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From: Jared Hamilton
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Every automobile sale includes a conversation of some kind between the buyer and the seller—no matter how technology changes, that fact won’t.  Russ Chandler, digital marketing manager of Bart’s Car Stores in Fort Wayne, Ind., uses dealer text as one more way to pave that communication pathway.

As mobile use grows, so does texting. In fact, texts surpassed phone calls all the way back in 2008, according to Nielsen. Just offering the ability to text your dealership isn’t enough, though. Chandler has been successfully using Mobile Text Connect from Contact At Once! for about a year now, so he has several suggestions for using text wisely:

  • Set up each of your dealerships with a specific text number – When a shopper texts in for more information about a certain car, they will reach the store with the correct inventory.  Chandler is able to generate those text numbers through his Contact At Once! dashboard.
  • Put your dealer text number everywhere – “It comes down to putting that number in as many different places as you can,” explains Chandler.  While his most effective use of the text number is on the online vehicle description pages, he also places it on social media, email, banners outside the dealership and in print ads.  
  • Test to see what works best – Chandler suggests placing the text number or QR code in different places on the ads (print and online) and experimenting with different calls to action. Then interview your customers to see which ad got their attention.
  • Offer texts as an alternate means of communication – If Chandler’s sales team is having difficulties getting in touch with a lead, they sometimes email and ask if the person would rather text. “It’s another way to get the conversation going.”

Train Your Staff to Text Like Pros

Once the texting conversation is started, it’s important that your staff know how to respond to convert texters into buyers (or at least send them further down the sales funnel). Chandler says they train on texting just as they do for chat, and apply their in-house communications policies to both.

That’s why he likes using Mobile Text Connect. “Since it’s part of the chat software we already use, it gives us full reporting with conversation scripts, tracking and customer data integrated with our CRM,” he explains.  “It adds a level of professionalism to the text interaction.” Plus, staff can respond to texts with the chat interface and customizable, prewritten (and pre-approved) responses.

Whatever way you use to text your customers, make sure you have the proper opt-in, opt-out permission process in place. Otherwise, you could run afoul of the FCC. A good start is to look for software that follows the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) best practices for consumer privacy.

Step Toward Your Mobile Shopper

Adding the ability to text from your ads is one big step toward your mobile shopper. And the closer you are, the easier it is for that shopper to start the conversation. “I think advertising the ability to ‘text your auto dealer’ will become more and more common,” adds Chandler. “People are in that space already; even I use text more than email.

Bryan Armstrong
What is being overlooked is the fact that Your salespeople are probably texting customers anyway. .. from their own mobile phones. Having this feature integrate in your CRM allows monitoring of conversation as well as maintain the ownership of your customers to the Store rather than the salesperson. It can also alleviate many a "split deal" argument.
Aaron Hassen
Great point Bryan! That's absolutely true. How many dealerships are comfortable with customers texting salespeople when there is no record of the conversation, no consumer opt-out option (protecting the customer from being hounded and the dealership from liability), and no possibility for dealership follow-up with the phantom customer. It's just reality, that If you're a car shopper today, there's little point anymore in submitting an email form and waiting for a response. Instant answers are available everywhere. By the time your dealership responds to an email submission or a CRM lead, the shopper could have already moved on to another listing and be in a chat or text conversation with your competitor. It's about who stands ready to influence today's buyers.
Thomas Ieracitano
Both very valid points! At eLead One we had recognized this opportunity some time back and the integration of text has proven itself time and time again.
James King
Over here in England we're years behind you Stateside. We have texting ability in most dealers, but it's seen as the lazy option instead as being used as an instant messaging (almost) system. Managers say "Why text when you can call?" and that filters downwards. I love all tech that customers like and respond to. Not everyone likes it, that's a given, but a text is less intrusive than a call during the working day, but managers are still stuck in the 70's in this respect. From my experience, as a car salesman, anything that gets customers engaging with me more quickly and frequently than the competition is good. As a side note, I was told NOT to use LinkedIn today as I should be phoning customers to make appointments for the weekend, not "messing about with the internet". I kid you not.
Aaron Hassen
Hey James, I had to laugh when I read your comments because as a marketer, it's my job to be reading the data and help our company stay ahead of the trends, where in fact it's possible that your dealership (and others like them here in the states) sometimes tend to resist change and be late in adjusting to the consumer. Taking a step away from our professional lives and looking around the coffee shops, malls, airports, etc. we see a world engaged in their mobile devices. Consider: USA Today: “With the rise of texting, instant chat and transcription apps, more people are ditching [voicemail]. The behavioral shift is occurring in tandem with the irreversible fading of voice calls in general, prompting more wireless carriers to offer unlimited voice minutes.” (Source: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-09-03/voicemail-decline/57556358/1) Neilsen Research: 49% of mobile consumers say they frequently use their smartphones while shopping. (Source: http://nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports-downloads/2011/state-of-the-media--mobile-media-report-q3-2011.html) IBM Institute for Business: “Today’s connected and empowered consumers expect to be served according to their individual preferences. Connectivity gives auto dealers a wealth of information they can use to learn about their customers. Along with this comes the opportunity to create direct, personal relationships with individual customers and the ability to better position the brand, as well as products and services.” (Source: http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/thoughtleadership/ibv-transforming-automotive-retail.html) There are literally hundreds of reports one could cite. It's not difficult to understand that it is that same mobile, texting public who buys cars. Keep fighting the good fight, James. You don't seem afraid of using modern channels to reach your customers where they are.

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