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Mike Whitty

Mike Whitty Author, Trainer, Consultant

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I've been in a lot of dealerships and seen a lot of Internet processes, and some of the things I've realized are:

- Most Internet departments are failing
- Many dealerships are afraid of computers and the Internet
- Many dealerships simply print leads and pass them out to the salespeople
- Most dealerships do not monitor the leads they pass out
- Most dealerships put a showroom salesperson in place to handle leads
- Most salespeople cherry-pick leads and won't follow-up after second call
- Most leads are thrown away

Wow, that tired me out just thinking about it. Now granted, there are some dealerships that have really jumped on the Internet bandwagon and do things right, but when I use the words "most" and "many", I'm sure it's not an exaggeration. Most dealerships are happy selling their 7-10 sales per month from manufacturer leads, if they even know what the true number is. But those of us who are passionate about the Internet, which are usually the Internet trainers and consultants, know that there truly is a lot of business to be developed from the Internet, and at a profit!

"I Don't Want to Deal With That Element"
I remember when Special Financing was getting started, and dealerships would say, "I don't want to deal with that element!" Well obviously their perception of "that element" has changed since over 50% of all Americans are now eligible for Special Finance. It's not as scary for them any more. That's the same thing that's happening with Internet sales. The Internet customer is an "element" that dealerships don't know how to handle. And because change is hard for most dealerships, since they've been doing things the same way for years, they're not comfortable with the Internet business and they shy away from it. They know that's it's not going away and will only get bigger, but still they're more comfortable handling showroom traffic and running their business by "pot-luck."

The Leads are Already Coming In
Every dealership is already getting leads, even in small amounts. Most dealerships will get at least 20-30 leads per month directly from the manufacturer and possibly their website if they have it setup for leads. Since most manufacturers have some sort of tracking process to see when they're handled, they know they need to assign someone to work them, typically showroom salespeople. Even if they only get 20 leads per month, that's 240 leads per year. If handled properly, that would account for additional sales, F&I, service and parts, and repeat and referral business.

Buying Leads
I'm a big fan of buying leads. It's the easiest and quickest way to increase sales if handled properly. But most dealerships who buy leads take a short-term approach to the Internet. Just like a showroom mentality, if they don't get the sale right now, they forget about them. So these leads, and the money it took to purchase them are wasted, and sales stay low. What if these dealerships took a long-term approach to the leads? What if they realized that they have something just as important as a sale, they have information from a captive audience who wants to do business at their dealership, that they can market to every single month until they decide to opt-out? Wow, over the years that could conceivably be more productive than the $30,000, $50,000, or even $100,000 per month they spend putting advertising in the newspaper. They don't even know who's reading it, or if anyone's reading it. But a lead they purchase for $22 that they can market to forever, hmmmm.

Enter, the Appointment Coordinator
So, I think we can all agree that dealerships waste leads, waste money, and waste manpower handling leads the way they do. There is a productive way to handle these leads, and that's by placing an excellent Appointment Coordinator in place. I know there's still a big debate on handling leads by email if they request, or handling them by phone. My philosophy is if they include a phone number, they're getting a call. And since most of the leads purchased include a phone number, this is a no-brainer. Those of you who wish to debate this single issue, and tell me about customer respect, etc., please don't. I know for a fact that salespeople who do business by email lose gross profit, and it takes a lot longer to get them into the dealership. The Appointment Coordinator's main job is to set an appointment. It's a great process and here's why.

Let's take the dealership who passes leads out to the salespeople. I know that most salespeople hate the phone. They feel more comfortable face-to-face with the customer which is where they do their best work. I also know that phone-ups are the biggest profit loser in the dealerships because most salespeople only give information on the phone and seldom strive to set an appointment. So, when a lead is passed out to the salespeople, they make the first call and leave a message, make the second call and leave a message, and then the lead is forgotten about. And since most Sales Managers who pass out the leads don't monitor them, well, you know where I'm going from here.

The Appointment Coordinator has one main responsibility - persistent and relentless follow-up by phone and email. This persons job is to set an appointment for the salespeople to close. Now, this is where you don't have to have a full-fledged internet staff. You can use the current staff, especially the good closers, because they don't have to use the phone. All they have to do is be there when the appointment shows up. Now they're in their comfort zone and have to do nothing but close sales.

The Long-Term Approach
Many leads may take 3 weeks to 3 months or more to get them into the dealership. And since most salespeople do not follow-up very well, most leads are lost to neglect. The Appointment Coordinator makes sure these leads are not forgotten through consistent follow-up. But let's say this lead buys a vehicle from another dealership. Most dealerships would just throw that lead away. My philosophy is that lead is still my customer, that dealership is just using them for the next several years. I still have the opportunity to get that customer back by keeping in touch with him/her every single month with at least a digital newsletter. Since most dealerships don't do a real good job of following-up with their customers, The Appointment Coordinator will at least have an opportunity to retrieve that lost business.

I developed the Appointment Coordinator in a local dealership that was doing between 7-10 Internet sales per month. They are now doing 50 with one person. But what's even more important is that they are getting sales this month from leads they received in April 2007. Now that doesn't happen by accident. It takes a process of relentless follow-up and keeping the dealership's name in from of them every single month. This is the greatest asset of having an Appointment Coordinator.

The Final Point
Dealerships don't have to grow quickly and start big. They also don't have to have dedicated salespeople who only sell Internet leads. By having a strong Appointment Coordinator, they can get maximum results with very little investment.

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