Many dealers still treat online customer purchase requests as the conclusion of the Internet shopping process to be followed up with a couple of standard mails or a phone call. End of story.
But a R.L. Polk & Co. study suggests that these dealers may be doing themselves a disservice by stopping there. Instead, it should be seen as a beginning of sorts.
Polk analysts tracked nearly 50,000 Autobytel purchase requests and found that 67% of customers who submitted a new-vehicle purchase request bought a vehicle. Two-thirds of those customers purchased within 90 days, one-third within 30 days. Fifty days was the average.
These findings underscore not only how serious online buyers are, but also how important it is for dealers to build strong relationships with their online customers both in the near and the far term.
This is easier to accomplish than it may seem. It requires a revision in thinking — and process — that re-defines the post-purchase request period as a more pivotal, and often more extended, part of the buying/marketing cycle than previously imagined.
With this change of thinking in mind, here are a few easy-to-implement best practices that can help your dealership maintain an effective dialogue with your Internet customers during the period after the purchase request submission, when they're still poised to buy:
- Treat 'em like showroom customers
Online buyers want showroom information without spending much time in the showroom. Work to translate the traditional sales experience — meet and greet, fact-finding, inventory walk and product presentation, etc. — to the Internet. Online shoppers use the Internet to shop price quotes, but also to eliminate poor performing dealerships from their consideration sets. Use creative Internet communication — testimonials, html emails, inventory links, etc. — to let them know what your store has to offer, and what a great experience they can expect.
- Invest in a lead-management tool
Look for a tool that makes it easy to manage complete dealership histories for each customer, and which leverages this information to automate daily sales team scheduling as well as targeted and timely email campaigns. Make sure that this tool is uncomplicated, user-friendly and quickly adaptable to new users. The more ‘heavy lifting’ the tool can take on, the more you can concentrate on what you do best. Beware of tools that require more than a one-year contract. You don't want to be locked into obsolete technology. Also, don't pay too much. Excellent, reasonably priced tools are available. A great tool does the most work with the fewest steps.
- Provide helpful inventory options
Online buyers tend to aim high when they submit purchase requests. In addition to providing information on the requested vehicle, quote a comparable vehicle that's 10% less expensive. According to the Polk study, 25% of those who purchased ultimately opted for a used vehicle, so provide information about both the lowest-priced vehicle in the category as well as some used and/or certified pre-owned options. In general, work to expand the discourse from a simple “yes-or-no” conversation about a specific price quote to a more general dialogue about the customer's needs and priorities, and how you can best serve them.
- Maintain regular communication
Of course, responding to customers quickly is an essential first step, but that's all it is — a first step. Expand the standard two-email initial point of contact with weekly broadcast emails, each offering a value proposition, complemented by periodic low-pressure phone calls to stay in touch and encourage a showroom appointment.
Dennis Colome is the director of dealership training and best practices for Autobytel Inc. and AVV's Web Control.