Using Email for Car Dealership Prospecting? Do It Right

Tips on doing digital marketing campaigns correctly, both from a legal and marketing sense.

Dan Smith

May 11, 2015

5 Min Read
Using Email for Car Dealership Prospecting? Do It Right

Using email to attract new buyers and prospects is a bit of a third rail for auto dealers.

Many are so afraid of running afoul of spam rules they throw up their hands and do nothing. It can appear complex, and certainly rules need to be follow, but email is effective for conquest prospecting, if you know how to do it right.

First, any business that uses email for marketing should review the Federal Trade Commission’s “CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business.”

It provides a great overview of the rules and regulations around spam. Fortunately, most email service providers incorporate compliance with the guidelines into their technology platforms. That makes it easy for businesses to follow best practices.

Let’s focus more on the pre-planning and data acquisition aspects, which are typically more difficult for first timers.

Finding Data Sources. In my experience, the hardest part for newbies often is finding a trustworthy, accurate target list.

This can be a minefield because many disreputable companies are willing to sell lists. The problem is consumers on those lists often did not opt in for redistribution of their contact information, meaning they didn’t agree to be contacted with other marketers such as you.

If you use data that was illicitly gathered, it’s likely to result in spam complaints. So it’s crucial to find a quality list from a reputable source.

Most legitimate data sources will rent lists only for one-time use, not sell them. Anyone who then responds to your email campaign and fills out an opt-in form (called a conversion) then becomes part of a prospect record that you own.

Those who don’t respond should not be added to your prospect database.

This follows best practices for email marketing and anti-spam, and also incentivizes marketers to run quality campaigns focused on converting contacts into prospects, and prospects into customers.

Size and Scope. List brokers talk about “selects.” That means the criteria used to define a target audience. At a minimum, consider proximity, such as a 20-mile (32 km) radius from your store.

Ideally, build your list using propensity models. That is, which consumers are likely to be in the market for a vehicle and what type of vehicle they are most likely to purchase. This helps ensure your email pitch is relevant and timely and likely more welcomed by the recipient.

Call to Action. Make it strong. This could be an exclusive offer or rebate, an invitation to an event at your store or educational content such as a Guide to Buying an SUV. The objective is to get the prospects to fill out an online form that grants you permission to continue sending them emails. Put some sort of deadline on your offers to encourage recipients to act quickly rather than file your message away.

Subject Line. This is the most important part of the email. It needs to be short, to the point and impactful. The objective is to get the recipient to open and read the email. Beware of using words and characters that trigger spam filters, such as all caps, exclamation points, “free” “sale,” and “clearance.” Most importantly, according to CAN-SPAM regulations, subject lines cannot be misleading.

Design. CAN-SPAM requirements include providing the dealership’s contact information and allowing recipients to opt out of future campaigns.

Chances are the email marketing software you’ve chosen already includes these must-haves, and it probably offers pre-built HTML templates you can use to design your campaign that already have these elements baked-in. 

Take advantage of creative content offered by your dealer association or agency of record such as brand-ready templates, images, national/regional offers and brand-aligned copy that you can leverage and localize as needed.

Test. Before you send emails to the entire audience, send them to a small control group. Ideally this group should be comprised of different types of email clients – e.g., Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and the major Internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast. You want to make sure your message is delivered successfully via all the major channels.

Most email marketing tools incorporate features that make this easy and show how your email will appear when recipients view it on computers, tablets and mobile devices. 

Allow time not only for testing, but also for tweaking copy and images and then re-testing until everything is perfect. Don’t forget to test your call-to-action web forms, and make sure data submitted on those forms gets to the right place (usually your CRM). There’s no point in running a conquest campaign if you can’t collect the opt-in permissions.

Send. When you’re done with testing, schedule  the campaign. Depending on the size of the list, it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours for all the messages to be rendered and delivered. Think about when you’d like your email to be received – early morning, midday, after work – and schedule accordingly. You’ll find that most of your responses will come in the first 48 hours. After that, they trail off significantly.

Modern email marketing platforms, especially those designed specifically for auto dealers, are fairly foolproof when it comes to following anti-spam and FTC regulations. If you don’t have a dedicated email marketing person, look for one of the turnkey tools that provides proven campaigns right out the box. 

If you follow the rules, you can enhance your brand, boost your database, widen your sales pipeline and ultimately sell more vehicles.

Dan Smith is chief marketing officer for Outsell, a digital-marketing software firm. He can be reached at 612-236-1500 or [email protected].

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