By Christine Plunkett, National Sales Director, Frikin Tech
The automotive industry has plummeted to an all-time low closing rate on internet leads, an abysmal five percent average across all dealers in the U.S. We are only engaging 20 to 30 percent of inbound sales leads in meaningful conversations, and the problem stems from the first response quality or lack thereof.
When shopping for a new or used car online, most customers begin by researching the vehicle of interest. Once they are satisfied with their vehicle selection, they begin to identify the best place to buy it. A lot of factors come into play when the customer is narrowing down which dealerships to consider. Dealership locations, the customer’s previous experiences, peer recommendations, advertising impact, and searchability all affect where a shopper turns his/her attention. If your dealership survives the first round of consideration and makes it on the shortlist, your next hurdle is the initial phone call or internet lead response. This is where many dealers entirely blow their opportunity.
It is impossible to overemphasize the impact of your dealership’s first impression on in-market, low-funnel shoppers. You are one of several options on the customer’s list and the easiest way for him/her to move forward is to eliminate as many stores as possible. The customer is hoping for a reason to exclude you from his/her vehicle search, any reason. When the new lead rolls into your CRM, it’s showtime. No pressure.
Manufacturer scare tactics and wrist slaps have conditioned dealers to reply promptly, which is an important component of impressing your shopper. However, an unintended consequence of the mandatory lead response time frame is that dealers are more concerned with being quick than with being impressive. To avoid receiving a bad mark on our OEM evaluations, our industry facilitated the dawn of the era of autoresponders. Robots fire templates with zero useful or actionable information with precisely one goal: to stop the clock.
Now we churn out anywhere from one to four automated replies before the lead is assigned and properly managed by a sales representative. By the time a talented product specialist takes a shot at responding, it is far too late. We have trained the consumer to ignore our emails. When a shopper receives your first generic reply, your dealership gets scratched off his or her list. You blew your shot. Your only hope at this point is that your competition is also sending garbage lead replies. The only way to win now is being geographically convenient for the shopper, winning by default.
Here is where it gets interesting. We blame the lead providers for sending bad leads, or we complain about our lackluster CRM. Dealers who fail to engage with new leads in meaningful exchanges often conclude that the leads are weak, or they decide that the cause of their failure is poor email deliverability on the part of the CRM company. Perhaps, instead, it’s time to admit that what we’re sending is not worthy of a reply. The good news in that realization is that we can fix it!
Take out your notepad; here come the best practices. A reasonable assumption of anyone who hands over their name and email address to a car dealership is that they are seriously considering purchasing a vehicle. We can also predict they are hoping to narrow down the list. A simple way to avoid getting nixed is to answer the questions they ask and to address any implied concerns. The customer wants to know three things about the vehicle of interest:
- Is it actually available at your dealership?
- Is this the best time to buy it?
- How much will it cost? (This is not the same as price.)
A first quality response will grab the recipient’s attention with a subject line including their first name as well as the vehicle of interest. The body text should be short and concise enough that they can quickly glance at it and be compelled to read more. Think about someone pausing at a stoplight, glancing down at their phone and making a split-second decision about whether or not your email is worth a second look later.
- Yes! It is available.
- Now is the best time to buy because…
- Here is an accurate lease, loan, and out-the-door price presentation.
The goal is to stun the shopper with your quick, thorough, and intuitive first response. Giving them the options to lease, finance, and “write us a check” actually removes the price objection right out of the gate. Confirming things like availability and assuring buyers they’re making the right decision, increases the likelihood that they will engage in meaningful conversations with you.
More first quality responses will result in more conversations. More appointments will follow, followed by shows, and of course, more sales! Try experimenting with the first response you are sending to your leads and find out quite quickly that the leads aren’t weak, the CRM isn’t broken, and you are in complete control of your sales destiny.
About the Author
With nearly two decades of dealership operations and marketing experience, Christine Plunkett now collaborates with the mad scientists at FRIKINtech challenging the status quo and bridging the gap between car dealers and car shoppers by facilitating “frictionless” transactions.