Last month I visited a dealer-client to conduct a full-day, deep-dive into their digital marketing and Internet sales processes. The store had been reporting erratic results (up a little one month, down a lot the next), which is usually indicative of two issues: either they’d had some turnover or they were no longer following their sales processes (or both). In this case, the store had not experienced any employee changes within their Internet sales team in over six months, so getting to the root cause of their inconsistent results seemed like a cinch… then the onion started peeling.
Without revealing every issue in detail, suffice it to say that not only had the store’s Internet sales manager (ISM) allowed the process to be circumvented at every turn in the name of efficiency, but the sales managers and general manager had no idea any of this was happening. They were not inspecting the process – even though there were plenty of mechanisms in place to do so. Every manager had the same excuse: they were simply too caught up in running the day-to-day and were too trusting of their ISM. (Oops, I thought Internet sales efforts were part of the “day-to-day” in dealerships in 2011.)
Of course, for anyone who understands how easy it is to track and measure every step of an Internet sales process, the excuse that they were “too caught up” is simply not accurate. Their inability to review simple reports and their misplaced trust in their ISM were most likely caused by their lack of knowledge of digital marketing and Internet sales. Like a lot of old school managers, they didn’t know how to ask the right questions so they just took the word of the ISM. Big mistake for this store.
Inspect what you expect…
No doubt, had even one manager incorporated the words “show me” into their daily vocabulary, I would not have material for a column for this month. When I started the day with the ISM and his team I was told, (as the store’s management had been told for months) that they were religiously following the process, but just not seeing the results.
“That’s weird.” I said, “Why don’t you show me?”
The ISM turned a little pale, swallowed hard, and replied “Well… it’s a little complicated…” Actually, there was nothing complicated about what had happened in this store: the GM and his sales managers quit inspecting what they expected. They accepted the up/down results and were resistant to ask the tough questions. Over time, the ISM simply stopped worrying about their pesky processes and allowed his team to freelance. Their sales, as expected, suffered, and all of this could have been avoided if the management team had simply followed the oldest cliché in leadership: inspect what you expect.
Pick the low-hanging fruit…
Not surprisingly, the ISM and his team were in such panic mode every month to deliver sales that they were throwing whatever they could against the wall to see what would stick. In his efforts to grow sales, the ISM also added every lead source he could find and swamped the Internet sales team with way too many leads per person. This meant that everyone had to try to cherry pick the best prospects in order to focus on those most likely to buy.
There’s one problem with this strategy: if you think it’s hard to pre-qualify a prospect through a plate glass window, imagine how hard it is to do this via a computer screen. The Internet salespeople, who were managing about 80 leads per person per month a year ago, were now trying to handle almost 200 leads each. This meant that no one prospect got the chance to really learn why this dealership was different from the ones up the street; and ultimately more than 95% of their prospects did not buy from them. This sales team needed to go for the low hanging fruit, but because they were being bombarded with leads, they had no idea which prospects were low funnel and which ones were just tire-clickers.
The key for them was to pull back to a manageable lead number so that they could actually see the low hanging fruit. Moving forward, they’ve agreed to only add providers as they add trained salespeople. This strategy ensures that only the lowest hanging fruit is in front of each salesperson each day, and that every prospect receives the correct amount of attention needed to maximize sales.
You’ve got to walk the walk…
It’s not enough for dealership managers to talk a good game about Internet sales anymore. Today they have to also walk the walk. A few years ago a general manager could get by if he knew a few key terms and phrases that applied to digital marketing and Internet processes. He could say things like “we need to improve our search engine optimization” or “our lead response time is critical to our sales success.” Back then, a novice ISM might just think the GM knew what he was talking about and work to improve whatever metric the GM focused on that day. Of course, that’s really no longer enough. Today’s general managers need to know both the questions to ask and how to spot a bogus answer. They can already do this on the floor, they must learn how to do this on the web.
The primary difference between managing a floor sales team and an Internet sales team is that with a floor sales team you can often get away with just managing the results – that is, you can look at the sales board and go light a fire under the guys at the bottom while holding out the guys at the top as your superstars. With Internet sales you have to also manage the activities. This means you have to understand why you have a process and what steps are required in your process. Additionally, you need to ensure everyone is following the process without fail. It’s critical that you know your team is making their phone calls on the correct days, using phone guides and leaving compelling voice messages for their prospects, for example.
It’s not rocket science…
One reason that so many old school GMs (like the one at this store) avoid diving in with both feet into the digital marketing and Internet sales worlds is that they believe the lessons required to master these disciplines are too complex for them to fully understand. While Internet and digital marketing vendors try very hard to overcomplicate the products and services they offer, the fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. Digital marketing and Internet sales are both very black and white disciplines. Once you understand the “why” behind much of the Internet sales world, the “how” and the “what” become easy.
I’ve written this before and I’ll write it again: dealer principals and general managers must do everything they can to become experts in the fields of digital marketing and Internet sales. If they don’t, they will forever be at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors and lazy ISMs.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
As much as I love the accuracy of all of the sayings we’ve tossed about so far, the crème de la crème of business clichés is clearly “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Like all of the clichés in this article, it’s annoying when you hear someone say it, but the truth in all of these expressions cannot be denied.
Interestingly, according to the ISM, the only time the GM of this store involved himself in the digital marketing was after meetings with the sales managers (where they would presumably discuss the Internet department without involving the ISM). At least three times over the past month the ISM indicated that the GM demanded changes to the website and/or website vendors because their “website was getting stale,” they needed “more ‘movement’ on the homepage,” or (get this) they needed “to drive more people to Facebook.”
Although the ISM certainly had issues sticking to a process, he was pretty good at maintaining the dealership’s website to maximize first-party leads. He understood these were his “bread and butter,” as he put it, and he was careful to change only those items that could enhance his lead counts, not destroy them. Of course, despite the fact that they had a great lead conversion rate and that the general manager had no experience in website design, you can’t always stop a dealership manager hell bent on fixing that which is not broken.
The good news for this store is that because the managers never inspected what they expected, the ISM was able to adjust everything back within a few days of a change demanded by the GM.
Hmm, does this mean that sometimes inspecting what you expect could be a bad thing? Not even close: the minor changes to the website are pale in comparison to the scores of units lost because of an unsupervised Internet sales team trying desperately to pick the low hanging fruit while being led by a core of managers who couldn’t walk the walk because they thought digital marketing was too much like rocket science.
Luckily for you, nothing like this could ever happen at your store…right?