By Jeff Scherer, Associate Partner, Callbutton LLC – Many years ago, before the Internet was “cool,” I was the Internet sales manager for one of the largest automotive retailers. This was a very interesting time because prior to this, no auto entities had really stepped out to try to market vehicles through this new budding medium known as “the Web.” To say that many of the old-school general managers in our dealer groups were skeptical would have been a tremendous understatement. They said over and over that this Web thing was a fad, and would never work to sell cars. Our team was often looked at as the “geek squad,” (no offense to the Best Buy’s guys) and as competitors to the retail sales team. Much of this doubt and fear was understandable as we were jumping quickly into territory that was undefined and unknown.
I have never been one to shy away from challenges and although in many respects this new division was operating on an unintentionally formed corporate island, my team took on this project with confidence. It helped that we were well-funded at the time. This allowed us to try a myriad of different software and develop many of our business processes on the fly. Many worked, many didn’t, but we were out to change the way people bought vehicles in our own little world. And we did.
Besides starting most of our customer relationships from the keyboard, we also took a different approach to how we presented, financed and sold vehicles. We were not shy about giving quotes over the phone or e-mail, much to the chagrin of the sales and F&I managers who could not grasp this concept of actually being up-front, “up-front.” (Today these strategies are colloquially referred to as “transparency” and “full-disclosure.”)
The results? Month after month, we consistently beat the retail group in gross margins and CSI, and did so with a cost-per-lead that was about one tenth of what it cost to get a customer on to the retail floor. Almost to a person, our customers would tell us “THIS is the way I want to buy a vehicle, and how business should be done.” Why? Because in a business that had forever been looked at as distrustful, one-sided, even sleazy, we had provided the consumer with the feeling like THEY could finally control the sales process, in a way that THEY were comfortable.
Much has obviously changed since back then. The Internet is now widely accepted and embraced by almost every business today, most certainly in marine and auto. Dealers all know they need to have a Web site. Unfortunately, some of them stop right there. They do not instill a formal process for replying to, communicating with, and more importantly, for following up on leads that are generated from the Web. For many dealers, this is still somewhat uncharted territory in that prospects coming in through the Web do not (yet) have a voice or a face, two elements that most salespeople rely heavily on in their sales process loop. Try to keep in mind that the Web is simply just another communication tool that the consumer has chosen as the way he wants to communicate with your business.
To make the most of electronic communication (e-mail, text, chat), the goal should always be to try to drive the consumer to the next step – either to the phone or the showroom. It’s difficult to qualify someone and kindle rapport over the keyboard, so make sure that you leverage that communication by giving that consumer some valid reasons why you need to speak on the phone. “Have you seen the new colors in person? Do you have a trade-in we could look at? Wait until you see how much storage there is on this …” Whether he calls you, or you call him, step two accomplished!