A dealer’s expertise today must border on that of an IT expert if the store is taking full advantage of the Internet. That ranges from understanding the benefits of different Website formats to software that measures sales channel efficiency.
Bill Feinstein is the dealer principal of Planet Honda in Union, NJ, No.12 on the 2016 WardsAuto e-Dealer 100.
Planet Honda’s team continually evaluates new technology that “gives consumers what they want in the format they want it and makes things as easy for them as possible,” he says. It helps to work with vendors who “understand and are deeply invested.”
WardsAuto spoke to Feinstein about his operation. Here’s an edited version of the Q&A.
WardsAuto: To what do you attribute your growth?
Feinstein: In the last few years we’ve seen two major paradigm shifts in the BDC (business-development-center) world.
Number one is the shift in phone calls versus leads. Lead volume continues to drop across most websites, but at the same time phone calls grow at an even greater pace than the drop-off in leads.
So we’ve spent a lot of time and money over the last two years investing in phone training and phone accountability systems to make sure that our people are prepared for the mobile revolution.
The second piece of it is there’s been some change in the ability to find customers in your data base that are potentially in equity or that might be paying a very high interest rate and have paid their banks well, or customers that are in for service and may have had a very large service bill and may be in an equity position and finding ways of activating those customers before they get heavily into the market.
WardsAuto: Why has the number of submitted Internet leads gone down?
Feinstein: We’ve seen it from our own website and even from some of the third parties that the lead counts – e-mail form submissions – have been dropping. The absolute number of opportunities is increasing because the growth in phone calls has more than offset the drop in form submissions.
We use call tracking so we can tell the source of every phone call. We know if the phone call originated from our website or one of the third-party Internet sites. A general phone call into our BDC is completely different than a call originating from our website or a partner site.
More and more consumers are shopping via their phones and tablets as opposed to desktops. For people who use phones, it’s a lot easier to hit “click to call” than it is to fill out a form.
WardsAuto: Has your cost per sale gone down with this technology?
Feinstein: The cost per sale has maintained itself. In the last 18 months there has been a dramatic increase in the paid-search arena. The price you pay for a click from Google has increased dramatically because of things they have done in their algorithms and limiting positions. There are just a lot more players out there. If you’re trying to conquest someone else’s business it’s gotten a lot more expensive than it used to be.
WardsAuto: To what extent does the factory help you understand new Internet strategies or best practices?
Feinstein: I just returned from a meeting last week with our local Honda zone. After our normal grassroots meeting, we had representatives from Facebook and Google doing learning sessions.
Most of the OEMs, but especially Honda, have figured out that they need to continue educating their dealers about the changing landscape. Honda did a great project this year where they paid for a vendor to measure every single dealer’s social-media visibility, from your online reputation to your Facebook and Twitter presence.
Honda is starting to lead the way in understanding that all those different things make an impact on the business.
WardsAuto: What advice would you give colleagues about choosing a website or any other e-commerce vendor?
Feinstein: We’ve actually seen some counter-intuitive things – our time on site has dropped slightly, but our form submissions and phone calls continue to track well. What that says is our users are having a better experience because what they’re finding what they need quicker. You’ve got to give the consumer what they want in the format they want it and you need to make things as easy for them as possible.
We’ve now gone to quarterly meetings where we bring our entire advertising team together – our website provider, our digital vendor and our traditional advertising vendor – to review the next quarter’s plan, the prior quarter’s results, and make sure that everyone involved really understands their role and everyone else’s.
We really want to make sure we’re speaking with one voice and a very consistent message.