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In the world of Professional sports, teams will spend hours researching how their opponents will react in any given situations. They watch film, update themselves on individual player’s conditions and personal lives and proclivities and look to extol any benefit possible from any information gleaned.

Recently Larry Bruce published a fascinating study based on watching hours of “game film” as to how consumers research buying a vehicle. I do not claim to have his level of expertise nor am I here to talk about the consumer side of car buying rather I would ask, are your people using all the tools available to them with the same acuity their clients are?

While the debate rages over lead response time, method, pricing and buying-cycle time frame, I would suggest that we as an industry are overlooking that simple fact that buying any vehicle, New or used, is a highly personal decision. Setting a standardized response process will only let you achieve status quo results. Current propaganda would have us believe that an I.S.M can handle 80-100 leads per month. I would suggest that to do it effectively no more than 60 is optimum.

Why is it that we recognize and preach constantly to a floor salesperson that they need to slow down, fact find and build rapport before showing a vehicle, getting to a write-up or asking for the sale yet I.S.M.’s are told to get out a quote within 1-15 minutes and try to get a commitment for a customer to get in the store? Sure, establishing contact is important, but building value is closing.

When a lead comes in, whether it’s an organic click or 3rd party (a debate of value on which I’m not going to touch here) a few key actions should take place.

1. Break It Down:

Take a look at how they found you. Look at the search engine, search term, pages viewed, time of submission, vehicle info requested and preferred method of contact. This will give you fascinating insight into the customer’s mind-set, follow-up strategy and even buying propensity. Are you really silly enough to believe that someone who submitted a lead at 4:00 am after looking on Google for used cars ,clicking through to your site and viewing 7 pages in 3 minutes on sedans $15,000 or less, is really in love with that 07 Camry that came in as vehicle of interest or wants a call, even though they requested e-mail only, at 8:30 a.m. because we need to have that lead clicked as responded to as soon as the doors open? What if instead we provide all they asked for on that vehicle, and an explanation of our vehicle inspection process as well as a few other vehicles in inventory. Also include as an option suggestion that New Camry in your old age inventory with 0% at 60 months which could equal the same payment as well as a link to your personal bio on linked-in or naymz that shows you to be not only professional but also personable and real? After all, which message are we more ready to return from the vendors we deal with, the cold call message sent to voice mail because we didn’t recognize the number or the one that we can see others have done business successfully with which, through a well crafted e-mail or site, sparked our interest as being able to provide a service and options that went beyond our basic needs.

By contrast, a lead from Edmunds or our O.E.M. site that, though not vin-specific, has all the options listed and is inquiring about availability would probably be best handled with physical proof (photos) that we can immediately satisfy their needs, plus our pricing, finance options and focus instead on the ease of the buying process and a value proposition of the unique culture that is your dealership? Why not go to Edmunds and re-build the inquiry and include the link? Such a consumer already knows all the incentives and invoice any way. All you succeed in doing by following a “yeah it’s here and I’ll give it to you @ 200 under” or “we meet or beat” philosophy is place yourself squarely in the midst of the other responses in the “deleted” file.

2. Make it personal:

Look for your customer on facebook, linked-in, spokeo, Google and get to know them. They’ve researched us, why are so many loathe to find out who they’re dealing with? Why are we as an industry behind the curve?

Two recent very satisfied customers come to mind:

A) The school teacher who submitted a lead on a corolla. In the response tailored to her, it “luckily” included a link to the salespersons personal blog that showcased him as the administrator of the “Teacher Appreciation Month” whereby educators receive special pricing as well as the ability to name the school we would send a $100 donation in their name to.

B) The gentleman whose facebook profile picture showed him in his driveway in a town 50 miles west of us with his beautifully maintained older truck sporting firefighter plates. Miraculously, he received with his response, in addition to the requested pricing on a used sedan, four other good gas mileage commuter cars as well as a link to our community action page showcasing our public safety program where we donate to and offer military-type pricing to all those who serve our community so well.

Yes response time matters and O.E.M’s will ever try to dictate a best practice that we all will have to placate and operate within, but slow it down, fact find and build value while showing the vehicle, giving your on-line write-up and asking for the sale and watch how, just as on the lot following good protocol, you turn a “tire-clicker” into a satisfied customer.

Bryan Armstrong is currently e-Commerce Director of Menlove Toyota Scion. An Industry veteran who has successfully ran multiple Dealerships, he was named “Most Innovative Dealer Group e-Commerce Director” at Digital Dealer 2009 and serves on VinSolutions National Dealer Advisory Board. He counts his awesome family as his greatest success.

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Tags: Armstrong, Bryan, best, handle, how to, internet, leads, manager, practices, processes, More…research, sales, satisfaction, success


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Comment by Bryan Armstrong on November 8, 2010 at 3:49pm
"A internet salesman works 6 month at a dealerships and quits, who takes over his leads that he's been working?"

We have a Customer Care Center that handles all inbound phone traffic as well as outbound follow-up and orphan care.
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on November 7, 2010 at 10:48pm
Unfortunately, I have found that "common sense" is anything but common. :)
I think an all to apt description would be to "settle to the mundane". Just as it is hard for some to meet and greet their 3rd up of the day with enthusiasm and genuine concern after the 1st was a 2 hr. ordeal only to find the credit wasn't there and the 2nd had 0 down and $8k negative, so is it easy for an i-net consultant to start to categorize all leads in a similar vein with recurring actions.
Every customer is unique and technology and social media with a little Sherlock Holmes/intuitive reasoning/common sense thrown in can produce powerful, measurable and quantatative results. Best of all, when done properly will re-generate business at a significantly higher levels than traditional salesmanship.
The true test is can an ISM clear their prejudice every time, F5 the excitement factor and follow simple key steps and put service in their process?
Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 7, 2010 at 9:03pm
Bryan's "Personable and Real" = our "Real and Genuine"
(just in case anyone missed the connection in our previous comment)
Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 7, 2010 at 8:59pm
Bryan - Thanks for writing and sharing a very insightful article. I have long found it useful to go back to where a consumer submitted their inquiry (lead) and look at the web pages they went through to understand what they were promised in exchange for submitting their personal and confidential information to unleash what they likely fear to be "The Hounds of Hell" in the form of car salesman calling and emailing them repeatedly to the point of stalker levels! Then, imagine their thoughts when all that happens is they receive a couple of automated emails, or templates so impersonal as to seem automated... What happened to the Hounds of Hell? The rabid car salesman? Regardless of their thoughts, it has been my experience that being genuine and sincere, not too formal, but willing to provide exceptional service... Real and Genuine are the words that come to mind, seem to work very well and change the process from reverse auction to one of where the customer feels more comfortable in doing business... Or at least, where they are willing to visit and take a test drive!

In many cases, I have seen the "Real and Genuine" approach result in customers showing up at the dealership simply to meet the person on the other end of the phone or email, and discuss the various features they are seeking and the kind of deal that they would like to receive. Heck, I have seen this evolve into a situation where we can't get rid of them and end up making them a phenomenal deal on my personal demo, just to get them out of the dealership! (true story!).

At any rate, you brought up so many key points that should be more common sense than profound knowledge that t worries me when so many people realize these are important factors and consider the points you make for the first time!
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on November 7, 2010 at 8:04pm
Thanks Frank. I know there are people out there that can handle the 100 leads a Month level, but I guess I would ask why? It took me until my second year as a salesperson in the business before I never took another "fresh up" unless it was by choice. The point I was trying to make there is that by getting to know your clients before and after the sale you maximize production and profit. If diet Coke is on sale at Smith's this week, I will get it there. However, next time I need to re-stock, their low price won't automatically take me back there if Harmons has it on sale at that time. On the opposite side of things, I pay MORE for the exact same brands at Nordstrom's due to the level of service I receive. I.S.M.'s are in a unique niche inside the Dealership (though they shouldn't be but that's another topic) to utilize technology to maximize contact and relationships. Not only to their direct clients but also to all that person's friends. What used to take a year can now be accomplished within 3 months.
Like I said, it's just changing the focus to reflect the floor attitude of "build relationships and trust" but now with the power of technology behind it. Think "word of mouth" on steroids. Think "WORD OF MOUSE"! :)
Comment by Frank Davis on November 7, 2010 at 3:56pm
A brilliant article very well written by one of the very best in the business, Mr. Bryan Armstrong you sir are an ISM's ISM but I will say please do not starve me with 60 leads as I will work each over and over and over, until they buy or die if you will.

I believe it is all time management and the amount of leads you can effectively work is relative to your work habits and the lead management tool you are using to set new tasks etc, so many people do not take the time to understand and use the tools they are given.

As for your contributions on how to respond to a lead by actually looking at each consumer and what they have been looking at and how they were looking is spot on and hits home, as many days I see the mistakes being made such as responding to a black book lead with something like "the vehicle you asked about is in stock" and not paying attention to the fact this person really is interested in the value of the trade at the present moment.

Great article Bryan and I will be sharing it.

Comment by Bryan Armstrong on November 7, 2010 at 3:29pm
Joe- First off, thank you for your comments. There was a time when I agreed with the 80-100 number, yet within the last year as I find people dropping into the sales funnel earlier and the follow-up process elongating. Most give up because they have hot new leads or they think they "know" what a customer wants. I believe that if someone was good, then yes perhaps as many as 80, but at 60 after 3 months their pipeline and referral business would more than compensate for 20 less leads. If they get overwhelmed they are clicking "completed" on their task list like I used to hit the fire button on the asteroids game! :)
Give them 100 only at the risk of leaving deals on the table or losing them to your competitors. Just make sure that they are guaranteed a minimum compensation level for 2 months to get them to truly buy-in without desperation setting in.
Comment by Joe Webb on November 7, 2010 at 2:22pm
Solid article, Brian. As you know, we share VERY similar beliefs in the importance of spending the time to properly deconstruct the lead and glean information in a way to help build rapport. I believe that your examples of benefits from a personalized response are excellent and I commend you for that. We were speaking about that together almost 3 years ago. Amazing how Internet technologies change but some simple best practices don't. Heck, it is even MORE important now than it was then.

But let me play devil's advocate on something and start a debate. You say that 60 leads are plenty for an Internet salesperson. That is wrong. Unless your goal is for them to sell 10 cars at best and be bored for long stretches of time. Let's lay out some time details.

Mystery shop a lead and deconstruct it with online information: 10 minutes (at best, or they suck at searching)
Write out a personal, well-thought out, engaging reply with pricing: 10 minutes (or they suck at searching/pricing/writing)
60 leads would give you 3 leads a day at the most. That is one hour out of 8 dedicated to handling leads.
They sell one car a day (reaching A LOT here) which would take up 3 hours. That is four hours taken out of 8.
Then there is follow up. Over a 120 day buying cycle, you wouldn't want a customer called more than every 5 days (more frequent in the beginning and much less frequent in the latter weeks). On average, let's go high and say every 5 days. That means, at 60 leads a month for 4 months, with a contact every 5 days, it would equal 12 calls to make a day. 12 calls could take one hour at best, am I right?
What do you want your basic internet sales people to do for the other 3 hours? Coffee clutch? Take an extended lunch? Do a vehicle video walk-around? Play on Facebook?

Simply put, 60 leads isn't enough to suffice. 80-100 is a much better number of leads to give your ISM. My opinion. What say you, Bryan?

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