Rob, it looks like the John Marazzi group in Florida has a strong online presence. What is your role there?
My role is help us capture as much of the digital market as possible. It all starts with well performing web sites. I realized early on that consumers were using third party sites to shop for vehicles, primarily because that is where the best information was. I do my best to make sure that our sites are rich with good valuable content, not just specials and coupons. We rely heavily on video to keep the consumer engaged and to give them something that they won’t see anywhere else. While most dealers will place their latest commercial on the front of their site, we will use a customer testimonial, new product demonstration or competitive comparison. These practices not only give us great time on site statistics, but also contribute heavily to a strong SEO game plan.
When I do a Google search for Marazzi, you own the entire page. How have you accomplished that? Has it led to more sales?
SEO became an obsession of mine around five years ago. At the time I was Internet director at Ft. Myers Toyota where John Marazzi was the GM. I tend to treat it as a game and Google page one is the battlefield. There really isn’t any one way to dominate Google page one results, I use a mix of different methods. Video, like I said is a strong tool. I also use micro sites, blogs, press releases and of course my own websites. It really requires a solid game plan. You need to dedicate yourself to adding a consistent flow of new and relevant content. We add around twenty new videos a month to four or more video channels, many of them customer testimonials. We use InTroubleZone Productions to produce our television commercials, testimonials and comparison videos and we also use Car-Mercial, a video search company to enhance our VSEO strategy. I will also add two to three new press releases a week. For us there is always news to talk about, It could be a new product in the line-up or charitable event held at the dealership. We also work very hard to consistently add content to our blogs. We believe in dominating the market, so we not only focus on our own Google page one results but that of our competitors as well. It is a practice that has definitely given us the advantage in market share.
Tell us a little bit about John Marazzi. How many dealerships are in the group and how long has John been in business?
John Marazzi has been in the Fort Myers, Florida area for around 20 years. For 17 of those he was the general manager of Ft. Myers Toyota, he took that store from 200 cars a month to 1,100 new and used a month. While John was GM the store was consistently among the top 10 Toyota stores in the country. In September 2008, John got the opportunity to own his own Nissan dealership in Naples, Florida. We have been in the top 20 in the country for the past four months and received the Nissan “Circle of Excellence” Award. Just this past May he added the Audi Jaguar Land Rover Fort Myers store.
You recently opened a Nissan store. What sort of things did you do from an online perspective to build excitement or promote it in the marketplace?
We really just brought the energy and focus on customer service that made us successful for many years in Fort Myers. People had come to expect that from John and his team, so it was very important to make sure that we were on our game. From a digital stand point I used every tool at my disposal to make sure that when someone was shopping for a vehicle in Southwest Florida that they would see us. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to establish our digital position, so I just threw the kitchen sink at it. This combined with our offline advertising and reputation at least gave us an opportunity to “wow” the customer once they made contact.
When we got to the Nissan store there wasn’t any clear Internet process in place. The first thing that I focused on was building an Internet team that would be able to handle the customer in the best possible way once they did find us online. We established a team of five Internet coordinators that would handle all Internet sales leads and phone calls and most importantly follow up. We just recently added a sales manager to specifically handle all Internet deals. The team sets appointments for our management team who will great the customers when they arrive. The sales manager will do a brief review of what the customer would like to accomplish on their visit based on the information that the coordinator entered into our CRM, then introduces the sales person that will be showing them the vehicle. Our Internet team at the Nissan store averages over 120 vehicles a month, which accounts for just over fifty percent of the stores total volume
How important are the dealer reviews and how do you get people to write such great things about their experience at Marazzi?
Our customer reviews and letters are probably the thing that we take the most pride in. As long as I have worked for a John Marazzi dealership, the customers just seem compelled to write us. I really don’t know how to explain it. I saw it happen at Fort Myers, in Naples and again at the new luxury import store. When the customer is your top priority, they can feel it. I think that is the main reason why I always felt it was more important to post the actual letter on our website than to re-write it for SEO benefit. As far as our online reviews we will use all of the tools available to prompt our happy customers to write a positive review for us. We always send out a thank you for your business email two days after the sale that also includes a basic “rate your experience” survey. All that come back positive will get an email with a link to our online review page (Dealerrater). Our sales and service teams are also encouraged to ask their customers to add a review. Your dealer’s online reputation has never been more important than it is right now. Google has taken dramatic initiatives to make the customer review a dominant factor in search results. It is not something that can be ignored.
What about your background? How did you get into the business?
I spent 22 years working in the restaurant and hotel business. I had reached a point where I just knew that I needed a change. So one day in 2002 while sitting in the service lounge at the Fort Myers Toyota dealership, I thought to myself “These people look so happy to be here” I walked up to the receptionist got an application and a few days later I had an interview with John Marazzi. I started out selling on the floor and worked my way into management. Getting involved in the Internet was just kind of a gradual progression. We really didn’t have anything solid in place in 2004 except one guy working the leads; I started out by being the sales manager that worked those leads with him. Remember back then Internet customers had a bit of a stigma. I saw them as golden opportunities and we showed everyone you could sell cars and make gross. We just grew it from there, to a nine-member team doing 160 units a month. I am fortunate to work for a GM/owner that has a strong belief in “constant and never ending improvement.” John will not hesitate to send me to a Digital Dealer Conference or training seminar if it will help us grow and improve.
When I first got started I literally picked up the phone and called Internet directors at dealerships all over the country that were doing it right. I would tell them how impressed I was with their success and if they had any advice. At first they were a bit hesitant, but nine times out of ten once they got started talking I couldn’t write fast enough. Now there are so many great resources out there for Internet managers like the Digital Dealer conferences and magazine and blogs like ADM, Dealer Refresh, Driving Sales and Automotive SEO to name just a few. It really is important that Internet managers take advantage of the wealth of information that is available.
You’re pretty active on social media – at least with the dealerships. We’re still fairly new as an industry at figuring out social media. What is working for you and what isn’t working?
We have had some very positive results from social media. Putting blogs and forums aside, we have established a strong presence on Facebook. For me it was a natural transition because I have been the dealer’s digital voice for a long time and I think that is the key to making it work. You can’t put the receptionist in charge of your Facebook page. The message has to be consistent with the dealer’s core beliefs and stay on message.
We don’t try to sell cars on Facebook, but we don’t pretend were not a car dealer either. I just springboard off of our reputation and engage people as if they are in my showroom or if we met on the street. I made a conscience effort to be very selective of whom I wanted to associate with. I focused first on other local businesses and still try and concentrate on our local community. We established a local Facebook business networking group that will share each other posts, coupons, etc., helping to give other local small business a bigger platform. I have found that more and more people have become very comfortable communicating with one another as well as businesses via social media. Every day I get questions about service or sales or trade values and the like. I think it is important not to dismiss how consumers wish to communicate with you and instead engage them in that medium.
You’re on the front lines every day. What are some short-term things you expect to put in place over the next year? And, will you drop anything?
In the short term I really want to keep an eye on what the search engines are doing. I think that there will still be more radical changes that will affect how we approach search. We are definitely going to continue a full court press where reputation management is concerned.
I have been experimenting with QR (quick response) codes for the past few months and we have started to integrate them into our print advertising. I think we are a few months away from this becoming a fully recognizable medium to the average consumer, but once they are I see them becoming a very powerful sales tool. We have been engaged heavily in mobile for over a while and since we manage our mobile sites with a private company, we are currently working on ways to improve the customers experience as well as improve the conversion rate.