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William Phillips

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What does the dealership management team need to focus on to get better Internet sales results?

By: William Phillips of Automotive Internet Management Inc.
Anyone who has spent time working in a retail automotive environment knows that what we focus on is what produces results. The most common gaffe I observe in almost every dealership I visit is upper management's lack of oversight of their Internet departments. While these managers know how many ups came into their store and how those shoppers were handled on the floor, few, if any, are equally in tune with their online prospects. Let's look at how taking a top-down view of your Internet department will increase both your understanding of day-to-day operations and the success your team achieves.

For dealers who want to improve the performance and accountability of their Internet departments, a solution has been proved in store after store by dealers with successful e-commerce operations. Simply put, your upper management staff, midlevel management staff and anyone getting paid on Internet sales must be involved, on a daily basis, with the business from which they collect money. Running reports and asking general questions like "How many appointments do you have?" is not involvement. The process must be started, inspected and managed every day by those who profit from it. I have successfully worked retail for quite a few years, and I am a car guy who understands that you think I'm asking for more of your time. Actually, I'm not. I'm telling you that you need to reprioritize how you spend your time every day: Your business model is changing, and you need to change your activity to match.

I refer to the "savior complex" as the method by which dealers and managers believe that, when they find the right person, all their problems will be fixed and their Internet departments properly managed. These individuals will bring in their own process and, sometimes, their own crew or followers. They will work for you as long as they are happy or don't have a better offer - at which time they will take what they came with and leave with it, leaving you back where you started. The car business has high turnover so we must plan for this reality.

These saviors often work to stack the deck and feed management results that are not real. Leads brought in from brokers, buying services and motor club referrals are not e-commerce business. And, to complete this point, neither is a consumer who walks on to the lot and says he or she saw or found you via the Internet. You will often find leads attributed at the point of sale to the dealer's or the manufacturer's website to create a closed deal from this source. For those of you who challenge this behavior, you have probably never checked to see the gap between suspect leads and DMS entry times or even phone monitoring logs.

Hopefully, you are starting to understand why many third-party providers scream foul at the claim that their leads are of lesser quality and close at ratios below your own. These leads are often a critical component of your success. We need to rid ourselves of the perception that you don't have to inspect what you expect from your e-commerce business. You must change your thinking on who manages your Internet department and what is being managed. More managers must be involved because the business issues that currently are being overlooked compromise your results more than you may realize.

On a positive note, it is possible to get your Internet department under control. Regaining control will give you a handle on where your business is headed and help you put into place a management staff that is more in control and less reliant on a savior to tell you that you are. I want to encourage you to realign your staff to pay closer attention to the process aspects of your business. Managing the end results of a poor process has led many in this industry to see with blinders. You can get control of a process in your store. You can make decent gross profit on e-commerce-originated consumers. Managers do have time to manage it because their floor traffic is dying without it. Your dealership can either plan for the future or be left struggling in what is shaping up to be a difficult year. A saying we have all heard seems appropriate: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Emails blasted or personally sent do not sell cars: People still sell cars. Phone scripts memorized or read do not sell cars: Personality and skill sells vehicles. In fact, managers are most always the ones selling the cars. Unpleasant as it can be when you're busy, if you're a manager, you and a few others in your store touch almost all the deals and actually cause them to happen. For this reason, managers must get involved at a whole new level, one that may be much lower than they may want to bend. Find a training company that can teach your managers who have a full plate to utilize their time effectively so they properly monitor both your e-commerce process and floor traffic.


Bill Phillips (Bill@aimdealer.com) is the president and CEO of Automotive Internet Management, Inc.

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