Author: Mark Garms
Q: What are the keys to successfully serving automotive customers online?
A: The most important thing is to put the pieces in place, to follow-up on every lead, and request information quickly and efficiently. Smaller dealerships might not be able to afford a major technology investment or an entire Internet department to accomplish this, but we recommend at least one dedicated Internet customer manager and good best practices training. When responding to customers requesting pricing/model information, you should reply with a range of options that closely mirror their request, the goal being to expand the dialogue from a simple yes/no response to a discussion about which options are the closest to what that customer is looking for as they shop for a new or used vehicle. This is a good example of how to use the Internet to assure customers that they're going to have a great experience at your dealership.
Q: What are some cost-effective things dealers can do to generate more business online?
A: Internet marketing is almost--by definition--cost-effective, especially when compared to costly untargeted traditional marketing media. We know, for example, that the cost to sell a car for dealers using traditional marketing (i.e. newspaper or broadcast media) is $485, while the cost to sell a car through an online car-buying service such as Autobytel is only $160. This is largely incremental business, and the investment is highly accountable. In other words, the dealer knows exactly what he or she is getting for the money in terms of response and sales.
We also encourage dealers to invest in their own Websites to create a compelling, information-rich environment for their direct visitors, and complete an enjoyable online shopping experience for customers who reach your dealership through third-party or OEM sites.
Q: What should dealers look for in an online buying service?
A: The big question is; what are you getting for your money? Is it just leads? Where do they come from? Are they verified? Do you get hands-on training and support to optimize the service? How is the dealership presented on the Website? This question touches on an area that my company has really been focusing on: creating opportunistic platforms to promote dealerships to tightly targeted audiences. For example, we've recently launched a new interactive marketing program that automatically advertises dealers to customers who are looking for vehicles in their area. Innovations like these that serve to funnel customers intelligently to the dealership are obviously valuable marketing assets worth considering.
Q: Should dealers employ different strategies/approaches for Internet vs. traditional customers?
A: Most people research or shop online today, so the differences between online and offline customers are quickly evaporating. Today, most people have done their homework online and generally have a much better idea of what they want and what they want to pay for it before they contact the dealership--whether that's done online or not. Dealing with this selective Internet-informed customer is all about transparency, honesty, and efficiency. It also raises the bar for dealers who now really have to understand their products and competitors, and also be able to provide compelling reasons for doing business with them.
Mark Garms is vice president of dealer operations and strategies for Autobytel, Inc. He can be reached at 949-225-4500.
Dealer Marketing Center