More online tips and strategies

While not as a widespread as some of the practices discussed in our main story, here are some of the other initiatives dealerships have implemented that are helping them achieve success online:

Live chat – Midwest MasterCraft recently added a full-featured, live-chat system to its website that allows the dealership’s staff to log in and see how many people are currently on its site, the page they are on, how many pages they’ve been on, how long they’ve been looking and their geographic location. To top it off, the staff can “chat” with customers (if they accept an invitation to do so) and help them with any questions they might have.

“We have found that we have a much higher chance of making a sale and potential up-sale opportunities if we are able to actually interact with our Web customers,” says Andy Larson, owner of Midwest MasterCraft. “I felt this would be a bit intrusive but we have seen good results in certain situations. If a person is looking at used boats or high-end, water-sports products, they often accept the chat.”

The system allows multiple operators online at any given time and can be set up with service, boat parts or pro shop operators so that people can be directed to the proper department. Larson says the service was inexpensive and paid for itself in the first month.

Website as a resource – Several dealerships say the philosophy they follow when trying to bring people to their websites is to focus on providing useful or fun information for customers and becoming a resource for them rather than bombarding them with information about sales.

Don’s Marine, located in Lodi, Wis., says it averaged over 2,500 unique visitors per month during 2010 — with a peak of 57,000 page views one month — by taking this approach.

“Our website has become a cornerstone of our marketing,” says President Andy Manke. “Rather than using the website as a big advertisement, we’ve tried to make it informative and relevant to our customers and potential customers. At rough estimate, about 75 percent of our customers make mention of the website when talking to our sales team. While our site does include information on sales and special promotions, the vast majority of it is solid content designed to inform and educate the reader.”

The company says the most successful part of the site has been its photo gallery. Every used boat in stock — and many of the new ones — are extensively photographed and it’s common to have 30-50 images of a boat. In June 2010, the gallery received well over 30,000 views. Since the creation of the gallery, the dealership says it has “made a significant number of sales to out-of-state buyers who’ve only seen the unit in the photographs.”

Posting a lot of pictures, as well as a few videos, has also served Lodder’s Marine well as it works to maintain a site that “doesn’t look like everybody else’s” and that will give visitors a feel for who they’re dealing with.

“We incorporated many pictures of the dealership on the site so visitors can see we are not a fly-by-night kind of place,” says General Manager Matt Lodder. “All of our boats have unique photos and descriptions on our site. We have received a number of comments from visitors who like the fact they are looking at the actual boat and not just a catalog photo. It takes a lot of extra work to do this, but the results have been great. With the new interactive features of the site, our sales people are directing the customers to go to our site to not only see more info on boat they are looking at, but to watch a video on how to lock thru a dam, for example.

“We want to make sure our site represents who we are and having a site that looks like it was made by your teenager just won’t cut it anymore. I think those dealers have the mentality that as long as you can put a check in the box that says you have a website, you’re doing well. That isn’t going to get it done in today’s world.”

Home pages for the sales staff – Each of the salespeople at Sail & Ski Center has his or her own Web page. Each member of the sales staff includes the home page in all of his or her e-mail communications and the page provides testimonials and other information unique to that person. Sail & Ski says it recognizes that customers need to be sold on a salesperson as well as on products and services. The pages are linked to the company’s main website and are also another way to drive traffic to the pages there.

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