No matter where you go or to whom you speak in the industry today, everyone — and I mean everyone — is working overtime to overcomplicate Internet auto sales and marketing.
There are many reasons this is happening. For starters, the Internet involves not just technology, but relatively new technology. New technology is always complicated. (Or at least the new technologists and those selling new technologies want you to think it is.)
From product managers to programmers to technology sales people, everyone on the vendor side of a new technology-related product or service speaks in a language none of us understands.
The new technology is shiny and solves problems we didn't even know we had. Forget for a moment that we don't understand any of it — we simply must be the first one to buy it.
In addition to the effects of new technologies, automotive sales via the Internet are complicated because we believe they are complicated.
Put a three-year-old child in front of a computer and they'll begin exploring without fear. Put a 30-year automotive industry veteran in front of the same computer, and you'll likely notice sheer terror forming across his brow.
Finally, the Internet has become overcomplicated because dealerships and dealer groups continue to struggle with the simplest Internet questions. Questions such as, “What constitutes an Internet sale?”
Unless or until we forget these non-issues, we cannot truly move forward with growing sales via this medium.
So how do we undercomplicate it all? How can we remove the fear felt by nearly every dealership general manager, general sales manager and dealer principal, and replace it with the same confidence they exude when dealing with traditional industry problems?
Primarily, we need to treat the Internet not as a new marketing and selling channel (complicated), but rather as a different road to the sale (uncomplicated).
Luckily for us, the Internet road contains just three steps: attracting, selling and following up with customers. Let's look at those three.
In the old days, we used newspaper, TV, radio and giant inflatable gorillas to attract prospects to our dealerships.
Today, we are required to redirect much of our media dollars to the Internet to help customers find us — using a mix of search engines, third-party leads and various websites to attract customers.
While media such as search engines and websites might seem complicated to those who have barely mastered e-mail, these are actually less complicated than the traditional media you employed in the past.
What makes this channel so simple to master is measurement. If you believe that everything on the web is measurable, you'll never make another bad buying decision. Here are three simple steps you can employ today to never overspend when you're attracting customers:
- Complete a simple return-on-investment report. Take the cost of an advertising medium divided by the number of sales attributable to the medium. This equals that medium's cost per sale.
- Eliminate costly or ineffective Internet marketing or acquisition vendors.
- Never be the first dealer to buy a new marketing or advertising product. (The Internet has taught us that no one can sustain a creative competitive advantage.) Let others be the guinea pigs and then buy only when you know a product will move the needle.
The top sales people on your floor from the 1980s and 1990s shared a few traits. They knew their product (though they weren't always the smartest salesmen on the floor). They maintained a strong customer list that they contacted often. They followed a strict (though unwritten) process with each prospect.
These factors allowed the members of this select group to sell more than 20 cars per month and enjoy high closing percentages.
As before, there is no magic to selling cars today, especially via the Internet. It takes processes and people. Nothing more. And certainly nothing less. Three quick tips:
- Staff your Internet team to match your goals and your current lead counts.
- Follow strict processes dedicated to gaining an appointment that shows.
- Use mystery shopping and customer-relationship management (CRM) reporting to ensure your team follows these processes.
Following Up with Customers
We all agree it's cheaper to keep a customer than to attract a new one. Maximizing the post-sale relationship with customers is a snap when you consider the technological advances we've seen of late.
From customer-satisfaction surveys to extended warranty pitches to service reminders, the Internet customer is open to this low-cost marketing medium.
And because every decent CRM tool provides automated post-sale follow-up schedules, we can manage most of this relationship with little to no human intervention.
Unfortunately for those still stunned by technology, vendors who peddle any of the products or services designed to help you attract, sell or follow up with customers can overcharge you if they can overwhelm you by overcomplicating the Internet.
Here are five final tips that can help you cut through the hype and truly undercomplicate the Internet sales and marketing phenomena:
- Stop trying to define an “Internet sale” and just realize virtually all of your customers start online.
- Always (and I mean always) give credit to the lead source of every sale, especially floor sales.
- Remember that the truly great Internet departments focus on process and people, not on products and promotion.
- Every Internet lead and every Internet sale can be tracked, giving you a true ROI for your marketing dollars, and allowing you to make intelligent, uncomplicated decisions.
- Never let a vendor overcomplicate their product or service again. Don't be ashamed to say, “Why?” or “Prove it” or “Show me” when someone dangles the next great shiny object in front of you.
Ideally, you are now better prepared to face the onslaught of new Internet-related products and services.
You are ready to stand up to the overcomplicating peddlers of new technology by using a little bit of measurement and a lot of common sense.
Armed with greater confidence and the knowledge that Internet sales are not complicated, you will soon become an expert at attracting, selling and following up with the Internet customer.
Steve Stauning is the e-commerce director for the Asbury Automotive Group.
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