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With the market tsunamis of 2008 and 2009, dealers and OEMs who have weathered the storm are viewing their business and markets differently than the earlier "roaring 2000s."

When new vehicle sales shrink from 17 million new units to 10.5 million, the overall cost structure of the retail channel and consumer spending compresses at the same rate. Dealerships, agencies, lead providers and CRM companies must adjust their automotive marketing efforts and budgets to address the new volumes of new and used vehicle sales, parts & service and Finance & Insurance penetration. The pure numbers from a customer traffic and transaction point are stressful, and the resources and data used in the past will not result in the same level of sales renewals and fixed operations retention.

So, how do dealers and marketers acquire new customers at a cost which is acceptable to their P&L requirements? They use Budget Prospecting to acquire new customers from the pool of orphan owners, first-time buyers, non-traditional loyalists and social network influencers.

Having the opportunity to attend conferences like Driving Sales and J.D. Power has provided me with a number of insights into the dynamics of our new retail environment and how to transition to the dynamics of budget prospecting.

Digital marketing, media spread and prospect targeting are now sciences which take constant feeding and balancing for customer retention. The constantly changing population base requires retailing efforts to focus on a combination of targeting points to effectively reach new prospects with pertinent and valuable offers, advice, community support and service to earn, retain and grow a business relationship through social networking.

To survive as one of 15,000 franchised dealers, the discipline of building prospects outside of your DMS name file and CRM marketing database requires significant effort for capturing the consumers at the bottom of the funnel. Also critical are consumers in the "lost zone" of orphan owners, first-time buyers and consumers who can be influenced on where to service their vehicles or purchase their next new or used vehicle.

All of this must be done with a cost per acquisition that meets the financial and ROI requirements of dealers, agencies and OEMs. Those who balance lead acquisition with "budget prospecting" will achieve long term growth strategies for their market and brand(s). They will continue to adapt and adjust to this changing and challenging market by growing sales, profit and market share. All of these "scorecard" evaluation points are keys to the health and ongoing transition and growth of the automotive retail channel.

Posted by Brad Korner, Director - Client Sales & Service, Automotive Retail Solutions, Polk (12.3.2009)

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