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The Best Investment: Train Your Management in the Ways of the Web.


Richard Rikess, Performance Improvement Consultant


I try to visit three to five dealerships per week, and almost every time I hold a meeting with sales consultants, I hear the same thing… “I‘ve been selling cars for 10 years!” My response is usually, “That’s great, and how did last month go?” Usually I get, “Well, it was kind of an off month. I delivered eight.” I try not to delve any further, because I’m not ready to hurt anybody’s feelings… at least not yet. I save that for the managers.


We can argue back and forth over what digital channel is the best o.... But the best way to invest in your online efforts isn’t even online! The best investment you can make is to train your management team in the ways of the Web. Training is the Dealer Principal and General Manager’s responsibility; they need to make sure their managers know how to train the sales staff. You can bring in consultant after consultant and pay them $2,500 a day, but the only constants (usually) are your managers.


Part of a manager’s job is to lead, console, and motivate the sales staff. If your manager doesn’t know how to conduct a proper meet and greet with the modern car shopper, they need training! If your manager can’t demonstrate how to handle a phone call and leave a fantastic voice mail, train them! And if your entire management team doesn’t understand how to follow up with Internet opportunities for a minimum of 30 days, guess what—they need training!


The Modern Meet & Greet

In today’s digital world, the meet and greet has to change! Most dealerships understand (and recent studies have found) that 94 percent of car shoppers start their shopping experience online and have visited at least ten websites to research the purchase of their new vehicle. The old questions, “How did you hear about us?” or “What brought you in today?” are no longer as relevant. The better question that I see savvy dealers asking is, “Have you had the opportunity to visit automotive sites on the Internet? If so, which ones did you find most useful?”


Once you start gathering answers to these questions, you can start to formulate your own needs analysis. If the prospect says, “I went to,” you can bet they received FMV on the vehicle they’re researching and probably have a good idea what their vehicle is worth. If they went to, you can wager they received a really good price on the vehicle they’re researching.


This is where training is crucial. Obviously the line of questioning must run deeper than what I detailed above. The best preparation for the meet and greet is to role play these conversations to make everybody comfortable—especially managers!


On to the Phones We Go!


To me, this is the most important area of training. More phone calls are mismanaged than anything else at the dealership. Most stores have more phone ups than they know what to do with and do not do a very good job of tracking results, unless they have a BDC. In fact, a recent JD Power & Associates Phone Up Analysis conducted in conjunction with Dealix revealed that 72 percent of phone customers are not even invited to visit the dealership during the call.

We all know the goal of the staff member on the line with a phone up should be to get a name, number and appointment—not necessarily in that order.

If you do a great job, the name and number will come.

If you talk to high-priced trainers they’ll tell you that a good appointment set rate is 75 percent. A good show rate on set appointments is 60 percent and the close rate of the appointments that show up is 50 percent. I disagree. If your store is getting a 50 percent appointment set rate, GREAT JOB! If you don’t know, don’t complain.

Most dealerships have no idea what the real amount of phone ups are per month and don’t track the appointment set rate, show rate, or close rate. When I ask about phone process, about 90 percent of the dealerships I speak with say, “our receptionist announces, ‘Available sales call on line 1, available sales line 1’.”


So I ask, “If a sales consultant takes 60 phone ups this month and sells no cars, what’s going to happen to him next month?”


Most managers say, “I would fire him!”


I say, “Nope, because you can’t fire him if you don’t know that it’s happening.”


We need a lot of training and more importantly, accountability. If you take anything out of this, please move your dealership to a certified phone team. A certified phone team is derived from pure metrics. No emotion; just percentages.
Online Opportunities

The obvious areas where we see dealers wanting the most help on are Internet opportunities. Today, there are a plethora of Internet trainers. Get help! The two major process areas that I see that separate the high-performing Internet departments vs. the mediocre ones are:

  • Commitment to long-term follow up
  • The quality of the message


You have to have a process that sticks with the prospect for a minimum of 30 days of high intensity, quality follow-up! Then you can just keep marketing to them until they give. A recent manufacturer study found that the average close rate on Internet opportunities hovers around 7 percent. High-performing stores close at 12.5 percent or higher!

If you’re not closing your own Internet leads at 12 percent or higher, you don’t need more opportunities—you need to be better with the opportunities you already have.


If you're not closing your own Internet leads at 12% or higher, you don't need more opportunities - you need to be better with the opportunities you already have.


Having a defined Internet process and surrounding this process with really good people is the easiest answer. After that, it’s all about training. Ultimately, your process will only be as good as your store’s commitment to training.


The Prospect’s Perspective

The industry has seen a decline in email traffic. One reason is dealerships are getting better about making phone calls. But we can’t forget to look at the experience from the consumer’s point of view.


Say a consumer submits four to five leads to different dealerships and provides a phone number on top of an email address. How abused is that poor prospect going to be over the next five days? 5-10 phone calls? On top of 7-20 emails? How would you feel if you were on the other end of that barrage? Hence the reason the consumer is getting smarter about just calling the dealership instead of emailing—and again, the reason you need to get better on the phones!


Investing in your employees is the best use of funds! Quit throwing around money to advertising that may or may not be working. I’ve used this quote before, but here it goes again:


“It’s a very expensive proposition to send traffic to poorly trained employees.”


If you‘re going to spend your hard earned ad dollars to drive traffic to your dealership, make sure you are holding everybody accountable for converting those opportunities into sales. I’m not trying to train anybody right now. That takes a lot of work. But the dealerships around the country that close the highest percentage of opportunities have the best processes AND the best training! Invest in your dealership.


 About the Author


Richard Rikess, Performance Improvement Consultant (PIC) for Cobalt has been in the automotive industry for over 20 years. His career has spanned all facets of the auto industry. He has worked in management, sales, marketing and eCommerce. He is certified in Advanced Instructional Techniques from Langevin Learning Services. Richard joined The Cobalt Group as a PIC in 2003. Richard started his post collegiate career in 1987 with Automatic Data Processing (ADP). He covered major dealer groups for ADP in the Southwest of the US. He worked with his brother Mark Rikess who is the CEO of The Rikess Group as a consultant, Richard concentrated mostly on eCommerce process training during this period of his career.Prior to joining Cobalt, Richard was on the ground floor of a startup CRM organization and helped position that company as an industry leader. Many of Cobalt’s current CRM best practice processes originated from his experience with this company. Richard comes from an automotive family. His father owned one of the largest Chevrolet franchises in Minnesota, Southview Chevrolet. Richard worked at the dealership until he graduated from Northwood University. Richard held several positions within the dealership while he was growing up.

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