“Internet car shoppers are not necessarily looking for a cheaper price. But they are most certainly looking for an alternative shopping experience.”
This site is a free word-for-word recreation of the Kindle and paperback book "The Art & Science of Internet Car Sales." The content 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.
The magic formula for success in Internet car sales is not magic at all, of course. At its highest level it's just "Provide your customers with the shopping experience you would want if you were the customer." Why should that be so hard? Yet it is.
Most dealers get hung up on these three obstacles:
- How do we do it? What are the steps for going about it?
- How do we get salespeople to learn the sales process and then stick with it?
- How do we give info and pricing over the Internet and still make gross?
We are going to spend most of our time in this book addressing these questions. Whether you are brand new to the biz or are a veteran Internet/BDC salesperson I think you will find valuable instructional content here.
After 26 years of inside and outside sales (houses, multimedia services, software and cars) I became a salesmanship and communications skills best practices consultant in 2010. Every week I am in car dealerships watching, listening, teaching, training, and helping them improve their Internet departments and BDCs. So you can be assured that the information herein is up-to-date real world stuff that works.
I hope you enjoy what follows.
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? Yes and no; the changes the Internet has brought to our industry go far above the addition of new electronic communications mediums.
1). Nobody Makes A Purchase Today Without First Using the Internet To Become Informed. Any and all products at every price point are now viewed on a screen before they are seen in person at a store. This means today’s retail shopping experience includes an extra step that did not exist before. This phenomenon, nicknamed Zero Moment Of Truth or ZMOT in 2011, is explained well and in great detail in Google’s free e-book “Winning The Zero Moment Of Truth.” If you are not already familiar with the concept I highly recommend you take a moment to look over one or all of these essential pages.
2). Everything You Do Is Now Public Knowledge. 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.
3). You Are Now Evaluated On Your Ability As A Communicator. We’ve already established that 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. So how does your dealership come across on your website? In your outbound emails? On consumer review sites? What does your online presence say about you and your store? What is your narrative? Do you own your brand? What is your brand? Are you in control of your message, or is the message unintentionally controlling you?
4). 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.
WHAT IS “INTERNET SALES”?
We are going to use the phrase “Internet sales” a lot in this book. Most of us use it to mean responding to incoming eLeads (electronic form leads) 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 for a face to face encounter.
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.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD INTERNET SALESPERSON?
Being a retail Internet automobile salesperson requires a certain amount of skill in:
- Written Communications
- Telephone Communications
- Prospect Data Management
It is not necessary to be extremely 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 creating successful Internet sales communications, has put together an effective 1st Response and Long Term Follow-Up Process in a CRM, and knows how to motivate its team to continually follow the process, then all you have to do is make the calls and send the emails as prompted, use the templates provided, and follow the process. You will be guaranteed a certain level of success.
The prospect management component does require 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 showroom/floor salesperson begins each day asking, "What can I do to sell a car today?" The Internet car salesperson (especially the new car salesperson) instead asks "What can I do today that will help me sell a car today and another one the day after that? And the day after that? And the day after that?" Whereas showroom/floor selling is pretty much all tactical, Internet sales is both tactical and strategic.
Therefore, 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. (As a general rule women seem to be better at this than men, perhaps explaining why you see more women in Internet/BDC departments than on the sales floor.)
Some people mistakenly assume that Internet car sales is easy, that you just sit in your chair all day and stare at a screen while sales opportunities wash over you. But in fact, Internet sales is often harder than floor sales because the Internet/BDC salesperson does not have the advantage of face to face contact with the customer and does not have the physical product at hand. The Internet/BDC person has to build trust and an emotional connection with the customer (tangible intangibles) solely through the use of written word and voice. And so, never underestimate the importance of good salesmanship skills in Internet car sales. It is as necessary here as it is in any other form of selling - probably more so.
HOW DO INTERNET PROSPECTS DIFFER FROM WALK-IN PROSPECTS?
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 differing sets of expectations.
In the classic showroom sales set-up, the customer walks in the door 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, “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 first. 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.
HOW MANY TYPES OF eLEADS ARE THERE?
While there are many lead sources there are only a few lead types. With few exceptions all of your incoming eLeads fall into one of five categories:
1). New Car/Truck - General Inquiry
Provides name, contact info, plus (in most cases) year, make and model of vehicle desired - and little else.
2). New Car/Truck – In-Stock Unit Inquiry
Provides name, contact info, plus VIN or Stock # of the car or truck desired.
3). Used Car/Truck – In-Stock Unit Inquiry
Provides name, contact info, plus VIN or Stock # of the car or truck desired.
4). Credit App First.
The prospect begins everything by submitting a credit app.
5). Trade-In Valuation
Provides semi-detailed info on prospect's current car/truck - may or may not tell you what the consumer wants to buy to replace it.
Each lead type requires its own unique first response. Failure to send the correct response can result in a disgusted prospect. Always take care to read the lead and then send an appropriate first response. (More on this later).
WHAT'S THE BIG HURRY?
In Internet time, a minute seems like an hour and a few seconds wait time is unbearable. (Think about it; how long do you allow the little hourglass or daisy wheel to spin before you give up in disgust and move on to a different page?).
Although the Internet prospect may not respond quickly to you (if at all) he/she nonetheless expects you to respond within a time frame that matches his/her attention span. This means that a slow response (1+ hour after lead arrival) runs the risk of being only slightly better than no response at all. All the studies conclude that he/she who responds quickly has the advantage in getting the prospect’s attention. However, prospects quickly dismiss fast responses with no satisfying content. Therefore the real winner is the dealer who responds fast and who also provides information of value to the consumer.
WHY CAN’T WE JUST GET ‘EM IN?
You hear the above question all the time from sales managers who don’t understand the logic of Internet shoppers.
Today’s Internet car shoppers are self-educating themselves as much as they can, contacting retailers only when it becomes a necessary step toward reaching their purchase goal.
If you tell this customer you will not/cannot provide information of value until he/she comes to your store they will never come to your store.
The way the shopper sees it, if you (the dealer) are not helping him/her advance to the sale by providing information he/she needs then you are actually standing in the way of the sale.
Why would they want to do business with a store like that?
why MUST WE 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/BDC people are 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 lead 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, a BDC or a properly managed All-Internet store
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