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Kelly Kleinman

Kelly Kleinman Digital Content Director

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Used Car Dealers Flushing Leads Down the Toilet, The Question is Why?


A recent survey of 334 used car dealers by Dealer Control shows that only 19% actually responded to lead forms that were filled out on their websites!  

The survey was conducted by contacting used car dealers who are currently using a popular website service that charges $99 per month as a subscription fee, parks the dealer on a templated website of choice, and then controls all email engagement and implementation of a lead gen/form fill system.  There are apparently a number of templates in use by thousands of subscribing dealers, but one thing they all share in common is the reticence of the vast majority of those dealers to follow up on lead forms and vehicle queries.

Quality, 1st generation leads are hard enough to come by so there has to be a reason used car dealerships have such a bad track record responding to queries. Eliminating technical issues, unethical lead rerouting by the vendor, leads blocked due to billing issues, or dealers no longer in business, one is left scratching one’s head. What makes this even more perplexing is that these sites aren’t truly responsive (mobile friendly) according to Google best practices. They aren’t likely to rank very high in organic search as buyers shop for vehicles.  One would think that each lead would be treated like gold.

Is it an Issue with the Website Design?

The mobile versions of these sites go directly to VDPs with no branding marks, or anything that remotely matches the “on-site dealership experience”. You don’t even know what dealer it is you’re getting a canned email response from in some instances.  A properly designed “responsive website” maintains its “look” and brand identity no matter what device is used by the consumer as their technology of choice in the search process.

A state-of-the-art dealer site mirrors the look and feel of actually being in the dealership. With that said, a thought occurred to me that maybe these websites were just old and out of date since many of the URLs don’t even match the business name of the dealership!  The mobile versions even looked like antiquated (m.subdomain) stop gap constructs to comply with Google’s 2 year-old mobile best practices initiative - else disappear in the search engines. Problem is, such constructs do not adhere to Google Best Practices simply by ignoring the user experience portion. Still, although the sites aren’t winning any awards, they still seem to be maybe the dealers aren’t?

Could Used Car Dealers be Relics of a Bygone Era, Ignorant to the Emergence of the Digital Consumer?

Maybe the majority of used car dealers just aren’t tech or even business savvy which may be why they pay for cheap site templates and don’t understand the latest tenets of digital consumer behavior.  Whatever the reason, the lack of response was shocking considering the hue and cry heard by all listing sites and digital marketing agencies that they’re never getting enough leads!

Of the 19% that actually had a response, 73% of the responses were via a cold “no-reply” email messaging template with no dealer branding footprint on it at all, rather the name of the vendor who supplies the service and maybe a message from a mystery salesman promising to get back to the potential buyer. Most dealers took at least a couple of days to follow up.

Consider the long-lived paradigm that a potential buyer is most likely to interact with the first dealer or two who contacts them, and know that this lackadaisical response can hardly be an acceptable industry business practice. According to research by the folks at InsideSales, “50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds first.” Per researcher Dr. James Oldroyd, “the odds of the lead entering the sales process, or becoming qualified, are 21 times greater when contacted within five minutes versus 30 minutes after the lead was submitted.” The Oldroyd data also suggested that the average company response time to a lead is 61 hours.  Of the 334 dealers in our study, 3 dealers responded personally within 5 minutes.

Dealers, Take Control!

On average, a typical car buyer will spend 16.75 hours researching online for a vehicle and will ultimately visit 1.6 dealers before they buy a car (MAXDigital study). You had better have your digital-self cleaned up else you’ll rarely be one of the 1.6. Responding to that initial query already puts you way ahead of your competitor according to our finds. Used car dealers need to understand what new car dealers have finally learned about the importance of branding across all channels, most importantly, online. You need to have full dealer control of your branding which includes how your website looks, how you respond to sales inquiries, and deal with customers. You cannot let a lead get sucked into the vacuum of space because you’re system is antiquated or broken else your business will get sucked into the cosmos as well.  

It’s an Epidemic of Inefficiency!

The Oldroyd data suggests we have a bunch of lazy salesmen out there, systems for lead cultivation are put in place but not worked as efficiently as they should be, and businesses across all categories, not just used car dealers, are letting sales slip through their fingers!  With that said, there were several dealers whose follow up was incredibly professional and methodical. To those who know how to sell...I salute you.

Props to the following car sales professionals and dealerships for utilizing effective lead follow up practices via CRM tools or good old-fashioned customer service. Of 334 inquiries, this group of 9 individuals stood out.

Simon Laski of Best Rate Auto Sales at

Dan Lentz of Palmetto Ford at

Jim Davis of Taylor Hyundai at

Joe Burlett of Frank Motor Cars at

Larry Kahle with his auto-respond CRM of Mile High Motors at

Jordan White of Exceptional Motor Car at

Don Piper of Consolidated Auto at

Betty Entralgo of the Stephen Auto Mall Center at

Sam Dorsey of Crossley Ford who for 3 months after the initial lead was sent is still cordially following up to my alias.

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