Marketing to Dealership Clients

Dec 3, 2009

Go after dealers much the same way you market to consumerswith a combination of advertising and personal selling.

When it comes to bringing new retail customers through the door, most shops rely on a combination of word of mouth, a little media advertising and appearances at car shows and other events.

Ask them what they do to build their sales as subcontractors for auto dealers and other shops, however, and they’ll tell you it’s all about price-that marketing doesn’t matter.

But they’re wrong. While price is certainly a major factor in attracting subcontract business, it’s not the only way. In fact, even if you offer the lowest prices in town, you need to do some marketing to your prospects to let them know.

While you’re at it, make sure your business-to-business marketing message contains the good word about the quality of your work, your willingness to stand behind it and your customer satisfaction rate.

You should market to dealers much the same way you market to consumers-with a combination of advertising and personal selling. In many ways it’s easier, because you generally don’t have to explain your product or service in as much detail and there are a smaller number of prospects, so you can more easily tailor an individual message.

The main thing to remember, just as in retail marketing, is that your message needs to be repeated consistently and constantly over time. Marketing is not a one-shot deal.

Non-Junk Mail

Advertising to dealers doesn’t mean running TV spots during the Super Bowl. It’s more targeted than that, which means it’s much more economical.

Direct mail is probably the single most effective medium. It’s intrusive and there’s very little waste circulation.

There are three keys to successful direct mail-a good prospect list, a compelling message and repetition.

You can make up the prospect list yourself if you spend a little time with the Yellow Pages. Just look up the auto dealers and other prospects in your market area, call them to get the names of the general managers, service writers and sales managers, and you’ll have a solid prospect list to work with. Keep it handy, by the way, because you’ll need it later when you start making sales calls.

The direct mail piece itself doesn’t have to be a four-color glossy catalog. In fact, a one-page personal letter introducing yourself and describing how you can make money for the dealer [in one form or another that should always be your pitch] is a good place to start.

Every three or four weeks, send another piece saying the same thing in a different way. You can announce new equipment or product lines you’ve added, quote a recently satisfied customer or brag about any awards you’ve received. Address it to each individual on your list, keep it to one page, include a picture or two and make sure you send something at least once a month.

A Web site is a useful business-to-business marketing tool, too. If it has plenty of pictures of your work, testimonials from satisfied customers and some information about your background and your shop’s capabilities, it will give the dealer even more reasons to send business your way.

Also, make sure there is a working e-mail link, phone and fax numbers, and keep it all up to date. You don’t need to hire a high-priced Web designer, by the way-most hosting services offer perfectly good bare bones templates. The site itself can cost less than $10 a month.


Once you’ve done a few mailings, go visit the prospects on your list. Before you go, though, think through what you want to say.

A short [three-minute] description of what you do and how you can help the dealer make money will get you started. Once you’ve delivered it, ask them what you need to do to get their business, then shut up and listen. Nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you what you need to know as long as you use a professional approach and demonstrate a willingness to pay attention.

Don’t be offended if you get a brush-off or two and don’t give up if they say they already have a preferred source for what you’re trying to sell. If that happens, thank them for their time and move on. Keep them on your mailing list, however, and visit them again next month-things change!

You should also have a leave-behind of some sort for every sales call. This can be a version of your latest direct mail piece, a fancier brochure or even a coffee mug with your logo. And don’t forget to give them your business card. In fact, one of the best tactics you can adopt is to always hand out two cards at a time and ask the recipient to pass one along to anyone else they know who might be interested in your services.

Once you’ve established a relationship, build on it. There are all kinds of creative things you can do to keep your shop at the top of the dealer’s list of preferred subs and vendors.

Offer to sponsor a sales contest for the dealer, awarding a prize to the dealer’s salesperson who sells the most sunroofs, leather kits or window tints during a given period. Watch for the dealer’s own sales event, and then have a pile of pizzas or a few boxes of donuts delivered with your compliments on their busiest day.

If the dealer belongs to a civic group or supports a local charity, become involved with it yourself. The goal is to keep your name in front of the prospect all the time.

Your own vendors may be able to help you with dealer marketing, too. Many manufacturers and distributors have cooperative advertising programs that pay part of the cost of your printing and mailing if you feature their products.

Even if they don’t have a formal program, it doesn’t hurt to ask the next time you place an order. Others may have regional sales reps who would be available to go with you to make dealer calls. You should also ask if your suppliers do any lead-generating of their own-trade shows, magazine advertising, etc.-that they can share with you.

Even with help from your vendors, marketing isn’t free, of course. A hundred first-class letters will cost you at least $50 for postage, envelopes and computer printer ink. Imprinted coffee mugs aren’t cheap and even a supply of business cards will set you back a few bucks.

The biggest expense, though, is your time. Someone has to compile the prospect list, write the sales letters and make the sales calls. In most restyling shops, that someone is you.

To control that particular expense, and to make sure the marketing gets done, dedicate a set number of hours every week to it, budgeting your time the same way you do your money.

Marketing is an investment from which you should expect a return. Fortunately, results from business-to-business marketing are usually easy to track. There is a finite prospect list, you know exactly how you’re marketing to each one and you can easily identify the orders that you get from them.

Make the investment in dealer marketing for a few months, and then review the response. You might be surprised how much your shop’s business has grown.