>The Black Hole of Lost Internet Sales

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Who Services Internet Sales Leads When Your Internet Salespeople are Busy with Customers?
by Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com,
Copyright 2009, 2011.  All Rights Reserved

What happens to your dealership’s Internet lead coverage while your Internet Salesperson leaves their computer to sell a vehicle, taking the time needed to confirm the customer’s needs, test drive, negotiate, close, and deliver?  In the average dealership, this process creates several hours of a “black hole” of aging Internet leads—lost sales!—needing attention.  We all know that “speed wins” sales on the Internet, and the black hole can happen even with a large Internet Department on a busy day.  So what’s the solution to prevent these lost sales?  We have at least three approaches to chose from:  adopt the best and right technology tools to assure the most attention possible from the Internet Department to the leads; train the entire sales team for Internet sales in order to create an “Internet Dealership”, not just an Internet Department; or use a Business Development Center that fields sales calls and Internet leads and sets appointments for the floor sales staff.
Which one of the three works best will depend on how you already handle Internet leads at your dealership.  For dealerships with a dedicated Internet Department (even one person), the easiest approach is the technology:  Provide Internet/email-enabled phones for your Internet sales staff so that answering customer’s inquiries via email/phone can be done in a few minutes away from their current customer (including inventory/quotes), instead of requiring much longer attention to a particular computer in a particular location they can’t get to; acquire Internet Lead Manager (ILM) software that provides for multiple escalation paths and alerts, so that you can make sure other available Internet salespeople can cover the leads and/or management can take action as leads age; and provide solid lead autoresponders that set the right positive customer expectation for the subsequent quote/sales response from the Internet salesperson.
However, just using technology properly does not remove the black hole of aging leads, it just reduces it.  Another approach for strong, internet-savvy dealerships is to become an “Internet Dealership”, where the larger set of sales floor staff (all of them, if you can) are qualified for the Internet—which simply means that, instead of a limited Internet sales staff that can be busy, every salesperson knows how to get the Internet customer in to the sales floor.  Done well, no lead waits very long at all, and this is very successful at reducing the black hole (and some form of Internet Dealership may well be the future of all retail vehicle sales floors).  However, it can still be difficult to achieve and maintain success of the Internet Dealership approach within the pool of talent and organization available to many current dealerships. 
Lately, with the Internet “finally” delivering on the more-than-ten-years predicted “big change” in retail vehicle sales, something else is being resurrected as an approach to the black hole at dealerships with just about any level of existing Internet sales success:  a Business Development Center (BDC) that focuses only on getting appointments that are then given to floor salespeople to meet and sell.  The BDC staff is trained to use email templates and phone scripts that will get appointments, and they are provided with just enough product, program, and inventory knowledge to ensure the customer is comfortable with making the appointment.  And then the sales staff handles taking the appointment to the sale.
Note that this usually works best with a “soft turn”, where someone presents themselves at the appointment as the person who set the appointment (whether they are actually them or not) and turns them to another salesperson for the appointment.  A “soft turn” is actually a successful and familiar practice for many years already in the car business, for example when a salesperson today ends up with more “live” customers than he or she can handle, and it still works well here.  A few minutes of good impression for the customer with the salesperson they expected to meet is very valuable in settling the customer’s mind that they won’t have to re-establish what they want with someone new.  And, even if that actually happens, the customer still gets started with a more positive mindset than “Jerry isn’t here, can I help you?”  I personally used this approach in a BDC that consistently did 35-40% of a dealership’s business.
As already noted, Internet leads don’t constantly show up, so in order to really get the best sales benefit from staffing such a BDC then it should also handle the inbound sales calls.  This is a very good thing:  How long have we tried to train all salespeople to be good on the phone, and how long have we been disappointed by most of them?  For decades.  How much have we spent on phone training, scripts, etc. over and over again, then found from our recordings that the salespeople passed the training but failed the sales calls?  Millions total for all of us, surely.  A well-trained BDC staff will give Internet and phone responses scripted to consistently get appointments, and the sales floor staff can then focus on getting the sale from the appointment.  And there is absolutely NO black hole for Internet Sales or recurrent issues with handling sales calls with a staffed and fully-trained Internet/phone BDC!
Many other questions come up when considering an Internet/Phone BDC focused on setting appointments:   Should you staff and train the BDC yourself or seek a third party?  Should your BDC handle both new and pre-owned, or just one or the other?  Which vehicle makes get BDC coverage, or is it all of them?  Is this a marketing expense for the dealership, or should it be offset and/or paid for from a commission reduction for the salespeople since they no longer answer the phone or the Internet leads?  These are business decisions based on your dealership’s size, needs, expectations, market, and experience—as is also,  really, the decision on which of the three approaches detailed here (or others) that you will use to reduce your losses from the black hole.  These questions have to be answered by each dealership, but the answers and decisions will yield very worthwhile results.
So, to review, the first (and most common) step to reduce the black hole of aging Internet leads and lost sales is to provide your current Internet Department with the right technology toolset to minimize time away from leads.  Or you can create an Internet Dealership where all salespeople sell Internet leads is really the next evolution from that and will likely see more success and prominence in the next few years.  Or, finally, another great answer is an appointment-setting Internet/phone BDC, with appointments going to the sales floor.
Regardless of which approach you choose, just don’t wait any longer while Internet leads age at your dealership—pick the Internet sales approach that’s right for you, and put a stop to the black hole of lost Internet sales today!
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About keithshetterly

Independent Automotive Consultant. Former eCommerce Director for large dealer group, BDC Director, and Internet Sales manager. Marketing, BDC, Internet, Phone, SEO, PPC, Reputation. Everything from a small business background to Fortune 100 experience. keithshetterly@gmail.com
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