I was training with a dealer group the other day, and during a break the Internet managers were jovially reminiscing about the days – way back in 2003 and 2004 – when dealers were still not sure they even needed a website. I was working for Dealer Specialties (DS) at the time, and I had to admit to the group that it was a little strange discussing Internet marketing and online merchandising with most dealers back then.
Our big push at DS in 2003 was to convince more than half our dealers of the need to put a single picture of each used car online. For the others, we were explaining the benefits they could receive if they would consider moving from one to four images. I’m not sure what I would say to a dealer today with just four pictures of each used car online. Perhaps: “try selling shoes?”
One of my favorite memories of that time came in early 2004 when I called a Springfield, Missouri dealer who had just cancelled our services to ask which competitor beat us out. “Ah, I didn’t switch services, I just cancelled everything altogether,” he shared.
When I asked him what he meant, he explained “I cancelled my website, AutoTrader.com, everything. This whole Internet thing… it’s just not working for me.”
That story still makes me smile.
Crazy talk today, of course – it may even have you thinking something like “that was then and this is now” – but I would venture to guess that in most dealerships today there are still floor managers who are patiently waiting for this whole Internet thing to blow by. Largely, dealer principals and general managers seem to support their store’s Internet sales efforts (even if they still don’t fully understand it). The issue today, as I experience it, is that most middle managers still leave all of the heavy lifting around their Internet sales to their Internet department. They really don’t think it affects them all that much.
You must ‘own’ your channel – Offline and online
One of the lessons I stress today when training dealers or working with 20 Groups is that each manager – desk, sales, fixed operations, F&I – must own their piece of the business from end-to-end. That means they should be the drivers and final decision makers on how their slice of your brand is presented to all consumers, especially to those who are using the Internet to interact with your store. You empower them to manage all of the offline aspects, you should expect them to do the same online.
With the right attitude and execution, their involvement will pay huge dividends.
In our 2011 Automotive Internet Study, David Kain and I discovered the critical roles that used car managers, new car managers, desk managers and even F&I managers can play with a store’s Internet sales growth. For the successful stores in our study, these middle managers were the key difference makers.
In fact, I can tell you that I have never witnessed a store sustain Internet sales success without deep involvement from the floor managers. Certainly there have been examples of dealerships who’ve achieved great results without the buy-in and oversight of these managers, but those stores were unable to sustain that level of performance for more than a few months. In those cases, all it took was a little employee turnover or some other small speed bump to send them spiraling back down below average. When your middle managers buy into and even “own” their piece of your digital sales and marketing, your success survives the minor and even some major obstructions.
Now that it’s almost 2012, it’s time for you to introduce your floor managers to the world of Internet sales.
You can lead a horse to water…
As David Kain and I wrote then, our case studies clearly showed that successful Internet stores not only had support at the middle manager level, but that this buy-in was a primary (if not the primary) reason for their success.
When middle managers are engaged and they understand and support the Internet sales processes, it’s as if the stores employ half a dozen Internet sales managers all pulling in the same direction. This can be very powerful when you’re competing for the right to sell a vehicle to an online prospect that also sent a price request to your competitors. The store with the best processes and highest quality responses has the best chance to earn the sale, and with floor managers behind the effort, your chances are exponentially greater.
As a dealer principal or general manager you’re probably wondering how you can get these managers involved…today. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure that 99% of the floor managers whom I’ve encountered that truly support the Internet sales efforts in their stores made that change all on their own. That is, no one told them to start caring about the Internet, they just realized that this is where their future success would be found, so they jumped in with both feet. Trying to force someone to care, to buy-in or even to hold others accountable never works until they understand the need and the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM).
Generally speaking, if you try to force floor managers (the ones who like to sabotage everything the Internet team tries to do) into caring about the Internet, you will only guarantee more and greater torture inflicted on your Internet department.
Okay, how do I demonstrate the WIIFM?
What I find most humorous about floor managers who treat the Internet team (and even the Internet customers) poorly is that their own paychecks are negatively affected by this behavior. It’s just strange. The “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) should be so obvious and yet it’s not for so many middle managers in automotive.
Even if your floor managers aren’t paid on Internet deals (which would be rare…and stupid), there is still a real WIIFM for their involvement in your digital marketing. That’s because your online marketing and merchandising efforts affect your offline sales much more than your online sales. Case in point: If you are an average dealer, for every 100 unique visitors to your website only 15 will submit an e-lead or pick up the phone and call you. Fully 85% of your site visitors do not connect with you prior to coming into your store. That makes them traditional ups, though traditional ups that were impacted by your digital marketing.
We can say it another way: how you market on the Web affects traditional sales two to three times more than Internet sales. How can that be? Well, if virtually all of your customers are beginning their vehicle search online, but only 25% of your business comes from your Internet sales department, then 75% (or three times more) of your business was influenced by what you did online, though they became traditional ups.
What can a middle manager do online that’s not already being done?
The other day I showed a 20 group a used vehicle description that one of their stores was showing on AutoTrader.com. The car was priced at almost $34,000, yet the online description was just a regurgitation of the standard features available on that model. Notice I wrote “standard features” and not “options.” The listing was so poorly done that it included such sought-after features as multi-function steering wheel, emergency trunk release, power steering, and even three-point seatbelts.
I did some research and discovered that three-point seatbelts were first installed in a Volvo back in 1959. I’m no expert, but I don’t think telling a consumer in 2011 that your used vehicle has three-point seatbelts is going to be the difference maker. It’s not likely to generate a lot of interest in that particular unit – if you get my drift.
In this case, the store absolutely needs someone who cares about used car merchandising to not only write the vehicle descriptions, but to also ensure that everything about the way a $34,000 used car is presented online is somehow special. If it were my dealership, I’d assign those tasks to the used car manager.
The quickest way to get people to care is to dump it in their laps
I’ve watched a group of floor managers absolutely harass their Internet manager until they succeeded in getting him to quit. The owner, stuck with no one to run that department, assigned one of those same floor managers (a guy who had been on the desk for five years) to head up their Internet sales efforts – temporarily.
The change in culture and attitude was immediate for not only the new Internet sales manager (ISM), but also his co-workers (the former tormentors of the previous ISM). The new ISM bought in immediately (because he had to), and the other floor managers (recognizing that he was one of their own and that he needed some assistance) came to his aid.
Fast forward two years and that former desk manager is still in charge of his store’s Internet sales – which have tripled under his leadership (because of the help and buy-in he’s received from the other middle managers).
Surely some of why they tortured the prior ISM had to do with the fact that he was not “one of their own,” but I also know that much of what drove their animosity was the fact that they just didn’t understand how their store’s digital marketing affected them or even how they could assist. (If the thought of moving a desk manager into your Internet department scares you, you might want to consider sending them to a Digital Dealer Conference and Exposition next April. It’s amazing what a little education can do to fire these guys up.)
Clearly, we’re way beyond the days (like back in 2003) where dealers were questioning the need for a website, though we still have plenty of middle managers that have resisted making the leap. For dealer principals this means you have only a couple of choices: 1) You can get them to care (by dumping everything in their lap or requiring they learn about digital marketing) or 2) You can get new floor managers who do care.
You see, there’s not much use for someone who says in 2012 that “this whole Internet thing… it’s just not working for me.”