Is anyone having a similar issue with cars.com and Autotrader?

Mitchell Brenner
We have seen a sharp decrease in the effectiveness in our Cars.Com and Autotrader business. Leads are down. Phone calls are down. Hits to our website from them are down. Of course they're only answer is to always ask us what we're doing wrong so let's get that out of the way. We have custom comments on all our Pre-Owned Vehicles. We use First Look software to insure that our vehicles are priced correctly and we check it daily. We have 25 - 50 photos per vehicles and video on our AutoTrader site. Is this a problem others are having?
Catherine Edwards
25% of all leads in the industry don’t get answered at all and the response time on those that do is over 5 hours. Even the best dealers struggle with response time in the absence of tools that support them. The right DRM (digital response management) solution solves the problem by executing a personalized response that presents a multi-vehicle price quote within 10 minutes. Regardless of what you’re doing, the response goes out right every time.
Gary May
LONG POST!! Everyone has had some great input, questions and perspectives here. There are a few things that we see regularly changing the shape of how people transact with inventory. But before we go there at all, talking about all oft he vendors, who's services are better, SEO versus blah, blah, blah, let's focus on what it's all about: the customer. First issue/opportunity: One perception I personally have is the same thing that hit Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline and other travel sites in the past couple years. People needing for the ease were using the 'heavily marketed' for a number of years. Then they started searching on the aggregaters, only to then go to the 'brand' site and get the price, sometimes less, plus no fee and sometimes bonus points. The risk: the exact ticket wasn't available since the portals would sometimes buy popular routes out. consumers changed the model, not the industry. The industry had to react and now, among other things the flight fees are gone and bundling with hotels, etc is up. This is no different that how cars are marketed, with some exception to the pay-for-performance models where the dealer puts the emphasis on the source. Consumers change the path. No one will argue that a lead from the dealer's own site is the best. There are still huge issues with third party leads with little exception. But the problem is mostly at the store that receives them, not the supplier. That being said, the extortion-style pricing model that turned off dealers before the performance issues did hasn't changed much. the aggregaters still pitch by putting the fear of complete failure into dealers. Then they believe that when the smallest drop happens that it's due to not being on the site with the (really, really, really bad) Superbowl ads they paid for. The second issue/opportunity is the we don't ask enough. Sourcing is still one of the biggest issues, no matter how good, bad or indifferent your CRM is. Talking (asking) about how the person came there (yes, you're allowed to start conversations with customers other than asking for the sale) outside of sourcing is also extremely critical, especially if you have anything to do with measuring your ROI on lead costs. People...process works or fails at the point of contact: salesperson. The third issue/opportunity is typically the marketing of the car. This starts with the buying/trading of the car and who's responsibility it is to correctly onbaord the car, assess the car, market/puff the car, list the car (and that includes automatic listings, are you checking that they're all on the sites?), watches the leads and points all turns, profits and other tangible aspects back to the 'system'. Part of the issue is poor or completely incorrect data. Some in the industry, like Autodata, are trying to remedy that. It's not a dealer responsibility to ask where the vendor gets their VIN data, but it's every dealers responsibility to make sure that correct data is up there. Cars listing manual and automatic transmissions on the same listing is just as bad as showing A/C or cup holders as options on a $50,000 luxury car. Also, even thought it's a small point admittedly, do you want to sell a black such and such or a Obsidian Black Midnight Pearl such and such? Folks, you're selling an emotional (and slightly) logical connection here or everyone would buy five year old $10,000 cars because it's all they need. If you're going to pay any third party for leads that is listing or marketing your car (depending on how you think of your two Camry deals against 2,400 near-like vehicle in a 50-mile radius) then start with the right process. Why pay someone else if the cars on your own site don't even show up in search? Most dealers can sell more cars just by marketing them CORRECTLY on their own site with the right site optimization and relevancy. Our focus is when a dealer can't get enough leads to satisfy their fourth salesperson handling Internet leads 100% of the time, buy leads. If you take away your third party leads and don't get 100 from your own site: YOU HAVE OTHER ISSUES!! Keep it simple. Get the right assessment (not from someone trying to see you the leads with some fancy shmancy "industry only" calculator), look at your own house first, clean it up, get stronger and then buy till the cows come home because you can afford to, not because you have 'Dealeritis' and believe you have to. And last but not least, hold everyone that takes an Internet up completely responsible to handle the lead right, period. Show me a store that doesn't close leads, I'll show you a store that blames their sources but can't close a dehydrated person with a bottle of water. Thanks for reading!!! Gary May IM@CS
Chuck JOnes
Fantastic Conversation. Great points Gary. I run multiple dealerships and have been researching exactly this question for about a month now.....HOW do you get the same if not higher results without going with "aggregators"? And we're talking QUALITY of leads versus just QUANTITY of leads. The fundamental thing is that AT has become very price driven because of the huge number of listings. Cars.com similarly so. But the real question is this: WHY PAY Thousands of dollars a month to someone else if you can get same or better results yourself? Assuming our internal execution is good to very good (no process is perfect) Can microsites really help accomplish this result?
Brian Pasch
@Chuck Let me try to answer your question. As Gary points out, you have to FIRST make sure that your own site, which produces the highest quality leads, is optimized. The optimization process involves many factors which have been covered here but to summarize: - Has the site had a full SEO compliance checkup. - Do you have ample content pages for the cars you sell. - Do you car detail pages have clear calls to action. - Are you providing paths to address the consumer buying cycle - Do you have a clear navigation tree - How promptly are you responding to calls and leads. Then once your main site is completed, then you can venture out into microsites and consider building your own local advertising network. Dealer owned microsites give you not only incremental leads but they also create an annuity of leads that keeps on going even if you decide to change your primary website vendor. Knowing that dealers are looking for additional sources for leads with great ROI, PCG has launched the Automotive Advertising Network which places dealer cars on national, regional and local websites that have the right SEO architecture to deliver. See: http://www.automotiveadvertisingnetwork.com That combined with our CarPort App for Facebook and blogs, give dealers the ability to build their own localized content network outside of their dealership website to draw in customers. Content is King and dealers just need the platform and tools to deploy this content effectively. Dealers can do this all on their own or in partnership with a company like PCG. The key here is that dealers can now have the "search" power of the lead collectors at a very attractive price. Dealers who start to build their own local advertising networks will be rewarded.
Gary May
@Chuck Thanks for the questions and thoughtfulness. There are only a few steps to doing so before, as Brian has pointed out, going to additional sites. Let's break it up into three sections: direct answer. dealer control/customer control, then the intersection. We can chat about this directly with some fun thrown in. Or you can just read some rambling thoughts! Direct Answer Your own leads are the best quality lead. The way to close more is to empower, build value with your staff and customers and hold everyone frickin' accountable. A lead is a customer. Unless they've got a 418 FICO they are buying. Repeat: they are buying, maybe just not from your store. Show me a sales staff at under 20% closing and I'll show you a Swiss Cheese process, regardless of what the staff tells you they're doing. They're NOT closing leads. They fall into them when they do close. Forrest said it well: Mama always said stupid is as stupid does. The best-represented car wins with the best represented staff. Period. The best process makes up for when the above is not completely adhered to. OK, that being said quality of leads is a completely made-up way of calling something less-than-desirable when it truly can be closed. Dealers talk about quality when lead CLOSING rates go down, not quantity. 100 people walk through your door to buy. 100 people walk in on your website to buy. You know the question I'm going to ask next so I won't. To answer your question again: yes, you're right! why pay thousands to have your cars seen when you're already paying thousands? The rest of the Answers: LONG POST! (Number 2 in a series of 2) Here's the other stuff that closes appointments, sell cars and raises response and closing rates (disclaimer: this is the opinion of IM@CS, and may not be the opinion of others including those that won't tell you anything before you pay them) Dealer Control Most dealers don't address leads as people from their first (or auto-responder) email. News flash: templates don't sell appointments either. Know what you put out there that has your name on it. Most sites (and again, you're not completely to blame) suck. Not only that, people don't relate to automotive sites even as much as they relate to the dealer (think about that one before going forward, please). We're not United.com or Hilton.com, we're not Amazon.com or even Google (HA! got you!). If you get 6,000-10,000 'hits' a month, great. Now what....? No really, now what? Go to 20 surrounding area dealer's sites and see which ones have anything better than you, but do so with a buyer's hat on. And most of the time you can skip the volume-leading dealer in the area. They typically have some of the worst-looking sites with a UI that could choke a horse. 1. A real website experience: websites don't sell cars (even with inventory that indexes), people buy from people that like to sell cars. Websites sell appointments when done well: sales, service, parts and more. What calls to action do you have? On an inventory page 10 is too many and two is likely not enough. AND is your site dynamic enough? 2. A real 'completion page' for when the person actually fills out a form. Have you looked at what people read even before the canned email that goes out (if you're a VW store, 'you' send two!)? 3. A real Internet benefit package. Why not give a person what they want? Even if it's no different than what they get as a walk up! Stop ignoring what people want. And most of the time, the third party sites are horrible at this since they think the inventory works by itself (well, after those add-agency created bombs called marketing). They are selling themselves, not your inventory and definitely not you. Reputation website are better at selling you with their eyes shut! Especially if you have mostly negative reviews! 4. A real process: stop trying to SELL customers online. It's not books. Why do automotive internet leads have higher closing rates when the person has submitted their 3rd lead or later? Many will tell you because they've given up. Nope, they've given in. Nobody helped them properly from the word 'go'. 5. A real engagement: from the site, to emails, to the appointment. When's the last time relevant questions were asked, answer maintained, properly used and then entered into the CRM? And then....hold for this...your next or follow up content is actually meaningful to everyone that today is otherwise getting the same canned crap eNewsletter or email spam that they get from every other store they sent a lead to! (Number five reminded me...I'm still getting email slime from about 15 dealers out of 58 that I blind shopped for a 2008 program that I've opted out no less than 3 times each. Great job email marketing companies!) Customer Control Like it or not, welcome to 2010. Customers control everything but your process. Stop whining about invoices being out there (since the late 1990s people). Quit kvetching about low gross if you work at a store that has a low gross brand. Stop talking about the 'jack' that just fed your family. If you work the Internet leads, thank you lucky stars. The floor, even for the highest volume dealers, is a fraction of what it was 24 months ago (or less compared to years before that). Empower your customers and support it with social media and reputation/recommendations. 1. Customers get all the info so be a customer's ally (if not their friend). Start with questions. End with questions. When you stop asking questions, game is OVER. Validate, compliment, suggest, repeat and yes, even assume the close...but properly! 2. Who's buying now? Most dealers miss, quite sorely, the people who affect the transaction: women. Have a female buyers' benefit page? Ignoring the female since the guy can talk specs? Failure! Cater to the women who are bringing in the car for service? If you do, you're service business is already better than the competitions! 3. Events/engagement: Do you follow the factory so closely that you don't do what they don't do? Don't do that! Do what makes you different! Can't remember the last time you had a new owner's clinic, ride and drive, charity event (bring people to you instead of counting on others, etc), community event (registering kids for the Kids-safe kind of programs, blood drives, etc) or other whatchamacallit that actually gets...PEOPLE to your dealership? Intersection It's time to get back to what matters: your own business. You still have to bow down to the factory. You still have to answer to the customer. At the end of the day, both will make you money if you work it right. But your store's GM and owner have to work with the factory. You, my friends, have to answer (and listen to) the customer. Do it well and you'll win. Don't do it well and you'll be having the $10,000 a month bill via a second (mediocre) website and third-party leads that get you the most excruciatingly painful results but with the caveat that you can name-drop your reps to your golf buddies before you change stores (again). So, once your house is set up right and clean, start dominating from more areas. Traffic can (and usually does) build intention. Social media does it even more today, by the way. New cars are a dime a dozen. They're everywhere except for rare cases. Non-new cars are a bit different. But paying thousands per month to think you're coming out on top? That's not this camp's choice... Chuck, you are right. Processes aren't perfect. People aren't either. So if your customers are not perfect, the next closest thing is. Are you the next best thing or is someone else in your back yard? Make sure every person in your organization from you on down believes they're the best. Support them as the best. Give them the best possible tools you can. And when you get the next hand-raiser that says they want a 2010 whozamawhatsee, make sure you know them, you know why, you know what's next and you know who they know. Now go kick some ass tomorrow! Best regards!! Gary Ma

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