or, are you? If you’re in marketing, you need to be thinking about the “R factor”:

  • Obviously, the biggest marketing R is RELATIONSHIP. Just look at that word and really think about it. What does it take to build a relationship – and sustain a positive one – with someone? It takes time, effort, consistency, attention. Repeat.
  • RECOGNITION – show me that you know who I am, you care about what I like and that you recognize my purchasing (or voting) power.
  • And that you RESPECT it. Answer me if I ask a question. Ask questions of me. Make an effort to find me and communicate with me where I am – don’t expect me to come to you anymore. Even if you never do anything with my answers other than acknowledge them, I’m likely to feel a special affinity towards you because you listened and cared enough to ask my opinion or feedback.
  • REWARD – marketers are generally used to “rewarding” loyal customers and potential prospects through recognition or special deals. This hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that your rewards – or lack thereof – will be publicly talked about, blogged about, tweeted about. Make ‘em good, make ‘em real and make ‘em consistently – your reward for doing so will be tenfold through positive, public word-of-mouth. (Another topic here big enough for its own blog post is cross-channel recognition and communications with loyal customers – a new CRM challenge.)
  • RELEVANCY – so you’re on Facebook or Twitter. Congratulations. Who are you following? Who are you enticing to follow your brand or politician? Who are you conversing with? What are you talking about? Make sure it’s relevant to me or your time is being wasted. Show me you “know” me – show me you want to talk about things already on my mind. Don’t come at me with your marketing messages but engage me in a dialogue relevant to what I have already made very clear I care about. Then, I will listen to you and your marketing messages – and maybe even try your product or service (or vote for you) – because you made an effort to relate to me as a customer, voter, prospect…but mostly, a person.

None of this may seem new or earth shattering, but I continue to see marketers every day who don’t get it. They keep pushing their news stream or blog posts or special offers without any dialogue or focus. They talk about Twitter numbers but then hesitantly say, “Oh, um, not really” when we ask if they have a strategy around building fans and followers – the relevant and right fans and followers. They don’t answer questions on Twitter unless it’s a customer service issue – which they immediately try to take “offline” – or they post content on Facebook and then don’t engage with fans who comment. This isn’t so much about the use of social media as it is recognizing the power of building stronger relationships – and how social media opens up such a huge opportunity to do so.

And, as I’ve been bantering about on my personal Facebook page this morning, I see a lot of politicians missing an opportunity to put some “Love” in their “Lobbying.” That is, to connect with a younger demographic through social media – and to use it to connect with me, to talk with me, to not just send me two pages about you, but to show me you care to know a little about me – my needs, desires, hopes and dreams as a voter. I want to get to know you as well – but, only pushing content to me – and especially only around election time – is not productive. Even politicians using social media aren’t doing it right yet. Someone stated this morning that most people wouldn’t be open to it because the assumption is that it would be an aide or a junior executive behind the social media communication. But I’m okay with that – as long as it’s clear – if it means I get to know a candidate in a way that I can relate to, that I get to see their activity, hear from them and ask questions throughout the year – on my timetable, not theirs – and if I feel connected to them. Social media is all about a connection that we’ve never had before – politicians (and marketers!) should be embracing that opportunity to build long-lasting, loyal relationships.

Like traditional marketers, I don’t think political parties are building relationships with the masses. Let me say, I hate your ads. I roll my eyes at your sign-holding-picketers over the highway or in front of the grocery store and your recorded phone messages make me want to rip the phone from the wall. I laugh – in disgust – at the money you are throwing out the window on such irrelevant, surface and old-school campaign “strategies.” I don’t want you to touch my baby, let alone kiss him, and your handshake really means nothing to me if you haven’t taken the time to connect with me, relate to me and talk to me in a day and age when there’s no excuse not to. You’re not a celebrity, so stop acting like one – come “down” and talk to me if you want my vote (or my purchase).

Marketers, social media has changed the R in marketing. It’s about relationships – that is, relating between two entities – and yes, those take time to build, cultivate and keep. But like our personal lives, the rewards are well worth it.

What do you think? Are marketers doing a good job building relationships in today’s social business world?

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