that this same content is also available as a
paperback book and as a Kindle book (for a small
fee, of course) at Amazon.com
This book is a primer. It came about when a friend in the biz remarked that as rapidly as our industry changes there is real need for a practical, electronic Internet car sales best practices playbook that can be updated and modified when needed and as needed. And so this book was born.
As a working Internet car sales best practices consultant I am in dealerships every day witnessing and participating in our industry's rapid transition. So everything in this book is drawn from personal observation and experience. I promise you up-to-date real world stuff that works. And instead of just saying "Do this" and "Do that" this manual places considerable attention on also explaining the logic behind why we recommend what we do. The goal is that in this way you, too, can become a leader who influences this ever changing, rapidly expanding crazy business commonly called "Internet Car Sales."
book was created to be a manager’s teaching resource. While
many self-directed salespeople have had great success with this
content on their own, most dealers need someone from inside to
champion it and someone from inside or outside to teach it before
success is achieved.
Everyone agrees that the Internet has changed the retail car business, but what does that mean? Yesterday we did not send emails, today we do? Yes and no; the changes the Internet has brought to our industry go far above the addition of new electronic communications mediums.
1). Everything You Do Is Now Public Knowledge. Today, before a shopper ever comes to your dealership, he/she is online learning not only about your products, but also about your store, especially the reviews from your satisfied and unsatisfied customers. Suddenly, “word of mouth” has gone from being one-on-one to one-on-thousands.
(Note: this phenomenon, nicknamed Zero Moment Of Truth or ZMOT, is explained well and in great detail in Google’s free e-book “Winning The Zero Moment Of Truth.” Download and read it). [http://www.zeromomentoftruth.com]
2). You Are Now Evaluated On Your Ability As A Communicator. Most customers’ first encounter with your store (and, therefore, the moment of impact that forms their all-important first impression of your business) now occurs online, and not in your showroom or outside your building. How does your dealership come across on your website? In your outbound emails? On your Google + page? On consumer review sites? Are you in control of your message, or is it unintentionally controlling you?
3). Prospect Management Is No Longer Optional. Every name and email address in your contact management system today represents either a sales opportunity or a marketing opportunity. Effectively managing and utilizing your prospect and customer contact data is imperative if you are to maximize your message impact and harvest the sales hiding inside your database.
past there were two levels of mastery in car sales:
- 2). Salesmanship – Continuous salesmanship skills improvement
- 1). Time Management – Effective use of “down time” between customers
are four levels of mastery in Internet car sales.|
- 4). Salesmanship – Continuous salesmanship skills improvement|
- 3). Time Management – Effective use of “down time” between customers
- 2). Process – Dedicated daily adherence to a 1st Response & Long Term Follow-Up Internet Sales Process within a contact management system
- 1). Content – Creating and deploying effective visual and written sales communications.
We are going to use the phrase “Internet sales” a lot in this book. Most people use it to mean responding to incoming eLeads and working them to a sale. But, by strict definition, that is not Internet sales.
When customers go to your website, purchase the car they want sight unseen and then either have it shipped to them or come by to pick it up – that’s true Internet sales, AKA eCommerce. If you are like most of us, you spend very little, if any, of your time doing this. You actually spend the majority of your time selling sales appointments.
With some exceptions, the real sale occurs at the retailer’s place of business. But every exchange between buyer and seller prior to that visit can be conducted via phone, fax, email and text if the customer prefers. The salesperson’s goal is getting the customer to come to the store.
So what most of us do is not really true Internet sales. It’s electronic sales communications with purpose. And the purpose is securing a prospect appointment to visit the dealership. That is the type of Internet sales we are going to talk about here.
retail Internet automobile salesperson requires a certain amount
of skill in:
- Written Communications
- Telephone Communications
- Prospect Management
People who enjoy communicating via the written word have an advantage in this business. As do people with engaging phone personalities. As do those who understand the science of managing a database of prospects and customers. As do people possessing salesmanship skills. If you have talent and experience in all four you will never be out of work.
But, it is not necessary to be talented or experienced in all four areas to work in Internet car sales. If management at your store or auto group has a good grasp of Internet sales communications and has put together an effective 1st Response and Long Term Follow-Up Process in a CRM, then all you have to do is make the calls and send the emails as prompted, use the templates provided, and follow the Process. In this case an effective written communications and prospect management plan has already been created for you.
That leaves only telephone skills and salesmanship. Talent and work experience in these two areas acquired in other industries will easily transfer over to car sales.
However, the Prospect Management component requires that Internet salespeople be disciplined and able to perform repetitive tasks each day. For this reason classic ADHD-type showroom sales stars often make poor Internet salespeople. The ideal Internet salesperson is a combination left-brained/right-brained person, a disciplined strategist who at the same time is creative and has people skills. This ideal candidate is often hard to find, but if management creates a functional structural work environment all salespeople, whatever their personality type, will have a good chance at success. (More on this later).
Regardless of how you set it up, your store’s Internet sales staff must consistently and successfully do the following:
Quickly To New Leads: a fast first quality response is
2). Make Multiple Contacts/Contact Attempts: touch the prospects multiple times via multiple methods, particularly in the critical first few days following an eLead’s arrival.
Nobody has yet come up with the perfect set-up for Internet sales staffing. There are many approaches and all have their strengths and weaknesses.
Here are five approaches we’ve seen in daily use, with the first two by far the most common:
INTERNET SALESPEOPLE: Work the prospects from lead arrival to
- Upside: Salesperson is empowered to provide any and all information the customer wants/needs in order to get to the sale. Customer develops a trust relationship with the salesperson that continues all the way to delivery.
- Downside: Salesperson is often busy with test drives and deliveries when eLeads come in; fresh leads sit unanswered for long periods of time and sales follow-up suffers.
(acronym for Business Development Center): Communications
center, works each lead to appointment stage only.
- Upside: Personnel spend all day in front of their computers and phones; eLeads are guaranteed a fast response and multiple contacts.
- Downsides: BDC personnel often must rely on floor salespeople or sales management to locate vehicles, price vehicles, and/or inspect and report back to the BDC before prospects can get the information they requested. Miscommunication and/or slow follow-up replies to customers can result. Prospects are handed off to a salesperson once they show up at the store; potential for miscommunication or customer mistrust and discomfort.
The BDC model works best when the staffers are knowledgeable about the products and the elements of the sale. Internet car buyers do not want to interact with someone who is essentially a receptionist.
DESK TIME: Showroom salespeople receive Internet leads during
appointed daily or weekly “Internet desk time” shifts. They
return to showroom at end of shift but get to keep and work all
leads received during desk time.
- Upside: eLeads are guaranteed a fast and quality first response from a salesperson empowered to provide any and all info customer wants/needs in order to get to the sale.
- Downside: Additional contact attempts/follow-up not guaranteed because salespeople are also working the floor, taking test drives and making deliveries.
TEAM: Duo (or trio) with each member responsible for specific
components of the sales process. (i.e. One team member handles all
1st Response & Follow-Up, the other team member handles all
test drives, closes and deliveries).
- Upside: eLeads guaranteed fast and quality first response and follow-up, plus they get a salesperson empowered to provide any and all info customer wants/needs in order to get to the sale.
- Downside: Team members are “married” and must get along. All sales credits and commissions shared: concept runs contrary to car sales’ culture of individualism.
STORE: All showroom salespeople trained on handling Internet leads
– there is no “Internet Department.” Central point person(s)
receives every eLead, qualifies it, and then immediately
distributes it to an available trained floor salesperson for 1st
Response & Follow-Up.
- Upside: eLeads are guaranteed fast and quality first response from a salesperson empowered to provide any and all info customer wants/needs in order to get to the sale.
- Downside: Additional contact attempts/follow-up not guaranteed because salespeople are also working the floor, taking test drives and making deliveries.
- Additional downside: monitoring and managing the activities of a large team of combo floor and Internet salespeople can be labor intensive.
There are as many possible Internet Director and/or Internet Sales Manager configurations as there are Internet department structures. Some are selling managers, others are actually desk managers, others are concerned with I.T. systems and performance, some are marketing managers, others are trainers and coaches. These are but a few examples we have seen.
Regardless of the store’s Internet department set up, one thing we know for certain is that somebody, be it the department manager, the manager’s assistant, or some other designated person (or combination of people) in the store must be tasked with the following:
1). Trolling the CRM throughout the day to be sure salespeople’s scheduled follow-up activities are completed. Although a salesperson might be out on a customer test drive, or taking his/her day off (or whatever) prospect follow-up must continue on schedule. When the assigned salesperson is unavailable someone else needs to maintain the sales momentum and complete the follow-up tasks currently due.
2). Ensuring that incoming phone calls and Live Chat requests don’t go unanswered during business hours and that voice messages do not languish unreturned.
3). Ensuring that the store’s call-to-action ($) bulk (blast) emails are composed and sent according to schedule.
Important note: the Internet car sales job, if done properly, can be very rote and routine. The temptation to take shortcuts will eventually prove too strong for some salespeople to resist. They will begin to second-guess and/or sidestep the Internet sales process, cherry pick and/or pre-qualify leads, and otherwise stray from the proven successful path to the sale. Accept this as fact. Someone representing management must comb the CRM on a daily or weekly basis to be sure this fallout does not occur. Salespeople who are not consistently adhering to the CRM 1st Response & Long Term Follow-Up Process will need to be counseled, re-motivated, re-trained or (possibly, if the first two solutions do not work) released.
Regardless of how your store decides to operate, it is imperative that you have an Internet strategy of some kind and that, once it is launched, you hold true to it. Making small adjustments and corrections from time to time is expected, but you must leave your overall plan in place for a minimum of 90 days while your strategy matures. Do not change course during the 90 day start-up period. This is very difficult for many dealers as it runs counter to their ever-changing / always-reactive store culture and nature. However, we can tell you with certainty that it is mandatory if you want the department launch to succeed. Stick to your plan for a minimum of 90 days and, if necessary, up to 180 days. Stay the course.
You will never find a call center located in the middle of a retail sales floor: with all the in-store customer interruptions the call center people could not complete their incoming and outgoing phone tasks. The same is true of Internet; if your Internet salespeople are also dashing outside to wait on customers on the lot or assist customers on the floor, their First Response and Long Term Follow-Up tasks will go unfinished and your Internet sales will suffer.
Understandably, in many small stores the Internet salesperson also works walk-in customers by necessity. But if your store receives enough eLeads each month to warrant a dedicated Internet salesperson or sales team or BDC then you need to have a dedicated Internet salesperson or sales team.
Rule of thumb: if your Internet salespeople work the sales from beginning to end they should be able to competently manage 80 – 100 new leads (new car, used car, or combination) each month. If they work leads to appointment stage only they should be able to handle 180 – 200 new leads each month. Note that the better your CRM First Response and Long Term Follow-Up Process the better your people will be able to manage the leads and convert them to sales.
HOW DO INTERNET PROSPECTS DIFFER FROM
A decade ago it was commonly thought that maybe 40% (+/-) of new and used vehicle shoppers employed the Internet as a shopping tool. Today, of course, we do not need a survey or study to tell us that 99% of new & used vehicle shoppers are using the Internet. So while we can’t claim that all Internet and walk-in shoppers differ in the ways we are about to describe, the comparisons below will help you understand how Internet and walk-in customers can have a differing set of expectations.
In the classic showroom sales set-up, the customer walks in the doors to the dealership and is greeted by a salesperson. The talk quickly turns to the customer’s vehicle of interest which (hopefully) leads to the test drive phase of the sales encounter. Hoping to “land him/her on a car” the salesperson takes the prospect on a test drive, the customer (hopefully) receives a professional quality drive and walk-around, and the two return happy to the dealership. The salesperson then turns to the customer and says, “Well, shall we make this one yours today?” At which point the customer says, “Well, not so fast….” Now the salesperson’s work begins; we’ve entered the obstacles and objections phase.
In many cases, however, the Internet customer turns this formula around: he/she wants to get the obstacles and objections phase out of the way upfront. This explains why prospects like to self-educate themselves on their current vehicle’s trade-in value, why they ask for monthly payments information in an email, and why they say they “don’t want to waste time coming in to your dealership” until they receive a $ quote and all the cumbersome and unpleasant elements of the vehicle purchase are satisfactorily resolved first.
The salesperson (and/or BDC person’s) goal is to get the appointment, and the way to get the appointment is to ease the anxieties that are keeping the customer from coming in to the store. So whereas your goal is to get the appointment,your job is to solve the Internet customer’s problems, thereby easing his/her anxieties. Do that and the appointment part will take care of itself.
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Thanks for reading.
Trace V. Ordiway