>Extinction Event Sale! This Weekend!!

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Extinction Event Sale!  Every Weekend in 2011!!  With some dealers, that’s the business they are in, and they don’t even know it.  And they need to adapt to instead survive!  Here’s what I mean:
Extinction?  Scientists say the fossil record of bones indicates several sudden mass extinctions of life during the history of the earth, called “extinction events”, possibly due to large meteor impacts.  Even if that’s eventually determined to be wrong, I believe we are poised at a real extinction event for dealers who do not get aboard the Internet.  2011 will be the beginning of that.

And don’t think this is the “chicken little” cry you heard over ten years ago—it’s real, and you can see it today at our conferences:  Who is there talking about “starting the Internet” and who is doing business ON the Internet NOW?  Who is the dinosaur in threat of extinction and who is not?
The Internet is not something you write a check to someone about and say “Handle it!”  It’s as fundamental to a dealership’s business now as any advertising and sales effort has ever been.  As fundamental as the need for air.  It cannot be ignored by any modern dealership, and it cannot be misunderstood by any modern dealership.  At least, not dealerships that are ready in 2011 for the fullest impact of the Internet on their business that they have ever seen.
Who will survive the Internet meteor?  Who will succumb and be extinct?  Really, which do you want to be?  The survivors, of course.
How to survive?  Get your website, online inventory, social media, online reputation, mobile website, and SEO/PPC modernized and in place.  Get rid of as much newspaper as you can stand.  For any direct mail, do targeted direct mail to the right customers ONLY.  Get email blasts going for sales and service.  Install the best CRM/Internet Lead Manager (CRM/ILM) that you can.  Film and host short video testimonials from happy customers, as well as videos of your cars for sale.  Focus on your fixed ops Internet presence, allowing customers to get online for appointments, status, and sales/offers.  And learn to answer the PHONE the right way:  Stop answering phone calls that cost you $2-300 to get with an $8-an-hour receptionist who answers/routes wrong, and if your sales staff is answering the sales calls then train them AND hold them accountable.  And just give up that blue inflatable gorilla on your roof for good.
Otherwise, you’ll soon join the fossil record of dinosaur bones in the transportation retail business that already includes those who couldn’t understand the change that the telephone brought.  Or print advertising.  Or that the automobile was taking the place of the horse!
Bones are like that:  Some scientist may dig them up and study them one day.  Who knows.  However, for now in 2011 it’s not too late to survive the Internet meteor.  I have one word to help you with that:
Hurry!

By Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

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>CRM: Why a Good Internet Lead Manager (ILM) is Essential to Making the Most Sales!

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By Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2009, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

When reviewing a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) for your dealership, the operation of the Internet Lead Manager (ILM) as part of your CRM software is essential to achieving your best Internet sales–regardless of whether you operate a BDC, an Internet Department, or cover your Internet leads with an “Internet Dealership” approach where any sales consultant can competently receive and sell customers via Internet leads.  Without a solid ILM to manage them, your Internet leads will not be effectively answered, tracked, and matured to sales.

The ILM is your Internet doorbell, answering machine, and automated greeter for your customers, plus it is the tracking tool that an Internet Director and/or GM uses to make sure the customers are subsequently being answered and worked by live sales consultants in a consistent, effective, and sales-producing manner.   A good ILM receives a lead, alerts staff and management, provides an email auto-response to assure the customer that staff is working to answer their needs, reminds sales staff for a live response, allows you to prioritize your leads (1st Party, 2nd Party, and 3rd Party),  monitors and reports on lead response time, keeps track of the phone and email conversations with the shoppers and customers using the CRM, and escalates any unanswered leads for sales and management attention until they are answered.   An ILM must also integrate with—or be an actual part of, hopefully—your CRM software to ensure that customer contact by the sales consultants is monitored, organized, and moving towards an ultimate sale.
All this applies whether the lead was a direct query to your website(s) from the customer, came via new paths such as social media, or was sent by a lead provider.   And, though not classically an operational point, the screens used to monitor an ILM should also be concise and easy to read for at least customer name, lead time, lead type (GM, Dealix, AutoTrader, etc.), response timers, last sale staff action, last sales staff action overdue, and type of alert(s) and escalation(s).
ILM escalation paths for unanswered leads or overdue follow-up are extremely essential to getting the most sales from your leads.  If no “live response” is provided from the sales staff within 15 minutes, for example, then the ILM escalates the lead to the next salesperson and/or to a wider group of salespeople who can and will respond. 
These escalations should provide distinct “escalation” alerts to email, phones, and the ILM screens for the appropriate sales staff and one or more managers, and they should provide multiple escalation steps in cases where any initial response is still needed past the first escalation.  This escalation operation must be as flexible as possible—in fact the ILM should allow for different escalations depending on the shift and/or day of the week and, as well, depending on lead type/source (1st Party leads from your own website should go “red” faster than others, for example).  And escalating by make and new/pre-owned is even better (you might want leads from a demo up for sale or a manufacturers program get fastest attention, for example).
The ILM/CRM combination must also ensure that all emails and phone contacts are logged and available for monitoring, planning, appointments, notes, etc. so that the lead is moved along to a sale in a successful and coordinated fashion.  Reminders and automatic scheduling of emails, calls, and letters in a contact schedule for working Internet leads are essential, as is a good organization of the email templates that are a must for the fastest Internet sales response (speed wins on the Internet!).
And so your customer presses your Internet doorbell, your sales staff contacts them immediately—and then they get them promptly into the store and sell them a vehicle!  Sound good?  With an ILM working as described here, your Internet lead handling be organized to get the most sales you can, just like that.
So, how much of all this does your current, or being-considered-for-purchase, ILM in your CRM do today?  If you don’t know, be sure to ask.  The Internet is your greatest sales source in history, and if somebody rings your Internet sales doorbell, you need a solid, sales-enabling ILM to help you answer it and sell the most vehicles.
There’s that doorbell now.  Hear it?  Your ILM should.

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>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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>Speed Wins: Making the Most Sales from Vehicle Internet Leads

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by Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2009, 2011 All Rights Reserved

For online vehicle sales, the Internet is the modern incarnation of the old saying “the early bird gets the worm.”  Customers will come to the dealership of the first salesperson answering quickly and effectively to their needs. Are you that dealership and salesperson?  You need to be if you want the most sales. 

To respond the quickest, you must have the right processes and tools.  For processes, guess what?  You need to CALL an Internet lead FIRST. The objective is to convert the Internet lead to the phone and then to the floor, anyway, so if you can cut directly to the phone call you’re already faster than much of your competition. If you reach the customer via phone, email them a confirmation of the call and of the appointment. If you instead reach their voice mail, leave a message with another person, or get no answer, adjust your email to mention that fact along with your response on the customer’s needs and questions. And answer as many leads as you can during your off hours, too, by the way—don’t let all those just linger on the auto-responder. And don’t be afraid to call on a Sunday afternoon. 
That brings up a common challenge that I hear to this point:  What if the Internet lead you get says not to call?  Don’t put a lot of faith in that:  Most often, a lead showing “email only” is actually generated that way by some default selection that the customer never even noticed or it is a selection that the lead provider decided on behalf of the customer.  Over the years of doing this and making a lot of sales, I’ve always called customers first then emailed—and it has only been a handful of customers who’ve ever been put off by my call.  My point is that we should always manage our business to our core customers and not to the exceptions—most folks take the call, and if you’re not making that first call then you’re not going to win your most sales.  You’re going to get beat.
Your desking managers also need to know to always give the best Internet price the first time. You won’t get a second chance. And a good Internet sales staff should get a lot of access to pricing and program information to support that effort, so that they know what to ask for from the desking managers in order to get the fastest and most-competitive quotes.
And tools are very important:  A good Internet Lead Manager (ILM) and Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) will alert you via phone, email, etc. that you have a lead, and then provide tracking of the lead through the sales process, starting with the autoresponder and on to email templates for pricing, appointments, etc.  Those templates are very important, as they greatly reduce spelling and grammar errors.  Errors like that can turn off even uneducated customers—everyone wants great service, and great service on the Internet starts with proper language.
And those email templates need to do more than just provide information:  They need to be aimed at getting the customer on the phone and into the store.  Fewer words and more calls to action will get that done.   And don’t be shy about asking for the appointment, for their best contact phone number, for them to call you, and for their business.
After all, you want customers into your dealership and buying a vehicle as soon as possible. So, to get what you want—lots of Internet sales!—give them what they want.  And give it to them fast!
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>How to Sell Technology Products to Dealerships

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By Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved

Technology products:  CRMs, websites, SEO/SEM, Social Media, telephony, and more . . . Well, it’s still very easy for a technology person to get excited by a technology sales pitch—but the days when the bulk of non-tech people running dealerships just bought new technology in the blind hope to somehow, someway advance their business are gone.  In today’s marketplace, dealerships need a solid sales return on any technology purchase.

I’ve sat through many technology presentations given at dealerships and hosted at GM and Chrysler meetings and then listened later in the hallway to every dealer principal and sales manager say “What the *&^@$! did that tech guy say??”  What you’re seeing on the faces in that audience when many of you sell technology is polite (mostly!) confusion, not a real comprehension of your product or your fancy acronyms.  I guarantee it.
I often use my “Golf Example”.  Think about which would be most successful after a dealer principal makes a great tee shot:
A: “Jerry, we will put more sales on your books by making more buyers come to your dealership!”, or
B: “Jerry, we can show in Google Analytics the improvement in website hits from SEM and SEO efforts that use our tools.   We can also show you how to tell how ‘sticky’ your website is and how to improve that.
C: “Jerry, our CRM will automatically accept XML Internet leads into our ILM from any lead provider.”
All are true statements about products.  Which would get the principal’s attention?  Example “A” would, of course, no doubt about it.
So, are “B” or “C” then the second step at the next golf tee, or maybe later at the clubhouse, where you explain the technology?  NO.  You never want to explain technology to a principal or executive unless they specifically ask about it OR it helps differentiate you competitively.   And in those cases you say things like “Our product’s proven and exclusive XYZ technology gets more people to your website, to stay on your website, and to come in your door for sales!” or “Our product’s XYZ technology will rapidly put you far ahead of your competition in actual sales.”  Or “Our XYZ CRM will get you solid sales from referrals and be-backs!”  And so on.  And you save your technology pitch for the core “geek squad” you will probably find at the dealership.
And relying only on the technology contacts in any “geek squad” inside a dealership (even at director level) to persuade their executives and owners to make technology purchases from you is the wrong approach.  Why not make the non-tech principals and sales managers your strongest proponents?  Business results excite these folks, so stay on that point:  “What is your impact on improving their sales?” is the rule of technology sales to dealerships.
So maybe you know an exception to this rule, a true “geek” that runs a dealership set?  Good.  Sell them!  However, why would you ever use exceptions of any kind to drive your approach to the bulk of your sales?  If you’re doing that, maybe you’re also somewhat a “geek”, and technology is your comfort zone—and that’s perhaps the most common mistake in any kind of sales effort, to try and pull a customer into your own comfort zone rather than working inside theirs.  
And have faith in your product:  Dealerships well know that they actually own their own vehicle sales process, and your product still has to be used properly to product positive results.  Even the worst sales floor can and will benefit from your product when applied correctly—right?  Otherwise, why are you even trying to sell it to them?
Exactly.  And now you’re ready to sell technology to a dealership!

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>The Digital Divide – Thoughts from NADA 2011

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by Keith Shetterly, keithshetterly@gmail.com
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved
There I was having a great discussion at NADA with some high-powered folks in the digital realm, when I realized that they didn’t get something very important:  Many dealers are not “leading edge” for Internet sales and marketing.  Nor are they anywhere near the edge, for that matter, evidenced by some “what the &^%$! did he say??” Tweets to http://www.automotivegitalmarketing.com/ during some of the pre-conference technical sessions.

“Digital Divide” is a broadly-used term to describe things like disparate educational systems where some school districts have lots of computers and others have none, and the crack between the “digital haves” and “have-nots” seems to be widening.  The source of “Digital Divide” in dealerships is not education of youngsters, however—it’s education of the elders:  Dealer Principals and GMs.
The GMs and Dealer Principals can, and do, understand all the gears of a car deal:  the phone call, the ten steps to the sale, finance, leasing, inventory, holdback, step money, etc.  Many to the “nth” degree.  However, ask them about their Internet, and you’ll see them scramble to throw their Internet Manager at you.  And/or some list of third-party vendors that “handle it” for them.
And that is not a successful strategy.  They need to understand what they are expecting or their subsequent inspection is not productive, and we need to help them with that.  If the dealer has 20+ websites, shouldn’t each sales manager know to look at the sites that cover their makes?  Shouldn’t the GM understand his/her PPC  cost,  SEO strategy, and online pricing and inventory?  Shouldn’t the Dealer Principal  hold these folks accountable for all this, and more?  Well, how can all this happen if he/she isn’t educated on what they need?  And how to measure and manage it?
In the Digital Divide discussion, I was reminded of a day on Galveston Beach long ago, when my friends and I were partying with a beer keg.  Lots of fun all day!  As the sun went down, however, we noticed a young woman alone on a blanket nearby who was getting hassled by three guys.  We talked about that being wrong, and so we started over to talk to the guys and help her.
Feeling strong and bullet-proof, of course, I led the way, and, as I approached yelling, the three guys looked my direction.  They sulked a brief moment, said a few words, then fled the scene.  And I turned to my friends to congratulate us all on how we took care of that problem for the young lady.
Except I was alone!  My friends had not come with me and were still drinking beer across a divide of at least fifty feet of beach.  My guess at the time was that the three fellows who had been hassling the young woman were so shocked when this shouting, lone individual came on so strong that they figured I was either crazy, a kung-fu master, or both.  The woman thanked me, and I went back to my friends and gave them a hard time for not paying attention.  Even though I hadn’t done so, either!
“Pay attention”–that’s the caution for vendors and consultants about the “Automotive Digital Divide”:  Are you reaching your customers (GMs and Dealer Principals), or are you expecting them to reach you?   If you look back across the divide on the digital beach, do you see those left behind?
They may not know it, and they may well resist it, but they need you to come get them, too.

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>Social Media Generates Sales: CONTENT Baby, CONTENT!!

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Content is the answer to how to sell via social media. Although content has been important since gossip was invented, the easiest modern example of the evolution of content-driven media is in the history of radio: In order to monetize the new medium, advertisers gave people reasons to listen to the radio by using interesting content and then did commercial announcements between the content. This “hook’em and sell’em” device later transited nicely to TV. And it’s transiting to social media now, as well! Give people a short and interesting mini-article, funny video, human-interest story, and THEN give them a link to your site/inventory/contact form/what-not.
My point is that if we are all showing inventory or always talking about your dealership experience using social media then we are “doing it wrong”.  Would folks throwing a party like to see us staple pictures of our cars to the walls of their house?  NO.  Would somebody want to watch a thirty minute show about our dealerships instead of looking at photos of their grandchildren? NO.  However, TV has proven that they WILL watch a 30sec commercial on your dealership while watching a 30 min popular show.  So, moving to the modern media, will they keep you as a friend on social media if you send them weekly content they are interested in, even if it ties (via link and content) to your retail vehicle sales?  SURE.
It’s that simple: We monetize social media the same way we did the old media, by driving “viewership” with content and then culling leads from folks who are interested in our message.
I’m not saying this is where your own content should go, but if you can imagine this being passed around Facebook . . . well, it was. This Suzuki dealer is now #1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGgmFQ-SMBw.
Not every TV advertiser bought time on The Gong Show or Jerry Springer. Dramas and news get viewers, too. And why do people pay attention to the advertisers?
Content, baby, content!
Keith
P.S. Check out Ed Brooks’ blog post http://www.automotivedigitalmarketing.com/profiles/blogs/facebook-p… about how the live news feed dominates Facebook now . . . guess what? That’s CONTENT, baby, content of interest! 🙂
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