The Dealer Playbook
The Dealer Playbook

Episode · 10 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.

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Connect with Chris Martinez:


Connect with Michael Cirillo:





...the car business is rapidly changing and modern car dealers are meeting the demand. I'm Michael Cirillo and together we're going to explore what it takes to create a thriving dealership and life in the retail automotive industry, join me each week for inspiring conversations with subject matter experts that are designed to help you grow. This is the dealer playbook. Mhm Yeah. Mhm. My guest today is the founder and Ceo of Foster strategies group. She's got more than 22 years of experience in the automotive industry and has a keen eye for organization, the ins and outs of employee operations and interactions. She's joining me today to talk about really a one of a kind conversation. I don't think we've ever talked about this 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 dealers and vendors in the automotive industry and how that can be leveraged for more profitability to achieve bigger outcomes. And so really all of your wildest dreams can come true, Lori Foster, thanks so much for joining me on the dealer playbook podcast. Great to be here with you today, Michael Levin, waiting for a bit to finally get a stage here. Yes, well, I'm excited to have you now. Uh, we were just chatting and, and the thought that immediately came to my mind. I think the first question that I want to ask you here is I think about the concept of how not only was Rome, not built in a day, but it also wasn't built by a single individual and you've talked a lot, and certainly as I've looked at your website and, and some of the different things that you really speak about, it's the importance of, you know, something that resonates deeply with me about building...

...relationships of trust, but you actually have enlightened me that you can actually go further than that, so I'm going to turn this over to you and say, okay, once I've got a relationship of trust, what do I actually have to be considering to grow my dealership business? How, you know, such a great point and thank you. You know, you and I have the chance to be presenting together at an industry conference a few months ago and I really liked, I was clinging every word that you said about relationships, that's why I've been ready to, you know, when, when you said let's talk, I've been anxiously awaiting this because we're the same mindset. Um, but I think for our audience, a lot of people assume that a relationship um, translates into business and very often we have, let's just think about the automotive space right now where we spend a lot of our time is we have dealers who think that their vendor likes them or they like their vendor and they go to lunch or they 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 near the finish line when it comes to actually creating sustaining business and actually, like now, soaring and going towards profitability and new unseen outcomes. So when we talk about it, it's not just like, do do I get along with Michael? That's awesome, but that's just thing one for me, and so I coach 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 where we start is shared objectives, because shared objectives and outcomes that we're working on together suddenly now we truly are joined at the hip and in our hearts and our minds, like we're going forward, we're actually gonna push this thing forward together and we're gonna measure it afterwards to see how we both did not just you or me both, like how did that partnership actually propel us forward and give us...

...even more momentum. This, this hits home because I think even as I was building my agency business, I've believed in the BRT build relationships of trust thing for as long as I can remember, and in many instances it was relationships And there's a point here, there are, it was those relationships that carried us through the economic crisis of 0809 Uh and certainly through 2020, uh call it now the voldemort year because 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 reality is 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 then it's like you say, it's just like, oh yeah, we we got a great relationship, I like you you like me, we get along, we enjoy meeting up at the conferences or whatever or having our weekly phone call, but then nothing actually goes beyond that. So you've said um that obviously building relationships nowhere near the finish line and you've talked about how to scale into profitability with, with kind of setting that intention, but what is like, how do we overcome that? You know, just having a good relationship and actually sitting down like what's the tactful way of saying, okay, let's find some purpose here to move towards a common objective, as you say. So um I think 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's paying attention to the conversation and saying how we've been doing things didn't really move the needle or not um...

...great, we spend a lot of money with a lot of people, you know, where did that get us? Um, once you like strip out all of the time and the money that you put into that. So I go awareness and intentionality and intentionality like makes it dig deeper because then that says, you know, let's just pretend here for this conversation, Michael that you know, you're the vendor and I'm the dealer because this is a bidirectional relationship, make no mistake. It can start with one or the other, but having both together. That's where the true magic is. But now in personality is we make time and we sit down and we say, you know, we're not going to have it all right the first time, but we are now going to intentionally set our sails towards working together towards shared goals because in the end in automotive space, like selling more cars and more profitably and then last time should be shared goals that whether you're ford motor company or whether your cars dot com or whether you're a dealer of any brand, you, you should have those same outcomes in mind. So now you make these people partners and then you start asking questions and Michael, the kind of questions we would start with our, what are your objectives for the month? What are your hurdles that you can see Like you got half the cruise on vacation and the other half is out sick. You've got, we've got some campaigns coming through that 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 your challenge is and then setting those together. So that's when you start to become intentional. Now the next thing is the hard park and that requires everybody the home and do a little homework and then come back together with that homework. It's Discovery. It's an honest assessment of how well is this relationship really working right now. So sometimes I fancy myself like the mirrors counselor where everybody wants to stay together. But we'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 say get really honest about our data, right, our outcomes historically and then um own 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 clear and realistic and exciting expectations together. So it's simple, but I use this with almost every type of client, no matter what the scenario is because we have to start here. Like why why do we even want to do this? Who's with who's at the table with me, what does it look like right now? And where are we going to go from here? And nothing bad along the way? We don't, we never beat people up over historical situations, metrics, blah, blah, blah. We were. And where are we going? Mm I love this. There's so many things running through my mind right now. Um, this in my opinion as I've been taking notes is a recipe for perpetual growth. And what I mean by that is historically in our industry, you have a vendor who provides services or a product to a customer in this case the dealer. Um, and the assumption is because of the way things have been marketed and sold in the past is I, the dealer expect you the vendor to perfectly know everything. That is why I hire you. But that's such a faulty way of looking at things because once you realize, but wait, that quote unquote vendors business is made up of human beings with hearts in their chests and brains in their heads as the same way that the...

...people that work in your dealership have hearts and in other words, we're all people, if your team isn't executing perfectly, then you can also expect somebody else to, to execute perfectly all of the time. But what you can do according to what you would, I've just taken here as far as notes are, is that you can come together with intention, you can make the time to sit down and sort it all out and, and constantly be moving forward, taking that inventory of How well are things going right now, Not with the intention of firing or like if we did this thing right, dealers would have long term generational clients and vendors and dealers would have long term generational, um, business partnerships. You would, because you'd always 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. You screwed up, cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel. Right. And so I think this is really interesting. So how do you, let's talk about because we're all vendors at the end of the day, we, we got to actually stop with the vendor talk because dealers or vendors, everybody's a vendor started calling them dealer partners. I'm literally going to force this language, I'm going to force this into the industry And um, and I'm using the power of partnerships like constantly, you'll see my back all over the place. It's by design. It's not 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 case for partnerships. Yeah, I've often thought about this too. It's kind of like the chicken, what came first, the chicken or the egg. You know, you think about, um, the distaste and I'm generally speaking because I have to say I've met some of the most...

...incredible dealers I've ever met in my entire life and I've met some of the most incredible vendor, you know, colleagues might like some of the most incredible people. Um, so this certainly is a generalized statement, but I, I think was it the vendors that made dealers as skeptical as they are or did the dealers come first? And obviously by virtue of that, vendors obviously saw the need to provide services to dealers. And was it like what happened that, that relationships in general kind of became this way where it's like always skeptical and always, 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 is not a, not a shiny one. Right? And so I think that we, um, we created an environment by um, taking advantage of others for a long time, sort of having a circus like mentality around a lot of it. Hence the guerrillas and whatever and 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 vendor ships from people who left automotive retail. Right? So even today as we take a look around. So I think it is a chicken and the egg and it's like, and so 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 manage inventory and by inventory. But like that, that whole Stevie, like the car mentality. And I think as we step away from that, that's still, there's a paul that still lingers in the air over this. And I think, um, I think it's for a couple of reasons, not just legacy. Um,...

I think there have been a lot of vendors that have sold products to dealers that had little or no value and then didn't stand up to it. They sold them a bill of goods. And um, if it was a car, we would have called it a lemon. Right? So this, and then it was up to the dealer to figure it out. And then the dealer felt stupid. There's no other word for it. They felt stupid. And when you feel stupid, you either get angry or embarrassed. And then either way the, the contract is canceled. And then here we go again. I find dealers to be incredibly willing to do all kinds of things to press forward, but they've also been let down an awful lot. But part of that is because no one's ever taken the steps or had the balls to say this is a bidirectional relationship. And if you're not ready to do your part, it would be like saying, take a great photo 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 great outcome, right? Like we wouldn't we wouldn't do that. But then we walk into these relationships, vendors have been so scared or felt so lucky to ring the bell and get a contract that they didn't do the real work. I think a lot of 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 they learn 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 because who in the heck are you like, they are busy, they have over 80. I talk about this on a lot of podcasts, like they have on average 80 plus vendors. So what would they talk to you? And so this is the work that I take vendors through. It's like adding value even if you're new, creating value before your first call to your dealers. So they want to talk to you. So, so we have to change the paradigm if we want to...

...change the paradigm. And so most vendors, their first conversations, even with coworkers is well, these dealers are really tough to get a hold of. So you've got to get there and you might have to hang around for hours. It's like who's why are they? I need to teach these people. They've got to stop having their internal teams teaching because they're putting negative thoughts, sorry, you muted. So we've got to quit letting them one drop of that poison in the pool. Now now we have now tainted their view of dealers, dealers on the other hand, are reticent to take a bunch of time. A vendor doesn't come and say here's what we're going to go over. I need 15 minutes 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 ill prepared and say, well just pull this up. Well the dealers embarrassed. They don't, they don't have that list of passwords ready to go if they had that report in front of them. So we've got to make it easy for both people to come to the table together. Right? So everything that I work on, help sort of those relationships from both sides to stabilize both then help them succeed and then help them sore and soaring is possible. And it's fun to think about that 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 this where it's just thrilling to be able to help people envision and live out their partnerships differently. Mm This is uh this is so powerful and you're right. I think it does cut deep and that means that it's the truth in my opinion. If it's something that cuts deep But but you're right, you're being very candid about a very real issue that exists in the industry. And one that I believe with you. I believe...

...there's a solution for its like any relationship I think about, you know, struggling um marriages in a very and now this is a very generalized statement. So I'm sensitive to that everybody is going through something different, especially if they're struggling in their relationship. But often times when I, you know, when I have a friend that's going through something, I find that they the communication just started breaking down, right? They stopped talking to each other. They stopped 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'm like bro, what are you going to stop talking about yourself? Because they don't they don't realize and I think that that's happened in the industry where it's like, well I have needs me, me, me my needs. I hired you to fulfill my needs. But this this like you said, I love how you put it this realizing that 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 and this is certainly not to, you know, stand on a soapbox, but I feel extremely blessed. Um, and, and I make it a point of knowing of letting my clients know as often as I possibly can, how much they've blessed my life and, and you know, and oftentimes that's reciprocated. But a lot of our relationship, I didn't realize I was doing this, um, until you've kind of frame worked it this way. But a lot of times, you know, not only have we decided not to do to partner in some instances because both of us felt it was the right thing to do. But in some instances where things started feeling a little bit shaky, we can reference back to our earlier conversations that say, hey, if we're actually doing this right, there will be times where you...

...will want to scream at me. But there will also be times that I want to scream at you. And if we can still just come together in those moments to find clarity and forward movement, then we've got something magical that's going to last, you know, stand the test of time and the word for this, there is one singular word here that this all boils down to and it's respect. So relationship is one thing like I can have a relationship with the person that delivers my mail? I say howdy? But when the relationship reaches the respect level, that's when your partners, when the relationship reaches the respect level, that's when you actually care about the outcomes, not just for yourself, but for the other, when the relationship reaches respect, you will listen more than talk, you will give the benefit of the doubt more than blame. So I anchor all of this to respect. 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 tell that one in advance because they don't realize how much discord there is in their verticals internally. Sure. Yeah. You know that's that's actually a very interesting thing to are are you having those tough conversations internally? Are you saying, hey, when a client makes a request, don't go there so needy. Like shift your mind if they aren't making this request, you're out of the job? I really like to do flip it from, I have to do this to I get to because they're actually giving me information that's telling me something that they need and that's a courtesy. It's actually it's all reframing the entire relationship, Michael. But right now there's so much still adversarial behaviour right now happening right now, all of the vendors are telling me the dealers don't want to spend money because there's no inventory? 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 they threw 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, scarcity that this is common. Here's why staying with us right now, it's going to help your visibility now, build your brand for the future, give you a competitive advantage. They're just all, you know, curling up and running the other way like, well nobody's spending anything. Well why would they, why would they and why would they with you? How have you built your value for this economic season that we're in that unlike I've been at this a long time. I've never seen anything like this. Whether you know, 34 afghan fifties and nothing else 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 is constantly telling your dealers to adapt and embrace this new age, guess what? Friends, your europe to bath, it's your turn like that. Food doesn't taste quite as good when you have to like show got on it a little bit and I say that with love towards everybody, but this is all they see what everyone's it's always putting so many are quick to say, well what dealers aren't doing? Well, what are you doing? Like back up? Why are you struggling with your dealers? Why aren't you coming up with faster messages? Why aren'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 I don't pretend to know all of the answers for them specifically, but I'm gonna find out what's happening and we're going to get to the root of it and we're gonna, we're gonna figure out where we need to start and we're gonna just move forward. Doesn't matter who or why. But now, now that we know and we have candor as a baseline, we can go...

...forward. Yeah. You know, it's also interesting to me, um, as a sidebar, how many people on social media are like, uh, you know, money does not drive me. And then we hit an economic crisis or a very rare circumstance, like, and those are all the same people that are like, oh my goodness, this guy's wallet. So I love what you're saying. It's like, hey, eat your own dog food for a minute. Uh, if you're not willing to embrace the suck for you? How in the world are you going to, how do 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 love how you say, well it all boils down to kind of the nucleus of this relationship, which is respect. Um, I love how you, you kind of drew all roads 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, I really, I try and reconcile this in my brain often and I know obviously it's good part of the answer I'm anticipating will require humility on the receivers, you know, the listeners part. But the question is for those that are already in 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've mentioned, I think is so brilliant. How do you recommend coming to the table to try and turn things around and kind of reset those expectations? Because I feel like so many people's egos 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 our industry, it's like you get that email...

...and it's like cancellation right, or or something like that. So how do you, how do you recommend coming to the table and maybe going into repair mode? So I think the same applies either way, but if you are the person providing the service that somebody else is paying for and you recognize it, um, you just got to get out there with utmost humility and just say, I think I've been leaving something on the table for you and I want to start here to help here a few things, like a few guidelines that I heard somewhere, Maybe they heard them from us on, on how to start because I want to share in your goals. I want to, I want to know your vision and I want to know your hurdles and I want to help however I can with the products that we have on the time, you know, the time that we have available, I want to make sure that I'm contributing massively and intentionally to your business who can say no to that? Like Michael, if I said that to you, hey, flex dealers Really, it's, it sounds awesome. Doesn't sound like we got off to a great, I don't think I put my best foot forward Michael, but I want to hit the reset button. I'd learned this little thing a little while ago and, and I'd love to, I'd love to start with you. Is there any way that, you know, you want me to take you to lunch and sort of hit the reset button? Hopefully, maybe this becomes a blueprint for how I help other clients who like when somebody comes to you offering to help in admitting their flaws almost possible. And if they do say no, I want to know that 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 a message that I think just needs to be heard widespread and internalized widespread in our industry let go of the ego who wrote the book, Ego is the enemy. I can't remember the author's name, but there's a book out, their ego is the enemy and you're right. Like just being able to, as a human being say, Hey, I think we, we started moving down a track here that that's not benefiting you and it's certainly not benefiting us. Can we, can we hit that reset button, what can I do for you?...

How can I, you know, how can I be a part of this? And I love how you said like how I want to share in your hurdles. How often do you actually hear that? I had a conversation with my team the 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. I know it can sound that way, but even if you listen to those that are perceived as aggressive, like the grant Cardone is of the world and stuff like that. If you really listen to what they're saying, They're still preaching that service is senior to selling, it's about removing obstacles as best as you can or mitigating the pain of the obstacle creating that solution to something so that it's easier for your customer or your client partner to be able to move toward the objective that they want. And that's, that's kind of the sense I get, as you say, I want to share in your hurdles, you know, help me show I want to shoulder the load with you. Yeah, hard. It, it would be, it would be really tough to get a no on that unless you totally got them at the wrong time. Um, and even then I would say I'd circle back let me, so I'm gonna let you marinate in that and I'm gonna circle back with you in a day or two 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 can do some great things together and that, that needs to be from the heart and not just lip service. And again, even with service, I go to this. Like if you're the, if you're the person buying, you actually need to you, oh, a service to the money that you're spending for the organization, you owe a service to that money 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 and why and what do we expect of them? Because we've got to change the expectations around our budgets and...

...who's handling those also. But it's just 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 is useful to, you know, to you and to your clients, Michael. Oh, absolutely. This has been tremendous. And I want to just turn it back to you one last time. How can 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 U R I E D Foster or just look up your L A U R A lorry on linkedin, it's probably going to jump up if you add automotive to it, my mobile. Um, everyone out there knows 2692170414. And it's legit, I will answer my phone even when there's family calls because a lot of people reach me when they're in a panic moment and I want to, I want to be accessible. Amazing. Laurie. Thanks so much for joining me on the dealer type of podcast. My pleasure. Thank you Michael. Yeah. Yeah. Mm, I'm Michel Cirillo and you've been listening to the dealer Playbook podcast. If you haven't yet, please click the subscribe button wherever you're listening. Right now. Leave a rating or review and share it with a colleague. Thanks for listening. Mhm.

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