The Dealer Playbook
The Dealer Playbook

Episode · 5 months ago

Laurie Foster: How To Make Business Relationships More Profitable


Dealers! What should you do if you have bad vendor relationships?

Vendors... same question!

Laurie Foster is the founder of Foster Strategies and works with car dealerships and vendors to help create more profitable business relationships.

Over the years the automotive industry has accepted lackluster relationships as the norm, but there are many change agents within the industry who are moving beyond simple relationships to develop strong partnerships between dealerships and their allies.

In this episode, Laurie and Michael discuss ways in which dealers and vendors can go beyond relationships into profitable partnerships.

Dealer/Vendor relationships must be viewed as bi-directional, and need to be treated as such. Laurie teaches that when two parties come together to achieve a specific outcome, that's when a partnership is formed. That's when respect is developed, and that's when relationships become profitable for all.

Noteworthy topics from this episode:

2:19 - Once I have the relationship of trust, what do I focus on next to build my dealership business?

5:20 - Awareness, Intentionality, Discovery and Expectations.

12:38 - Vendor and Dealer relationship.

19:06 - Letting clients know how much they blessed your life. 

21:24 - Shifting your mindset from “I have to do this” to “I get to do it”.

26:08 - Turning relationships around.

Enjoying the show? Leave a rating and review on your favorite podcast app!

Connect with Chris Martinez:


Connect with Michael Cirillo:





...the car business is rapidly changingand modern car dealers are meeting the demand. I'm Michael Cirillo andtogether we're going to explore what it takes to create a thriving dealershipand life in the retail automotive industry, join me each week forinspiring conversations with subject matter experts that are designed tohelp you grow. This is the dealer playbook. Mhm Yeah. Mhm. My guest today is the founder and Ceoof Foster strategies group. She's got more than 22 years of experience in theautomotive industry and has a keen eye for organization, the ins and outs ofemployee operations and interactions. She's joining me today to talk aboutreally a one of a kind conversation. I don't think we've ever talked aboutthis as candidly, uh, as we have today and that is how to have a more powerful,more meaningful, more intent based and respectful relationship between dealersand vendors in the automotive industry and how that can be leveraged for moreprofitability to achieve bigger outcomes. And so really all of yourwildest dreams can come true, Lori Foster, thanks so much for joining meon the dealer playbook podcast. Great to be here with you today, MichaelLevin, waiting for a bit to finally get a stage here. Yes, well, I'm excited tohave you now. Uh, we were just chatting and, and the thought that immediatelycame to my mind. I think the first question that I want to ask you here isI think about the concept of how not only was Rome, not built in a day, butit also wasn't built by a single individual and you've talked a lot, and certainlyas I've looked at your website and, and some of the different things that youreally speak about, it's the importance of, you know, something that resonatesdeeply with me about building...

...relationships of trust, but youactually have enlightened me that you can actually go further than that, soI'm going to turn this over to you and say, okay, once I've got a relationshipof trust, what do I actually have to be considering to grow my dealershipbusiness? How, you know, such a great point andthank you. You know, you and I have the chance to be presenting together at anindustry conference a few months ago and I really liked, I was clingingevery word that you said about relationships, that's why I've beenready to, you know, when, when you said let's talk, I've been anxiouslyawaiting this because we're the same mindset. Um, but I think for ouraudience, a lot of people assume that a relationship um, translates intobusiness and very often we have, let's just think about the automotive spaceright now where we spend a lot of our time is we have dealers who think thattheir vendor likes them or they like their vendor and they go to lunch orthey go to ball games, they get tickets to things and how do your relationship,that's an amazing thing and it's a place to start, but that's nowhere nearthe finish line when it comes to actually creating sustaining businessand actually, like now, soaring and going towards profitability and newunseen outcomes. So when we talk about it, it's not just like, do do I getalong with Michael? That's awesome, but that's just thing one for me, and so Icoach a lot of people on how to go so far past, just getting along well,getting along is great, but like, what are we getting done? And so, uh wherewe start is shared objectives, because shared objectives and outcomes thatwe're working on together suddenly now we truly are joined at the hip and inour hearts and our minds, like we're going forward, we're actually gonnapush this thing forward together and we're gonna measure it afterwards tosee how we both did not just you or me both, like how did that partnershipactually propel us forward and give us...

...even more momentum. This, this hitshome because I think even as I was building my agency business, I'vebelieved in the BRT build relationships of trust thing for as long as I canremember, and in many instances it was relationships And there's a point here,there are, it was those relationships that carried us through the economiccrisis of 0809 Uh and certainly through 2020, uh call it now the voldemort yearbecause it is the year that we need to stop talking about, but but, you know,I love what you're saying here about shared objectives because the realityis that if you are not, you know, I feel like if you're not purposeful,that relationship can kind of become like the dating friend zone where thenit's like you say, it's just like, oh yeah, we we got a great relationship, Ilike you you like me, we get along, we enjoy meeting up at the conferences orwhatever or having our weekly phone call, but then nothing actually goesbeyond that. So you've said um that obviously building relationshipsnowhere near the finish line and you've talked about how to scale intoprofitability with, with kind of setting that intention, but what islike, how do we overcome that? You know, just having a good relationship andactually sitting down like what's the tactful way of saying, okay, let's findsome purpose here to move towards a common objective, as you say. So um Ithink I always start with my aid model, no matter what we're working on,because it helps to level the playing field, like so aid its awareness,intentionality, discovery, right? And expectations. So when we say awareness,first of all, we have to know that there's something missing here to be,you know, to be serious about like is there actually value to this? So it'spaying attention to the conversation and saying how we've been doing thingsdidn't really move the needle or not um...

...great, we spend a lot of money with alot of people, you know, where did that get us? Um, once you like strip out allof the time and the money that you put into that. So I go awareness andintentionality and intentionality like makes it dig deeper because then thatsays, you know, let's just pretend here for this conversation, Michael that youknow, you're the vendor and I'm the dealer because this is a bidirectionalrelationship, make no mistake. It can start with one or the other, but havingboth together. That's where the true magic is. But now in personality is wemake time and we sit down and we say, you know, we're not going to have itall right the first time, but we are now going to intentionally set oursails towards working together towards shared goals because in the end inautomotive space, like selling more cars and more profitably and then lasttime should be shared goals that whether you're ford motor company orwhether your cars dot com or whether you're a dealer of any brand, you, youshould have those same outcomes in mind. So now you make these people partnersand then you start asking questions and Michael, the kind of questions we wouldstart with our, what are your objectives for the month? What are yourhurdles that you can see Like you got half the cruise on vacation and theother half is out sick. You've got, we've got some campaigns coming throughthat are positive, we've got some cemented interest rates or least plans.So you know, like literally throwing everything on the table and saying,okay, here's what I bring, whether you bring, here's my challenge is yourchallenge is and then setting those together. So that's when you start tobecome intentional. Now the next thing is the hard park and that requireseverybody the home and do a little homework and then come back togetherwith that homework. It's Discovery. It's an honest assessment of how wellis this relationship really working right now. So sometimes I fancy myselflike the mirrors counselor where everybody wants to stay together. Butwe've got to say Michael, you know, here's what you've been bringing. Um,and maybe it's not your a game Lori,...'s where you are. So we just sayget really honest about our data, right, our outcomes historically and then umown own our own shortcomings in this relationship to this part to this point.Then the next thing we do, we start wrapping all of that together,awareness, intentions, discovery all up and then we now can set new and clearand realistic and exciting expectations together. So it's simple, but I usethis with almost every type of client, no matter what the scenario is becausewe have to start here. Like why why do we even want to do this? Who's withwho's at the table with me, what does it look like right now? And where arewe going to go from here? And nothing bad along the way? We don't, we neverbeat people up over historical situations, metrics, blah, blah, blah.We were. And where are we going? Mm I love this. There's so many thingsrunning through my mind right now. Um, this in my opinion as I've been takingnotes is a recipe for perpetual growth. And what I mean by that is historicallyin our industry, you have a vendor who provides services or a product to acustomer in this case the dealer. Um, and the assumption is because of theway things have been marketed and sold in the past is I, the dealer expect you the vendor toperfectly know everything. That is why I hire you. But that's such a faulty way of lookingat things because once you realize, but wait, that quote unquote vendorsbusiness is made up of human beings with hearts in their chests and brainsin their heads as the same way that the...

...people that work in your dealershiphave hearts and in other words, we're all people, if your team isn'texecuting perfectly, then you can also expect somebody elseto, to execute perfectly all of the time. But what you can do according towhat you would, I've just taken here as far as notes are, is that you can cometogether with intention, you can make the time to sit down and sort it allout and, and constantly be moving forward,taking that inventory of How well are things going right now, Not with theintention of firing or like if we did this thing right, dealers would havelong term generational clients and vendors and dealers would have longterm generational, um, business partnerships. You would, because you'dalways be talking through things, Oh man, I don't feel like that went well.But what is it always shaped at in the light of you must be perfect. Youscrewed up, cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel. Right. And so I think this isreally interesting. So how do you, let's talk about because we're allvendors at the end of the day, we, we got to actually stop with the vendortalk because dealers or vendors, everybody's a vendor started callingthem dealer partners. I'm literally going to force this language, I'm goingto force this into the industry And um, and I'm using the power of partnershipslike constantly, you'll see my back all over the place. It's by design. It'snot accidental. It's by design because we must start thinking not just in,like you said earlier friend zone, but the added respect and the business casefor partnerships. Yeah, I've often thought about this too. It's kind oflike the chicken, what came first, the chicken or the egg. You know, you thinkabout, um, the distaste and I'm generally speaking because I have tosay I've met some of the most...

...incredible dealers I've ever met in myentire life and I've met some of the most incredible vendor, you know,colleagues might like some of the most incredible people. Um, so thiscertainly is a generalized statement, but I, I think was it the vendors thatmade dealers as skeptical as they are or did the dealers come first? Andobviously by virtue of that, vendors obviously saw the need to provideservices to dealers. And was it like what happened that, that relationshipsin general kind of became this way where it's like always skeptical andalways, you know, whatever. What's your opinion? Well, this one, this one cuts deep.Okay. But I think if we're honest with ourselves, the dealer legacy of old isnot a, not a shiny one. Right? And so I think that we, um, we created anenvironment by um, taking advantage of others for a long time, sort of havinga circus like mentality around a lot of it. Hence the guerrillas and whateverand the shenanigans. I say shenanigans a lot that covers a lot of territory.But I think also when we take a look at what was the birthplace of most vendorships from people who left automotive retail. Right? So even today as we takea look around. So I think it is a chicken and the egg and it's like, andso then this guy who thought he had his act together comes up with a solution,but he's got still some of that. Um, we used to say used car guy right now,used car guys have to be the most brilliant person on your team to manageinventory and by inventory. But like that, that whole Stevie, like the carmentality. And I think as we step away from that, that's still, there's a paulthat still lingers in the air over this. And I think, um, I think it's for acouple of reasons, not just legacy. Um,...

I think there have been a lot ofvendors that have sold products to dealers that had little or no value andthen didn't stand up to it. They sold them a bill of goods. And um, if it wasa car, we would have called it a lemon. Right? So this, and then it was up tothe dealer to figure it out. And then the dealer felt stupid. There's noother word for it. They felt stupid. And when you feel stupid, you eitherget angry or embarrassed. And then either way the, the contract iscanceled. And then here we go again. I find dealers to be incredibly willingto do all kinds of things to press forward, but they've also been let downan awful lot. But part of that is because no one's ever taken the stepsor had the balls to say this is a bidirectional relationship. And ifyou're not ready to do your part, it would be like saying, take a greatphoto of me today, By the way, I'm going to wear my we're spinning clothes,wear no makeup and I want you to film it in the dark and I want a greatoutcome, right? Like we wouldn't we wouldn't do that. But then we walk intothese relationships, vendors have been so scared or felt so lucky to ring thebell and get a contract that they didn't do the real work. I think a lotof vendors are scared and they send out junior people very often to the dealers.Just think about it in the arc of a vendor salespersons career. What theylearn in their first days is what they're conceptualization of a dealer.It, right? So at first the dealer doesn't want to take their call becausewho in the heck are you like, they are busy, they have over 80. I talk aboutthis on a lot of podcasts, like they have on average 80 plus vendors. Sowhat would they talk to you? And so this is the work that I take vendorsthrough. It's like adding value even if you're new, creating value before yourfirst call to your dealers. So they want to talk to you. So, so we have tochange the paradigm if we want to...

...change the paradigm. And so mostvendors, their first conversations, even with coworkers is well, thesedealers are really tough to get a hold of. So you've got to get there and youmight have to hang around for hours. It's like who's why are they? I need toteach these people. They've got to stop having their internal teams teachingbecause they're putting negative thoughts, sorry, you muted. So we've got to quit letting them onedrop of that poison in the pool. Now now we have now tainted their view ofdealers, dealers on the other hand, are reticent to take a bunch of time. Avendor doesn't come and say here's what we're going to go over. I need 15minutes of your time. And if your people could pull this in this report,it will make it go faster because when they show up they're very often illprepared and say, well just pull this up. Well the dealers embarrassed. Theydon't, they don't have that list of passwords ready to go if they had thatreport in front of them. So we've got to make it easy for both people to cometo the table together. Right? So everything that I work on, help sort ofthose relationships from both sides to stabilize both then help them succeedand then help them sore and soaring is possible. And it's fun to think aboutthat feeling of now don't make me do it. But like that freedom of a hang glider.Like like literally your upward nobody else is the view is better, right?You're not worried about the day to day business And so this is where thiswhere it's just thrilling to be able to help people envision and live out theirpartnerships differently. Mm This is uh this is so powerful and you're right. Ithink it does cut deep and that means that it's the truth in my opinion. Ifit's something that cuts deep But but you're right, you're being very candidabout a very real issue that exists in the industry. And one that I believewith you. I believe...

...there's a solution for its like anyrelationship I think about, you know, struggling um marriages in a very andnow this is a very generalized statement. So I'm sensitive to thateverybody is going through something different, especially if they'restruggling in their relationship. But often times when I, you know, when I have a friendthat's going through something, I find that they the communication juststarted breaking down, right? They stopped talking to each other. Theystopped communicating. They started there was too much me, me, me, you know,I've said to somebody's that we're going through some tough times. I'mlike bro, what are you going to stop talking about yourself? Because theydon't they don't realize and I think that that's happened in the industrywhere it's like, well I have needs me, me, me my needs. I hired you to fulfillmy needs. But this this like you said, I love how you put it this realizingthat this is a bidirectional thing, I, I feel like, you know, for my clients,I can't tell them enough. Uh, and I can only speak from my own experience andthis is certainly not to, you know, stand on a soapbox, but I feelextremely blessed. Um, and, and I make it a point of knowing of letting myclients know as often as I possibly can, how much they've blessed my life and, and you know, and oftentimesthat's reciprocated. But a lot of our relationship, I didn't realize I wasdoing this, um, until you've kind of frame worked it this way. But a lot of times, you know, not onlyhave we decided not to do to partner in someinstances because both of us felt it was the right thing to do. But in someinstances where things started feeling a little bit shaky, we can referenceback to our earlier conversations that say, hey, if we're actually doing thisright, there will be times where you...

...will want to scream at me. But therewill also be times that I want to scream at you. And if we can still justcome together in those moments to find clarity and forward movement, thenwe've got something magical that's going to last, you know, stand the testof time and the word for this, there is one singular word here that this allboils down to and it's respect. So relationship is one thing like I canhave a relationship with the person that delivers my mail? I say howdy? Butwhen the relationship reaches the respect level, that's when yourpartners, when the relationship reaches the respect level, that's when youactually care about the outcomes, not just for yourself, but for the other,when the relationship reaches respect, you will listen more than talk, youwill give the benefit of the doubt more than blame. So I anchor all of this torespect. And sometimes companies have to start that internally first.Actually, most of the time do, But that's my secret. I don't like to tellthat one in advance because they don't realize how much discord there is intheir verticals internally. Sure. Yeah. You know that's that'sactually a very interesting thing to are are you having those toughconversations internally? Are you saying, hey, when a client makes arequest, don't go there so needy. Like shift your mind if they aren't makingthis request, you're out of the job? I really like to do flip it from, I haveto do this to I get to because they're actually giving me information that'stelling me something that they need and that's a courtesy. It's actually it'sall reframing the entire relationship, Michael. But right now there's so muchstill adversarial behaviour right now happening right now, all of the vendorsare telling me the dealers don't want to spend money because there's noinventory? I'm like, why would they I want to spend money with you sir?Because what are you doing like right... So they just take a side and theythrew marketing. Well, how do you stand out? How do you be the one that says,you know, I'm certain that right now with the inventory, you know, scarcitythat this is common. Here's why staying with us right now, it's going to helpyour visibility now, build your brand for the future, give you a competitiveadvantage. They're just all, you know, curling up and running the other waylike, well nobody's spending anything. Well why would they, why would they andwhy would they with you? How have you built your value for this economicseason that we're in that unlike I've been at this a long time. I've neverseen anything like this. Whether you know, 34 afghan fifties and nothingelse on an entire lot. Zero BMW is 14 of something, but they're all pre sold.Right? So I've never seen anything like this. So if you're a vendor who isconstantly telling your dealers to adapt and embrace this new age, guesswhat? Friends, your europe to bath, it's your turn like that. Food doesn'ttaste quite as good when you have to like show got on it a little bit and Isay that with love towards everybody, but this is all they see whateveryone's it's always putting so many are quick to say, well what dealersaren't doing? Well, what are you doing? Like back up? Why are you strugglingwith your dealers? Why aren't you coming up with faster messages? Whyaren't you adapting to this new wrinkle, like, let's go. And you know, when they,when I talk to them, you used the word. That was good. It's candid, candid, um,Stephen Colbert would say truthiness. I like it. I like that word because Idon't pretend to know all of the answers for them specifically, but I'mgonna find out what's happening and we're going to get to the root of itand we're gonna, we're gonna figure out where we need to start and we're gonnajust move forward. Doesn't matter who or why. But now, now that we know andwe have candor as a baseline, we can go...

...forward. Yeah. You know, it's alsointeresting to me, um, as a sidebar, how many people on social media arelike, uh, you know, money does not drive me. And then we hit an economiccrisis or a very rare circumstance, like, and those are all the same peoplethat are like, oh my goodness, this guy's wallet. So I love what you'resaying. It's like, hey, eat your own dog food for a minute. Uh, if you'renot willing to embrace the suck for you? How in the world are you going to, howdo you actually authentically tells somebody else to embrace the suck. Um,and so I love that? And, and I think you're, you know, you're right. I lovehow you say, well it all boils down to kind of the nucleus of thisrelationship, which is respect. Um, I love how you, you kind of drew allroads back into having a respectful relationship. So I want to ask you this.Um, you know, is one of my final questions to you here because I, Ireally, I try and reconcile this in my brain often and I know obviously it's good part ofthe answer I'm anticipating will require humility on the receivers, youknow, the listeners part. But the question is for those that are alreadyin kind of quasi rocky rocky road together. I mean, and also by the way,referencing this kind of like bidirectional thing that you've, you'vementioned, I think is so brilliant. How do you recommend coming to the table to try and turnthings around and kind of reset those expectations? Because I feel like so many people'segos get in the way or maybe pride gets in the way. And what happens in this?Like, I mean, it happens in every industry, but notoriously in ourindustry, it's like you get that email...

...and it's like cancellation right, or orsomething like that. So how do you, how do you recommend coming to the tableand maybe going into repair mode? So I think the same applies either way, butif you are the person providing the service that somebody else is payingfor and you recognize it, um, you just got to get out there with utmosthumility and just say, I think I've been leaving something on the table foryou and I want to start here to help here a few things, like a fewguidelines that I heard somewhere, Maybe they heard them from us on, onhow to start because I want to share in your goals. I want to, I want to knowyour vision and I want to know your hurdles and I want to help however Ican with the products that we have on the time, you know, the time that wehave available, I want to make sure that I'm contributing massively andintentionally to your business who can say no to that? Like Michael, if I saidthat to you, hey, flex dealers Really, it's, it sounds awesome. Doesn't soundlike we got off to a great, I don't think I put my best foot forwardMichael, but I want to hit the reset button. I'd learned this little thing alittle while ago and, and I'd love to, I'd love to start with you. Is thereany way that, you know, you want me to take you to lunch and sort of hit thereset button? Hopefully, maybe this becomes a blueprint for how I helpother clients who like when somebody comes to you offering to help inadmitting their flaws almost possible. And if they do say no, I want to knowthat it's because I want to call them to let me, let me a bet, I'll get them.Yeah, I think this is tremendous what you're saying here. And it's a, it's amessage that I think just needs to be heard widespread and internalizedwidespread in our industry let go of the ego who wrote the book, Ego is theenemy. I can't remember the author's name, but there's a book out, their egois the enemy and you're right. Like just being able to, as a human beingsay, Hey, I think we, we started moving down a track here that that's notbenefiting you and it's certainly not benefiting us. Can we, can we hit thatreset button, what can I do for you?...

How can I, you know, how can I be apart of this? And I love how you said like how I want to share in yourhurdles. How often do you actually hear that? I had a conversation with my teamthe other day, uh, we are in our revenue team meeting and I just said,Hey, the, the point of sales is not to sell sell sell close close close. Iknow it can sound that way, but even if you listen to those that are perceivedas aggressive, like the grant Cardone is of the world and stuff like that. Ifyou really listen to what they're saying, They're still preaching thatservice is senior to selling, it's about removing obstacles as best as youcan or mitigating the pain of the obstacle creating that solution tosomething so that it's easier for your customer or your client partner to beable to move toward the objective that they want. And that's, that's kind ofthe sense I get, as you say, I want to share in your hurdles, you know, helpme show I want to shoulder the load with you. Yeah, hard. It, it would be, it wouldbe really tough to get a no on that unless you totally got them at thewrong time. Um, and even then I would say I'd circle back let me, so I'mgonna let you marinate in that and I'm gonna circle back with you in a day ortwo once you've had time to think about how I can be more supportive to you. Um,because otherwise you might miss, you might miss out. Like we, I think we cando some great things together and that, that needs to be from the heart and notjust lip service. And again, even with service, I go to this. Like if you'rethe, if you're the person buying, you actually need to you, oh, a service tothe money that you're spending for the organization, you owe a service to thatmoney to make sure it works and that's not just spend and, but that's another,that's an hour long conversation all on its own. Who's spending our money andwhy and what do we expect of them? Because we've got to change theexpectations around our budgets and...

...who's handling those also. But it'sjust great to talk to you about this. I'm so glad that we're in alignment.It's just great to know you out here and I hope that this conversation isuseful to, you know, to you and to your clients, Michael. Oh, absolutely. Thishas been tremendous. And I want to just turn it back to you one last time. Howcan those listening get in touch with you to learn more? So I'm on linkedin.If you miss me on me Lincoln, then you're not looking my um, if Lori L A UR I E D Foster or just look up your L A U R A lorry on linkedin, it's probablygoing to jump up if you add automotive to it, my mobile. Um, everyone outthere knows 2692170414. And it's legit, I will answer my phone even whenthere's family calls because a lot of people reach me when they're in a panicmoment and I want to, I want to be accessible. Amazing. Laurie. Thanks somuch for joining me on the dealer type of podcast. My pleasure. Thank youMichael. Yeah. Yeah. Mm, I'm Michel Cirillo and you've beenlistening to the dealer Playbook podcast. If you haven't yet, pleaseclick the subscribe button wherever you're listening. Right now. Leave arating or review and share it with a colleague. Thanks for listening. Mhm.

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