By on October 6, 2010

It was actually a “Dear John” letter! No surprise, since that’s my proper name, and that’s how I registered my SRT-4 six and a half long years ago.

Dear John,

My name is (blah blah), manager of (blah blah) Chrysler Jeep Dodge and I am contacting you today to inform you of a special offer available designed just for you. Over the last couple of weeks we have had several customers inquire about purchasing a reliable pre-owned Dodge Neon…

It is not an exaggeration to say that I laughed for a full thirty seconds.

Most TTAC readers have received “personalized” letters like this, but where do they come from, and does anybody believe in them? The answer to the first question is a “dealership service company”. If new and used car dealerships are the sharks of the auto sales business, the “service companies” are the remoras which cling to their backs. Some of them fix cigarette burns, others repair curbed wheels, and still others conduct marketing campaigns.

As you have no doubt surmised, these service companies create bulk-mail campaigns, using publicly-available registration records, and sell them to dealers. What’s the cost? Between fifty cents and a dollar per mark, I mean, potential customer. Given that a local radio spot can cost ten grand for a week, and a quarter-page ad in the “Wheels” section can run as much as half that, reaching out to a “targeted group” of potential customers can seem like a bargain. If just one in a hundred of them comes in, it was money well spent.

Not that these campaigns are anything like one-in-a-hundred successful. Over the course of a few years working at various dealers who used direct-mail service companies, I saw one “up” who came in with a letter in hand. He was tragically upside-down in a leased 7-Series Bimmer and he left feeling actively misled by the letter, which more or less led him to believe that, upon arrival at our facility, he would be physically ripped out of the BMW’s cracked-leather seat by a mob of well-heeled people just dying to pay more than top dollar for a car nobody else would touch.

It’s easy to summarize the problems with these direct-mail come-ons: they are usually outdated, (I sold that SRT-4 in early 2006, after a thief trashed the interior and an utterly reprehensible State-Farm-approved bodyshop put 550 miles on the car, burned a quart of oil out of it, swirled the finish, and drove it so hard two vacuum lines came off the turbo piping) they make promises the dealerships can’t keep, and they serve as yet another brick in the wall keeping most customers from understanding the best way to purchase an automobile.

Worst of all, they are actively lazy. Most dealerships have complete customer records which would allow them to reach out to their previous customers themselves and enjoy a much higher success rate. It’s even possible for individual salespeople to employ such an approach, using their own “book” of customers acquired over the years. In fact, I know a fellow who did just that in 1994. He printed and mailed a letter to over six hundred customers at his own expense. Unfortunately, he happened to leave WordPerfect open at his desktop on a day when I was feeling particularly bored… but that, as always, is another story.

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33 Comments on “We Have Had Several Customers Inquire About Purchasing A Reliable Pre-Owned Dodge Neon...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Unfortunately, he happened to leave WordPerfect open at his desktop on a day when I was feeling particularly bored… but that, as always, is another story.
    Is remorse a word that’s in your vocabulary, Baruth?
    Back to the story, my the dealer here in town who sold me my F150 (used) will send me a letter every March (which is the month in which I purchased my truck) that says: “We’re sure you have been enjoying your truck for the past __ years and are hoping you’ll consider us for your next vehicle purchase.”  I don’t mind cause they’re a good group of guys who I actually know personally (had the dealership owner’s grandson as a student, the family is very involved in the education of their children.)
    Now the constant letters I get from the local Chevy/Cadillac/Toyota dealer (yeah there’s a combo) that tell me what a great sale they’re having and how I’ve been pre-approved for $25,000 in financing, those are very helpful in lighting my fireplace.

  • avatar

    The only new-from-dealer car ever purchased in my household was a Saturn, so we never get any junk mail anymore. Thankfully.

  • avatar

    I still get mail from automakers and dealers for cars I haven’t owned in years. I don’t get worked up about junk mails. It goes right into the recycling.

    From the dealership side, these mailers are a good way to draw traffic. We can’t help most of these people, but we can flip enough people out of their trades to make the bulk mailing worthwhile.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    “As you have no doubt surmised, these service companies create bulk-mail campaigns, using publicly-available registration records, and sell them to dealers.”

    Drivers Privacy Protection Act
    18 U.S.C. § 2721 et. seq.
    (Public Law 103-322)

    (a) In General — Except as provided in subsection (b), a State department of motor vehicles, and any officer, employee, or contractor, thereof, shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available to any person or entity personal information about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record.

    Jack, dealers and their agencies have not been allowed into DMV files for years.

    • 0 avatar

      Although the data may not be available from government sources, it is readily available. Every time you provide any data about yourself to any private company, you should assume that it will be sold to a data aggregator, entered into a database and re-sold repeatedly.

      Laws against disclosure of government data really don’t have much effect on the collection, storage and dissemination of personal data simply because the same information is available from private sources. Every time you buy a car, in addition to the DMV, the dealer, an insurance company and usually a finance company know exactly what make, model and year of car you own. As soon as your car (and your name, address and TN of course) is entered into any dealer’s computerized service system, that data is accessible by any other dealer and the manufacturer itself.

      Personal data has value, yet we give it away for free to companies that use it themselves or sell it to other companies, then they drive us nuts with phoned, mailed and e-mailed offers. We are willing yet unwitting participants in our own annoyance. Its especially galling to get those “targeted” letters offering to buy a car that I sold years ago, but that just re-enforces that once the data is out there, it stays put, right or wrong.

  • avatar

    I get a Christmas card from the Toyota salesman I dealt with.

    • 0 avatar

      In the car business (and in any sales business) the goal is to earn referral and repeat business. Keeping your name in front of previous customers is the best way to do it. I send “holiday” cards to all of my customers at my own expense every year. It doesn’t cost that much, and if I can get a few extra sales out of it, it’s worth it. My real estate agent still sends me stuff several times a year and I haven’t bought a house in 5 years. But the next time I do, her name will come to mind first. It works.

  • avatar

    I keep getting letters from the dealership where I bought my 2006 Tacoma from saying how in demand my used truck is and how surprised I would be at the high trade in price I’d get for it . Of course I know the dealers make much more profit on a used car so they’re wasting their time on me trying to get me to trade in my Tacoma with 27K on it so far – Toyota doesn’t make anything I’d want to own right now anyway . Then there was the other Toyota dealer offering me $1500 on a trade in of my 94 Paseo back in 2002 . I laughed out loud in his face and sold it on my own for 5K which is less than they would’ve asked for it . Some dealers treat all customers like they’re gullible 17 year olds looking to get ripped off on their first car purchase . Sometimes it’s annoying , sometimes it’s funny , but it’s strike one against them ever selling anything to me and most people probably feel the same way .

    • 0 avatar

      Overcharging the “suckers” allows the dealers to whore out cars for $0 profit on a cash deal to smart consumers like yourself.

    • 0 avatar

      Dealer offer: $1500 (1986 Accord about 11 years ago)
      We sold it for $3500. Easily.
      Made a mental note to never go back to that dealer. They ran our credit without our permission too. Found out when we bought a house. Was going after them but they were already out of business. Scum.

  • avatar

    Jack you are correct that, with modern CRM (Customer Response Management) systems, dealers can reach out to their customer base without the help of outside companies.  However even the best CRM systems lose effectiveness over time, if the customer records are not properly maintained.  My old employer (a BMW dealer) routinely sends me service offers for two cars I no longer own.  One car was traded on the other, a lease vehicle that was turned in at the end of the term.  I also receive service offers for the 95 Grand Cherokee that I bought from the used car department.  I must say that, though I think the guys in the service department are some of the best around, my 15 year old Jeep does not require their expertise nor their labor rate.
    The sales department sends fewer superfluous letters, as their CRM system has been updated to reflect the fact that one car was traded in and re-sold, and the other has been turned in.  I now get more generic e-mails informing me of sales etc.  Sadly, with lower commissions and changing management philosophies (with regard to training and nurturing sales people) most of the letters sent out by the sales department are “greetings” from the new sales person, informing them that their old sales person has moved on.

    • 0 avatar

      However even the best CRM systems lose effectiveness over time, if the customer records are not properly maintained

      Welcome to the Golden Rule of CRM: All systems will eventually degrade to a position of equal uselessness.

      I’ve seen CRM work well once, and that was because sales rep compensation was tied to use of the CRM system.  Don’t use the system and keep your records up to date?  Kiss 30% of your commission goodbye.

  • avatar

    While most junk mail goes directly into the shredder I keep next to the mailbox at my house..   …I do love getting junk-mail with prepaid return envelopes.  I can stuff OTHER junk mail into those and mail it back (removing any personally identifiable data, of course).  “Sorry I am not interested in your offer, but here are a few that you may perhaps be interested in.”

  • avatar

    How coincidental.  I’m looking for a reliable used Dodge Neon.  Well, maybe not reliable since that and Neon are oxymorons…..

  • avatar

    I get those “special offer” letter things fairly often from a local Ford dealer. There’s usually a fake key taped to it so I can go to the dealer and find out what I won or something. (I don’t pay attention to it.) The part I do pay attention to is the fact that the key is made out of plastic and metal and it pisses me off that there’s no way to recycle it through my city’s collection system. So the Ford dealer is screwing themselves even more every time they send one to me.

    If I ever were to buy a Ford, it would be from a dealer that doesn’t send me unsolicited mail.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh the key mailers. Hilarious and sad at the same time. We did that once with our prior manager. Dozens of hopeful “customers” coming in with those thin metal keys – have these people never seen a real car key before?? – thinking they won the car in the showroom. Of course they didn’t, and most weren’t interested and/or able to actually buy a car. As salesmen, we hated this type of mailer. Pure waste of everyone’s time.

      To make the promo legit, the marketing company that does these has to mail out the real key to someone, it just won’t be to anyone within the regular mailing radius. So if you get one of these from an out of state dealer and it has a real key on it, be sure to make the drive to that dealer. They will piss themselves when you show up.

  • avatar

    I don’t think they use DMV records either.  I receive these same kind of notices on two of my cars (’97 Civic and ’01 Lesabre) from dealers where I have either had service work done or have purchased parts from, and they have my name & address in their system.  I don’t doubt for a second that the dealers forward this information to the direct-mail companies who actually take care of all of the details of the promotion.

    I laugh as well when I get these and promptly recycle them.  My Buick dealer did give me two free movie passes (no restrictions and no expiration date, cool) for showing up in person, so their mailing at least got me into the dealership where I killed an hour looking over the new offerings.  Crap, over $30K for every darn vehicle in the place (which was dead as a morgue BTW) – no wonder nobody buys Buicks any more!  When I informed them that my Lesabre was an airbag deployment total that I bought and repaired myself for around $2K total investment, they were impressed, and correctly guessed that I was an engineer . . . sheesh, is it written on my forehead?

  • avatar

    I received a personalized letter from a dodge dealer.
    We know time are tough and you really want a new car blahblahblah
    Come into our show room and see the new Saturns on display
    also filled with a bunch of other grammar errors.  I corrected the poorly developed sales letter and sent it to the dealers GM :)  Never did hear back from them again.

  • avatar

    For maximum effect return pre-paid envelopes with as much filler as possible and heavy materials such as free refrigerator magnets of the type used for advertising pizza joints etc.
    Up the envelope weight so that the post office adds additional postage costs for the recipient.

  • avatar

    I have received realistic fake keys on the mailers and these make for great practical jokes by placing a key on a coworkers desk and saying that someone lost it etc…

  • avatar

    I get the letters from the Toyota dealer where I bought my Scion all the time. They usually claim that there is a dire need for vehicles like mine in good condition and that they’ll pay 110% of book value.

    The local Nissan dealer usually sends the letters with the key taped inside for me to come see if I won a car or a trip or who knows what.

    I assume they get enough return to justify it and I recycle the junk with all the refinance bait I get from the banks and the fear mail from various insurance companies I’ve never heard of asking me to “sign here” and make sure my house/car/loved ones are protected for this low low rate…etc.
    Car dealer junk mail is really just a very small drop in the bucket and I don’t begrudge them for their efforts.

  • avatar

    Funny, although my name is pretty easy to spell (see above) I still get email with my name misspelled.  Most recently, I had a credit card offer for ‘Nevardo’.  (You can see how easy it is to get from ‘Nick’ to ‘Nevardo’.)  It is very tempting to accept, go on a spending spree, and then simply say ‘Nevardo who?’.

  • avatar

    So will Chrysler never sell a Neon type of car again? Seems like an important part of the product lineup to ignore.

  • avatar

    I got one of these once, for my 18 YO 1992 Ford Ranger truck once, I mean, for crying out loud, who’d be desperately wanting to buy a well used 18 YO truck with over 200K miles on the clock from a dealer?
    From a private transaction for $1500, yes, but not at a new dealer tho.
    It went in the recycle bin. :-)

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