With a savvy knowledge of data analytics and an uncanny ability to think like a consumer, John Hamlin is changing the way dealerships sell cars.
When Hamlin first came to Ormond Beach in 2004, he was looking for a beautiful location and a new start for his automotive direct mail business. When his first campaign in the area—a direct mail campaign for Bobby Thigpen and his Lloyd Buick Cadillac dealership—produced sales of more than 60 cars, Hamlin and Associates knew they were poised to help Florida dealerships sell more cars, create more jobs and, of course, make more money.
The concept of direct mail is not a new one. But Hamlin’s approach is targeted, fresh and, most importantly, effective.
Dealerships had been using direct mail to market cars for years. In the early 2000s, when Hamlin first came to Florida, the use of direct mail was rudimentary. Dealerships bought a list of prospects based on geography, came up with a creative concept and combined it with a grand prize, such as a cruise giveaway, mailed and prayed.
During this time, the measure of a successful campaign was selling a few cars and making a little bit of money from the mailing. Dealerships used only geography and sometimes age as identifying demographics. Though other consumer data was sparse, Hamlin knew as computers, data and education improved, there was an opportunity to build an extremely efficient marketing and direct mail model. He knew he could take an average dealership weekend and make it off-the-charts successful. And he was right.
“If you want people to come to your dealership give them free hotdogs and beer,” he often tells dealerships. “If you want people to buy cars at your dealership, use my direct mail.”
The first step in Hamlin’s approach is to study the dealership’s current plan—if they have one. Many car dealers use what Hamlin calls the “911 plan.”
“They call up and say they are having a bad month and need a direct mail campaign now,” he said. “But to get results you must know the business. What are the key motivators for the dealership and where is the consumer in the buying cycle? Then, figure out where they overlap without over-saturating the market. This takes data. And today if your company isn’t using demographic data, propensity data and growth data you will be left behind.”
The other important piece to the puzzle, Hamlin said, is having someone in the organization who can “take your sales flow vision and access and crunch the data to deliver something actionable. The workforce for the future not only has to do the work, but also explain it to the buyer.”
In Hamlin’s current business, he has four data and analytics staff members who are constantly loading, using and activating data for their car dealership clients. Every one of them, he said, can sell his product to any level car executive. His staff is able to put together amazing insights into what kind of cars a consumer has owned, how often and where they get their cars serviced, when their lease or payments end and more. All these factors are pulled out of proprietary software, which will coordinate the customized printing of direct mail offers to hit the right consumer at the right time.
“When you look at today’s business, whether you are selling cars, clothes, shoes, hard goods or investments, data will enhance your return on investment if you have clean data, an employee or employees assigned to managing the data and a customer management tool,” Hamlin said. “Without those pieces, you really are handicapping yourself and your potential.”
Throughout his career, Hamlin has seen the return on investment for his clients’ campaigns reach the 3,800 percent mark.
As we look to the future Hamlin sees the need for data-minded people to grow. He has a formula for knowing what to look for in someone who can take his sales ideas and put them into action using data.
He looks for the ability to present, he said.
“Everyone I hire has to have the ability to ask the questions to solve the clients’ biggest challenges,” he said. “You may not think that would be the biggest attribute, but I believe salesmanship combined with IT training and savvy is the key. The young workforce and workforce of the future must have all the soft skills of writing, listening and presenting, as well as the technical expertise to work with machines and data.”
Gone are the days of just talking the talk, Hamlin said. Now you have to do both. Hamlin’s advises young people to make sure they are well rounded.
“Focus on an incredible work ethic; focus on your interpersonal skills and finally focus on how you can work with technology to be the whole package for your future employer.”