DEARBORN – Ford Motor Company is rolling out an extensive, new dealer training initiative that provides sales consultants with significantly more product and customer information much earlier than ever before. Called the Ford Retail Movement, the program also leverages social media to help create numerous touch points, or opportunities for contact, between dealers and customers from initial inquiries through the delivery of a new Ford vehicle.
"It's revolutionary in terms of launching a new product. It's really a way for customers to seek information the way they want it, as opposed to dealerships pushing it on them," explained Beau Smith, owners and vice president of Sill-TerHar Motors in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colo., which includes a Ford dealership.
The program kicks off with the new Ford Fiesta, but will serve as the template for dealer training on all future Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products.
"The idea behind Ford Retail Movement is to create a different experience for customers, a higher level of sales consultant preparation with greater product knowledge – including competitive products – and a deeper understanding of the people who buy our products and how they communicate" explained Paul Anderson, manager, Ford Small Car Marketing.
"We're selling each new vehicle on its own merits – not on the deal – so product and customer knowledge is increasingly important."
Fiesta provides a good test. The new small car is posting impressive sales and piling up awards around the world, but winning customers may be more difficult in the U.S. when Fiesta hits dealer showrooms this summer. Here, import brands – primarily Honda and Toyota – control more than 90 percent of the B-car segment.
"Honda and Toyota know these customers very well. We don't compete in this market right now, so just because Fiesta is the best product, it won't automatically translate into sales success," cautioned Anderson.
"We're going to get one shot at turning these import buyers into Ford advocates or they will head back to where they were comfortable and happy. We have to know the customers in this segment better than Toyota and Honda know them."
Anderson says about 60 percent of B-car volume is generated in major metropolitan areas, from the East Coast, along the southern border, to the West Coast. To meet that demand, the automaker identified 575 target dealers who will receive Fiesta training in their stores.
Although dealers shoulder the cost for training, Anderson says they have the opportunity to earn back much of their investment by meeting certain requirements. One of them is designating a specific employee to serve as the Fiesta Specialist in the dealership – preferably someone with experience in social media.
"Many millennials – a large group of customers we expect to shop Fiesta -- spend as much as 40 hours a week on social media. They don't watch TV, so they don't see our commercials," said Anderson. "This is where they get their information, so dealers need to be there."
To ensure that happens at target dealerships, Ford is training all sales consultants in social media and providing experts to develop each dealer's social media strategy. Furthermore, the company is supplying content for dealer Web sites.
"Done right, social media is relatively affordable," Smith said. "Product awareness is out there early. As a result, customers are already interacting with sales people. And it's not costing dealers a ton of money. That's a huge advantage."
Non-target dealers have access to the same information and training in an online environment, including six modules on social media, along with segments on Fiesta, competitive products and B-car customers.
The massive effort began last September with short, non-traditional videos, about nine months before the new Fiesta was due to hit dealer showrooms. The videos were followed by more in-depth product information, which prepared dealers to answer questions about Fiesta when the car was unveiled last December at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Typically, Ford dealer training for a new product is initiated about two months before new the vehicle arrives in showrooms.
"The way the world works now, if we don't change the way we train and get out there ahead of the product, a lot of times customers are getting information about our products before our sales people," said Smith, whose Ford store is one of the Fiesta target dealers. "This provides our sales people with accurate information up front from Ford, so they can talk to customers with facts."
Over time, training has intensified. Anderson says dealers are fully engaged and pumped about Fiesta.
"Usually, dealers are so focused on selling cars at any given time, it's nearly impossible to get their attention about a vehicle that doesn't launch for many months down the road," Anderson explained. "That's not true with Fiesta. They are really excited about this car."
"Fiesta gives Ford dealers the opportunity to see customers that we likely haven’t seen before," added Smith. "And the demographics are across the board. It's not just younger people. We're getting inquiries from all kinds of people."
Anderson says Ford is studying other unique ways to further enhance the shopping and delivery experience for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury customers.