It’s no mystery: Lead response is crucial

Boat sales opportunities are waiting in the e-mail inbox at your dealership. Do you know how to turn Internet leads into sales?

Lynnhaven Marine certainly does. The Virginia Beach, Va., dealership was one of five recipients of a Pride Award at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo last fall in Orlando. The awards were presented by ARI/Channel Blade, which secretly shopped the Web sites of a number of dealers who registered for the conference, then ranked each based on response time, quality of presentation and type of response. In all, 129 dealerships participated in the exercise.

“Out of the groups we’ve tested, this one had the best results, with a 77-percent response rate,” says Bob McCann, director of education for Channel Blade, who believes the high response likely was related to the quality of attendees, many of whom were Boating Industry Top 100 Dealers. However, the average response time was nearly 26 hours, which is “longer than the industry standard.”

McCann says the conversion rate for immediate responses is 20 percent, compared with a 2-percent conversion rate for responses greater than four hours. And just 27 percent of the MDCE respondents answered within one hour, leaving much room for improvement. But Lynnhaven and the other winners – Bohner Lacefield Marine, Madera, Calif.; Lake Union Sea Ray, Seattle, Wash.; Dockside Marine Centre, Kelowna, B.C.; and Seattle Boat Co., Seattle, Wash. – excelled in their online efforts.

“We believe Internet leads are just as important if not more important than walk-in traffic,” says Christy Van Bevers, Lynnhaven Marine’s sales manager. “We strive to be punctual, professional and to answer their questions. We give an answer and then ask a question with value so you get a response and create awareness.”

Secrets to success
To kick off its secret shopping contest, ARI/Channel Blade sent each MDCE-registered dealership a lead with a unique name, e-mail address and phone number. The first cutoff in judging was whether the response thanked the customer for the inquiry, answered the question and set the stage for a phone call. Other factors judges considered included whether the dealership attempted a phone call, the quality of the subject line and whether dealers included their logo in the upper left-hand corner of their correspondence.

“I’m peddling the least attractive lead there is,” McCann says. “The more traction these leads get, the better results dealers will get.”

Mark Helgen, vice president of sales at Lake Union Sea Ray, which has four showrooms and six service centers in western Washington, appreciates the opportunity afforded by his dealership’s lead management system to oversee all Internet sales activities from one dashboard. As leads arrive, they are routed geographically to where the inventory in question is located. From there, a manager or concierge gives the lead to an available salesperson for immediate response.

The company uses a handful of templates depending on whether the lead included a phone number, asked an unusual question, has a trade-in or is interested in an event. In each case, template responses have been checked for spelling and proper grammar, so even bad typists and poor spellers can find success. During the slow season, 10-15 leads arrive daily, a figure that can jump to 35 during the high season.

“An Internet lead can be just as important and sometimes more important than a phone call or visit, depending on where they are in the sales process,” Helgen says. All things being equal, a store visit is best, followed by a phone call and then an Internet lead, he notes.

Although Lake Union Sea Ray, like Lynnhaven Marine, uses Footsteps lead management software from ARI/Channel Blade, Helgen believes that any CRM system can be used effectively to direct and manage leads as long as the dealership is diligent about inputting information and using templates to craft speedy, accurate, professional responses.

“We treasure Internet leads and monitor them 18 hours a day,” says Tom Treadgold, president of Dockside Marine Centre. “The routine, depending on the type of product, is to hand it to the person who can get back with the customer in a timely fashion and in the right manner.”

Treadgold and his sales manager are copied on incoming e-mail and review the leads daily to track them, but nearly all are handled immediately, he notes, because the dealership invests in training. As the technology improves, he believes CRM and lead management systems will become even more valuable to a dealership’s success.

And the facts support him. A survey from Sterling Commerce shows that four out of five households with income of more than $75,000 conduct Internet research before making an in-store purchase. Pricey durable goods such as boats practically beg for online research, and it’s natural for potential customers to research not only brands, but particular models and dealerships.

“It’s definitely worth it for our dealership,” Treadgold says of the Footsteps system. “The comfort level customers have when they get the right information the first time helps drive sales and gives customers confidence to trust us with their business.”

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