||More Online Vehicle Shoppers Pick Up the Phone
Alex Jefferson says dealers have themselves to blame for Internet leads flattening out in the past year, despite widespread online car shopping.
Dealers' slow responses to Internet leads have trained consumers to contact stores by telephone or just walk in when their online research is complete, says Jefferson, director of Internet and training for the Proctor Dealerships of Tallahassee, Fla.
"Consumers have gotten smart," Jefferson says.
The shift is causing some dealers to increase efforts to ensure that their Internet leads and phone calls are handled well, says Jon Quade, a performance improvement consultant at ADP Digital Marketing, a division of ADP Dealer Services created after the acquisition of the Cobalt Group last year.
"Years ago, people thought the Internet would do away with business on the phone and maybe even in person," Quade says. "But phone calls have exploded."
More phone calls
A recent internal study by ADP Digital, which sells Web sites and customer retention tools to dealers, shows that dealers get 10 phone-call leads for every two Internet leads, compared with seven phone-call leads for every two Internet leads a year ago, Quade says. The study tracked data from March 2010 through March 2011.
Recent findings by Dataium reinforce the trend. Over the past 10 months, 2 percent of visitors to dealer Web sites asked to be contacted, says Jason Ezell, president of Dataium, a company in Nashville that monitors auto-shopping habits online.
In 2007, the rate was 4 percent, Ezell says.
Quade says car shoppers are increasingly turning to phone calls as their initial contact with dealers because they have finished their research and want a professional to take them through the buying process.
The phone is a better way to judge professionalism than the Internet or e-mail, while still allowing a certain level of anonymity, he says.
"People are trying to decide where not to go," Quade says.
How to handle leads
Jefferson says Proctor's Internet leads have held steady because of the quality and timeliness of responses.
He says he looks at each of Proctor's 600 to 700 monthly Internet leads and often makes notes on them to salespeople who follow up. The Proctor Dealerships have three franchises: Honda, Acura and Subaru.
The notes may help the salespeople focus on customer requirements, Jefferson says. But they also let the salespeople know that Jefferson is watching how leads are handled.
"Monitoring the leads every single day takes about 90 minutes," he says.
Jefferson says he constantly reinforces his first rule of salesmanship: Never say "no" or "can't" to the customer, whether on the phone or via e-mail.
He says there's always a way to suggest alternatives if a requested vehicle isn't immediately available. Unreasonable price demands can be met with "Come on in, and we'll try to get you as close to your monthly number as we can," he says.
Jefferson says: "Tell them what you can do, not what you can't."
(Source: Automotive News, 05/16/11)
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