E-mail, direct mail, web sites, social media, newsletters…with so many options for communicating with customers, where should you start?

Lisa Bocklage

"Some dealers have robust customer relationship management tools and others are still getting there. If you know past purchase information for instance, the engagement could be based on cross selling or upselling."

- Lisa Bocklage,
Osborn & Barr

First, forget the method.

“There are so many different platforms that you have to go back to the starting point and think about what you are trying to achieve,” says Lisa Bocklage, account supervisor with Osborn & Barr, an agriculture-focused full-service marketing agency with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri.

Ask yourself questions to uncover the goals behind your communication, Bocklage says: Do we want to be viewed as the experts? Do we have a niche that we need to leverage? Do we need to boost sales in a certain product area?

Second, review your current communication. Review how they mesh with your goals. Before you try a whole new method, maybe you just need to make adjustments in your current communication. Gauge effectiveness of current or new methods against a measurable objective, such as web site traffic, “open” rates for e-mail communication and increases in sales or service revenue.

For instance, if your web site analytics show that most customers only visit your homepage, consider adding engaging content to direct them to the other pages. This will help customers become more aware of all your dealership has to offer.

Third, take inventory of your data.

“If you don’t have e-mail addresses for your customers, then the first step to start an e-mail communication is gathering those addresses,’“ says Bocklage. “Some dealers have robust customer relationship management tools and others are still getting there.”

The combination of data and goals can help you develop a marketing and communications strategy.

“If you know past purchase information for instance, the engagement could be based on cross selling or upselling,” Bocklage says.

Fourth, inform and engage. Then, sell. Successful customer communication provides useful, relevant information.

“We cannot go out and push our story. We need to engage them in a conversation in topics that are relevant and important to them,” Bocklage says. “Ask yourself, “Who do I like to do business with the most? Is it the ‘Buy now, buy now’ ones? Or the businesses that provide information and services that fit your needs?”

Turn to manufacturers for help with informative content, such as linking to “how to” videos on YouTube. Show off your community involvement in 4-H, FFA or other organizations, so customers can relate to you.

And, if you don’t think you have the expertise to develop this content, poll your team members. There may be somebody who has a talent for social media, for instance. Bocklage says you could also consider setting up a marketing internship with a local community college.

Fifth, try and revise.

“Don’t try to boil the ocean,” Bocklage says. Settle on a couple of methods, develop engaging content and test the communication against a goal. For instance, Bocklage says to consider sending an e-mail campaign to half your customer list. Include a news tidbit and then post the rest of the story on your web site. Use the e-mail vendor’s tracking tools to see which story links customers followed. If the interest is less than what you hoped for, make some changes before sending to the rest of the list. 

When developing communication pieces, don’t be overwhelmed by how often you need to communicate.

“Consistency is more important than frequency,” Bocklage says. So, set a schedule — and stick to it.

Finally, stay true to who you are. All communication should convey your strengths as a dealership, what sets you apart – your years in business, your quick turnaround on parts, or the amount of equipment you have on the lot.

“Don’t forget the store. Make sure everyone sends the same messages,” Bocklage says.