Westlake doubles down on dealer strategy

Mark Vazquez, SVP Sales and Marketing, Westlake Financial Services

Dealers have stopped telling Westlake Financial Services to increase sales rep visits thanks to a move pushing face time and call frequency.

The common dealer refrain of “we’re not hearing from you enough” prompted Westlake to overhaul its dealer strategy. Those efforts have paid off, said Westlake Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mark Vazquez.

“It’s gotten to the point where there are dealerships who say, ‘I hear from you too much, please, stop calling,’” Vazquez said. “I’d rather have that than have
a dealership say, ‘I wish I heard from you more’ — that’s just bad.”

The increased face time has resulted in higher loan volume for the Los Angeles-based lender. “Because of that, we’ve definitely seen our numbers grow,” Vazquez said. “We continue to grow at 15% to 20% every single year in units and in dollars.”

Auto Finance Excellence spoke with Vazquez about Westlake’s plans to tackle industry challenges and how automation has helped the full-spectrum lender enhance its value proposition to dealerships. What follows is an edited version of Vazquez’s conversation with AFE.

Auto Finance Excellence: How do you apply the lessons you’ve learned from your 25 years in the industry?

Mark Vazquez: There’s one thing that has never changed since I started in the industry working at a car dealership with my father: Interest rates are never low enough, fees are never low enough, advances are never high enough, and getting money is never fast enough. [The lesson is] understanding that we’re never going to be able to make all dealerships fully happy when it comes to pricing.

But what I learned in the dealership and in auto finance is that dealerships are always looking for quick, easy, straightforward  solutions. They just want things to be simple. They want to know whether they can count on something.

So those are the questions at Westlake: How do we streamline things? How do we give dealerships the information and tools they need to make decisions and know where they stand with us? That’s what we apply to all the things we do that are dealer-facing.

Understanding that is a lot more important than trying to figure out how we can offer the lowest rates, lowest fees, or highest advances than other lenders out there.

AFE: What are the top challenges on your radar?

MV: It’s amazing that as technology advances and you provide solutions, not enough dealerships take advantage of them.

We’re spending a lot of time trying to increase our dealer engagement through automation and technological tools. One example of that is our rehash tool, which allows dealers to rehash deals in live time and get decisions as fast as they plug in the data — not just one [decision] but multiple. It’s amazing how many dealerships don’t take advantage of that.

Another thing we’re spending a lot of time on is getting dealerships to e-contract. The industry is a lot more accepting of it, but I’m still shocked at how many dealerships aren’t e-contracting. We know the benefits: less issues when it comes to managing contracts, less paperwork, things are more streamlined and quicker. But many dealerships still aren’t taking advantage of e-contracting, so we’re spending a lot of time communicating those solutions to the dealerships.

Giving them these tools that they can take advantage of is something that we continually push, but it’s difficult because dealerships don’t like change, even when it’s a benefit to them. We’re allocating a lot of time and resources for our sales reps to walk dealerships through [the technology] and follow up with them to make sure they’re taking advantage of the solutions.

AFE: How have the increased face time and calls impacted dealer relationships?

MV: When we do field visits and have surprise ride-alongs with sales reps and surprise visits to our non-performing dealerships — meaning the ones that aren’t producing with us — a common theme we hear, and I’m sure this is very common with a lot of lenders out there, is, ‘If we had known about this, we would be using it,’ or ‘I’ve been waiting for one of you to stop by or give us a call.’ Hearing that over and over again from dealerships that weren’t as engaged as we wanted them to be, we realized we had to change this.

The constant follow-up, just the sales 101 on your prospects and accounts, will eventually lead one day for them to be engaged. Once they’re engaged, the art is to keep them engaged. We’ve seen the opportunity in the market, and we’ve become a lot more consistent with our sales approach, proposition and value.

AFE: Westlake’s capture rates typically increase after 5 p.m., regardless of price. How are you using that intel to drive marketing strategies?

MV: That data reinforces our value proposition to the dealership that they should be using us for every application through our automated buy program and the rehash tool. The reason these capture rates are higher in off-business hours is because we’re there through technology when there’s typically less sales reps communicating with the stores. We empower dealerships through our
technology to take control of the process Once you [enable them to] do what’s needed with ease, pricing becomes secondary almost. That’s what technology and automation does.

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