Sometimes it works out better than others.
Likewise, of course, in business, as Dug Dugger can tell you. He’s the general manager of Ourisman Rockmont Chevrolet in Rockville, Maryland and about the world’s most likable guy.
“In car sales,” Dug told me the other day, “trust is everything. If you don’t have trust, you have nothing.”
Dug is a very personable fellow, an MBA with a charming, good ol’ boy air. Kind of like George W. before he got all presidenty and invented a war to bestow democracy and peace to the Middle East. But absolutely someone you’d like to join for a beer or 7.
Dug’s like Dubya, winning-personality-wise. The occasion for our conversation was a just-ended sales promotion at Ourisman Rockmont. He was in high spirits because the event had gone swimmingly, although this is not necessarily a great time to run a GM franchise. You may have noticed that Chevy has recently recalled approximately every car it has manufactured since the 1958 Bel Air. And when shoppers do show up, they tend to arrive with Internet printouts laying bare the dealer's actual costs, incentives and so on. That phenomenon has tended to depress margins, because in a negotiation information is leverage, Dug Dugger calls it The Reformation.
Now, he is not Martin Luther, and he did not nail 95 Theses to the doors of his showroom. He posted instead the winning sweepstakes number, where visitors could compare the code on an Ourisman mailer to the winning number and see if they had beaten the exactly 1-in-a-million odds to walk out with $25,000. Nobody did, but 600 hopefuls walked through the doors and ran the gauntlet of sales associates to try their luck.
“The beauty of the thing is,” Dug explained, “at any given time we had 20 people in the showroom. There’s hope there. Once we get a person in front of us in today’s market, our closing rate is very high.”
But how, under current conditions, do you lure them there? Well, you trick them, that’s how. The glossy, eight-page mailer with a car-key glued to it screams “Scratch & Match TO WIN!” The cover page looks like an outsized lottery scratch-off ticket. “If you Match 3 SYMBOL AMOUNTS a row (up, down, across or diagonally)” you could wind up with a Chevy Equinox, $25,000 in cash, and other fabulous prizes.
Except, of course, everyone who gets the mailer succeeds in scratching off the top prize….which has nothing to do with winning anything of much value. It’s really a sweepstakes, and the only thing that matters is that 1-in-a-million shot to match the serial number. But long odds like that don’t get you to schlep to a Chevy store, do they? Likewise, the flier says “individuals like you were chosen to participate” in the Official Test Market Program” – which is true if a ZIP-plus 4 constitutes “individually” and a sales promotion is a “test market program.”
Now, nobody was exactly harmed by this minor charade. And Ourisman served free hotdogs. A mess of folks drove happily off the lot in brand new Chevys, none of which have yet switched off at 65 mph on I-270. But I asked Dug Dugger if direct-mail petit chicanery is really the best way to establish that all-important bond of trust. He chuckled and compared the razzle dazzle to courting.
“You’re married? How did you ever find a wife?”
Point taken. In the early days of romance, one tends to withhold details of, for instance, obsessive sports watching and sofa lying. But I offered Dug another analogy. When W.’s pop George H.W. Bush was running against Michael Dukakis for the presidency, he resorted to racial fearmongering with his notorious Willie Horton ad. Once elected, he was asked about the ethics of his campaign. His retort, if memory serves, was: “In order to be a great president, first you have to be president.”
“That’s exactly it!” Dug agreed. “In order to be a good car salesman, do what you do best. Everybody needs a nudge.”
And of 40,000 flier recipients, 31 eventually were nudged into the closing room. That’s about 1 in 1300. Pretty good odds. Trust me.