Today’s Car Dealership Customers ‘Much More Sophisticated’

Yes, you can develop strong relationships with online customers, says Herb Barbee, McCombs dealership Internet director.

Tom Beaman, Contributor

June 7, 2016

3 Min Read
Many online car shoppers prefer texting Barbee says
Many online car shoppers prefer texting, Barbee says.

Billionaire Red McCombs is well-known in Texas as the founder of the Red McCombs Automotive Group in San Antonio and a former owner of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. A sign of his philanthropy, the University of Texas’ School of Business building in Austin bears his name.

His 7-store San Antonio-based dealership group ranks No.57 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100. One of those stores, McCombs Ford West, ranks No.43 on the WardsAuto e-Dealer 100. It employs 170 people, 50 of them in sales, says Henry Finley, general manager. 

In a good month, the dealership sells up to 490 new and used units, Finley says. Close to half of those are deliveries by the dealership’s Internet salespeople, says Herb Barbee, Internet director. He discusses that operation with WardsAuto.

WardsAuto: Describe your Internet strategy.

Barbee: We try to maintain as significant a presence as possible on the Internet in all forms and fashions. We are involved with social media. We keep our websites updated with promotional things. We deal with several different vendors from whom we buy Internet leads. People submit inquires and we try to respond to those as quickly as possible.

WardsAuto: Do the third-party sites provide quality leads or do you have to pick and choose?

Barbee: It varies, depending on vendors. Some of them give us higher quality leads, but it’s hard to differentiate when they first come in. We actually act on every lead as if it’s a high-quality lead, and we find out as we go along. But we try to respond to them all as they come in.

WardsAuto: What third parties do you use?

Barbee: Autobytel, TrueCar, AutoTrader, CarsDirect, A lot of them, frankly.

WardsAuto: What’s the most effective tool or channel?

Barbee: Typically our best leads come from our own website, because those people are already familiar with us. They’ve been to our site, they know our location.

WardsAuto: Is everyone on your sales team considered an Internet salesperson?

Barbee: We distribute leads to probably 60% of the sales staff. Those are the guys who are much more comfortable sitting down at a computer constructing their own e-mails and working on the phone. Several of the guys are old car dogs and they prefer to work off the lot.

WardsAuto: What’s keeping you from maximizing your potential when it comes to e-commerce?

Barbee: Over the years, customers have gotten much more sophisticated. They know much more about these vehicles, so as we contact them, if we don’t give them the information they need right up front, we lose contact with them.

It’s an ongoing battle to keep engaging them and trying to get them to respond. We have had great success with texting, quite frankly. People are much more likely to respond to a text message these days than to a telephone call or e-mail.

WardsAuto: Can you develop the same kinds of relationships with your online customers as you have with others?

Barbee: Absolutely. It may not be as personal as if they were sitting there eyeball to eyeball with you, but more often than not, when customers start responding and we’re able to get involved in an online conversation with them, a rapport develops and it turns into a very fruitful relationship.

WardsAuto: What would you like to do with the Internet that you can’t do now, either budget-wise or technology-wise?

Barbee: We’ve been trying to promote videos more. I’m convinced that’s the best way to engage a customer. We’ve been able to create some videos. I would like to see a more professional approach to that. We have gotten quite a bit of traction off the videos that we have made. I would just like to institutionalize it.

WardsAuto: Is it easy to find employees who are comfortable with new technology?

Barbee: It’s a two-edged sword. The younger generation is much more comfortable with technology than the older ones. The flip side of that is the younger generation sometimes needs a little more prodding. 

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