In the world of Professional sports, teams will spend hours researching how their opponents will react in any given situations. They watch film, update themselves on individual player’s conditions and personal lives and proclivities and look to extol any benefit possible from any information gleaned.

Recently Larry Bruce published a fascinating study based on watching hours of “game film” as to how consumers research buying a vehicle. I do not claim to have his level of expertise nor am I here to talk about the consumer side of car buying rather I would ask, are your people using all the tools available to them with the same acuity their clients are?

While the debate rages over lead response time, method, pricing and buying-cycle time frame, I would suggest that we as an industry are overlooking that simple fact that buying any vehicle, New or used, is a highly personal decision. Setting a standardized response process will only let you achieve status quo results. Current propaganda would have us believe that an I.S.M can handle 80-100 leads per month. I would suggest that to do it effectively no more than 60 is optimum.

Why is it that we recognize and preach constantly to a floor salesperson that they need to slow down, fact find and build rapport before showing a vehicle, getting to a write-up or asking for the sale yet I.S.M.’s are told to get out a quote within 1-15 minutes and try to get a commitment for a customer to get in the store? Sure, establishing contact is important, but building value is closing.

When a lead comes in, whether it’s an organic click or 3rd party (a debate of value on which I’m not going to touch here) a few key actions should take place.

1. Break It Down:

Take a look at how they found you. Look at the search engine, search term, pages viewed, time of submission, vehicle info requested and preferred method of contact. This will give you fascinating insight into the customer’s mind-set, follow-up strategy and even buying propensity. Are you really silly enough to believe that someone who submitted a lead at 4:00 am after looking on Google for used cars ,clicking through to your site and viewing 7 pages in 3 minutes on sedans $15,000 or less, is really in love with that 07 Camry that came in as vehicle of interest or wants a call, even though they requested e-mail only, at 8:30 a.m. because we need to have that lead clicked as responded to as soon as the doors open? What if instead we provide all they asked for on that vehicle, and an explanation of our vehicle inspection process as well as a few other vehicles in inventory. Also include as an option suggestion that New Camry in your old age inventory with 0% at 60 months which could equal the same payment as well as a link to your personal bio on linked-in or naymz that shows you to be not only professional but also personable and real? After all, which message are we more ready to return from the vendors we deal with, the cold call message sent to voice mail because we didn’t recognize the number or the one that we can see others have done business successfully with which, through a well crafted e-mail or site, sparked our interest as being able to provide a service and options that went beyond our basic needs.

By contrast, a lead from Edmunds or our O.E.M. site that, though not vin-specific, has all the options listed and is inquiring about availability would probably be best handled with physical proof (photos) that we can immediately satisfy their needs, plus our pricing, finance options and focus instead on the ease of the buying process and a value proposition of the unique culture that is your dealership? Why not go to Edmunds and re-build the inquiry and include the link? Such a consumer already knows all the incentives and invoice any way. All you succeed in doing by following a “yeah it’s here and I’ll give it to you @ 200 under” or “we meet or beat” philosophy is place yourself squarely in the midst of the other responses in the “deleted” file.

2. Make it personal:

Look for your customer on facebook, linked-in, spokeo, Google and get to know them. They’ve researched us, why are so many loathe to find out who they’re dealing with? Why are we as an industry behind the curve?

Two recent very satisfied customers come to mind:

A) The school teacher who submitted a lead on a corolla. In the response tailored to her, it “luckily” included a link to the salespersons personal blog that showcased him as the administrator of the “Teacher Appreciation Month” whereby educators receive special pricing as well as the ability to name the school we would send a $100 donation in their name to.

B) The gentleman whose facebook profile picture showed him in his driveway in a town 50 miles west of us with his beautifully maintained older truck sporting firefighter plates. Miraculously, he received with his response, in addition to the requested pricing on a used sedan, four other good gas mileage commuter cars as well as a link to our community action page showcasing our public safety program where we donate to and offer military-type pricing to all those who serve our community so well.

Yes response time matters and O.E.M’s will ever try to dictate a best practice that we all will have to placate and operate within, but slow it down, fact find and build value while showing the vehicle, giving your on-line write-up and asking for the sale and watch how, just as on the lot following good protocol, you turn a “tire-clicker” into a satisfied customer.

Bryan Armstrong is currently e-Commerce Director of Menlove Toyota Scion. An Industry veteran who has successfully ran multiple Dealerships, he was named “Most Innovative Dealer Group e-Commerce Director” at Digital Dealer 2009 and serves on VinSolutions National Dealer Advisory Board. He counts his awesome family as his greatest success.

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