Conicelli Autoplex is among the top four leaders nationwide in Internet sales, with 6,297 (total for all stores) new and used Internet unit sales last year.
Conicelli has also been named Pennsylvania’s Number 1 Volume Toyota Dealership in 2010 and 2009; Pennsylvania’s Number 1 Volume Pre-owned Certified Toyota Dealership in 2010; and Pennsylvania’s Number 1 Volume Honda Dealership in 2010.
This family owned and operated company, led by founder Dominic Conicelli (Lori’s father), boasts 600 employees, has four franchises – two Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai, and an auction, Carriage Trade Auto Auction, and has just opened a new pre-owned Toyota Showroom.
Lori Hammond shares with Digital Dealer magazine some of the secrets to the dealership’s success in Internet sales and marketing.
How did you get into the business and how has your Internet sales organization evolved?
I started in the car business when I was 18 at Carriage Trade Auto Auction, our family’s public auction. In 1995, I transitioned to the new car end of the business, working lease portfolios for all our dealerships. Next, I became a business development manager and ran our BDC, and in 1998 when we started our Internet department, it was a natural transition for me to be Internet manager. I grew our Internet sales program by trying new tools and fine tuning them to suit our sales processes.
Now, I’m director of Internet sales, with four Internet managers, three Internet admins and 11 sales assistants serving our five stores: two Toyota stores, plus Honda, Nissan and Hyundai. I would say 80% of our sales force is on our Internet sales team – getting and pursuing Internet sales leads on a daily basis.
What do you project for Internet sales for 2011?
Although this January was a rough month with the snow, I expect to increase Internet sales in 2011, over last year’s high of 6,297 vehicles sold –- particularly with all the new processes we are putting in place.
What are you planning for 2011?
We’re pushing ahead on many different fronts.
First, we’re developing a new process for live chat with our customers that works even better than what we have right now. We hope to get even more information from customers and make more appointments via live chat. We are learning as we go what works best and then training our sales assistants on how to interact so customers feel more comfortable and get the help they need right away.
Second, we’re beefing up the number of calls we make to Internet leads in the first five days after getting the lead. Knowing that response time is critical with Internet requests, not only are we calling them on the first day, but if we don’t get them right away, we are trying them again in the evening hours but not leaving a message on the second call.
Third, using our CRM tool, DealerSocket, to its fullest potential is a definite must for us in 2011. We want to dig in, generate more reports and more closely measure our productivity on an ongoing basis. Working with our owner base, service but not sold customers, as well as our previous Internet prospects that did not buy from us in the past, is one of my top priorities.
Fourth, we’re adding another webmaster to our team who will build more new landing pages – web pages geared to specific marketing campaigns with a call to action. And, he’ll also build new service, body shop and used car micro sites.
What will be your biggest challenge in 2011?
Probably the biggest challenge is keeping up with all the new technology on the Internet, and staying ahead of the curve – trying to get to that next level before our competitors do.
How do you keep up on the latest Internet tools?
We go to industry conferences on a regular basis – the Digital Dealer Conference and NADA Convention & Exposition are among the best.
We also participate in a lot of webinars. Our local dealer association just had a webinar on social media laws. Among other things, it covered: What do you do if an employee is saying something about your dealership or another employee on social media?
Every dealership should have a social media policy and all sales people, actually all employees should have to sign it. We’re just putting a social media policy in place right now at Conicelli. We already have an Internet policy and that’s internal to the company as well.
Besides keeping up on all the new Internet tools and managing their use – our other biggest challenge is coming up with new ideas for communicating with our customers. Making sure your staff is aware and respectful of how the customer wants to communicate is extremely important.
How much money do you budget for Internet vs. more traditional marketing?
Forty percent of our ad budget goes toward Internet related marketing. We plan to increase this percentage in 2011. But we still do radio and newspaper – traditional advertising and we have infomercials. Naturally, as the director of Internet sales, my focus is on maximizing our exposure on the web.
How do you handle Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Right now we are doing most of this ourselves, but we use Dealer.com for one of our stores. I think any dealership’s goal should be to own at least the first page and a half of Google and other search engine results when a query is made.
If someone looks up Conicelli, they should see nothing but Conicelli links for at least a page and a half. That’s my goal – that we’re found organically. Our new web admin will improve our SEO with new landing pages, and tie in our YouTube videos correctly, making sure they come up on SEO, as well as our Facebook pages, Twitter and newsletters.
How is SEM working for you?
Each of our stores has an allotted amount for paid search each month. We use Dealer.com’s Total Control Dominator, which lets us automatically launch regionally targeted pay-per-click campaigns on Google and Bing/Yahoo! The system is almost hands off, but it does allow us, when we’re having a sale or some event, to make sure tag lines in our titles tie in with what’s going on at the dealership.
Are you happy with the results you are getting?
I always want more, but I think they are satisfactory. It’s important to dig in and measure results. We’ve used several different SEM companies and looked at where we were getting the most for our dollar. It’s important that your SEM company is transparent. Some of them take 20% for their fees. Dealers need to know what that percentage is, and also the exact dollar amount you are spending on your paid per click advertisements.
I’d much rather have better SEO than pay for SEM, but you really have to be in both places. There has to be a balance.
How many Internet leads do you get and process each month?
We get between 3,000 and 3,300 Internet leads for the Autoplex and 1,000 for our Toyota of Springfield location a month – mostly through five third-party lead providers. We started with more lead providers, but narrowed it down to the lead providers that I think are the best right now and have a well-organized billing department.
What lead providers do you favor?
Autobytel is probably my favorite. We work very closely with them. They have a new product feature called iControl, which makes it easy for us to change our purchase request acquisition strategy. So if I have more inventory of one particular make and model vehicle, I can expand my territory by zip codes / by make and model, to get additional leads from customers further out from our dealership. As far as I know, no other lead provider has that feature right now that lets you specify by model, as well as make. It’s extremely helpful.
We also have Vehix, Autotrader.com and Kelley Blue Book, and all are excellent lead providers. For new car leads, I just started with CarsDirect, so I really can’t say much about that yet, but it looks promising.
How do you process your Internet leads?
Normally, my goal is make the contact within 30 minutes maximum of the lead arriving in our CRM.
We’re really pushing this because I think customers appreciate it. I had a customer tell me that they had two dealerships closer to them than we are, but Conicelli was so fast with the phone and e-mails that they bought from us.
Getting the customer on the phone as quickly as possible and answering all their questions makes a big difference in our sales volume.
I would add that our process for follow-up is the best thing we do as a dealership. If we can’t reach a customer on the phone right away, we follow up with e-mail and phone calls, in combination, for 90 days.
Even if a customer is on the “Do Not Call List,” you have 90 days, by law, from the point of inquiry to continue to contact the customer.
We keep trying to contact the customer until the 90 days are up. We want to make sure that we’ve done everything we can do to help them during that period.
I think a lot of dealerships give up after the first 30 days. But many customers aren’t ready to make a decision within those first 30 days. They’re just starting to do research – looking at several different makes and models.
We have a great follow-up team and we use our CRM, DealerSocket, to schedule our points of contact. We spread out our calls and e-mails just enough to keep our name in front of the customer. So that when they’re ready to buy, they think about us and they call, e-mail or stop by.
We also send out broadcast emails once per week, using DealerSocket which is excellent for building broadcast e-mails in such a way that they are specific to the make and model the customer has inquired about. So our e-mails are more relevant and interesting to the targeted customer. As a result, we get the customers to open our e-mails and respond.
How do you track your Internet sales lead conversion rate?
We only track our closing ratio. Some dealerships count conversions if the customer just calls back. We only track our conversions into sales and we break it down by lead provider and by make. Last year, we averaged a 14 to 15% closing ratio. My goal is to improve our closing ratios by 1.5% this year.
How do you manage your inventory on the Internet?
Dealer.com is our web site provider and we have our entire new and pre-owned inventory on our web site and on the third-party sites as well, Autotrader.com, Vehix, etc.
Dealer.com, as well as our third-party providers, automatically “talk” with our Dealer Management System (DMS) from Reynolds and Reynolds to tap into our databases and pull inventory on a daily basis to update solds and what’s still available. Normally this runs pretty smoothly. You do need to keep an eye on inventory in case there is a communication error between the systems. This does happen on occasion. We have someone checking inventory every couple of days.
Do you use the Internet for scheduling in your service department?
Right now, customers can use our web site to request a service appointment. Then, our service advisors either call them or e-mail them back. Also via live chat, customers can schedule service appointments and talk about problems they are having with their vehicles. But later this year we’d like to set up an automated system, letting customers set the time and date for their service appointments directly online.
How are you using social media?
The way we are using social media is evolving. We have a Conicelli Autoplex Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.
My son Michael Hammond, Jr. handles all our social media implementation. Together we come up with different ideas for contests and other ways to communicate with our customers and boost awareness of our dealership.
All social media is tricky in that you need to be careful about not having too much sales hype going on there. Every once in a while, we’ll do a coupon or talk about a specific used car that we think our customers may want to see, but normally we just talk about events happening at the dealership or interesting current events.
We have a contest going on right now where we’re giving away a beach house for the summer, and we communicate that through social media, as well as e-mail to our customers. We also have posters in the showroom and service areas about the contest, but Facebook and Twitter bring that all together.
We also have a game we call “Kinda Silly Trivia” – playing off of “Conicelli”. Michael will post the “Kinda Silly Facts of the Day.” People seem to like it. Some say they read it every day. We have fun with it, and we keep them updated with things happening at the dealership.
You have to be careful with Twitter and Facebook. They’re very different. On Facebook the communication is a little deeper. You are not saying the same thing on Facebook that you say on Twitter.
What do you say on Twitter?
On Twitter we’re putting just little one-liners that communicate with our customers. For instance, the other day we had the horrible snowstorm, and we talked about how we’re digging out here at the dealership, but we’re still open.
Or we might tweet about what’s happening in our service department today. Like: “Come on in, if you’re in the area. We have a free service clinic today,” – or some other special event that’s happening.
We’re thinking about getting our service department involved more with Twitter. This is still a work in progress.
People sitting in the service area might have questions they want answered or we could tweet when their vehicle is done. Just a couple of ideas we have for this addition.
We still need to figure out what’s best for our customers –- how they want to communicate with us. We’ll try different things and see what works and go with it.
How do you handle online reputation management?
We do it ourselves. There are a lot of companies out there that will watch it for you and respond for you, but we have a pretty good team here between me, my admin, and our sales managers. We have Google Alerts, so we get an email alert when somebody writes about us or searches us on Google.
Also some of the reputation management web sites, like DealerRater.com, have an alert system that there’s a good or bad review. We respond to both good and bad reviews, and we take care of the people who are not happy.
All of the Conicelli dealerships have very high ratings on DealerRater.com. (www.dealerrater.com)
How do you encourage your customers to write reviews?
We give out cards with a list of review web sites to our sales, service, body shop and parts customers. We ask them to choose a site or sites and write a review for us.
With the new Google Star review system, listings are marked with one to five stars. So if your dealership’s review only has one star and somebody else’s has four stars, you may not get contacted for an inquiry. So you want four to five stars on your listings on all the review sites. The majority of our reviews do have four or five stars. You also need to make sure you claim your business on Google Places and other sites as well.
We are trying to build up favorable reviews on some of the other sites like InsiderPages and Yelp. If you only have two reviews on those sites and one of them is bad, you are down to one or two stars. You need to watch out for that, and ask people specifically to go to these sites and submit reviews.
If you were going to give advice to a dealership just beginning to develop their Internet sales organization, what would you say?
If a dealership has little or no experience in Internet sales, then hire an individual consultant or a company that is knowledgeable to help set up your Internet department. Put good solid processes and third-party providers in place and grow from there. Train your people well in how to respond to Internet sales leads properly. Make sure they are listening to what customers are saying and respond directly to their specific requests.
Deciding how much to spend on advertising is also critical. It’s hard to tell what’s enough and what’s too much until you get in there and get your feet wet. And then track it as best you can, until you figure out what works for you.
The manufacturers will help dealers set up Internet sales programs as well.
Nissan has someone right now that will come out and help you set up all your processes. Just call your manufacturer’s representative and ask for assistance. Most of our meetings with Toyota recently have been about Internet processes and digital marketing.
Developing our Internet sales organization continues to be an exciting process for us and it’s yielding substantial results. I urge every dealer to learn everything they can about new Internet tools, vendors and processes until they find the combination that brings in and closes sales leads across the board.
I’m very proud of the contribution our Internet sales organization makes here. In a sense, Conicelli doesn’t have a separate Internet department anymore – we have become an integral and organic part of all sales processes at the dealership. Everyone at Conicelli is in the Internet department.