After reviewing our internet departments sales logs the past few months a very interesting (and exciting) trend caught my eye that I just had to share with everyone.

First a little background. I work for a single point Honda dealer about an hour north of Pittsburgh in suburban New Castle, PA. I run our internet department there which produces about 30-35 sales a month (roughly 30% of our total sales). Out of this number for the past few months I have noticed some of our highest grossing sales have come from our owner base or referral customers. Not only were the grosses good, but these sales were accounting for about 10% our our total monthly sales. Granted this is only roughly 3 deals a month, but when talking internet sales we normally are dealing with customers we are getting through paid internet sources and to have some of the highest grosses on customers who cost us nothing to bring to the table is exciting to say the least! Definitely looks good on those end of the month ROI reports!

Why so relevant? We have been trying to maximize owner base opportunities for years? Well for one, I know we normally think of our internet customers of being hard to please and having extra special expectations. While this may be true… when one of them leaves our store completely satisfied the likely hood of them sending us friends, family, or returning for another vehicle increases ten fold. I honestly feel the connection we make with these customers is far greater than even the ones we make with our regular “floor” customers. This presents dealers and especially their net departments with a fantastic opportunity to generate new leads at no cost providing the highest possible ROI.

So how do we maximize this opportunity? Not without some extra attention to detail. As I mentioned this “internet customer” expects the world of us. However, if dealers are willing to go above and beyond to provide them with the best purchase experience possible they will be rewarded with a customer for life who will be sending everyone they talk to their way. You need everyone on board for this. A few extra dollars may have to be spent in service to resolve a problem with Mikes brakes or Joe’s windshield. We may even have to spend a few bucks in parts for those mudguards for Sally, but when you do the math, it makes much more sense to pay 120 bucks for a set of flaps then it does to pay a third party lead provider even a fourth of that for a lead who we will have to go through the whole trust building process over again. Plus we won’t be losing the trust of the customer who already bought from us.

In conclusion, take the time to harvest this internet owner base. While the idea of working the owner base is not new, I do feel it is slightly neglected in a lot of dealers net departments and is an extremely great opportunity for a few extra deals and little cost.

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Comment by Walt Kustra on May 3, 2010 at 11:19pm
Great point. Anything we can do to help increase that owner base is well worth looking into. You seem to have great knowledge of DRM and I appreciate you sharing its benefits with me!
Comment by Catherine Edwards on May 3, 2010 at 6:16pm
Walt, another way to increase that owner base is to managing your incoming internet leads well with a DRM system. Speed and quality of response to a car buyers request is a key component to making that positive first impression with Internet shoppers.

The right DRM (digital response management) solution helps create a good buying experience for the consumer by executing a personalized response that presents a multi-vehicle price quote within 10 minutes.
Comment by Walt Kustra on April 19, 2010 at 11:18pm
All great points. Our CRM/ILM makes following a process similar to the one you outlined easy and automated. Since our net department is getting the most "bang for the buck" for the lack of a better term out the the product its our net department who sees the greatest return from their owner base. This is just proof that the methods you outlined provide great dividends when implemented and any dealership worth their weight in salt should be using these types of procedures!
Comment by Orest D Serwylo on April 15, 2010 at 3:18pm
I am a grass roots kind of guy when it comes to acquiring referrals and retaining existing customers. The single most successful tool that I have and recommend is Joe Girard's approach ...constant, focused contact with the customer.

The Internet based system I use to create "prospect" acquisition campaigns and "customer" retention campaigns is the "Send Out A Card" system.

My "existing customer" campaign consists briefly of sending:

Delivered car picture card,
30 day contact card,
90 day followup,
180 day followup,
270 day followup,
360 day followup,

This is fully automatic in the sense once it is created, I can do this for 1 customer or hundreds in a matter of minutes.

One of the greatest and smartest things Girard did was work against the concept that

"95 % of our customers will forget who they bought their car from in 3 years!!!

Need more info, just ask!
Comment by Walt Kustra on April 14, 2010 at 11:44pm
Exactly my point! We value the new opportunity so so much in this business we forget how many of them we can generate at no cost from our loyal customers....especially our internet customers! I think its so particularly bad in the net depts for exactly the reasons you mentioned. A lot of net depts are filled with young, bright, computer savvy individuals who while good on a computer, may lack the basic skills and training a lot more seasoned sales reps and business minds may have. We do our best to train our guys to lean the value of these opportunities and maximize them. You mentioned "tools" in your post. Our ILM/CRM imagiclab does a good job of keeping us well in touch with our ownerbase. Have you had any luck with other tools that help you take advantage of this at your store? Thanks for the reply and for reading my post!
Comment by Orest D Serwylo on April 14, 2010 at 11:32pm
Your comment of " while the idea of working the owner base is not new, I do feel it is slightly neglected in a lot of dealers" is a gross understatement.

Customer retention and customer referral generation is a "raw diamond" opportunity I would say to the lion share of dealers and virtually all salespeople. Why ??? basically not trained and not provided with the proper tools!

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