All Posts By

Ali Amirrezvani

The Future of Google Local?

Have you seen the new offering from Google for local search? Unless you live in Austin, Portland, Madison or San Diego, chances are that you haven’t. Google’s new “Beta” Local Directory Portals are a bit of a mix between their place pages and Yelp. They let users look at all of the businesses in a city in one place (similar to Yelp’s model).

Here is a screenshot of Google Portland.

You can sort by category, and then drill down even further using the filters. While there is no automotive category yet (the tool seems to lean a bit more towards tourists/visitors), it’s another example of how important Google Places is now and will be in the future.

These local portals are pulling their results directly from Google Places listings, including the reviews. In fact, one way to sort is by rating. If your dealership doesn’t have a lot of good, quality reviews, you may not appear above the fold.

If you haven’t already, I can’t stress enough how important it is to claim your listing and make sure it is as complete as possible. This means photos, videos, categories, reviews, and information is completely filled out and accurate.

Google’s Local Portals are just another example of how Google is relying more and more on the information in their Places, and why your auto dealership needs to have an accurate representation in the Places realm. How do you think this new offering will impact the local auto dealer industry?

Take Control of your Facebook Places

If you use Facebook with any regularity, I’m sure you’ve seen the rising popularity of Facebook Places, used it yourself, and seen your friends check-in information as well. If you haven’t noticed this yet, Facebook Places allows users to “check-in” through their mobile phones, letting their friends (and businesses) know where they are. It’s designed to compete with Foursquare, a similar location-based social network.

So what happens if someone tries to check-in at your dealership, only to find your Facebook Place doesn’t exist yet? They can create the listing for you—which is probably NOT how you want to establish your dealership’s Facebook Place! You want to control your FB Place listing, just as you want to control any aspect of your dealership’s brand, and this includes making sure that the information presented in your Facebook Places listings is accurate.

Here’s how to set up your dealership’s Facebook Place:

1. Check to see if your dealership’s Facebook Place already exists. Using a smartphone, log into a Facebook account and click onto either “Places” or “Check-in”. Type the name of your dealership–if it does not appear, then add your dealership and a description.

2. On your computer, log into Facebook and using the search box at the top of the page, find your dealership. Make sure you click onto the “Places” version, not your dealership’s “Page”.

3. Once there, click on the “Is this your business?” link on the left hand side. You’ll see a small pop-up asking you to verify that you are an “official representative” of your dealership. Click the tick box, and then “Proceed with Verification”.

4. Fill in the information about your dealership as accurately and as completely as possible. It’s important that the information you enter on this page matches the information on your dealership’s Facebook page, as well as on your Google Places listing. Click “Continue” when you have everything filled out.

5. The last step is to show Facebook that you are actually affiliated with your dealership. This can be done by adding your dealership business email to your Facebook page, entering a dealership email address (it must be one that is associated with your dealership’s business page, otherwise you’ll need to do step 1 first), or uploading a utility or phone bill from your dealership. Hit submit when you’re finished.

Facebook advises that it can take up to a week for them to verify your “claiming” of the Places page. If all goes correctly, your dealership will have control of the address, contact information, business hours, profile picture, admins, and other settings of your Places page. Also, since Facebook is constantly changing their offerings, it’s important to claim your page as early as possible to help ensure your dealership has control moving forward.

Modern Email Marketing

Plain Text Emails Perfect for Smart Phone Users

According to aol.com, 16% of email-using Americans use mobile devices to check their email.  They also report that within the last year, 55% of these people upgraded their cell phone so they could check their email on the go.  Judging by these stats, the number of people using mobile email is growing, and fast.

Smart phones don’t quite read like a computer screen yet, but they’re always getting better.  It’s still a pain to try and read something graphic-heavy designed for a full size monitor on a 3-inch phone screen.  Giving your leads the option to receive emails in plain text, designed for viewing on a smart phone, is a great way to ensure that they’ll receive your message in the most useful format.

To find out which delivery method your leads prefer, add a field to your lead generation form asking what format they want emails sent in, plain text or HTML.  Or, to phrase it differently, ask them if they typically read their email on a smart phone or on a computer.  If your dealership collects email addresses in the store, train your salespeople and receptionists to ask this question as well.

Make note of their preference in your CRM tool, creating a custom field if necessary.  If this isn’t possible, you’ll just have to check the previous email sent to find the appropriate format, or look at the original lead email.

Create two versions of each email template that you send regularly, one in plain text and one in HTML (if your dealership send messages in this format).  Make sure that the plain text version has a link to the HTML version in case they happen to be reading it on a computer.

This small tweak in the format that you send emails in will increase the chance that your leads are actually reading the ads, newsletters, and email messages you send.  How many times do you open an email on your smart phone, realize it’s full of HTML and graphics, and delete it because it’s just too hard to digest?  Or maybe you just close it, meaning to read it later, but never actually do.  Don’t give your customers another reason to pass over or delete your messages without actually reading them.

By giving your marketing messages to leads in the format that is easiest for them to digest, you’re removing a road block that could prevent them from reading your emails.  This one little adjustment makes it easier for leads to read and understand your emails, and can make your email marketing campaign that much more effective.

Lead Follow Up Times

Connect Almost Instantly to Your Internet Leads

Studies show that Internet leads expect to receive a response from a dealership more quickly than ever.  According to the CapGemini’s Cars Online 07/08 report, 34% of Internet leads want a response within 4 hours, 8% want an instantaneous response, and almost 50% are willing to wait up to 24 hours.

Why not exceed their response time expectations by utilizing an automated instant lead connection system that can put you into phone contact with incoming leads within seconds of generation?  An instant response would surpass what 92% of your leads are expecting.  There are a number of companies (AutoUSA, AutoBytel, Dealix, and DealerOn, to name a few) that offer this type of exciting web tool.

So here’s a brief synopsis of how these systems work:

  • An Internet lead is generated
  • After the data is scrubbed, an automated phone call is placed to a salesperson
  • The salesperson is read the lead’s information, then prompted to press a pre-determined number to be connected with the lead
  • The system automatically dials the lead, connecting them with the salesperson.

The likelihood of being able to get an Internet lead on the phone decreases significantly over time:

Within the first 2 minutes = 51%
Between 3 and 7 minutes = 42%
Between 8 and 12 minutes = 35%

This means that the sooner you call your leads, the more likely you are to get a hold of them, allowing you to achieve that first step down the road to sale.

This is an amazing technology that increases accountability while leaving little room for salesperson error.  Imagine the impact that you will have when, while still sitting at their computer, your dealership is the one to call to find out more about the vehicle your lead is looking for.  The fastest response times are what all dealers are looking for, and nothing is faster than this type of program.

Of course, each version of these programs is a little bit different.  For example, some programs will connect you with any Internet lead, some just to leads that come through their portal.  The delivery message and information given is different, as is the number of options given to the salesperson during the phone message.  Exploring these options, comparing products and finding the program that works best for your dealership is what’s important here.  This is an awesome technology that, when used correctly, should increase your closing rate and sales.
What do you think?  How familiar are you with this technology?  Tell us about the success you’ve had using this type of software, or leave any questions you might have.

Maximizing Service Department Offerings

Promote Your Service Dept. to Increase Revenue

According to the National Auto Dealers Association in 2007, 46% of the total dealership operating profits was brought in by service departments. Successfully plugging your service bay could up this percentage by giving you two sources of additional revenue: an immediate increase from customers spending more of their service dollars with you, and an increase in future sales.  Customers who service their vehicles at your dealership are more likely to buy from you when that time comes.

Here are some ideas to get you started promoting your service department:

  • Advertise—anywhere and everywhere.  Just like branding your dealership is important, so is making sure you include your service department’s contact information wherever it’s appropriate.  Give the department a prominent spot on your website.  Send out service specials via email and direct mail from the service manager.  This should place your dealership at the top of their mind when they have an automotive need (service, purchase, parts, etc.).
  • Make Customers Comfortable—Give them a tour of the dept. (it has to look nice), introduce them to the service manager, and explain what your technicians will be doing to their car.  For those about to purchase a vehicle from you, showing them around before they even enter F & I may make them more likely to buy warranties from your dealership–what a great way to increase your back end gross!  The more comfortable they are leaving their car with you, the more likely they will be to come back.
  • Incentives—just like people need a little push to buy a car, they often need that same push to be inclined to service their vehicle at your dealership.  Try creating a loyalty program that gives money off future purchases, offer gift cards for purchase (great gifts for those on set budgets, college students, and the elderly) or simply send coupons redeemable for repeat visits.
  • Compete—most vehicle owners think that independent shops are less expensive.  If this is the case in your area, you’ll either need to lower your prices to remain competitive, or communicate the value of getting work done at a dealership shop.  Create emails for each past and future customer explaining this, including your technician’s certifications, studies about quality of work, and anything you can find that will show them getting work done with you is worth the extra cost.

The service department is already a huge source of revenue for most dealerships.  With car sales slowing down, what types of things, if any, has your dealership done to promote your service department?  Have you built this promotion into your sales pitch?  Any tips?