Automotive Digital Marketing

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How long do you follow up with your Internet leads?  What about your inbound phone calls that you haven’t set appointments for?  You might answer these questions with numbers from 90 to 120.  15 to 30.  60 days.  Forever.  You answer this way because that is the process you built in your CRM.  Allow me to tell you that this isn’t happening.


There is one thing a CRM cannot do and that is stop your sales team from taking the easy way out.  (That takes management).  My team actively mystery shops dealers all year long and the one guarantee we can make is that the majority of leads are flipped to a CRM status that automatically cancels your ongoing follow-up process. 


You might have a 90-day process in place, but I promise you that, without management looking, a good majority of your leads are being flipped to “Lost” or “Bad Lead”  or “Out of Market” because it is simply too easy for your salespeople to end the cycle.  Even if alerts are set up in the system that catch leads switched to “Lost”, it takes someone diligently holding feet to the fire and ensuring leads aren’t trashed for no reason.  The path of least resistance is taken with your leads far more often than the lead management process is allowed to do its job. 


You must train your people as to why the processes should run.  Allow the automated emails (going out with their name on it after all) to fire.  Maybe something in a latter email won’t offend, but entice.  Maybe the topic of a 75-day email reaches them at the right time and engages rather than annoys.  Your salespeople don’t always know their buying trends so they shouldn’t be allowed to cease the processes you put in place.


Over the last year, we at DealerKnows had over 400 mystery shops performed – and that doesn’t include the CRM email correspondence policing we do for our own dealers.  We also create and customize templates and long-term follow-up processes for our dealers.  Even with this, we’ve seen that the average number of days before all communication from dealership to prospect ends is roughly 8.  Eight days is the number of days the average dealership follows up with an Internet lead.  Now I know that your processes are built out longer than that, so I urge you to train your sales team to let it go.  Training and management will be the only way to stop them from dropping leads early. 


Let the ongoing emails do their job.  Let the scheduled outgoing phone calls be made.  Let the automated alerts reach the customers. Nowadays, it takes more communication to sell vehicles, not less.  Let your scheduled follow-up rain down on the consumers until they say no more.  Otherwise you are wasting well spent money that could still be converted into a sale.  So for that reason, I ask you to… let it rain.

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Tags: CRM, automotive, car dealer, consulting, dealer knows, dealerknows, dealerknows consulting, email templates, following up with leads, internet, More…internet leads, joe webb, lead management, let it rain, process, training, webb


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Comment by Malinda Terreri on September 21, 2011 at 6:34am

I would add two points. The first is that dealers should have a defined process for dealing with orphaned customers, including specific follow-ups to help build the new relationship between the customer and the newly assigned salesperson. Your customer base is one of your most important assets and too many times when a salesperson leaves, all effective communication with those customers and prospects stops as well.

The second point is that a follow-up campaign where you are always asking "Are you in the market now?" "Are you in the market now?" is much like the neighbor who always comes over to borrow your power tools. What do you do when you see that neighbor coming? You run the other way. Instead, our clients find that our eNewsletters that use a combination of humor, helpful info and videos help them build long-term relationships that pay off. You become a resource rather than just another solicitation while the soft-sell approach translates into more sales and service revenue.

Comment by Charles Kim on September 19, 2011 at 9:50pm
@Tom...agencies have expertise in creating non-verbal messages that generate a specific response, while dealers are generally bad at this except within a very narrowly defined scope. So when it comes to creating broad-ranging e-mail template messaging, I'm not saying an agency or consultant should write them without any input from the dealer, but that an agency or consultant (i.e. an expert) should help shape the messaging for the dealer. If a majority of dealer's could actually message CRM communications correctly, the mystery shops we all do of dealers nationwide wouldn't be so horrendously poor. I've written all new templates for dealers, and reprogrammed their CRM follow-up schedule, and every single one had a 100%-400% improvement in closing's that simple.

Speaking of horrendous e-mails, I got this beauty below on September 2 (I think this is e-mail #25 this year about overfollow-up). The sad part is that my inboxes are FILLED with e-mails like this from dealers across the country of mainstream and luxury brands...

Hello Charles,

I have been out most of the week and unable to answer the phone. I had a Crown explode and have spent a couple of days in the chair of an Oral Surgeon getting drilled and filled. Now that I no longer look (or talk) like the Godfather, here are the Labor Day deals you can't refuse.

Best to show up or email. Still a bit slow and hard to understand on the phone.

[Dealership Name] is ready to make you the best possilble deal on your next vehicle. Trucks arrive daily with fresh new vehicles.

If you know what you want, give me your shopping list and I will find it and put a price to it. Indicate if you want cash price (OTD), or if you need payment or lease terms. Some vehicles continue to be a bit short, but a new Allocation just posted, so I can update delivery times for some of those harder to find [Brand]'s.

Pre-owned and Certified Vehicles were stocked in special for this weekend (Over 200 in inventory) -- pictures descriptions and carfax at [Dealer Website URL]

In our newpaper ad this week:

New 2012 [Brand, Model] Automatic -- MSRP of $16,730. Sale price $15,913, Military (-$500) and College Grad (-$400) Net price of $15,013 + TTL.

New 2012 [Brand, Model, Trim] Automatic -- MSRP of $17,934. Sale price of $17,934, Military (-$500) and College Grad (-$400) Net price of $17,034 + TTL.

New 2011 [Brand, Model, Trim] -- MSRP of $25,990. Sale price of $22,798. Rebate (-$1,000) HMF (-$1,000) Military (-$500) and College Grad (-$400) -- net price $19,898+ TTL.

ALL [Model] in STOCK @ (-$1,500) below invoice BEFORE any rebates or specials apply.

New 2012 [Brand, Model], MSRP 35,235. Sale Price $32,336. Military (-$500) and College Grad (-$400) and Competitive/Owner Loyalty (-$1,500) -- Net price $29,936 + TTL.

2011 [Model, Trim]. MSRP $58,900. Sale Price $54,789. Military (-$500), College Grad (-$400) and Valued Owner ($1,000) -- Net price $52,889 + TTL. Lease available for $599 + Tax ($5K drive-off required).

Some rebates, such as Military Service and College Grad Finance program do require qualifications. Some rebates require financing through [Financing Source]. Ad vehicles were all in stock at that MSRP only.

Unlike some of the other dealerships, I am a real person that will work with you through the entire process. I do not use "closers" or "hand-offs" nor do I make promises I don't intend to keep. I make it personal and promise to give you a professional experience you will not soon forget. It helps if you call (or e-mail) for an appointment, but you are welcome to stop on by anytime. I am usually off on Thursdays.


[Dealer Name, Address, Location] has consistently been the best volume [Brand] dealer in the region. This gives us the advantage of a large in-stock
Comment by Joe Webb on September 19, 2011 at 9:17pm

@Tom - I know that Lori B has been talking about it for ages, but sooner or later we'll find the time to have me visit you down in Tinley Park.

@Charles - you are preaching to the choir about having different messages in your email communication.  It is something I have been shouting from the podiums for years.  Even yesterday in Vancouver speaking to dealers, I kept saying that your ongoing email templates must have different topics that relate to the specific needs of the lead.  Whether it be emails, video, chat, or phone, we must be sending targeted messages with a real, human voice that the consumer can connect to.  Tom is correct that your ad agency likely isn't the best to create written content to engage your consumers because what experience do most have actually speaking to car shoppers?  That being said, ad agencies DO have the graphics team that can create a more eye-appealing html layout for some of your follow-up.  You don't want to send html email templates every time, regardless of the consistent branding, just because of the potential spam filters.  Dealers need to figure out who their wordsmiths are (or hire someone that is) and trust them to engage consumers professionally.

That being said, you are 100% correct about ceasing the ridiculous trend of unending, daily calls and automated emails asking "still in the market?"  Even one of my primary competitors has a follow-up process bordering on telemarketing with 30 automated emails (one a day), and 4 calls a day for 30 straight days.  This is bordering on harassment in my opinion.  

If you want to be successful at lead management, you must think like a customer, manage and hold your team accountable, and utilize technology to its fullest.  Simple as that.

Comment by Tom Gorham on September 19, 2011 at 8:49pm
@Joe, I appreciate your modesty, but many people, me included, really appreciate your expertise and your manner of presenting it.  I agree that managers should be vigilant, and as much is possible, guarantee that customers will receive proper follow-up.  I guess that's the best we can do.  Our salespeople cannot mark a customer as "Lost".  It must be a manager.
Comment by Tom Gorham on September 19, 2011 at 8:44pm

Hi Charles, nice to hear from you again.  You stated, "When you overfollow-up (like the dealers that tell me they follow-up every single day for 7, or even 14 days straight), you are teaching the customer to ignore you.  Don't fall into this trap by following bad examples your competitors use."  I am happy to say I agree with you.  There's a difference between being persistent and harassing.

You also state, "But e-mail requires a very specialized communication tactic that honestly could use the help of your marketing or ad agency (to help create templates), because a vast majority of dealer employees (including dealer principals) aren't great marketers or brand managers."


I am sorry but I must disagree with you on this point.  I don't want professional ad people speaking with my customer.  They want real people.  At the risk of offending, most ad companies are not up to speed on digital marketing much less communicating on a real human being basis.  I believe an ordinary salesperson actually does that better... one to one.  Just my humble opinion. 


Comment by Charles Kim on September 19, 2011 at 8:04pm

Inspect what you expect!  Definitely need to periodically check any process to make sure it is working properly. 


As for frequency of follow-up (be it e-mail and/or phone), it should be progressive with increasing intervals up to 90 days (at least over 70).  And each communication MUST say or mention something different each time, and not the "Hey, just following-up to see if you're still interested in that vehicle" e-mail or phone call that most sales consultants resort to.  When you overfollow-up (like the dealers that tell me they follow-up every single day for 7, or even 14 days straight), you are teaching the customer to ignore you.  Don't fall into this trap by following bad examples your competitors use.


V-mail is one thing, and benefits from utilization of non-verbal communication (tone-of-voice in this case) which helps facilitate two-way communication, as opposed to content alone like in an e-mail.  But e-mail requires a very specialized communication tactic that honestly could use the help of your marketing or ad agency (to help create templates), because a vast majority of dealer employees (including dealer principals) aren't great marketers or brand managers.  They simply cannot put together an electronic communication that will effectively elicit the desired response, hence why so many resort to discussions about price only (which has the negative side effect of reducing gross too). Get some professional help here to do it right, and then do it every time.


But if you use your CRM system properly (as there are plenty of good systems out there), and program it to do what you want, you will get a much better result in terms of sales and CRM.  It's like your parts department weekly stock order system.  If your suggested stock order is consistently "wrong" (e.g. you have to add/delete several line items or quantities every week), it's because you didn't program it correctly.  The same goes for your CRM system...put in the correct follow-up frequencies, templates, and management oversight, and you will be far ahead of 95+% of your competitors who aren't working the system to it's full potential.

Comment by Joe Webb on September 19, 2011 at 7:48pm
Thanks for commenting, Tom, though I am definitely not worthy to be anyone's hero.  We always train on the importance of a second voice with every customer.  We have dealers that have their BDC's follow up on behalf of their ISMs from timeframes such as 3 days after the lead arrived up to 90 days later.  You should always have that BD T.O. if you will, trying to ensure all customers are followed up with.  However, it doesn't happen as much as dealers think it does.  Through the tracking we've done, it shows that often the sales team or Internet team will flip it to lost before a fourth call - and then the BDC would never even be alerted of the task.

Even though some CRMs allow you to set up action plans once a lead is flipped to Lost (as well as the previously mentioned alerts), most dealerships don't try to reconnect the dots and reactivate the leads.  It's good that you stay vigilant, but few dealers have someone paying such attention to detail.
Comment by Tom Gorham on September 19, 2011 at 7:13pm

Hi Joe, you're one of my heroes ad we will have you out one of these days.  We understand what you're saying.  We actually have a 90 day pogram in place in our CRM but it has relied on automated emails for the most part as it got farther out.  At Internet Battle Plan VI in Vegas, I picked up on T.O.s to BDC after a chosen time period.  We chose two weeks and have had some success with that, picking up some customers who would not respond.  Our BDC (Customer Care) people present a new face and fresh approach.  And did I say they are persistent and keep trying forever?


Nothing is perfect but I can tell you that no one gets marked "Lost" unless a manager agrees (usually me or my Assistant Manager).  We don't like Lost customers.  We just don't like to admit they're Lost.  At the very least we will continue to send them our company newsletter and specials unless they say STOP.

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