After 12+ years in Automotive Internet Sales...
I have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. I have seen firsthand how powerful automotive Internet sales can be for a dealership. I have also seen how it can wreak havoc in a dealership that doesn’t execute properly. After speaking with and training more than 2,000 dealer principals and GMs personally, I have identified a lot of similarities that are consistent all over the country and do not discriminate.
First, dealers see the value, need and urgency to maximize the Internet not only to increase market share, volume and gross, but actually to retain current market share and profits.
The problem is that there is a lot of disinformation everywhere. Everyone has an idea and a strategy, but finding the right information that fits a particular dealership’s scenario and goals is hard to find. There really isn’t a lot of continuity out there. Sometimes “experts” contradict the ideas and strategies of other “experts.” The other issue is that there are a lot of these “experts” out there, but mostly these people have an “expertise” in only one or two fields — not enough.
Maximizing an Internet department is more than knowing how to build the “ultimate” dealership Website. It is more than having 5,000 followers on Twitter for your dealership. It is more than having a state-of-the-art BDC. The issue I see is that dealers are told if they do or buy something, it will be a “silver bullet.” There are no “silver bullets.” There never have been and I doubt there ever will be any. An Internet department (or any department, for that matter) is made or broken, maximized or underutilized in four key areas: Products, People, Process and Promotions. That means that all “4-Ps” need to be working “synergistically” to ensure maximum success. You cannot have all or most of your attention in one or two areas. You need to make sure that all four “cylinders” are firing.
Here are the questions that dealers should ask:
• What are you looking to accomplish with your Internet department? Increasing only Internet sales, or maximizing all profit centers online (parts, service, finance, body shop, etc.)?
• Do you want to sell volume, gross or both? Are you looking to increase new vehicle sales, used vehicle sales or both? Each possibility has a different strategy.
• Do you want to be proactive, reactive or not at all for special finance?
• Do you have all of the right tools (technology, resources, programs, etc.) for a viable department?
• Do you have the right people and the right amount of people in place?
• Have you developed a “mission statement”? Have you created a standard operating procedure for everything in that department?
• How are you planning to drive traffic? How are you going to handle your conventional advertising strategy? What is the proper formula between conventional and digital?
• How are you going to perpetuate success after initial launch?
After you answer all of these questions thoroughly and start to create a plan, you will need to prioritize. This is another sand trap for dealers. They have problems “putting first things, first,” and the result is that they do not focus on the most important items. The dealers who work hard but not smart are rarely successful.
Lack of consistency and acceptance of mediocrity are the biggest reasons for failure or limited success for a dealership’s Internet or business development department. That might sting, but that is the truth. We have found all over the country, no matter what the franchise or geographic region there are dealers who fall into this category. Sometimes it is the dealer principal, sometimes it’s the GM and other times it’s the Internet/BDC director, but it is the same story. Someone at the dealership heard of a successful Internet/BDC department or they read an article or they went to some workshop or 20 Group and were inspired and excited. So, they create a plan (with or without an outside consultant or trainer), and for a short while things are good (sometimes). Then, after a bit of time — or sometimes right after implementation — reality kicks in and they start to deviate from the plan.
Here is what I see on a regular basis from dealerships that succumb to mediocrity:
• They start to compromise their process based on outside influences, such as their competition doing business a certain way, and they feel they must conform.
• They are not consistent. They might do different parts of the strategy at different time. No continuity = No success.
• They do not track details of the department properly, if at all.
• They are not consistent with training, or don’t even bother to train at all.
• They are disorganized. There is no prioritizing of tasks, so the department is working and grinding all day but they are not being effective at their overall mission.
And, as important as all this is, people are the “wild cards” of the “4-Ps.” With money, you can buy everything else. But you have to find and cultivate and keep people. There are a lot of variables to think about in this area, including:
• Do you have the right person for the job? Do they have the right skill set and fit the profile for success? This is a common problem.
• Do you have the right amount of people? I have seen two Internet reps working 600 fresh leads per month. Not the best strategy.
• Do you have a schedule that make sense and maximizes business potential? Statistically, you will connect with more people between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m. So, it might not be a good idea if you have everyone leaving at 5 p.m.
Bottom line, you need to embrace Internet sales. You cannot wait until tomorrow to get it together. If you don’t create a plan for today, there might not be tomorrow.
If you have any questions about this article or if you would like examples (for free) Please call or e-mail me.
Sean V. Bradley is the founder and CEO of Dealer Synergy, a nationally recognized training and consulting company in the automotive industry. He can be contacted at 866.648.7400, or by e-mail at sbradley@autosuccessonline