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eXtéresAUTO

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The “Be-Attitudes” for Internet Car Sales: Credos To Live By Everyday

I love the car business!  While at the Dick Hannah dealerships I had the great honor of working with amazing managers and staff - selling, training and managing ten different brands’ Internet teams over the years.  We sold thousands of cars through the Internet every year because the Hannahs were committed to both cutting-edge technology and sound core principles that drove massive success.

Today, I train dealers daily and am inundated with questions from highly successful dealers on how to effectively get more phone calls/leads and how to convert those leads into butts in the door!  As a follower of industry blogs and news, it recently struck me that while it’s important that much of the advice served up to dealers is focused on the bleeding-edge of technology - it’s so easy for all of us to forget what we ONCE mastered and still NEED to master every day. So, thinking back on my long dealership career, I set out to distill what I learned are the crucial “beatitudes” of Internet car sales.

The Beatitudes in the New Testament are, of course, a set of eight blessings, or starkly simple and beautifully basic rules to live by. “Beatitude” also means achieving a state of blessedness or extreme happiness.

I certainly don’t mean to evoke the concept of ‘beatitudes’ in some religious, denominational way (…these rules aren’t even brand-specific!), I just wanted to share credos to live by as a reality-check, hoping their simplicity reminds and re-inspires you and your digital dealership to focus on the absolute foundations of success, given the frenetic swirl of the ever-new.

The 8 “Be-Attitudes” for Internet Car Sales:

BE FOUND: In a world where 9 in 10 auto shoppers hunt down dealerships online (more than double the rates of any other information resource), and with roughly half the visits to dealer websites arriving via a search engine, make sure that you have done everything to BE FOUND by searchers.

SEO/PPC
Today that means having sustained, aggressive SEO, and often expanding your visibility (when needed) through strategic PPC buys. Your customer is first and foremost a searcher – and you need to make sure you’re easily found and have great first-page visibility at the big three search engines.

Google Places/Yahoo! Local/Bing Maps
Have your dealership properly set up and fully optimized for Google Places, Bing, Yahoo!

Online Review Sites & Directories
It is imperative that everywhere your customer looks online for your dealership - they find the correct dealership details and contact information.

Social Media Sites
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are no-brainers.  But WHAT you post on these sites is the critical issue – it’s not about selling, it’s about relationship-building.

BE DESIRABLE: They found you - now you need to ensure what they found is HIGHLY DESIRABLE.

Website
Your website needs to look nice, but above all it needs to be functional, useful and easy to maneuver, with clear calls to action so it converts into leads.  Additionally, if you don’t know what Google Previews is, read about it here.  Google allows customers to preview your site and decide whether or not they even want to click on it, so make sure your site is desirable in preview mode too.

Review Sites & Directories
Given the massive importance of online reviews and social feedback today - and their recent, radically heightened visibility at Google and many car-buying sites - you need to be absolutely sure the online word-of-mouth about your dealership is robust and positive - and that you shine with a positive reputation at all the search engines/websites consumers use.

Social Media Sites
2 Words: Warm Fuzzies.  Barrages of vehicle specials or impersonal vehicle articles on your Facebook page will cause your customer to ‘unlike’ you faster than you can say “pounder.” Check out the social media advice that Gary May posts on DrivingSales.com – real, practical advice that I would use if I were still at the dealership today.

Check up from the neck up:

  • Find some new eyes – ask customers what they think about your site. 
  • As friends and family to test out the usability of your website.  I would always ask my folks to go on the dealership website and pretend to shop for a car – I knew if they could easily figure out how to find answers to their questions and submit an inquiry, the general population could too.  (Sorry, Mom and Dad…)
  • Add a feedback plug-in to gather feedback and get suggestions. 
  • Do some quick searching on Google, Yahoo and Bing.  Do reviews come up?  What is the star rating?  Is your dealership information accurate and enticing?
  • Read your Facebook and Twitter content.  Would you ‘like’ or find valuable your dealership’s messaging?

BE FAST: You simply have to get back to Internet customers and leads lightning-fast, because with any response that stretches past a half an hour, you’re losing sales.

How I trained the importance of this to my employees?  I asked them to imagine…

A car pulls into the lot and a nice family gets out.  They walk the lot, peering into car windows, checking pricing on hangtags.  They glance around looking for help, but nobody comes.  Up and down they walk, and within 30 minutes they get back into their car and pull out. A salesperson comes running: “Wait, I can help you, come back”!

Wouldn’t that be too little too late?

What I know to be true about car dealers is that we are NOT going to let our walk-in traffic wander around the lot and leave without talking to an employee, so why would we let our internet customers do so?

If we don’t handle inquiries in a timely fashion there are so many repercussions, the biggest being that customers ‘wandering around online’ quickly move from one site to another, gathering information and contacting other stores that are focused on - and able to - answer their questions and meet their needs.  In short, lost sales, lost gross.

When I was at the Ford dealership we had a 40-foot banner (stretching across the room where leads were worked) that said: “SPEED IS POWER, ATTITUDE IS EVERTHING!”  For those of you who imagine ‘this is not an issue at my store’, let me tell you: many dealers mistakenly think their response times are speedy, but they need to analyze the realities. I fell into that trap over and over again – thinking to myself, “I have a process, my team and I are on it,” when a quick check of new incoming leads proved otherwise.

Check up from the neck up:

At the DrivingSales conference last fall, I heard Grant Cardone say that, “anything worth doing is worth doing everyday.”  I agree!  Pull a report from your CRM tool every day to analyze how long after the lead was received:

  • That a call made
  • That an email sent (response quality counts, auto responders do not!)
  • That notes were entered, indicating meaningful contact was actually made

Another tried-and-true suggestion:  Set a reminder on your calendar monthly to review and refine your Internet inquiry coverage and response training.  I always found that the 8th (or so) of the month was perfect – nowhere near mid-month or month-end closeouts, but still early enough in the month to address issues before the bulk of our leads would come in.

BE REAL:  Do your salespeople come across as ‘old school,’ or as real human beings helping customers find the car of their dreams?  Do your salespeople understand their customers’ (understandable) fears, and work to alleviate them - without buying into their objections?  Now, I’m not suggesting that we throw away strategies that work to close deals, just that we deliver them in a way that doesn’t turn customers off.

Train your people to build a relationship with customers - that starts the moment they inquire.  People like people like them, so make sure the way your sales staff connects with customers (via phone/email/text/chat) smacks of authenticity and a real desire to help them.  As I’ve learned from Dennis Colome, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters.

Great salespeople know how to connect with a customer immediately, find common ground, build a rapport and set that firm appointment.  Help your staff accomplish this by using phone scripts that help them identify the customer’s needs, that avoid typical “salesperson speak,” and ask for the appointment over and over again.

With almost everyone and their dog on Facebook, Twitter or both, people are suddenly connecting with others on a very personal level – even people they don’t know well.  Consumers are now used to seeing peoples’ pictures and equating the image to some sort of a relationship.  With that in mind, when you follow-up via email, have an inviting picture of the salespeople (family pictures are great too, people have a hard time resisting pictures of parents with their kids) in their signature line – you’d be surprised how less likely that customer is to distrust them or flake out on an appointment.

Check up from the neck up:

  • When speaking to a prospect, do your employees engage people in an authentic, friendly tone of voice?
  • When speaking to a prospect, do your employees talk more about the vehicle, or everything else?  In my experience, “vehicle talk” leads to a lot of vehicle questions that lead to other objections you can’t control over the phone and/or email!  However, the more time you spend building a relationship with a customer, they more they trust you – and the more likely you are to sell a vehicle at higher gross. 

BE INFORMED:  It’s a cliché, but today’s Internet car buyer is insanely informed, and not just about invoice pricing. Some customers walk in with binders filled with specs, competitive models, etc. When I secret-shop dealerships to help them with their processes, it’s shocking how many salespeople don’t have even basic product knowledge on vehicles that people are dropping $10,000 to $100,000 on!  Can you imagine salespeople at the Apple store not being informed about the newest i-whatever coming out?

At the dealership I spent a great deal of time on core training like phone/Internet lead handling and sales conversion, but your people must know the product because it closes far more deals.  That doesn’t mean they should spill their guts and create objections, but product knowledge can be used in appropriate situations to excite people, convert cross-shoppers to the vehicle and increase trust in the salesperson.  Salespeople must be able to answer the customer’s objections and understand how to redirect them back to the appointment or close the deal with an appropriate question.

Check up from the neck up:

Are your people all product certified?  Probably. 

  • Does the majority of your product training only happen when it’s crunch time to be certified, before you get in trouble with the OEM? (Happened to me a couple times…)
  • Do you have a committed process and/or manager responsible for ongoing product training?
  • Have you trained your employees how and when to deliver product knowledge information that leads them directly back to the close? 

Each is equally important, and with the wealth of information online, salespeople need to be masters at answering questions in a way that sets firm appointments.

BE BOLD: When I secret-shop dealers it’s also shocking how passive, almost listless, salespeople can be in follow-up - with calls and emails like, “Would you like to look at the car?” (!!!) Your employees MUST ask for the appointment every single time!

Same-day appointments are golden and to secure them you simply must be bold. When I was at the Honda store, my GM had a great line: “How close to right now can you be here?” Love that line because IT WORKS!

Be willing to go out on a limb to do whatever it takes to get the customer in the same day.  Customer stuck at work?  Take the car to their office.  Customer needs to ‘get dinner first’?  Order the family a pizza.

Boldness and enthusiasm lead to incredible closing ratios because both are contagious.  Excitement breeds excitement, for your customers and your staff!

Check up from the neck up:

  • Are your people ruthlessly aggressive, yet fantastically kind, in asking for appointments?  How do you know?
  • Do you talk to your salespeople daily about the importance of being bold and asking for appointments?  Do you role-play “asking for the appointment” with them? 
  • Do you incentivize/spiff your staff for each customer they get in the same day?

BE INVOLVED: For so many years, the Internet department has been quarantined from the desk manager, the GM and Dealer Principal - it’s crazy and costing many, many dealers business. Quite often, the majority of dealership managers have never even worked an Internet inquiry, the very source of most dealership traffic!  It’s my personal belief that:

  • GM’s
  • Sales/Desk Managers
  • Finance Managers
  • Closers

…all need to get intimately engaged with the dealership’s Internet operations, and, frankly, go in and get their hands dirty. At my former dealership, the whole management team cycled through every aspect of Internet sales, by actually working leads themselves for two whole days.

Check up from the neck up:

Internet Managers/Directors, I have a message for you, spoken from experience:
We Internet people sometimes possessively hang tight to our Internet processes because we feel our job security is tied up with being the only person at the dealership that understands the Internet world.  Nothing could be further from the truth: the more cars sold because of Internet efforts, the busier you will be in managing the MASSIVE amount of work it takes to keep things successful! 

Furthermore, the more other managers in your stores understand the Internet buyer, the more gross everyone can make.  So, encourage your store’s management team to get involved – the rewards (and your paycheck) will be well worth it!

BE UNIQUE: The average dealership has a bunch of same-brand competitors in their market, so it’s absolutely critical for you to tell your story – and communicate and get creative with what exactly makes you unique.  Whether it’s your sales staff, the way you sell cars or special promotions, you need to get that story out there.

I’ll give one example: At my Chrysler, Jeep and Honda stores we were attracting, and wanted to keep attracting more, leads/sales well outside our DMA, so I created a promotion called “Weekend in a Car.” We offered these customers a package: a weekend night at a nearby 5-star lodge, where they could relax, go to the spa and pick up their car Sunday and take a leisurely drive home. (We cut a deal with the hotel, and it cost us less than $100 a customer.) And while only 3% of eligible customers ultimately took advantage of the offer, it was wildly successful and made us extremely unique.

Check up from the neck up:

  • What really sets your dealership apart from the competition? 
  • Is that difference meaningful and of value to your customers?
  • Do you effectively communicate what sets you apart? Not only in your advertising, but in how you interact on the phone and via email with your customers?

It’s my sincerest hope that these core steps or rules will ‘Be’ helpful to your dealership's Internet sales processes and produce more car deals!  If you have any questions or need help, please call me at 866-475-5553 or email me at m.turner@exteres.com.

Happy Selling!

By Merla Turner: Director of Dealer Training at eXtéresAUTO (and recently honored as one of the “Top Rated” Internet Trainers by DrivingSales’ Dealer Satisfaction Awards). Previously she served as Internet Director at Dick Hannah Honda in Vancouver, WA.

Bryan Armstrong
Nice! I like it! Thanks for sharing. BA
Bart Wilson
Merla, Great article! I would like to add another: Be Diligent. Selling cars online takes excellent follow up. Make sure you provide relevant content to help shoppers as they search for the right vehicle.
Merla Turner
Bart, you are totally right, that is another great Be Attitude! I should add that when shopping dealers it shocking how little follow up actually happens at most dealerships. If managers dug into their CRM tools, viewed the quality, quantity and content of calls made and emails sent they would have very quick answers to where deals are being lost. It's usually a combination of the wrong message being sent to consumers and a lack of long term follow up.

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