When you’re an auto dealership in the number 5 market in the country, there’s no time to take things slow. You’ve got to stay focused, stay energized and stay informed.
That’s what’s happening in the Internet department at Sanderson Ford in Glendale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. There are 11 other dealerships in the Phoenix metro area, and four of those were in the top 50 in the United States. But Sanderson is fighting that competition hard and is the number one Ford dealer in its six-state region.
Sanderson Ford originally took to the Web in 1995, knowing it needed a Web presence to compete. Back then, the dealership had a locally run Internet service provider that handled its Web site, too.
Over the years, SandersonFord.com has evolved into a top-of-the-line interactive site that does just about everything the Internet department can imagine and then some, and its getting about 12,000 to 13,000 hits per month with a 3.6 conversion ratio.
Dave Tedder, Internet director, was the first in the sales and marketing division to be involved with the site. “We’ve always been progressive and knew we needed an online presence,” he said. Over the years, he has seen the site grow. He was promoted in 2005 and began doing all Web site maintenance internally. Sanderson now operates 10 Web sites and owns 300 URLs that feed to the site.
Last year, the company switched to a new Web site provider and CRM tool, but Tedder said he wasn’t exactly sold on the idea right away. He had been through a couple of sales presentations with BZ Results, but didn’t like the idea so much. When he was visited by a sales representative who brought in Jay Mason, a sales director for BZ Results, Tedder said he’d like to try BZ’s CRM tool, BuzzTrack, but not change over to a new Web site.
“We did it backwards,” Tedder said. Sanderson started using BuzzTrack about eight months ago and liked how well all the programs work so well together. So the dealership switched to a BZ Web site in November 2008.
“Once BuzzTrack was in place, we were quite happy with it,” Tedder said. “We had the ability to broadcast e-mails.”
Tedder sends out e-mails twice a month telling people about specials, happenings and other unique information.
“When we got in a 2010 Mustang, we had a classic Mustang show,” he said. “It brought in 85 customers and we served hot dogs and hamburgers. We gave away 300 free meals.”
But cars aren’t the only things that get people through the door. “We have a 1950s-style diner on the premises, so we send out e-mails with new menu items. We sent out an e-mail with 2008 clearance items remaining in inventory and incentives, and we have sold five units in just a few days. We’re about to append the customer list so that we can send even more e-mails.”
Tedder strongly believes in the usefulness of communicating with your customers via e-mail. “People should realize that with e-mail addresses, you can send a message to anyone at any time at no cost. It’s free advertising.
“The most important thing, I feel, is the ability to communicate with the customer. We have the ability to do e-mails and automated processes – and not to drop customers. We keep track of our customers and stay in contact with them easily with BuzzTrack.
Sanderson populates its e-mail list mainly with Internet leads. The dealership has tried to get departments to glean e-mail addresses from customers to help populate the list, but it has been a struggle. The only third-party lead providers Sanderson uses are Cars.com and Autotrader.com for inventory displays. This has helped bring in about 800 valid leads per month.
When a lead comes online, he or she is assisted by one of seven Internet salespeople who work directly with the customer. The salespeople are empowered as sales managers, so they can build their own deals. They do everything but the appraisal and financing.
Tedder knows his customers are very Internet savvy. “With 80 percent of customers now on the Internet, they are looking to avoid the typical car buying experience. It makes our job easier,” he said.
Unfortunately, the hardest part is getting people to the Internet department, Tedder said. Many people find the car they want on the Internet, print it out and walk in the door instead of making an appointment with the Internet sales department. That makes tracking the sales tough to do. “You just kinda have to have faith in the system,” he said.
Another benefit of Internet sales is the ability to track everything. “Probably the best thing about the Internet is that everything is measurable, and you can use that information to make judgments about your actions,” he said. “With a banner ad, you can see the referrals directly, whereas with traditional newspaper advertising, you have to have a special phone number and only five people might use that number and you’ve spent $5,000 on that ad. The Internet is all trackable.”
Even in a tough market and an even tougher economy, Tedder is optimistic about the future. He set 2009’s goals in November, and he said that so far the Sanderson Internet department is on track to meet them. “We want 2,000 leads per month and to move 140 vehicles a month from the Internet department.”
Having a smart boss has helped, too. “Our owner slashed the marketing budget, but told us that if we can prove that a method works, then we can spend the money. Right now we are spending $200 per unit on marketing.”
Loving what he does doesn’t hurt, either. “I’ve been at Sanderson for 15 years, and the Internet is what keeps it fun. Every day is fresh and different. It keeps it exciting.”
Tedder’s advice: “Always be open to fresh ideas. Read everything you can about Internet marketing. You can’t be afraid of information. The more you know the more you can apply.”
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