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Differentiate–or Die!

By Mike Esposito, President and CEO, Auto/Mate Dealership Systems


Anyone can buy a white Chevy Malibu from any dealership, so how do you get people to buy from your dealership? If you think you must offer the best price, think again. According to marketing gurus Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin, co-authors of the book Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, the most successful businesses differentiate their brands, but not on price.


I know many dealers out there will disagree with me. When I was a General Manager I had this argument with the owner all the time. “If you treat the customers better, whether it’s in sales or service, they will pay more for the car.” The owner believed we had to be more competitive on price, but I saw it time and time again. Customers bought from us because they liked the way they were treated, not because we offered them a rock-bottom price.


So, how do you decide what your dealership’s differentiator is? Here are key tips from experts Trout and Rivkin:


Don’t Differentiate on Price, Quality, Customer Service or Breadth of Product Line. I know many dealerships create marketing campaigns around these familiar attributes, and that’s exactly the problem. There will always be a competitor who can promise a better price, more product choices, better quality this or that, and better customer service. These attributes are considered too weak and too generic to make compelling differentiators.


Encourage Your Sales People to Differentiate: Have you heard about the “Pickle Man?” He gives a large jar of pickles to every customer who buys a vehicle. It sounds ridiculous but he has become a branding sensation! He has two billboards on a nearby interstate, paid for with the help of his supplier, the Gedney Pickle Company, and his dealership. He also gives away pickle hats, footballs, frisbees and pickle coloring books to kids. Of course not everyone can be the Pickle Man, and not everyone has to be a sensation, but salespeople should be aware of why customers like them and buy from them, and promote that as their differentiator.


Your Differentiator Should Be Unique to Your Dealership. Every potential customer should know what particular benefit they will get when they buy from your store, and it should be a benefit that none of your competitors can offer. Examples may include your family heritage or touting your leadership in one particular area; such as being #1 in used cars sales, having the most certified technicians in your service department, or offering a no-pressure sales experience. The most successful companies don’t try to be everything to everybody; they focus and excel in one area.


Once Your Claim Your Differentiator, Walk the Talk. There’s no surer way to break someone’s trust than to fail to deliver on a promise. For this reason it’s important to choose a differentiator that you can deliver on. Ensure that everyone on your staff knows what the new differentiator is and why it’s important. One way to accomplish this is to literally throw a ‘launch party’ and training for the differentiator to make sure everyone gets the message.


Communicate Your Differentiator. In today’s competitive and transparent market, customers largely decide which dealership to buy from before ever walking onto a lot. For this reason you have to differentiate your dealership ONLINE and communicate it loudly; in your advertising, in email marketing, on your website and on review sites. In your dealership, make sure your differentiator is visible on posters, POS materials and in brochures; and that your staff verbally communicates it to every customer.


If you’re still not sure what your differentiator should be, ask your customers. What qualities are important to them when it comes to choosing a dealership? From their perspective, it may be important to buy from a dealership known for its integrity, good reputation or a great service department. Other strong attributes to differentiate on include being a leader, being first or best in something or being the most popular choice among customers’ peers. Brainstorm and involve your employees so they want to take ownership of the differentiator, too.


A strong differentiator is a proven contributor towards a company’s long-term success. A weak differentiator will keep your dealership firmly in the middle or bottom of the pack. So differentiate–or die!

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