Dealership Closings – Can Your Website Compete?

While I was at the NADA Convention in New Orleans this past weekend, the biggest news I heard was the announcement by General Motors (GM) that they plan to close 400 dealerships yearly until 2012.  According to Left Lane News, the company hasn’t decided what will determine which dealerships will be shut down, but “the automaker will base its decision on the age of the dealership, location, volume, and customer satisfaction.”

This is scary.  Not only do GM dealerships have to worry about having to close their doors because of the down economy and lack of sales, but it appears as though they will also have to worry about being shut down by their OEM.  While GM may not say so, you know that if your dealership can remain profitable and move more metal for your OEM than your competitors are, your chances of being shut down are drastically reduced.  If your dealership wants to increase the number of cars you sell, you need to make sure you can be found where your customers are looking: online.

Your dealership NEEDS to have an EFFECTIVE website.  Your customers are using the Internet to find their next vehicle; in fact, 80% of new vehicle buyers use search engines while researching their purchase.  If you don’t have a dealership website, you are missing out on 80% of potential sales.

Not only do you need a site, you need one that ranks well in search engine results.  Since only 10% of Google users ever click onto the second page of search results, if your website doesn’t appear on the first page, you’re missing out on 90% of potential sales.  42% of Google users will click on the first listing, so just being on the first page isn’t always enough.  You need to be at the top.

Sales are becoming more and more difficult to come by, so making sure your dealership can be found online is more important than ever before.  If your dealer site isn’t bringing leads and sales into your dealership, it’s time you rethink who your website provider is.  You can’t afford to lose any more potential sales.

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 Autoshopper.com 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.

Dealer Website Lynch Pin?

We’ve all heard the estimates about how many dealerships are going to be closing within the next year–NADA estimates that another 1000 dealerships will close in 2009 alone.  Of course this is a scary fact, but there are things that you can do to prevent your dealership from being one of them.  One of the first items is making sure people who are searching online (which 80% of those who purchase vehicles do) can find your dealership website.  Imagine missing out on 80% of all potential sales, sending them to your competitors, just because your website isn’t properly optimized.

Score Chrysler Dodge in Franklin, OH, recently shut their doors (January 5, 2009).  DealerOn wishes the best for all of their employees, as well as the community that will no doubt feel the impact from this dealership having to close.

I was curious though, how well their website ranked for relevant search terms, so I did a little research.  Their website (which is still up) looks as though it is optimized for three cities: Franklin (pop 12,000), Springboro (pop 12,000), and Middletown (pop 51,000).  The problem with this is that there are two, much more populous cities within 30 miles of Franklin (Dayton, pop 166,000 and Cincinnati, pop 330,000).

Here’s how they rank on the page for Google for the following terms (I stopped looking after the second page):

For the search term “Franklin Chrysler OH” the dealership website ranked second on the page, which is pretty good.  Except that Franklin is a town with a population of only 12,000 people.  The dealer website also appeared for the terms “Franklin Chrysler service” (16th) and “Franklin Chrysler parts” (13th).

But the good news ends there.  A news article about the dealership closing appeared when I searched for “Cincinnati Chrysler” (12th), “Cincinnati Chrysler dealer” (12th), and “Cincinnati Chrysler parts” (8th).  The dealership website did not show in the results for those terms.

Nothing about Score Chrysler Dodge showed in the first two pages of search results when I searched for the terms “Cincinnati Chrysler OH,” “Cincinnati Chrysler parts,” “Dayton Chrysler,” “Dayton Chrysler OH,” “Dayton Chrysler dealer,” “Dayton Chrysler service,” “Dayton Chrysler parts,” “Franklin Chrysler,” and “Franklin Chrysler dealer.”

Unless someone searched for their dealership name or one of the few terms that they actually ranked for, potential Chrysler buyers in this metro area wouldn’t find their dealership online.  This means that their website and dealership never had any chance to convert them into a lead or sell them a car.

You have to wonder…if the Score Chrysler Dodge website had been properly optimized so that those who were looking for a Chrysler vehicle in the Cincinnati-Dayton area would have found their site, would it have made a difference in their decision to close its doors?

Automotive Blogging

Just like you, I’m always trying to do what I do better.  I’ve recently been reading The Corporate Blogging Book by Debbie Weil for a bit of a “back to basics” blogging lesson.  I came across a few good reminders, and wanted to share some with you.

Blogs are used for so many different purposes, but here are some of my favorite uses for auto dealership blogs.

  • Customer Evangelists – Every dealership has those customers that think the world of your dealership and wouldn’t dream of ever doing business anywhere else.  Recruit them to write a brief testimonial as to why they believe your dealership is the best.  Imagine the power this could have over a potential buyer researching your dealership.
  • Status Alerts – Is your dealership awaiting the arrival of a new model line?  Maybe you’re building on to the building?  Either way, blogs are a great way to keep your potential customers aware and updated on the status of things going on in your dealership.
  • Marketing – This one seems pretty standard, but it’s a huge reason behind creating a blog for your dealership.  It often makes your business seem more transparent and, when done correctly, will hopefully increase sales for your dealership.  Your blog should complement the marketing done by your dealership.
  • Community Building – Cover community events that your dealership is involved in.  Sponsor a Little League team?  Let your readers know how the season is going.  Know of any fundraising or community events that your dealership employees are involved in?  Let your community know about it by maintaining a community calendar or just writing about it on your blog.
  • Customer Relations – On the rare occasion you have an issue with a customer, blog about it…but only after you’ve resolved it.  This way, you can explain how your dealership was able to make a situation right, something that potential customers are very interested in.  No business is perfect, so when yours isn’t, show your customers that you know how to fix it.

How does your dealership use their blog?

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.