Education (Best Practices)

Dealership Grammar

There are always classes in school that make you wonder, “When will I ever need to know this?”  For me, that class was English.  Have you ever needed to know when to use a past participle, or what a homonym is?  Neither have I…but the more I write and get involved online (conducting business via email, writing this blog, participating in online social networks), I have begun to realize that while I may not need to know the definitions of these grammatical terms, I definitely need to know how to use them accurately.

Using correct spelling and good grammar are becoming more and more essential to running a successful business.  It’s amazing how much of a blow to your credibility and professional image it can be when a potential customer reads an email with misspellings or incorrect grammar.  Put yourself in their shoes…two vendors are showing you similar products, but one doesn’t speak well and their emails have spelling errors…which vendor are you more likely to choose?

I never paid much attention in English, and wish now that I would have.  While the written word is not my strong point, I’ve found ways around this.  I use a spell-checker every chance I get, both in my word documents and in my emails.  I have co-workers look over and proofread almost everything I send to customers or potential customers.  Some things do slip through the cracks, and when they do, I go back and fix them when possible (blog, social networking), or make a point to learn from my grammatical mistake.  Nobody’s perfect, after all.

Whether you’re already a stickler for grammar, or lean a little more to the “alternative spelling” side, not utilizing all the tools available to ensure your spelling and grammar are correct could be costly to your dealership’s sales.  Whether it’s fair or not, using correct English gives your potential customers confidence in doing business with your auto dealership and helps build trust that they are choosing the right place and salesperson to buy from.

What tools do you use to help check your spelling and grammar?  Any tricks of the trade that work well for you?  Let me know—I can always use more help!

Dealership Lead Nurturing

According to the 2008 Cobalt Automotive eShopper Experience Study, the “traditional” dealership gives up on a lead after three days, no longer actively pursuing them as an in-market buyer.  This just doesn’t make sense, considering that J.D. Powers reports in their 2008 New Study that those in market for a new vehicle begin using the Internet to research their purchase about 12 weeks before they actually buy.

Lead nurturing or follow-up (whatever your dealership calls it) is so important if your dealership wants to sell as many cars as possible.  The most important thing for your sales people to do is respond to each and every email that you receive from potential customers.  It’s amazing how many incoming leads don’t get responded to.

Check in with your leads at regular intervals to ensure that your dealership has done everything you can to earn their business.  Ask if they have any questions about a specific vehicle or your dealership.  Try sending short surveys to make sure they feel that they have been treated how they want to and nothing is holding them back from eventually choosing your dealership for their purchase.

There is no doubt your dealership staff have full plates, so why not automate some of your lead nurturing?  Take full advantage of your CRM and any web tools your dealership uses to take some of the load off.  These programs can schedule emails to be sent at various time periods to ensure none of your leads fall through the cracks in the long term.

Automotive Sales Targeting

Get to Know Your Customer

The 2008 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index® U.S. Auto Industry Study set out to study how customers were treated while shopping for new vehicles.  They used mystery shoppers to visit auto dealerships nationwide who reported back about the customer service they received.  Among many other, interesting facts, the study found that auto sales people were more likely to:

  • Mention the availability of different financing options.
  • Handle any required wait professionally.
  • Make special orders simple and easy.

Sales people were less likely, however, to ask info-gathering questions like:

  • Why the shopper was considering the particular brand.
  • What the customer’s price range was.
  • How the vehicle would be used and by whom.

Judging by the types of questions these sales people asked, it appears as though their main goal is to make the car shopping process quicker and easier for potential buyers.  While this will help improve the experience of your shoppers, it’s important that it go beyond this.  Customer service shouldn’t stop at the efficiency and ease of the transaction.

It is extremely important that your sales people are actually finding out what their customers want and need their cars for.  Many shoppers will come into the showroom, full of facts and figures that they found on the Internet, but it’s still the job of a sales person to discuss the car choice and make sure it’s the right fit.

It can be tempting to get the sale and get out, quickly moving on to the next.  However, your long term sales, referrals, and overall customer satisfaction will be much higher if you take the time to ensure your customers are getting a vehicle that is right for them, their lifestyle, and their budget.

If this isn’t incentive enough, think about the possibilities of an up-sell.  Asking what the budget is, the down payment amount, or their ideal monthly payment all open the door to finding a “better” vehicle to fit their needs.  When you find out more about the buyer and their lifestyle, you have more room to negotiate and open their eyes to the vehicles they could end up wanting and buying.

As a sales person, it’s imperative that you know your product; but it’s also extremely advantageous to know your customers.

Automotive Market Segmenting

Dealership Market Segmentation 101

One of our most visited blog posts talks about using market segmentation and customer profiles to attract used car buyers.  The study was pretty general, and split pre-owned car buyers into only four categories.  Since there seems to be an interest in the concept of market segmentation, I wanted to give a brief, simplified overview of how to conduct one for your own dealership.

Let me define what I mean by market segmentation.  It involves taking your customer base, both past and future, and separating it into smaller segments of people grouped by shared characteristics.  This allows you to market to, appeal to, and focus on the specific groups that are most likely to buy, increasing your marketing ROI.

Even Ford is tightening up their segmentation.  Rumor has it that when the 2009 F-150 is released, the marketing focus will be on promoting it as a work truck, not trying to appeal to everyday drivers who will most likely be turned off by it’s low MPG rating.

The first step in creating a market segmentation is to decide what you will “segment” by.  Start with a huge bucket list of criteria and characteristics you can use to separate and group your customers.  Throw in everything you can think of; you’ll narrow it down later.  The two types of characteristics most likely to be helpful to your dealership are demographic (age, gender, location, etc.) and psychographic (lifestyle, family stage, personality, etc.).

From the long list you’ve created, decide which factors are most important and relevant.  For example, if you live in an area where the population is generally homogenic (made up of similar people), then dividing people by zip code wouldn’t make much sense.  Take these chosen factors, and start separating your customers into groups, creating customer profiles.  This may take some playing around with to determine which factors will most appropriately group your customers.

You can do a market segment for your entire dealership, or drill down into Make or even Model to determine who your customers and future customers are.

Often the most difficult part of segmenting your market is getting information about your customers.

  • Use Your CRM: Do some data mining, especially if your dealership has been good about collecting and recording customer information there.
  • Research Online: The US Census website has a wealth of demographic information.  While this may not be specific to who is buying or will buy from your dealership, it will help you get an idea of who is buying on a more general level.  For more local info, try doing an online search for “demographic data” and your location.
  • Ask: Send surveys, take notes while selling, call your customers, or even shoot them a quick email.  This is often the most effective and accurate way to interpret who is and who will be buying.

When the market is slow, it pays to know who you’ve sold to and who you could be selling to.  Exploring market segmentation can help you drill down your marketing and sales techniques, focusing where you need to, and ultimately, increasing your sales.

Automotive Trust Building

Use Your Dealer Website to Earn the Trust of Prospects

Many people are hesitant to give up their contact information online, especially to auto dealerships.  They are concerned about things like identity theft and email SPAM.  Because of these fears, getting a visitor to raise their hand can be difficult.  Diminishing the fears that many have about providing their contact information to your car dealership will help increase conversion rates and earn you more sales.  Earning their trust before they become sales leads is a critical step in turning those visitors into leads and upping your conversion rate.

Below are some ways that you can use your website to help earn the trust and overcome the fears of your website visitors, thus increasing the chances that this web traffic will convert to leads.

  • Be Upfront: Many people see the auto industry as a pariah, always trying to get one over on anyone they can.  Convince them that your dealership is on their side, and wants to do business in a fair and ethical manner.  Try putting a video on your home page with your General or Internet Manager explaining the dealership’s sales philosophy, or add a short letter to your customers relaying the same message.  Getting over this hurdle can be what makes your dealership stand out from the rest.
  • Security: This is a huge issue these days.  People have to be very careful about who has access to their personal information because of the increasing threat of identity theft.  Make it clear that you won’t sell or rent their information and that your site is secure.  This security is especially important if you have online credit applications which should have a 128-bit SSL Secure Certificate.  Make sure this is clear to your visitors so they feel safe providing their private information.
  • SPAM: Nobody likes to get it, and it doesn’t do your dealership any good to send it.  Make sure that your leads are only getting the information they’ve requested.  Have it written on your website that when they submit their information, they won’t get any unsolicited emails.  One piece of unwanted email can be enough to erase the trust you’ve built with your sales leads.

Besides the potential annoyance to your customers, SPAM can also become a legal headache.  It’s extremely important that your dealership is CAN-SPAM compliant.  Make sure each email has an opt-out link included, and that you respect the right of your patrons if they decide to not receive emails from your dealership.

Take a look at your online presence.  Examine each part and ask yourself, “How does this aspect help to earn the trust of my potential leads?”