OEM's new dealer program evaluates quality, not quantity
Vehicle manufacturers have been talking a lot lately about the importance of creating increased training opportunities for dealers. Not only can those training opportunities enable service personnel to become more technically proficient with new models, they also can teach sales staff and even management how to become more successful and, ultimately, how to best exemplify a brand's image.
The "correct" way to represent a brand — it's the eternal struggle between a vehicle manufacturer and its dealer network.
At Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, the company's Pro Yamaha program induces dealers to adhere to what the OEM considers key points for representing its brand. Dealers are asked to take online training courses and carry out certain real-world activities pertaining to five categories: 1) customer satisfaction, 2) lifestyle marketing, 3) a knowledgeable staff, 4) service excellence and 5) brand representation. Dealers then receive points for benchmarks achieved within each category. A dealer attaining a prescribed number of points obtains a Pro Yamaha designation and related benefits.
Yamaha officials say they introduced the program as a way to help dealers become "better, more profitable, more customer-satisfying."
"The five categories were created based on a significant amount of information we gathered over quite a bit of time from customers, telling us what's important to them and their dealership, and how we can best meet their needs," says Joe Dagley, division manager of dealer training at Yamaha. "In today's economy we're not seeing huge growth of new customers coming into the market. The economy is running a little flat, so we have to get our dealers to understand that to grow our business we have to do a good job with our customers and make sure that the community says, 'That Yamaha dealership is the place to buy.'"
Each of the five categories is defined by line items (see sidebar). Each line item carries a prescribed number of points. Together, they add up to 500 points. Dealers who reach 385 points become a Pro Yamaha Candidate; those who reach 420 points are considered Pro Yamaha and receive even greater benefits.
Yamaha dealers keep informed of how their business ranks by accessing an online software program.
"There's a special section of the Yamaha Dealer System [YDS] that's called the Pro Yamaha Dashboard, and it has all of the requirements based upon those five categories and gives dealers live, up-to-the-minute updates," says Dave Park, national dealer development manager. "So if they need to take a certain online class, they'll know that immediately, or if they haven't yet held a consumer event, they'll know that. So it's YDS that really helps them understand what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by."
Yamaha has training modules to help employees with customer satisfaction, sales, sales management, service management, service advising, parts-and-accessories management, retail finance — one "for every profit center in a dealership," Dagley says. "The dealer can then assign his staff certain training modules, and we can track them to realize which students are involved and completing the training, which student did what, all across the country."
There are multiple benefits. If a dealer does all the things it's asked to do for Pro Yamaha, its customer satisfaction, customer retention, and profitability scores will go up, Dagley explains.
"In addition to that, some of the benefits we offer include what is called a Marketing Fund — a fund where we help pay for things they are spending their money on anyway but can't co-op," Dagley continues. This would include, for example, facility improvements, uniform shirts for their employees, literature, reimbursement for training expenses, and reimbursement for travel to dealer shows.
"We're giving them additional parts and accessories options above and beyond what dealers already get, we're giving them a rebate off of Yamaha Extended Service contracts that they sell, we're allowing them to co-op a unit for giveaway. And because they have taken all of these classes and have the trained technicians, we're allowing them to do self-authorized warranty work up from $750 to $1,500," Dagley says.
Yamaha announced the Pro Yamaha program at its dealer meeting in June 2007, but only launched the program on Jan. 1.
There are two program periods — the first ends June 30; the second ends Dec. 31. So right now, dealers still are qualifying for Period One. Dealers who decided not to participate in Period One, or those hoping for another chance at obtaining the prerequisite number of points, may work toward Pro Yamaha status in the second half of the year (Period Two).
Additional deadlines must be met within each period. "We had one batch of requirement deadlines on Feb. 15, another on March 31, and we'll have a final on June 30," Park says. "Then, after June 30, we'll make the determinations as to who achieved Pro Yamaha status in Period One."
Jill Hobbs, division manager of customer satisfaction, has spearheaded the measurement of customer satisfaction to better understand consumer desires and shape the Pro Yamaha program.
"You can analyze business all day long, but what is critical is taking the feedback supplied by customers and doing something with it," Hobbs says. "Especially in today's economy, it is critical we work with our dealers as their business partner and meet the needs of the customers."