A couple of weeks ago my wife had a minor car accident last week that resulted in a totaled car and the need to replace her vehicle. Since we've been married (almost a year), the biggest financial decision we've had to make is planning a weekend getaway, so this was new territory. Here's how that experience went down: The Shady Lot

Because I don't like to put down businesses (unless I'm really pissed), I'll leave out the name of this car lot. Anyway, the salesman who approached us at this lot kept recommending us test drive car after car, with no regard to our budget or needs. When one of the cars would not start (bad sign), he was almost put out at us for telling him about it and losing interest in the vehicle. He handed us his business card and never asked us how we liked the cars we drove or offered to tell us the car history. The other sales guys in the lots seemed to be more interested in smoking their cigarettes and putting down past customers than being helpful. The experience was less than ideal and our sales guy - who was also the Internet Marketing Manager - didn't want to talk about the online-only specials on cars nor did he try and do any follow up. Discouraged, we left looking for greener pastures.

Jim Ellis's Lot

We rode down the road a bit and rode into Jim Ellis's car lot. Most of the cars up front appeared to be out of our budget but I didn't think it hurt to look around a bit. The sales guy (Charles) was on us as soon as we got out of the car. My thought was "great, we're getting ambushed" and wanted to be able to look without being stalked. However, when Charles asked what we needed and what we were looking for specifically, he took us right towards the section of cars that fit exactly what we needed. We weren't high rolling customers but we definitely didn't feel that way. We weren't pushed to spend a lot more and were even shown the detailed history of the car we bought. After the positive experience with the guy who genuinely tried to help us, we bought a car that day.

Following up, the sales manager handed me a card. The card listed major car dealer review sites on it along with Charles's name written out. He asked that if we did have a positive experience, that we would go online and write about our day buying a car from them. Smart.

Why was car dealer #2 smart in marketing?

  • They didn't try to get us something we didn't need
  • Were transparent with the ups and downs of the car's history
  • Recognized the power of social by asking us to follow up on a review site with a tangible leave-behind

I think the mistake a lot of small businesses make is that they want positive reviews but never specifically ask their customers to leave them. They just hope it kind of happens. In addition, we weren't asked to Like them on Facebook or follow their Twitter stream. The dealer's CTA for us was to follow up on review sites...where most of their online referrals are done. Am I more likely to remember to drop a positive review? With a tangible reminder, I absolutely remembered to.

Sure we weren't their most valuable customers at all from a profit scenario. However, they knew we were a young couple and that we would need car help in the future more than likely. Taking the time to invest in our needs increased the probability of us returning to them in the future.

The best marketing starts with the in-person experience and doesn't have to be complicated. It's why brands like Southwest and Chick-fil-A (client) have such revered brands...the IRL experience is great. In addition, they know where their customers hang out online and engage accordingly.

What about you? Where have you seen small businesses perform small, yet very smart marketing touch points?

You can read my wife's side of the story here.