The “7 Habits” of a Strong Internet Sales Process
Why our Internet Sales Process matters more now than it ever has, and the seven key points we must execute to be successful.
By: Henry Staniecki
Advanced customer-attracting tactics like SEO and Social Media Marketing are a big focus in the retail automotive industry right now. A great many tools are being developed by every vendor imaginable to take advantage of the latest marketing verticals, either to plug into their existing platforms and suites, or as stand-alone applications from dotcoms who claim to be “experts” in a single field of exposure.
While these applications are very successful at moving the marketing bar forward, and the products themselves are sold aggressively, they will all have their pros and cons once they meet your market and dealership.
However, despite having all of this glitz and wizardry around us, as a business, every dealership must remember its roots. It is crucial for the people that will drive any successes or failures in the store to be bought in and involved with understanding why each new vertical is important to business growth and survival. Yes, virtually everyone at the dealership needs to be involved and has a role to play.
Remember that any house, even your dealership, must be built from a strong foundation. The same can be said for the dealership’s marketing strategy. As the arsenal of tools grows and the complexities increase, we could also be on our way to becoming more wasteful of funds, time and resources if our business processes are not already nailed down.
We should not be investing more marketing dollars unless the store’s customer funnel is proving to convert prospects into deals.
In this two-part blog series are seven major things every Internet sales process should accomplish to become effective. By executing these points consistently and with an emphasis on customer service and the dealership’s brand identity, we will maximize our close rates on internet leads.
1. Ultra-Quick Response Time (Under 15 Minutes During Operating Hours)
Less than five years ago, when most people lived on laptops and desktops, responding to a web lead within an hour may have been appropriate. We dealers assumed that with customers being busy, or preoccupied at the office, the employees on our team could review the request and craft a professional response in that amount of time.
This concept has further been beaten into the industry by the OEM’s when they got on the internet lead bandwagon. But in the last few years, the margin call on response times has become infinitely shorter. More than an hour to respond is horrific. One hour is unacceptable, even if it remains a measurement at OEM standards. The reality is that to engage a buyer’s attention, your information has to get to them as quickly as the thought to submit a lead passed through the customer’s mind. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you get on average.
No one has yet to tell a dealer that they have to have an internet sales rep on hand for twenty-four-hour coverage, to snap off a message or phone call to the 3AM night owl who was surfing your latest deals. (But that may come…)
This is the age of immediacy, of instant consumer gratification, and with customers so buried in texts, Tweets, e-mails and more, an average customer may forget you as quickly as they might have thought of you. Response time and quality continues to be one of the largest differentiators of dealership success. Your response needs to be within minutes. If your store cannot do this consistently something is wrong.
Now, some of you may still be thinking, “What about auto-responders?” The automatic response can’t hold a candle to the first personal contact between your representative and the prospective buyer. An auto-responder may buy you a few minutes to put together a quality e-mail or place an initial call, but it won’t buy you lots of time. Many OEM’s don’t even consider the presence of an auto-responder part of their mystery shop protocol.
Do not benchmark against average response times. Instead let’s measure what percent of the time the dealership responded within 15 minutes, and break the working day into shifts or day parts to insure there’s enough of the right coverage to do the job.
Face it, if you don’t respond quickly the chances of closing the deal drops dramatically.
2. Transparency in Price, Availability and Trade
Customers can obtain whatever information they want either online or through conventional means like opening up a dialogue with the dealership. If they don’t get what they want from you they will get it elsewhere. By not serving the customer’s need, you put your chances of a showroom visit at a serious disadvantage. Be prepared to ask questions to qualify the customer and their needs, and be prepared to answer their questions honestly.
If the customer asks for a price give them a price, emphasizing that quotes aren’t deals without a commitment to test drive the car and meet with an authorized manager of the dealership. Address a desired vehicle that isn’t in stock with tact and finesse. And position the dealership as the expert in re-sales, so your place is the best to get a fair appraisal offer. Know your fee structure, tax rates, and so on, as well as your legal disclaimers; and make sure the information you share abides by them.
Try to always know what your local competitors are doing, including pricing on comparable vehicles and their ad gimmicks. Use the tools you have at your disposal. Don’t ever avoid a question.
You should also mystery shop routinely to find out which among of your competitors is beating you at the customer service game. Don’t let that happen. Be transparent, be engaging, be a place they want to do business, answer their questions and give them a reason to come see you.
3. Provide Multiple Options
When customers go online they regularly add features or submit requests on vehicles out of their price range (perhaps hoping to negotiate it into their price range). They are curious, they are hopeful, and they are human. Trying for something better than current reality is just a part of what we do.
As a sales organization, once you realize they are unlikely to buy the vehicle they submitted the lead on you realize the importance of providing viable alternatives to them. This will help to engage the customer, draw out needs versus wants, as they explore their options and come to the reality of what the best car for them really is.
(Source: 2007 J. D. Power and Associates car buying study)
Again, customers frequently DO NOT buy the product they submitted a lead on. Many even switch brands or bounce from new to used and vice versa. Clearly the MYTH that internet customers always know exactly what they want is FALSE. You need to sell your product. The best way to do this is by providing links to product reviews, and a combination of questions and alternative vehicles.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this article!
Henry Staniecki brings over two decades of administrative and senior level retail automotive sales management experience to his role as National Sales and Training Director at Don Graff Automotive Consulting. Contact Henry Staniecki or any member of the Don Graff Automotive team at 866-980-0202 or on the web at http://tinyURL.com/TryDGA/
With contributions and editing by the Don Graff Automotive team
From the Editor: Continue to Part 2 of this article.