As an industry, we have pretty much perfected the process of following up on Internet leads, but we are far from perfect when it comes to handling inbound phone leads. According to CallSource and IHS/Polk research, 84 percent of consumers purchase vehicles from a different dealership than the one they originally called.


The good news is, there’s a huge opportunity to improve. Consumers are using cell phones more than ever for research during the car-buying process. In recent years, this has led to a significant increase in the volume of inbound calls to dealerships, compared with the number of email and Internet leads which have stayed the same or even declined.


When a customer calls your dealership, most times you’ve got one shot to get it right. Which is why converting inbound calls to sales opportunities should be your number one priority. To ensure you don’t drive customers away, follow these tips.


Answer the phone


This may sound obvious but don’t expect your sales team to answer all inbound sales calls. According to Marchex, nearly 20 percent of incoming calls fail to connect the caller with someone at the dealership.


Auto attendant options, call routing errors and voice mail compound this problem. It’s not enough to measure whether a call is answered; you need to measure how many callers are connected to a live person who can help them.


Designate a receptionist or BDC agents to answer calls. Or, you can have salespeople dedicated to this task during certain timeframes. Just be sure during that time they are focused on the phone and not drawn away by other tasks.


Also, try attaching a spiff to an existing bonus as a qualifier. I don’t recommend paying people extra to do the job they’re supposed to do. But pay plans need to be tied to a number of goals such as CRM logging consistency, number of survey completions, average call length, etc.


Collect and give information


Numerous studies have documented how poorly most customer inquiries are handled. Less than five percent of salespeople identify themselves by name and/or ask for an appointment, and dealers gather viable information on only 11 percent of callers.


Our BDC data shows that when asked, 97 percent of callers will give information about themselves or their experience over the phone. At a minimum get their name, email address and phone number—preferably two phone numbers. From making over 60 million calls a year, we know that it takes an average of four attempts to get a customer on the phone. With one phone number, there is a 67 percent contact ratio, and with two phone numbers that rises to an 80 percent contact ratio.


People like to feel important, so let your callers talk and remember what they say. Always enter notes about the type of car they’re looking for and what the follow-up action is because there should always be a follow-up action.


Meet customer expectations


Be sure that the branding messaging you’re portraying is consistent with what consumers experience when they call your dealership. Most callers have done their research, so by the time they place calls they’re in the process of elimination. Don’t give them a reason to eliminate you.


Answer their questions and give them the information they’re looking for, even pricing questions. The reality is you’re not going to close any deals on the phone. Your goal is to give the customer a pleasant and memorable experience on the phone so they will continue to engage with you when you follow up. Giving them the third degree and trying to force them into an appointment before they’re ready is not a winning strategy. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with asking for the appointment, but don’t do it before you establish rapport and don’t try to force it.


Scripts can be helpful. Not everyone is a natural on the phone. Develop and test strong scripts to guide salespeople and BDC agents until they learn how to engage, memorize the important questions to ask and learn how to overcome objections. Ideally you want every conversation to sound authentic, so it’s OK to add your own words and style to a script.


On a weekly basis track your phone metrics, listen to conversations and provide your staff with feedback. Coach them on areas that need improvement. Also, test your phone system and processes regularly by calling into your own store from every phone number that you are marketing.


Thanks to improved digital marketing strategies, more consumers than ever are calling dealerships directly. Phone leads are still your best and most valuable opportunities, so don’t let them slip through the cracks of a bad phone process. Technology, measurement, training and accountability are key factors in implementing any successful process, inbound calls included.

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