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Inbound Marketing: How To Win Customers By Influencing People

Lead > Contact > Show > Sell (LCSS).

That is the very definition of Automotive Inbound Marketing.

Have you ever noticed that the vendors in the automotive marketing space who are minimizing the importance of leads are also the same vendors that have never been able to generate them with any success?

Marketing is a conversation.

The start of that conversation is a lead. If you’re relying on lot traffic alone, you are not maximizing your sales potential.

By not seeking those conversations prior to the customer coming onto your lot, there is no way to know their motivations for being there. If you don’t know their motivations, then you are simply along for the ride. It’s much easier to sell a vehicle when you have information prior to the customer arriving, wouldn’t you agree? 

The dealerships that understand the LCSS process are the ones who are selling more cars.

Ask yourself this question:

“In today’s connected world, how do you expect to compete if you are not going to get more leads, contact more potential customers and get more of them to show up at your dealership?”

If you come up with an answer to increasing sales that doesn’t include increasing shown appointments through contacting more customers from leads, please enlighten all of us in the comments of this blog post. I assure you that we want to know.  

For those who do not have another answer, I am going to break down each step and give you data and suggestions that I hope will help you see increases across each step of LCSS.

Leads – Lead Generation is actually quite simple.

I wish I could tell you that it was magic (it isn’t) and that I was the only wizard who knew the spell (I’m not). Not unlike medieval alchemists, however, it’s science and that can seem like magic. So I am going to give you the secret formula on how to turn leads into gold...

Lead generation is a formula and a four part cognitive process that happens in the mind of your customer.

Four Part Process:

1 - Headline – First and foremost, you must have a compelling headline. People don’t read the web. They scan it. You need to ensure that your headline is compelling and will attract your prospect. Not only do you need to be able to grab their attention but you must also make them want to read or see more.

2 - Offer – Clear, Compelling and Credible. These are the three C’s that must be present in any offer you make to your potential customers. Clarity trumps persuasion. If your dealership is simply producing cute slogans or creating offers that require lengthy explanations, than you are already dead in the water. Customers do not have time for cute. They also do not have the time to spend figuring out exactly what your offer is. If they don’t understand it, they will simply move on to the next offer. THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER OFFER!

3 - Call-To-Action – What do you want the customer to do? Knowing the answer to this question is overlooked far too often.

In most marketing, especially in the case of web marketing, the calls-to-action are generic and non-compelling. An example would be “Get More Information.” This is not a call-to-action. If the customer does click on it, you are not going to get a lead. You are simply moving the customer to the next page that has your submission form below the fold with NO CALL-TO-ACTION at all. A call-to-action has to make the visitor want to act. While a call-to-action like “Get More Information” may increase your VDP views, those have ZERO CAUSATION TO SALES! There certainly may be a correlation but there is no causation. If you want proof, take a look at the highest VDP views on your website. You will find that they correlate to the most popular vehicles you sell. The VDP view itself did not cause more sales, its popularity did.

4 - Reason – In the end, you must give your prospect a reason to give you their information. If there is no reason provided, don’t be surprised that you didn’t get a lead. The reason you give your customers to convert into a lead is the single most important part of lead generation. If you cannot unlock a reason for customers to give you their information, you will not be successful at generating leads.


The Formula

Your ultimate goal is quality lead generation. A quality lead, however, is not simply a lead that results in a lay-down at the end of the buying cycle.

Quality Leads - Quality leads are those that include an accurate name, e-mail address, along with home and cell phone numbers. The accuracy of the information in the lead is what makes it quality, NOT the customer’s position in the buying cycle. Lead generation is the first step. Without good contact information, the remaining steps are useless.

Contact – The lead simply tees up the conversation. Contacting the customer by phone IS the conversation. Without a phone conversation, you will have very few shown appointments. There are some in our industry that believe a contact is defined by connecting via e-mail. Nothing could be further from the truth! The ONLY definition of contact is by phone.

“People buy from people not from websites or emails.”

Phone contact is where the conversation must take place.

Purchasing a vehicle is still the second largest purchase most people will make in their lifetime. Purchasing a vehicle is very much related to personality and lifestyle decisions made by the consumer. Most consumers will require a connection to the person they make that purchase from. That will never happen through an email or on a webpage.

Response time is a very important factor when it comes to connecting with customers.

Not for the reasons you think or have been told, however. Responding to the lead within five minutes doesn’t make the customer more receptive to you. While it may impress them, and it’s a great start, it’s not going to make the customer choose your dealership over your competition. What a five-minute response time will do is increase the chance that you will be able to contact the customer and that they are still receptive to your information and connection. Once you’ve passed the ten-minute mark, your customer is most likely back to their day-to-day routine of life.

ZMOT will tell you that a customer visits 18 different Internet sites before making a purchase decision. What it doesn’t tell you is that customers visit sites over a 50-day period during sessions lasting only 10-15 minutes at a time. They are not sitting down for two-hour research sessions about a vehicle.

With this in mind, your goal should be to connect to the customer while they are still focused on purchasing a vehicle. By contacting them within five minutes, the customer is more likely to give you their time and set an appointment. Time is the primary reason your customer is on the Internet. The more time you can save them, the more likely you’ll be to get an appointment. By focusing on getting an appointment rather than selling them a car, they’ll be more receptive to you’re the reason you give them to visit your store and, ultimately, set an appointment.

Shown Appointments – All too often, the only reason salespeople give a customer to come to the store is price-based. Salespeople are contacting customers and trying to sell a car, the dealership and themselves on the phone in the limited amount of time the consumer will give them. This is a very hard thing to accomplish. You are asking a customer to make a $40,000 decision over the phone. Most consumers won’t be comfortable doing this and that is why shown appointments hover in the 15-20% range. The ironic part is that some industry experts consider that statistic good. In order to achieve shown appointment rates of 50 percent or more, you need to give the customer a different reason to visit you than to make a $40,000 decision. The bottom line is that consumers want to be eased into the purchase. They are intimidated by this large purchase and, for the most part, won’t be willing to make it over the phone.

To increase shown appointments, salespeople should focus on the test drive and incentivising customers to visit. You achieve this by making sure that there is no obligation, no pressure to buy and that you simply want to help them make the right decision and give them a gift for visiting. Incentives are the number one way to increase shown appointments. When your incentive is tied to the store visit, not the purchase, you will increase your shown appointments and those will translate into more sales.

Sell – Once the customer comes to the dealership, marketing has done its job. It is still up to the dealer to make a sale. Keep in mind, however, that if you are incentivizing your customer to visit your store, you must be prepared to deliver the incentive instantly while they are still at your store. If you cannot, it will do more harm than good. Ask yourself this question:

“When a customer fills out a form to get an incentive on your site for visiting your dealership what do you think they are expecting when they get to your showroom?”

They expect the incentive, of course... How do you think they feel when you tell them “The check is in the mail”? Now you have confirmed your insincerity to a customer who already doubted it.  They will leave feeling as if your incentive was just another hook to get them to come in.

When you do provide the incentive instantly and do so without any strings – not even a test drive – you evoke a sense of reciprocity with the customer. They will have more belief that you are being sincere in your effort. They will be more likely to listen to you and you will be more likely to get a sale.


Automotive Inbound Marketing is about providing value to your prospect in order to initiate a conversation on their terms. When they do reach out to you and initiate a conversation, make sure to provide value, make it easy and, most of all, save the prospect time. That is the number one reason that the customer is on the web to begin with and what they have the least of.

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Tags: action, appointments, automotive, behavioral, call, contact, conversion, customers, generation, headline, More…inbound, incentive, increase, leads, marketing, offer, process, quality, response, to


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Comment by Larry Bruce on July 23, 2014 at 6:11am

Ralph, I wouldn't say this is easy...

"If it were easy everyone would do it"

I would say that this is more of a blue print to increasing car sales and like any blue print you have teams that work on each section. If each team executes properly your sales increase exponentially if not maybe just a little and you need to then start looking at your teams.

Leads Team: This is the primary responsibility of marketing and unfortunately this is where the breakdown happens most. Most marketing providers don't know how to generate a lead even with the formula I gave in this post. That's mostly because lead generation is part art, part science, part technology and most marketing providers in automotive focus far too much on the technology and don't work to understand the art or the science.

The good news here is you can get better at the art through science if you are testing but really how many marketing providers in automotive are doing that? I haven't found one other than us. Most marketing providers I run into in automotive shy away from leads as a source of measurement for success and focus on traffic.

"When was the last time you could pay your floorplan bill with with 25000 unique visitors or 5000 VDP views?"

Bottom line leads pay the bills.

BUT as we have found out recently you can produce more inbound leads than a dealership can handle even with a strong BDC staff. 

In June we produced over 1600 leads (a 60% increase) for one of our clients their contact time rose from 7 minutes to 22 minutes, shown appointment rate fell from 42% to 29% and their sales remained flat for the month after 23 months of continuous growth. We over shot the capacity of the BDC.

Contact Team: A BDC Critical for any Inbound Marketing Strategy to work. However as you pointed out Ralph it isn't easy. A strong BDC is where skill is required, but your marketing provider can make this easier. How? 

With technology - for example using our SAMe ("Sammy" Smart Automated Marketing engine) marketing automation technology we have managed to scale a BDC allowing more to be done with less people. SAMe marketing automation technology gets BDC personnel in contact with customer with in 5 minutes of lead submission and forces a proactive process of follow up until  the customer shows up at the store and even after the sale.

"One of the biggest problems with CRM in any industry is that they are reactive making the BDC rep go to the CRM instead of the CRM getting to the rep."

SAMe also monitors every microsite, every website, every email, every social engagement, every PPC click, every showroom & service visit and automates a series of email and text message follow up, engaging with the customers in dialogue to the extent a call needs to be made then even makes the call to the BDC rep or sales person and connects them with the customer. This is real AI not what has been passed off as AI in the past.

That technology helps the BDC focus on meaningful conversations with high value you prospects.

Shown Appointment: When you have good marketing producing quality leads and marketing automation that is helping to engage those leads and you can have more meaningful conversations with prospects you automatically get more shown appointments. The incentive to show also helps as it keeps the conversation focus off of the price and the sale of a car and puts it where is should be on the value of showing up at the dealership and taking a test drive. This way customer don't have to make a $40K decision to buy to visit your store, they make a decision to GET $25 to test drive a car. A much easier decision for a customer, I'm sure you would agree. 

The Sell: By this time you have teed up the prospect with an incentive, a great meaningful conversation and you have saved them time by getting to them quickly and given them value to show up at your dealership. All you have to do is deliver on that value with a great experience and your odds of selling that car increase 10X. 

Ralph while I would agree with you that this isn't easy a good marketing partner with the the process above and the art, science and technology to back it up does make it a lot easier. 

Comment by Ralph Paglia on July 23, 2014 at 4:18am

I really enjoyed this article, Larry... I cannot imagine that too many people would argue the importance of personal contact with prospective car buyers, but therein lies the rub... The skils involved to successfully execute what you have laid out are far more complex than I believe you are willing to admit... Because, we have debated the skills issue several times. 

Sometimes, when we attempt to simplify a complex process, there is the inevitable "dumbing down" factor which can withhold the aspects of execution which are the very greatest and most frequent points of failure... This leads to the often seen syndrome in the car business of:

"I did everything they told me to do and it didn't work... We did not sell any more vehicles than we did before we started."

The problem in those cases is not a lack of execution, it is a lack of information which was held back in an attempt to make the whole thing look easier and simpler than it actually is.

Comment by Carl Maeda on July 21, 2014 at 11:52am

It not only saves the prospect time but it let's them know what you, the sales person, does to get ready for the appointment.  So hopefully, the prospect will feel guilty about missing the appointment or at least call you to let you know that the appointment will be missed.

If the dealership has great reviews, I might also point that out as well because I would rather pay a little more for something as expensive as a car if I know the dealership has great service.

Comment by Larry Bruce on July 21, 2014 at 11:47am

AMEN Manny! But it's getting harder and harder to get appointments to show. We just aren't creating enough value in an appointment for a customer to make a $40K decision make the appointment and keep it. 

Developing a relationship then providing enough value to make the visit is the number 1 priority for Inbound Marketers that takes something other than price and a quick lead response time. 

Comment by Larry Bruce on July 21, 2014 at 11:43am

Good call Carl, I would classify that as saving your prospect time. That is their most precious commodity and the number one reason they went online to begin with. 

Comment by Carl Maeda on July 21, 2014 at 11:12am

Thanks Larry, great article!

Your point about Shown Appointments hits the nail on the head!  I like the part about incentivizing the prospect and I thought about one more incentive: 

Tell the prospect how much work you will do to prepare for the appointment. (All the paperwork will be done.  Your car will be cleaned, detailed, washed, etc. The appraisal team will be standing by at 2pm to look at your trade-in. )

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