FREE COMMUNICATION SKILLS, BEST PRACTICES and SALESMANSHIP TIPS, TEMPLATES & TRAINING
Contents updated 01/13/2013. All comments, criticisms and constructive suggestions welcome.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Internet Car Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)
This site is a primer. It came about when a friend in the biz commented that as rapidly as our industry changes there is a real need for an electronic Internet car sales best practices handbook that can be updated and modified when needed and as needed. And so this site was born.
It was created to be a 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 outside to teach it before success is achieved. If you are a Ford or Lincoln dealer in the Dallas Region you are in luck – as a Ford Digital Team member I can visit your store and help you with best practices consultations, 1st Response & Long Term Follow-Up Process installations, and training the trainer. (These services are free courtesy of the manufacturer). If you are anyone else you are still in luck: just contact 3GEngagement and request a cost proposal for on-site services.
As a working Internet car sales best
practices consultant I am in dealerships every week witnessing
and participating in our industry's rapid transition. So I
promise you this site contains up-to-date real world stuff that
works. But 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, will become a leader who
influences this ever changing, rapidly expanding crazy business
commonly called "Internet Car Sales."
NOTE - you can find this same content on Amazon as a Kindle Book The Art & Science of Internet Car Sales. I’m essentially giving it away - $3.65. So I hope you will also download a copy to your phone, tablet or PC – my only hope is that you can find a minute to please write a review, good, bad or otherwise. In this way more salespeople and sales managers will find their way to this content and together we can help raise the bar. Thanks in advance!
Section 1: THE WHAT & THE WHY
HOW HAS THE INTERNET CHANGED OUR BUSINESS?
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? 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 goes online to learn not only about
your products, but also about your store and to read 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 [http://www.zeromomentoftruth.com] Download and read it).
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? 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.
In the 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
Today there 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.
WHAT IS “INTERNET SALES”?
We are going to use the phrase “Internet sales” a lot on this site. 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, with the salesperson’s goal getting the customer to come to the store.
So what most of us do is not really 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.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD INTERNET SALESPERSON?
Being a retail automobile sales communicator requires that you actively participate 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 sales communications (including Internet) and has put together an effective First 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 Communications 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).
PROCESS & CONTENT
Everything starts at the beginning and Internet sales starts here.
The Internet is a communications medium. Therefore it’s all about the information being communicated and managing those communications. In Internet-based retail automobile sales we call this:
These two words are going to appear a lot on these pages so it’s a good idea to understand what they mean.
PROCESS: As used here the word Process means a logical, timeline-based prospect First Response & Long Term Follow-Up schedule that cues the salesperson to which prospects need a follow-up call or email each day and what message needs to be delivered to each. The software tool that enables us to accomplish this is called a CRM (acronym for Customer Relationship Management) or contact management system. If set-up correctly, your CRM successfully mates a viable prospect First Response & Long Term Follow-up Process with email (and sometimes phone) scripts (i.e. Content) you can employ when making follow-up attempts. Plus, the CRM maintains prospect activity histories, enables you to send bulk email blasts to the database, and allows you to run reports that we couldn’t dream of before this technology arrived.
Even if you only get 2 new leads per day, and assuming that, say, only 8% of your eLeads are turning into sales, by the end of 4 weeks you have 36 active leads to manage. Within 90 days you have 140. That doesn’t sound like a lot of leads to manage but it is; staying on top of even a small amount of leads for more than two or three days is nearly impossible without some type of contact management tool plus First Response & Long Term Follow-Up Process.
Keep in mind that the CRM is not the Process; the CRM is the software system that manages your Process for you. The Process itself is something that you must provide. (More on this later).
The trick to Process is that it must be followed daily; a Process that is not enforced is no Process at all. There are no “days off” from Process.
CONTENT: This is the information you are giving to your prospects via email and/or phone. Some or all of your email replies might be hand typed and personalized. Others, for the sake of timeliness and efficiency, might be “canned” (pre-written) email messages commonly called Templates. If a prospect responds to your initial replies you may have no use for templates content at all. But if the prospect is non-responsive (and the majority are), templates will allow you to stay in front of him/her without having to hand type a personal email every single time.
This is worth noting: Process trumps Content. You can have a good Process and weak Content and still sell cars. But if you have good Content but no Process you will have mediocre results at best.
WHAT WORKS BEST: BDC? DEDICATED INTERNET DEPARTMENT? SOMETHING ELSE?
Regardless of how you set it up, your store’s Internet sales staff must be able to consistently and successfully do the following:
1). Respond Quickly To Leads: a fast first quality response is imperative.
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:
1). DEDICATED INTERNET SALESPEOPLE: Work the prospects from lead arrival to delivery.
- 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. Plus sales follow-up suffers.
2). BDC (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: BDCs are usually distanced from the sales tower; BDC personnel must rely on floor salespeople or sales management to locate vehicles, price vehicles, and/or inspect and report back to the BDC on vehicles. 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.
3). INTERNET 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.
4). INTERNET TEAM: Duo (or trio) with each member responsible for specific components of the sales process. (i.e. One team member handles all First 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.
5). ALL-INTERNET STORE: All showroom salespeople trained on handling Internet leads – no Internet department. Central point person receives every eLead to the store, qualifies it, and then immediately distributes it to an available trained floor salesperson for First 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.
WHAT DOES THE INTERNET DEPARTMENT MANAGER DO?
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 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:
- a). 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 F/U tasks currently due.
greater importance is the fact that, if nobody is consistently
monitoring daily CRM follow-up activity the salespeople will
quickly stop completing the activities as they are
scheduled. Accept this as truth. The Internet car
sales job, if done properly, is a bit rote and routine.
Eventually the temptation to take shortcuts will prove too
strong for some to resist. Someone representing
management must comb the CRM on a daily or weekly basis.
Salespeople who are not consistently adhering to the CRM 1stResponse
& Long Term Follow-Up Process will need to be counseled,
re-trained or (possibly, if the first two solutions do not
- b). Ensuring that incoming phone calls and Live Chat requests don’t go unanswered during business hours and that voice messages do not languish unreturned.
- c). Ensuring that the
store’s call-to-action ($) bulk (blast) emails are composed
and sent according to schedule.
HAVE A PLAN AND STICK WITH IT
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.
TAKE INTERNET SERIOUSLY
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 greatly.
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. Now.
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.
WANT MORE FREE CONTENT?
You have now read less than 15% of “The What & The Why” and “How To” sections of this manual. There is lots more awaiting you. The complete contents of this site are available for free to bona fide dealership owners, managers and salespeople. Just click the Request Password link below. Please provide the name of your dealership and the URL of the dealership's website if it is not the same as your email address domain. (Don't worry, I'm not selling email addresses or anything - I just want to know that you are actually a dealership person). I will send you a password to access the complete site. If you are an outside trainer or consultant or an employee of a training and consulting company and you want to access the site so you can steal the material and use it in your content and service offerings, well, shame on you.
Thanks for reading.
Trace V. Ordiway