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Dealers:  In Order to Sell Cars Online
Your Use of the Internet Must Permeate
Everything That You Do

Today's car dealership Internet Managers have perhaps the most difficult job in the dealership.

Many have all kinds of administrative duties (look after the computers and websites, photograph the cars, seek out and recommend technology solutions) and get little or no respect ("They are the department that plays with computers").  Too often the Internet sales funnel is too wide at the top, too narrow at the bottom resulting in too much effort for too little result and compounded by skinny gross profits.  Let's just say that it can be frustrating.  Oh, and I nearly forgot about straight commission pay plans for all that effort. 

Pile on a number of extra technology and advertising (lead) costs and I'll bet it doesn't look very pretty on a financial statement either.

I haven't seen it broken out, but after reading Mark Dubuis' blog posting about Top Reasons Why Internet Departments Fail, I believe this is likely one of the highest turnover positions in a dealership.

No respect?  You bet!  And yet, success here is imperative to your dealership's very survival!

If almost every consumer uses the Internet as part of their car shopping experience, yet only 25% of your store's sales volume comes from there, at what risk is that other 75%?

I believe the source of most of the current frustration lies in the experimentation approach to implementation taken by many dealerships when it comes to the Internet.  "We'll put someone in charge, get a website and CRM program, buy some leads and see how it goes while the rest of us keep doing what we have always done."  I call this a Spoke implementation in that the Internet operation becomes a separate effort from everything else the dealership does.

So what is the alternative?  Well as the market has matured (all consumers now use the Internet) and the available execution tools have expanded and improved, I believe dealership's Internet efforts need to become more central to everything that the dealership does.  Certainly execution should not belong to someone on a pure commission pay plan, but that is another matter.  Internet execution needs to become a Hub, not a Spoke in the operation.

Okay.  Nice metaphor.  What does it mean?

Well to start, a more thoughtful vision and execution strategy is required.  Here is the one that I would use:

  • Fishbowls.  Yup, fishbowls.  I know you thought I was going to say a shopping cart for cars, but instead I said fishbowls.  The first step in transforming your dealership around Internet use is to be able to use it with all of your prospects and customers.  Put fishbowls at every high traffic physical location in your dealership - front reception, service cashier, and parts counter.  Have a semi-annual draw for a prize such as an iPod.  The point of the fishbowls is to collect your consumers' business cards to get their email addresses.  Prize winners will only be notified by email.  When we did this back in 1999, we had 30% of our active sevice customer bases' email addresses within 1 year.  Calculate your savings from service reminder mailings alone.  Get this done today.  Fishbowls are cheap.
  • Reduce your dependency on Third Party Lead Providers.  Seek out and stick with those that produce acceptable #'s of sales for acceptable fees, but learn how to promote your own site with your consumers.  Just as with traditional sales efforts, conquest advertising is always far more expensive than retention marketing.
  • Your Website.  Is the destination worthy of the journey?  If you are going to drive consumers to your dealership's website, you had better have worthwhile things for them to do when they get there.  Fail to deliver and they are one click away from leaving and will not return.  The majority of consumers are not on your dealership's website when trying to figure out what vehicle they wish to purchase.  Consumers use the manufacturer and third party sites for that.  Lose the flash commercials on your website.  When consumers arrive at your website they want to shop for what you have to sell.  Posting a map to your dealership, phone numbers, hours and encouraging email inquiries as calls to action are fine, but barely qualifies as online shopping.  A billboard and yellow pages could accomplish that.  Consumers on your website are looking for convenience.  How about:
    • Online service scheduling?  I recommend Time Highway.  Allow your consumers to arrange and confirm their own service appointments and have them written directly to your DMS taking in to account available technician hours.  Contact Time Highway's CEO, Karen Dillon at
    • Online accessories?  I recommend The Insignia Group.  Allow your consumers to shop for and buy accessories from your website.  Installed and over the counter prices are all available.  Contact Insignia's CEO, David Copp Stringer at
    • Online shopping cart for cars?  You betcha.  Ai-Dealer is the only current provider and provides franchise-exclusive territories for you to promote.  Consumers have to give their email address in order to get in (create their account), but then get pricing, your dealership's brand message (i.e. why buy from us), credit, interest rates, rebates, trade equity analysis, extended service contracts, accessories, protections, tax, title, fees and accurate monthly payments.
  • Online conquest marketing.  Once the destination is worth going to and you have efficient sales processes in place once they do, explore how to drive conquest traffic to it.  Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO). blog marketing, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, banner advertising and so on all make sense now.
  • Retention marketing.  Everything above is just about attracting prospective consumers to you then allowing the design of your website to funnel consumers through your sales process.  But armed with all of these tools, you can be more proactive than that.  How about email communications for:
    • Service reminders (with a link to the online service scheduling page on your website)?
    • "Did You Know" articles that help communicate that you care and help wih service retention?
    • "Have you ever wanted to shop from home, get selling prices and accurate monthly payments on all of a dealership's cars?  To shop without pressure to buy until you are comfortable?" Here at <dealership> we have added just such a capability to our website.  Just follow this link.
    • Embed that last message into an email broadcast to your unsold prospect follow up activity and to your autoresponder that goes to all incoming sales leads.  Why let such online consumers shop elsewhere rather than on your website?
    • Embed that last message into your trade cycle renewal activity.  If you are not familiar with the term, trade cycle renewal activity is proatively communicating with those consumers who are 6 months away from expiry of their current financing.  I also included cash buyers in this cycle as if they were on a 3 year cycle and all "service tourists" (those that service with your dealership, but did not buy there).

A Hub based Internet implementation is a complete digital marketing approach.  It brings together all of a dealership's activity around the medium where almost all consumers now congregate and have clearly expressed a desire to do business.  Hub based implementations cut or greatly reduce their reliance on third parties to do this for them believing no other business belongs between them and their consumer.  Hub based implementations leverage all of the hard work and technology costs (i.e. CRM programs) that have come before them, bring it all together and drive significant improvements in business results.  I am a CPA.  Where I come from, this only means one thing - sales and profitability.  Everything else is just conversation.

So...what conversations are you having in your manager's meetings?  What are your too busy doing to get this implemented?  To whom do you need to forward this to in order to get the ball rolling?

Or would you like to remain on a straight commission pay plan with all of the responsibility, none of the authority and no respect? 

My advice to Interent Managers who ask is to improve the value you deliver and your "worth" to your dealership goes up.  Trying harder will not get you there.  Even from traditional dealers and managers, respect in dealerships is earned for results, never just for hard work.  Personally, I view your current state as both your source of frustration and your opportunity.  How it turns out is up to you.

Good selling.

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