On-Line Automotive Selling Is More Than Just Pushing Buttons


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Commentary by Rick Carlton

A recent article by Susan Harris at Automotive News got me thinking about the processes necessary to market, promote and create a car sales transaction in today's virtual environment. While Ms. Harris rightly asserts that “...the volume of Internet traffic and sales seems to be outpacing the growth of the Internet sales force, (and) somebody had better be minding the virtual store,” just growing a dealer's Internet staff, doesn't mean that sales are going to go up based on simple volume.

When I was beginning to roll The Global Racing Network out in the early 90's, I had a somewhat stiff conversation with the then Director of Communications at the Indianapolis Motors Speedway. The dialogue went something like this, “....who the hell are you? You're just a guy with a computer, phone and modem, so how do I know you're a real journalist?” Well as it happened, I also wrote for several print magazines at the time and my byline was easily vetted, so the situation resolved itself accordingly. But, I never forgot the experience, and with today's interest in virtual sales processes that offer the promise of delivering more units at lower cost, the original questions posed by my Indy respondent are just as relevant today, as they were back then.

Lets think about it logically for a minute. Literally anyone in the world can mount a web site, produce some clever promotional verbiage, integrate attractive imagery and simply “go into business.” Granted the reach of the web and affiliate social networking platforms DO suggest this capability globally every day. But behind these processes there is one question that lurks in the background of each customer's mind; “who IS the guy on the other end of the web site? Is he/she just a person with “a computer and a phone,” and am I about to get screwed?”

Part of the downside associated with attempting to leverage the net as a auto business value is the clear lack of understanding between the difference between “marketing” and “sales,” whether when talking with dealers or customers. So, before I go on, here are the formal definitions for each:

Marketing is strategically defined by the American Marketing Association as: "...the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and offering (showcasing) products for customers,clients, and society at large."

Sales is defined by Management Org as: "...cultivating prospective buyers (or leads)...conveying the features, advantages and benefits of a product or service to the lead; and closing the sale (or coming to agreement on pricing and services)."

Now. Why is this important? Because, “displaying and communicating” are not the same processes on the net when working to “...close the sale.” Frankly, many auto dealers miss this point entirely when leveraging online processes. As a result, they end up being lousy at it, and leave money on the table every day.

Again, online “marketing” is perfect for extending brand and showcasing product value. And, its fairly easy to validate marketing cost-efficiencies internally, if one's offer messages are clearly defined, persistent and integrated with a range of metric measurements.

But “closing the deal” is, and always will be hard, and without understanding the differences between these two concepts, and with today's increasing density of what amounts to electronic white noise, its getting harder. So, as a dealer you might want to consider what does, or doesn't happen, once a lead hits your email box.

First, when you get an online lead response contact the customer immediately and personally. This does not mean tomorrow or next week – that day. If you are being hammered at the office and can't call right then, contact the lead by email, show interest in the customer's need, and set up a telephone conference to discuss the opportunity at a later time. Then, put the lead in an “3 day schedule lead” file.

Second, when you have a telephone meeting scheduled, be on time for the call. Then respond as necessary, but above all, attempt to schedule a walk-in for a demo. On the other hand, if the lead is interested in information only, respond appropriately, then put the lead in a “7 day short sale” file for re-contact.

Third, if a customer has made his/her way to the dealership and a potential sale remains unclosed, follow up the day after the visit via phone, then follow up again via email after an additional 7 days. This keeps your relationship fresh without becoming overbearing. If you still don't get a response, move the lead to a “30 day medium sale” file and follow up again, but in the meantime, continue to push any new offers the customer's way via email.

Fourth, if you still don't have any lead action, and depending on the customer's response, move the lead to a “90 day long sale” file, and move on, But, insure that the customer is receiving fresh dealer offers, and at the appointed re-contact point, start the whole process again.

The goals of these processes are oriented to personal relationship-building and persistence over time. But, to make them work effectively, one must exert significant discipline in order to overcome the intrinsic objections created by the virtual environment.

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