Liz Kelly – e-commerce director for Suntrup Nissan/Volkswagen, two Suntrup Hyundai locations and Suntrup Kia, in St. Louis Missouri — takes a dive in and do it approach to Internet marketing that has paid off handsomely.
Suntrup Nissan/Volkswagen ranked in the top 75 dealerships nationwide for Internet sales in 2010, with 1,428 Internet sales units. Combine that with the Internet sales units of the three other Suntrup stores owned by brothers Craig and Butch Suntrup, and the total rises to 2,600 Internet sales units for 2010.
And, 2011 promises to be another outstanding year for this group. Month over month increases in Internet sales began in January — starting with 200-plus Internet sales that month and increasing to 315 Internet sales for July. Suntrup Hyundai alone contributed 100 of those July sales units.
Add to that high marks for social media and SEO and SEM:
- With a single community-based campaign, Suntrup’s Facebook Fan Pages base grew from 280 to more than 6,000 in less than a week this spring.
- With its successful SEO and SEM strategies, Suntrup Nissan ranks in the top 10 in Google Search Results for 35 key phrases, and Suntrup Volkswagen ranks in the top 10 for over 60 key phrases
And, during Kelly’s six years as e-commerce director, the Internet sales force has grown from three to 42 salespersons.
Click here to read the rest of Liz’ story and more in the October 2011 issue of Digital Dealer magazine.
Here is Liz’ story:
First of all, Liz, how did you get into the business of selling cars on the Internet?
I had a strong sales and marketing background, but I’m fortunate enough to be the sister-in-law of one of the owners – Craig Suntrup. I met with him one day six years ago to see if there might be a fit for me in the dealership. We were talking about the Internet department and I asked if he’d thought of having someone oversee it.
There were only three Internet salespeople then and a lot of the tasks to keep the Internet leads coming in were falling by the wayside, because these three people didn’t have time to do them. Updating the web site, analyzing numbers, determining ROI – all that needed to be done. Craig said let’s try this for three months and then revisit the situation. We never revisited it. That was six years ago, and since that time, Craig’s told me I’m irreplaceable.
Would you give us a little background on the Suntrup Automotive Group?
Bill Suntrup started the first dealership in the 1960s; a decade later his brother Don Suntrup entered the auto business. Today, the grown children of Bill and Don Suntrup are among the more than 20 family members who are active in the Suntrup Automotive Family.
Don Suntrup’s children, Butch and Craig, are partners in Suntrup Nissan/Volkswagen, two Hyundai locations, Suntrup Kia, and coming soon, a second Kia location in St. Louis. Other family members own and operate dealerships in the town including such franchises as: Ford, GMC, two Volvo locations, SAAB, Pontiac, and BMW.
The Suntrups who work at the dealerships typically start early in their teen years, working at ‘grunt jobs’ — washing cars, cleaning parts, and painting the walls — and then advance into leadership positions.
You started quite a bit later than that. How have you helped grow the Internet Department and Internet sales over the last six years?
When I started, we had three Internet salespeople. We basically just had a web site. There wasn’t any SEO, SEM, or social media. So, from the beginning I just dove in and tried to absorb as much as I could about the business and about digital marketing technology. In the last few years we’ve become much more informed about doing business in the digital world, and it has paid off. We’ve grown from three to 42 Internet salespeople.
In 2010, we had over 2,600 Internet sales directly from Internet leads across all the dealerships owned by Craig and Butch Suntrup. One of the Hyundai locations we just brought onboard a couple of months ago and Kia has yet to open, so really the 2,600 was from just four stores alone. With the new stores, our numbers should increase substantially.
So far, this has been a record-breaking year with more vehicles sold than in the history of the dealership. We are increasing our Internet sales month after month. In July, we surpassed our goals with 315 Internet sales. Hyundai alone contributed 100 of those.
What do you attribute your success to?
First, the way our organization is structured is a little bit different. We don’t have the traditional Internet department. We think of ourselves more as a virtual Internet dealership.
And second, we don’t take a traditional approach to marketing. We have an aggressive digital marketing strategy with the bulk of our marketing budget going to digital advertising.
Let’s talk about your virtual Internet dealership’s structure first.
We have 42 Internet salespeople. Each salesperson that comes on board with us goes through Internet sales training. This is an intense four-hour course that covers everything they need to know to engage and sell to Internet customers. The sales people also gain an understanding of the motivations behind online consumer behavior. To remain an Internet sales person, and keep receiving fresh Internet sales leads, a sales person has to meet ongoing criteria.
We get 2,000 Internet sales leads each month. Just as you want your best people answering the phones, we want our best people answering these Internet leads. So, we set parameters that each sales person must meet. We give each sales person a 60-day rolling average to meet those parameters, and if they don’t meet them, their Internet leads get turned off, and they can only take walk ins.
What CRM do you use to distribute your Internet leads?
We been using VinSolutions for our CRM for four years and it’s definitely the best as far as Internet Lead distribution goes. Within VinSolutions, we have set up a round robin based on the salespeople’s working hours and we have customized it so that the best Internet sales people get the most Internet sales leads.
What is your response time to Internet leads?
Our response time is under an hour. If a sales person doesn’t maintain an hour or less response time, they are taken out of the round robin.
We’ve put a lot of thought into our sales process for Internet leads. The sales person is required to send out the first e-mail and follow that with a phone call. If positive contact has not been made with the customer, the sales people follow up with phone calls spaced over a 90-day period. The sales process we created includes effective marketing pieces that coincide with the phone calls. VinSolutions gives us all of the tools we need for efficient follow up with customers. We can send customers brochures online, and even attach a video to the emails the system sends out. We get excellent customer analytics too. VinSolutions has it down to a science.
We couple VinSolutions’ technical excellence with our own well thought-out selling strategy, which puts our sales people in the role of educators and advisors for the customers.
When we follow up on a sales call, our goal is to set an appointment. However, we also train our employees to take a more consultative sales approach and to have the customers perceive them as a resource rather than as an over eager salesperson.
We frequently provide our customers with useful car shopping tools they can use on their own. For instance, if a customer is still undecided as to which make and model they want, we offer them an online tool to make the decision process easier, Advanta-STAR.
Say a customer is looking for a Nissan Altima, Advanta-STAR will pull up every car comparable to a Nissan Altima, and, while showing the favorable points of the Nissan Altima first, the tool is straightforward in comparing the differences among similar makes and models.
We also offer Black Book Trade-in Estimator and the Black Book Credit Score Estimator tools on our website. Black Book Credit Score Estimator asks the customer 12 questions, and without requiring him or her to give any personal identifying data, will deliver within 50 points what the customer’s credit score will probably turn out to be.
We believe that this structure for handling leads and our process for helping customers in a consultative fashion has resulted in our very healthy Internet leads-to-sales conversion ratio of 12%.
Where do you get your Internet leads?
Most of our leads –55% — come from our own eCommerce website.
We recently cut down on third party lead providers because we generate so many leads from our own web site. We now use only Dealix, Cars.com, ZAG and Black Book. We took the money we were spending on other lead providers and added it into our SEO and SEM campaign. Although the lead providers might not agree, we are trying the approach of promoting our own brand though the search engines rather than listing our inventory on their sites. It’s not an approach for everyone; you still need to be where your customers are shopping. And if we had an unlimited budget, we would be everywhere, but we don’t, so we do what works best for our group.
Suntrup Nissan ranks in the top 10 in Google Search Results for 35 key phrases, and Nissan/Volkswagen ranks in the top 10 for over 60 key phrases.
And, basically one-third of the traffic to our e-commerce web site is generated by organic references.
Tell us more about your non-traditional, digital marketing strategy.
We use Cobalt, now a business unit of ADP Dealer Services, for both SEO and SEM. We have been with Cobalt for 10 years. Specifically, we use Cobalt’s Digital Advertising Package and we also Cobalt’s Used Car Digital Advertising Package, which is brand new.
With this new package we’ve seen traffic to our websites increase tremendously. Our Volkswagen web site traffic in July was #10 in the country for Volkswagen dealers and for mobile traffic we were #12 in the country among Volkswagen dealers.
We also use Cobalt’s Digital Advertising Package for Hyundai and we’re #16 in the nation for all Hyundai dealers and we’re #5 in the nation for mobile traffic for all Hyundai dealers. And Suntrup is #1 in the region in terms of web site visits and mobile apps’ use. We get these statistics through Cobalt’s reporting system.
How do you maintain your e-commerce web sites for the four dealerships?
Besides managing our SEO and SEM programs, ADP has built and maintains our e-commerce sites – another factor in our success. With ADP’s help, we make extensive use of microsites and landing pages that support our marketing efforts.
Microsites and landing pages are so vital when you are dealing with customers in the digital world. It’s absolutely crucial that once someone clicks on your ad or on a mobile app that you take them where they expect to go – to a web page with specific information related to that ad. When someone clicks on an ad and it takes them to the dealership’s home page, with no mention of that particular ad’s special, you are going to lose business.
How many microsites and landing pages do you have?
It’s difficult to say an exact number since each dealership has a different marketing campaign, but I do know that since our VW store went 100% digital with its marketing efforts, there are over 25 landing pages for VW alone.
Obviously, you do a lot of specials?
Yes and I think that is another key factor that separates us from our competition in driving traffic to our website and generating so many leads. We’re diligent about keeping our web site specials up-to-date.
I update some, but for the most part, we rely on the services of our Pro Care Advocate at ADP, David Van Fleet, to update our specials. He’s our dedicated support person. We’ve worked together for years and he’s an extremely important person on my team. So he needs to be mentioned when we talk about the success of our dealer group because his knowledge and expertise have made a significant impact on our success. One thing we do in the beginning of the month is to go over new incentives and specials and we plan the website strategy to make sure our other ads, whether radio or digital, are well represented on the site.
How do you personally stay up-to-date on Digital technology for sales and marketing?
I attend the Digital Dealer Conferences. I’ll be at the 11th Digital Dealer conference in October. I read Digital Dealer magazine and I attend webinars provided by Digital Dealer, OEMS and vendors. I also network with my peers. And, very importantly, I ask my vendors to educate me — show me everything their technology can do, so I can make the best use of it.
What is your marketing strategy with regards to social media?
We use ADP’s social media program and I’ve been very impressed with it. ADP has advised us that focusing on Facebook would give us the greatest return in the shortest period of time.
So, we started our social media program by getting all our employees registered and giving them unrestricted access to Facebook. We kicked this off with a social media day. We provided lunch for employees and we had ADP social media experts here. We set up extra computers so we could show employees how to sign up and interact on Facebook and we explained how it could benefit them and contribute to our dealerships’ success.
Since that day, our main goal has been to get people in the community to ‘like’ us on our Facebook Fan Pages. There’s nothing worse than advertising that you have a Facebook Fan Page and then having people see you only have a few dozen people on it.
We’ve been increasing our fan base steadily. We don’t use the site as a forum to sell cars. We used it for community outreach. So far our biggest success has been in helping the victims of the Joplin tornado last spring.
A devastating EF-5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, May 22. Homes, businesses and surrounding areas were destroyed and they needed lots of help, support and money to rebuild. We have employees from Joplin, Brett and JD Hergenrother, and we wanted to divert some of our marketing dollars to help that community.
So, we promised to donate a $1 in relief money to the community of Joplin for everyone who ‘liked’ us on Facebook. The response was amazing. When the campaign was done, we wrote a check for $9,000 for the relief fund.
And, we had gone from 280 fans, on our four dealerships’ Facebook Fan Pages, to close to 6,000 fans in less than a week.
In and of itself, it was wonderful to be part of a community support effort that brought everyone together in that crisis. Our dealerships have always actively supported a number of charities, including St. Louis’ 100 Neediest Families, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Covenant House, a charity for battered women.
It’s so important for a dealership to be active in the community. But, we learned something else from our experience with the Joplin support effort.
First, we learned that using social media was the most effective way to get the word out quickly to get community support for a good cause.
Second, we learned that when we are involved with the community, we need to make sure we put the word out on Facebook in particular. Once the population there sees that you are very much part of the community, it just draws in business and the cars sell themselves.
So, as ADP recommended, Facebook is one of our biggest pushes in the social media area. Plus, once we post something on Facebook, ADP automatically sends it out to 120 other social media sites.
Effective use of social media is all about being transparent and keeping customers engaged. So, we also dedicate a portion of our marketing dollars for ongoing give-aways. For instance, yesterday we gave away four tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals’ game. We’ve also given tickets away to theater events. The possibilities are endless. Incidentally, doing give-aways is a nice diversion for me from the number crunching that is so big a part of my job and is so vital to this position.
Have you abandoned traditional advertising altogether?
We spend the majority of our marketing budget on digital marketing and radio. We no longer do any newspaper advertising.
We do 100% digital advertising on KMOV-TV’s web site: www.kmov.com with banner ads in their automotive and sports sections and on their home page. In addition, we use advanced targeting or behavioral marketing through KMOV, which runs on 10,000 various websites.
We’ve seen web site traffic significantly increase with this marketing mix. For example last month our Nissan web site traffic was 14,402 vs. 7,847 in the previous month.
Did you do any test marketing before making the switch?
It’s interesting. We tested our theories about digital vs. traditional marketing with our Volkswagen advertising. We said for one month we are going to do nothing but digital advertising for Volkswagen. No radio, newspaper or TV.
By going all digital, we sold more Volkswagens in one month than ever before in the history of the store. And we are the number one Volkswagen dealer in Missouri. So that was eye-opening for our owners. They had the epiphany. As a result, we changed our marketing strategy in March of 2011.
With Volkswagen, all our advertising is digital. We are continuing radio advertising for some other brands because it has delivered results.
I think Volkswagen customers are niche, or boutique buyers. The way they research the market is a little bit different from the average person. They are not as easily swayed by a typical commercial: “Hey, come on down.” They are more sophisticated and so we target them in different ways.
Does video fit in your digital marketing toolbox?
We’ve hired Kelly Suntrup, daughter of Craig Suntrup, to interview customers on video when they take delivery of a new vehicle. She gives them a business card that says: to see your photo and video online, go to our Youtube.com channel or our Facebook Fan Pages.
I’m really surprised at how many people are willing to be videotaped. But, this is a big event in their life and they are excited about it and seeing video posted on YouTube and Facebook is a way to share the excitement with their friends.
We also do a lot of tutorial videos – how to change the clock in your car, etc. — and we post those on YouTube. We’re just in our infancy using YouTube.com. I’m sure as time goes on it will become a strong element in our social marketing mix.
How are you handling reputation management?
We have been with DealerRater.com for two years. I remember three years ago going to the owners and saying I just saw this article about reputation management and we have to start doing something about this.
Now, reputation management is a big deal. We work hard to make sure the customers get the cards asking them to give us a review online. Then we take it a step further and send them an email asking them to review us.
Our reviews on DealerRater.com are good and we have plenty of them –approximately 700 reviews total for all our stores.
We don’t have as many reviews on Yahoo, Yelp and Google. So we came up with an idea to remedy that, with the help of Tim Jennings, our social media consultant from ADP, who in my opinion, is one of the most brilliant and talented individuals in the business.
We now have our own rating URL that we put on the cards we hand out to customers asking them to review us. When customers review us on that URL, we can direct those reviews to sites, such as Yahoo or Yelp, where we need to bolster our numbers. For instance, if we have very few reviews on Yelp, we point the URL to Yelp. Once that site has a good number of reviews, we point our rating URL to Yahoo, etc.
We also have a rating URL that is specific for Google right now.
And, we have all our reviews from DealerRater.com streaming into our Wall on Facebook.
To motivate our salespeople to get good reviews, I make this offer: If you get 10 positive reviews on DealerRater.com, I’ll personally make you your own web page to display them, and you can use the URL for that page in the tagline on all your outgoing e-mails.
What other digital technologies are you using at the dealerships?
We use DealerTrack Arkona for our DMS and we’ve been very pleased with that. We have Xtime for online service appointments. Our customers really appreciate the ease of not having to call to schedule an appointment.
And IMN handles our interactive customer eNewsletter and loyalty program. Their product is a great fit for our dealership culture. We know that most of our business comes from repeat customers. IMN places a professional communication piece in front of our customers on a monthly basis. We’ve even had subscribers share the newsletter on their social media sites. That’s a huge testament. I used to create the marketing pieces myself each month and I know the amount of work and creativity it takes to make it work. These guys have it figured out. It’s well worth the monthly investment.
What is your typical day like?
I never know what it’s going to be like until I step through the door. I may have the loftiest goals for coming up with a new digital marketing campaign or revising our templates, and but then there’s the everyday to-do list.
The tasks and projects vary from day to day but the theme is constant and that is to create an Internet culture at the dealerships and integrate the Internet operations with the overall dealership operations.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an e-commerce director?
I’d say ask your vendors to help you be successful. Meet with them on a monthly basis. Also, have your vendors provide you with website and CRM analytics rather than having to login in yourself with a backend tool to get them. That’s what I did and all our vendors responded with lots of help for me.
I would encourage people to participate in weekly webinars and go to the Digital Dealer Conference, read the publications, and the blogs. There are a lot of resources out there for someone just starting out.
What do you see as your next big challenge in digital marketing?
Producing the best mobile apps we can to drive sales will be the next big challenge, and we are wading in to meet that challenge. We have a number of mobile apps already. Now, we are looking for a mobile app vendor, who will help us design more apps and better apps. We want to take our time with this and make sure we have apps that people will want to use on a regular basis. It’s somewhat uncharted territory for us, but that’s never been an issue. We’ll just dive in and do it.