Some Car Dealership Customers ‘Just Show Up’

Internet sales leads are important, but not all-encompassing.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

October 28, 2015

2 Min Read
Benites uses both Internet and oldfashioned salesmanship to sell cars
Benites uses both Internet and old-fashioned salesmanship to sell cars.

Sure, car shoppers who submit online sales leads are worthy.

But their numbers are few, says Jeff Kershner, founder of DealerRefresh, a website for Internet sales and marketing professionals who, it says, “are grinding away every day at the dealership.”

Only 3% to 7% of shoppers fill out and submit websites’ form leads, he says at the annual Driving Sales Executive Summit here.

“It’s not that they aren’t important, but we’re so fixated on that 3%, we can forget the 97% who come to the dealership in other ways.”

Just about everyone in the market for a vehicle shops and researches online. But their entry point to the dealership is through various means.

Many of them work the phone – especially considering today’s smartphone functions. But often “they don’t call or submit leads, they just show up,” says Kershner, a former dealership Internet director.

Danny Benites, general manager of Greg Lair Buick GMC in Amarillo, TX, says he got too “hung up on the Internet” when it first hit the scene. “I plugged into it. I let up on tried-and-true sales processes.”

He’s since found a happy medium in his market where “there are more cattle than people around my dealership.” He now fosters sales in various ways, from the Internet to down-home salesmanship. “All dealers want are leads and conversions,” he says.

Customers once went to dealerships looking for product and pricing information. Now they can get that online “while wearing their pajamas at home,” Benites says.

They ultimately go to dealerships looking for confirmation and validation of their online homework, he says. “This is a personal business. It comes down to that. We’ll always need a salesperson doing that.”

But for dealers, there’s a risk of not enough engagement if customers rely a lot on the Internet to car shop, says Aleksandra Banas, e-commerce director at Lexus of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada.

“Who is speaking for the dealership or the brand when a consumer is doing research online?” she says. “We need to have a conversation early.”

Studies indicate most shoppers, having done all that preparatory work, are ready to buy a car at a dealership they’ve picked to visit. But even at that near-final point, human missteps can trip up a deal.

“Salespeople can single-handedly be the reason someone chooses not to buy at a particular dealership,” says Joe Webb, a trainer at DealerKnows consulting.

Leads gone bad can stem from store mismanagement, Kershner says. “A lot of sales managers should have stayed in sales positions to sell a lot of cars. They have that skill, but they don’t have management skills.”

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