Posts tagged internet department
A couple weeks ago, I was brought in to consult with a dealer group on the East Coast. As with most people, I passed the time by reading a book. On this particular trip, I read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. One of the concepts that is used throughout the book, is the Pivot, and the practice of pivoting. In essence, pivoting is understanding your original vision is flawed, gathering all the information gleaned while discovering the flaws, and moving in another direction to maintain a growth trajectory. In layperson’s terms, it’s setting off in one direction, realizing you are lost, and remembering the land marks you passed to get back in the right direction. Without realizing it, we pivot continuously throughout our daily lives, however we rarely apply that concept to our businesses.
On the flight home, I realized that many dealerships have never pivoted since they created their Internet operations. The management took (what they understood at the time to be) best practices, and utilized what resources they had available to build an Internet program. For some, it was round-robining the leads to the traditional sales staff. For others, it was creating an Internet Department. Yet others, thought a BDC would work best for them. From an outsider looking in, it looks like many dealerships ordered the Processus du Jour and are still suffering the from the indigestion.
Let’s eat something a little more digestible. We were all taught from a young age that plants need sun, soil, water, and air to grow. If that were really the case, we could take that free fruit basket that your lead provider sent you for Christmas, dump it out behind the employee parking lot, and grow a lush orchards of biblical proportions. If you’ve utterly failed at gardening like me, you understand that soil composition, species, climate, shade, moisture, insects, ground cover, nurturing, and many other elements play a critical role in the success or failure of a garden (luckily my wife loves to garden!). Simply taking seeds, and planting them in the soil is not enough. Sometimes a transplant will suffice, while other times, you have to till everything under, and wait for next year. Gardeners make hundreds of pivots every growing season to maximize the fruit of their labor (shameless pun), just like car dealers should be making hundred of pivots to maximize human resources, tools, customer service, and Internet market growth.
Operating a car business online is not a decision: It’s a commitment. You can’t just align your staff, create a department, throw the seeds in the backyard, and expect immediate success. You need to make mistakes to learn. You need to pivot when know you’re heading in the wrong direction. Just because it works for someone in your 20 Group, doesn’t mean an orange tree is going to grow in Wyoming. Make a commitment, fail fast, learn from your mistakes, and make the necessary decisions before it becomes too expensive, or worse, becomes too late.
Now go make your garden grow!
Originally posted 10/6/2010 on DrivingSales.com
For most of us, the fair season has come and gone. As I’m writing this, my son is at the county fair in the rural Michigan town where my wife and I grew up. Like most fairs in the Midwest, it’s all about 4H and Future Farmers of America; kids showing off their pigs, goats, and cows (consequently, my niece’s rabbit is Grand Champion). Like most other fairs in the Midwest, local businesses set up shop, politicians are there to shake hands, and all of the food is available on a stick. The car dealers all come armed with Mustangs, Duramaxes, Chargers, and the omnipresent balloons.
Then there are the carnival rides. Personally, I don’t ride anything that can be assembled overnight. The kids, however, go crazy over them. The one ride that always intrigues me most is bumper cars, or Dodgem, as it’s known in fair parlance. There are always three or four maniacal, fuzzy lipped, teens chasing down a dozen other people. One would think the whole point would be to live out one’s favorite traffic jam fantasy, and just plow through everything that gets in the way. That’s where the intrigue comes in: everyone drives away from each other.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I perform a lot of mystery shopping. One of the biggest fumbles I consistently see is that dealer personnel don’t ask questions in their email responses. Over these last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that most dealer personnel don’t seem to be good at answering questions either. A lot like Dodgem, a customer tries to bump their email into a dealership, only to have his or her efforts dodged.
First, let’s put ourselves in the customer’s comfy shoes. As John and Jane Customer, we work hard for our money and we don’t want to pay anything more than we should. We go to the Gap when things go on sale, and we go out of our way to Costco to get a 55 gallon drum of shampoo to save a few pennies per ounce. When it comes to cars, we are blissfully unaware of dealer allocations, regional option groups, and targeted residuals. Our grandpa was somehow able to order a L72 big block Malibu with dog-dish wheels and no air conditioning. When we drive by the dealership, we see an endless sea of vehicles with infinite possibilities.
Now let’s get back to reality. As dealer personnel, we know that manufactures build what they want, when they want. Our dealers still shotgun it and order what they think people want. In all actuality, most customers have no idea what they really want. This is how many good salespeople make great careers by becoming a valuable resource to their customers, then their customers’ families and friends. They know all of the subtle intricacies and help their loyal customers select the right car.
Is there any reason why the digital-age should change this? Absolutely not! If a customer was sitting in front of you and asked if a Grand Cherokee had full-time four wheel drive, you’d explain the difference between Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. But somehow in the email world, the response is “…we have plenty of Grand Cherokees to choose from. When can you come to the dealership to drive one?” Why not just answer the question: “The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is equipped with three highly sophisticated AWD systems. Are you looking for something to take you through the snow or do you plan on going off-roading? I can walk you through which system might be right for you” (that response took 57 seconds to write). Which email do you think is going to solicit a response quicker?
Before you sell a car, you need to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment. If Toyota is not building Spruce Mica Tundras, let the customer know it. If Honda only ships two-wheel drive Pilots to your region, say so. If Fiestas with manual transmissions are in short supply, then give the customer a heads up. Facing these questions head-on allows you to build rapport, add value, and start a dialogue. It makes you that valuable resource, thus making it much easier to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment.
The next time a customer emails you a question, think about bumper cars. Imagine your competition driving away madly from potential customers, while you square up for a head-on collision. Think about what you know and what the customer doesn’t. Make yourself indispensable in the shopping process. Now take your right foot, slam down the pedal, and go in for the hit!
Originally posted 9/7/2010 on DrivingSales.com
I bought a book a short time ago, and at the top it said: “Ignore this book at your own peril.” The quote is from the best selling author, entrepreneur, and Marvel Superhero Candidate, Seth Godin. Having read most of Godin’s books, I immediately bought the book he was endorsing.
While I won’t bore you with the details of the book (it’s an awesome read), it’s a prime example of buyer motivation. Although I had no intention of buying a book that day, I physically walked into a book store, browsed through the business books (yes I’m a nerd), saw the quote by Godin, grabbed the book, and promptly paid for it. The bookstore didn’t sell the book. The authors didn’t sell the book. The publisher didn’t sell the book. Seth Godin sold the book.
How often are you asking your customers how they heard about your store? How they decided what products to consider?
What prompted them to start shopping online? How they heard to ask for you? In fact, how often are you asking questions?
I’ve been actively mystery shopping dealers for the better part of the last five years, and it’s not very often that I’m asked personal questions. I’ve seen plenty of volunteered information about the dealership’s history, the General Manager’s name, and the MSRP of the vehicle requested. It’s not very often that I’m asked if it’s better to communicate via email or phone. I’m rarely asked if I’m considering comparable vehicles. There have been solar eclipses since I was asked how I chose their store.
Why is this question so critical? It’s simple: it gives you instant feedback about how well your customer acquisition/retention methods are functioning. The answers could range from “I was searching the Internet for good deals on Chevys” (that SEO is paying off), to “One of my friends mentioned your name on Twitter “(high-five to the social media gal; get the bird-dog check in the mail), to “I saw your ad in the newspaper” (people DO still read those), to “I’ve bought my last four cars from you! You don’t remember?” (it’s officially time for a new CRM). Asking this one simple question gives you the pulse on what methods of outreach are working in real-time. As an added bonus, it gives you insight into how your customers make a decision.
If a customer’s cruising Google for good deals, it’s more likely that they are value conscious and not too dealer-loyal. If a customer reacts to a Facebook post from a friend, it’s likely that they are influenced by third parties and that they are looking for objectivity/credibility. If a customer is responding to a newspaper advertisement, they’re more likely to be reactionary and more of a “traditional” shopper. Is it not easier to respond with valuable information when you know which hat to put on? Is it not easier to make investments if you know it’s already paying off?
Although I’m pretty sure I’d turn elsewhere for car purchasing advice, Seth made it easy for me to spend $22. Your customers are following various sources of advice everyday to get that same guidance. These sources of influence are selling your product, selling your process, and selling your dealership. The good news is that it’s much easier to find out who or what these sources of influence are than you think. All you have to do is ask!
Hey, by the way…what made you click on this post?
Originally posted 8/4/2010 on DrivingSales.com
Jimi Hendrix is regarded by many as the greatest rock guitarist ever. Innocently enough, he taught himself how to play guitar, practicing many of the same R&B songs his 60s contemporaries grew up playing. He gigged with several local bands around the country, traveled to different venues around Europe, and paid his dues like everyone else. Then one day he turned the volume up to 11. He turned distortion and feedback into harmonies. He experimented with different recording methods. He modified his tools to meet his needs. (If you just teleported in from another dimension, do a YouTube search for Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner.) He fundamentally altered rock guitar forever.
Technology didn’t make Hendrix great. He was still a prolific guitar player long before the advent of electronic effects and amplification enhancements. He took what was available to him, used his imagination, and made it better. The fact of the matter is that any of us could buy the exact same rig that Hendrix used, and his corpse could still outplay us. Technology doesn’t make you better. You make technology better.
Many of us (myself included), go after the latest and greatest technology as soon as it’s available. We fall into that feeling that if I had this new widget, then I could… In most cases we end up mildly disappointed, lying to ourselves, or locked up in a four-year contract. That new golf club may have increased your drive, but did it profoundly change your handicap? Did that new table saw make a better piece of furniture? Did that new photo editing software make you a better photographer? My guess is that you’ll soon be in the market for a new putter, a new jointer, or a new camera.
The very best tools can be rendered useless without the basic knowledge of how to efficiently maximize their output. How many times has a sports car left your dealership and returned shortly thereafter as a pile of metal, plastic, and rubber? How many times has a pickup come back to the store with broken leaf springs or a caved-in tailgate? How many economy cars are back in service with burnt clutches and bent shift forks? Despite the warnings (and common sense), the inexperienced drivers had to learn the hard way about what their new vehicle could, and could not do. The drivers didn’t take the time to explore their capabilities, learn about their vehicles, or practice what they’ve learned.
The same holds true for new dealer technologies. We fall into that same “spend our way out of our novice” approach. We fail to learn about the capability of the tools we already have. We fail to practice the new skills we learn. We fail to become self-sufficient, and rely on our teammates (or rely on a community of experts). We fail to experiment.
What good does it do to create a new website to drive more prospects to an already overwhelmed staff? How much impact can multiple phone numbers have if “when can you come in” is the extent of a staff’s phone skills? What’s the sense of acquiring third party leads just to keep a dealer’s staff busy (true story)? Did the technology sell two more cars upon implementation, or was it the $1000 in conquest cash that the OEM offered at the last second?
It’s important that we remain objective regarding new technology. Certainly new systems, methodologies, and enhancements will continue come out. But, just because the big dealers are doing something, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Take some time to think about how much effort you and your staff will have to put into using a new system. Then think about what you could do by taking the same effort, and dedicate it to training, role playing, learning about the existing system, or practicing phone scripts. You have good business sense. Listen to what your gut tells you about a new technology. For most technology to achieve its full capabilities in your dealership, recognize that its success will be predicated upon the amount of time your staff gives to it. If you’re not ready to crack a sweat, then maybe it’s not the right time.
Some things will always hold true. Roger Federer will still crush the average tennis pro using a garage-sale wooden racket. LeBron James will still beat most at HORSE while playing barefooted. Jimi Hendrix will forever be a rock legend. Consider new technology when you know your staff has outgrown the tools they already have. They need to be ready to play at volume 11.
I was on-site training a new dealer client’s BDC team last week when I heard the most disturbing thing. The phone rang and the BD agents began a discussion that went something like this…
“Who’s turn is it?”
“Not mine either.”
“Well I just had one, like, two minutes ago.”
“So did I.”
“I think it’s your turn so you take it.”
“I’m in the middle of an email. Can’t one of you?”
“But it’s not my turn.”
It was about this time, during the 9th ring of the phone, that I raised my voice and hollered, “Someone pick up the (darn) phone! There’s a customer waiting!”
That outburst immediately got their attention and at least motivated one of them enough to answer the call. With a little side-by-side guidance from me, she was able to set an appointment with the prospect. I wonder how many more rings that customer would have waited through before hanging up and calling another dealer.
Your dealership team must realize that the phone is the lifeline into the store. I am of firm belief that if you know how to handle an inbound sales call, you never have to take an up in your life. Maybe it is just the fact that in most Business Development Centers, the phone rings so often it is overlooked. Had that call gone to the sales floor, in this economy, someone is liable to get stabbed by a coworker for the chance to get the lead.
This was a terrible game the BD agents were playing with an inbound sales call. It is the automotive dealership’s version of playing Hot Potato. I see it happen with both phone calls and internet leads now and again during either my in-store consulting or Virtual Dealer Training. When I asked them why that exchange took place, their excuse was that they only wanted to be fair to the other team members. They want everyone to have a shot at setting an appointment. But when do you say enough is enough? I didn’t want to “tattle” on them to the ownership and suggest they might have a crew too passive to be effective as appointment-setters because I feel everyone can be trained. Everyone can get better with some coaching. In this instance, my first lesson to them was that sometimes it is better to be greedy than it is to be fair.
Let it be known that I am 100% in support of having a trained, aggressive Business Development Center team handling inbound sales calls much the same way I believe there is a value to having prepared professionals in an Internet Sales Department managing leads. There is a benefit to having specialized workers with defined skill sets in these positions. I’m also all for having a fair distribution of opportunities (phone and email) between those team members. What I cannot support is when department policy interferes with the level of support you should provide a prospect.
When that phone rings, imagine it is a mystery shop you are receiving from your owner’s 20 group. You do not want to be the reason your dealership scores low marks in front of their peers. That could lead to a job loss if the call is mishandled poorly enough. But let’s look beyond your job security and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. When you call into a place of business, do you want those employees to look at the ringing phone as an albatross? A chore? Of course not! You are a potential customer that wants, nay, deserves a professional greeting, a kind response, and an intelligent answer to your question. Recognize this and handle all calls accordingly.
I know this doesn’t happen in many places, but it does indeed happen. Watch out for it. Listen to how the calls are being handled and make adjustments… for your sake and the customer’s sake. And for gosh sake, please stop playing hot potato with your sales calls.