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I am fairly new to the automotive industry, but I've already learned a lot about what strategies work better than others with regard to properly managing internet leads. Here are a few things I do that work. I'd love your input on my approaches, and to hear some of yours.
STRATEGIES THAT WORK
1. Rapid Response - It's imperative to catch the customer while they're still experiencing the "high" from browsing cars online. Incorporate yourself early, because who knows where the customer will be mentally/emotionally/physically in an hour or two. People are also often pleasantly surprised (sometimes shocked) when you catch them only minutes after they've submitted information, and are most receptive to cues when still in a "car-shopping" mindset.
2. Establish Correspondence - When I first started managing internet leads, I tried to go for the appointment right away. But much like the oft-preached "road to the sale," I also learned how to build a "road to the appointment." I noticed people were defensive and suspicious when I asked for the appointment too early, or when it wasn't relevant to what they needed me to help them accomplish. “Just come in” is rarely ever a solution to someone's problem; it's only a solution to your own. So I started focusing more on building rapport, asking questions, and delivering what the customer needed from me. I found that the more emails and phone calls I exchanged with a customer, the better chance I had of at least knowing where I stood. Hearing “no” is much less frustrating than hearing nothing at all. When I started being a Customer Service Manager and stopped being an Internet Sales Manager, my appointments and conversions rose.
3. Relationships are the New Sales - Transparency is a word that has come to define what the modern internet is all about. Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all about people being the same online just as they are in real life. Customers, in fact, expect this from the people with whom they do business. I think one has to be willing to be a source of information, and go the extra mile to put the customer at ease. This is frustrating for salespeople (especially with an online prospect) because this doesn't guarantee the results you want. But over time, if you have worked to build a relationship with the customer, and vice versa, it is less likely the customer will want to start over and build a relationship with someone else.
4. Have a Reason to Touch Base - I used to call unsold prospects and say, “I know you have a big decision to make, but I just wanted to let you know I hadn't forgotten about you, and I just wanted to see if you had given any thought to...” 99% of the time, this conversation contributed nothing to my bottom line. In fact, this often annoyed, bothered and soured the customer. In the end, I was left in a worse position than before I even made the call. Then I started to take the approach where I would always have a reason to call the prospect. I would let them know about a similar model, give them a piece of information, or anything that would give me a relevant reason to touch base. I was always able to bring the conversation back to my end goal, and it met my need to stay in front of the customer, but asked them if they've decided yet wasn't the only reason I called.
5. Pictures, Videos, Reviews, Personalization – Every unsolicited email is spam, and “Select, Delete” is online autopilot for most. It's a lot easier to ignore or say no to a big block of email text or a random automated message than it is a real person addressing another real person. We are taught to respect the institution of basic human decency, which is why it's socially unacceptable to ignore someone who is talking directly to you, or to get up and walk away when being addressed. I always put the prospect's name and other identifying information in the subject line, and personalize the email specifically to them as much as possible. I also include a photo of myself so they know they're talking to a real person, links to my online reviews and, if it gets that far, a link to the salesperson's bio so the customer can visualize who will be helping them. This way, it is less likely that communication will suddenly drop off, or that person will be an unexplained no-show. Again, knowing where you stand is always better than wasting time calling or emailing someone where the best outcome you can hope for is finally getting the customer to ask you to leave them alone.
Sales is a numbers game. I consider hearing “no” a victory because at least it meant I had a shot, and I need to hear no enough times to get the “yesses” I need to meet my goals. I hope my humble experiences have been of some benefit to this discussion group.