From the Trenches – The Hybrid Internet

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the death of the Internet Department and the birth of the digital dealer. I certainly agree with this in principle as the Internet and digital technology have essentially become part and parcel to most retail industries. However in car dealerships, at least, there are issues that can’t be glossed over or treated lightly. These are issues of implementation.

In a recent conversation with a dealer who expressed dissatisfaction with the organization of his Internet strategy, I mentioned a system of integration that I originally put in place in 2004. A light bulb seemed to go off in his head. As I began to explain the benefits of my system, he said repeatedly, “I get it, I get it, and I like it!”

This made me think that perhaps others would find this information useful. And so this article originated. And though each dealership has different characteristics, staff abilities or buy-in, and competitive market, I believe with modifications, this strategy can work in most individual dealerships.

Before 2004, I was Internet Manager in the traditional sense, responsible for all aspects of the experience from the technical to selling cars from start to finish. I had assistance (my Assistant Manager alone has been with me 10 years) but as Internet sales grew, we had to decide whether to continue that path and continue to grow the size of our Internet Department or go a different route.

I was convinced that in the future, all sales staff would be Internet salespeople. In that statement lay the path to erasing the line between the Internet Department and the sales floor. Here is the system, the benefits, and the pitfalls that must be overcome.

Strategy:

Have people who will answer incoming leads in a timely, professional manner “in the name of” people on your sales staff with their photo and signature. The leads will then be given to the salespeople who will immediately begin follow-up starting with the phone, but also incorporating texting, email, and whatever other means of communication the dealership utilizes.

Organization:

  • There must be a certain person or number of people to handle digital sales “management” and marketing (website, Social Media, lead sources, SEO/SEM, customer reviews, etc. This is the person or people with knowledge and experience who are capable of planning and implementing strategy.
  • There also must be people to answer incoming leads. I utilize my Assistant Manager and BDC people who also have other duties but are trainable to properly answer a lead and are ALWAYS in front of their computer.
  • Sales Professionals who have been trained to understand pricing strategy and how to deal with knowledgeable Internet consumers.



Benefits:

  • Timeliness of response – a good response time is approximately 15 minutes 24/7
  • Quality of response
  • Price control - formulas for initial quotes are strictly enforced
  • Professionalsim is always maintained
  • Continuity - customer feel like they are working with one person throughout the sales process
  • Eliminates conflict and resentment between floor staff and Internet staff
  • Promotes teamwork
  • Gets the whole dealership involved in reaching goals

Requirements and Pitfalls:

  • Training for your staff – BDC, sales staff, floor managers, etc. – Crucial!
  • Commitment - the transition doesn't happen overnight, it takes patience and persistence
  • Good user-friendly CRM, sales processes, templates, pricing strategy and follow-up system
  • Communication and buy-in – sales staff are traditionally geared toward the sales experience or performance. They must see the value in work that may seem tedious and under-whelming to get customers “in the door.”
  • Hiring must incorporate different or broader skill requirements for future sales staff. Computer literacy is a must.
  • Valued older staff that produce but cannot adapt must be dealt with either by acceptance of their limitations or replacement. We chose attrition.
  • A good, reasonable T.O. policy - you may wish to T.O. non-responsive Internet customers to your BDC (Customer Care) for a fresh approach after 2 weeks



This is just a broad outline of “one way” to achieve digital dealer integration. It obviously may not be for everyone. But if you are agonizing over this question, you may wish to consider this. I welcome your questions or comments.

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