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Andy Warner

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I met with a leading vendor company last week during lunch (the vendor's name will remain nameless). {HINT to VENDORS: Free food is good… provided the company is personable and intelligent}. The vendors discussed their plans for the end of 2008 and shared project concepts for 2009. I enjoy meeting with vendors and learning of new technologies and best practices in the industry (provided the vendor is personable and intelligent). What better brain to pick than those who interact with a plethora of dealerships regularly? (See my post on questions for evaluation questions for vendors).

Through the course of conversation I always ask, what best practices do you see? A pretty basic question that opens the floor for flowing and insightful conversation based on the intellect of the vendor, of course. The vendor admitted that he visited a large dealer group a few times recently. (The dealer group will remain nameless). Shockingly, the dealer group did not have a process to handle internet or phone inquiries consistently. Keep in mind this is a top dealer group lacking a formal process to manage their customers and their employees. When the vendor asked the dealer principal to describe their internet process, he answered, “Our internet manager hands the leads to whomever he feels should handle a lead; however, I think it's time to get serious about that internet thing.” The vendor followed up with the same question to the internet manager. The internet manager answered, “I hand the lead to whomever I think will call the person.” Again, shockingly, this is a top dealer group in the Midwest. Good for me, bad for them.

Obviously, this dealership has limped along to an acceptable standard to the dealer principal and management. Happily they are in my market and losing market share. Shamefully, there are numerous consumers not receiving the proper service they need to obtain their next vehicle and preferably the remainder of vehicles they need for life.

My point is that it is time to get past the rudimentary belief that, “Now it’s time to get serious about that internet thing.” Dealerships, hear me loud and clear, “Continue to have week business processes and you will continue to lose business.” I am sure you have heard this plenty of times before. But I implore you, stop the madness. I suggest the following steps to take to alleviate your apathy.

I. Understand the Current Landscape
II. Create a Plan
III. Control and Evolve the Plan

Understand the Current Landscape
Here are the facts to consider when determining whether or not to create, monitor and evolve your internet department.
20% of customers only visit 1 dealership per make. This decision is largely affected by their online experience
30-40% of internet inquiries are not answered by dealership personnel.
31-60% of customers take their time shopping online. The buying cycle online has increased from 2-3 months a year ago to 6-9 months today.
60% of customers admit that when they start shopping online they do not know which specific vehicle they want.
70% of customers fear sales pressure. Therefore, they use the internet in their filtering process.
90% of customers do not buy their first choice. 56% of customers purchase a new vehicle and 42% of customers purchase used vehicles.

Create a Plan
Yes, I know all readers of this blog know that the plan involves selling more cars. However, the plan must be more granular. Management must consider more specific questions. First and foremost, management must agree that an increasing amount of their traffic originates from the internet. Thus, the dealership needs to have a dedicated internet department or their salespeople need to be trained to communicate with an internet customer. After this fundamental question is answered, other questions must be answered. For example, what is the budget permitted? What are the staffing allotments? What systems, structures and training will the dealership provide to establish and grow the internet team? Too many times the dealer principals or General Managers, say, “Sell more cars.” However, there is no support to do that. Setup a plan with the dealer principal, the General Manager, Sales Managers and staff, as many touch points as possible to build the proper internet environment because the online dealership must connect seamlessly with the physical dealership.

Control and Evolve the Plan
Observing and reporting internet traffic is a must for a proper internet department to flourish. Most reporting today does a solid job assisting management determining their return on investment. The ideal department will not only have reporting, but will know how to use the reporting tools and technology to measure and grow your internet sales.

Happy selling to all!

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