As an early adopter of Internet technology, Casey Coffey, general manager and owner of Gwinnett Place Ford, in Duluth, GA, has led his Internet sales team in achieving some very impressive results:
- 65% of Gwinnett Place Ford’s sales are Internet sales.
- Gwinnett Place Ford ranks within the top 57 dealerships nationwide for Internet sales, with 1,499 new and used car Internet sales in 2010.
- The dealership’s growth rate for 2011 is 65% higher than 2010.
- 75% of its Internet sales leads come from its own website and the sales team’s closing ratio is 18%.
- In 2010, Gwinnett Place Ford won a Ford Motor Company President’s Award.
Casey Coffey recently shared with Dealer magazine how he and his Internet Sales Manager, Craig Hooten, and the Internet sales team at Gwinnett Place Ford achieved these impressive results.
First, Casey, please tell us how you got into the business of selling cars.
I went to the University of Missouri and had a fraternity brother who had a brother-in-law in the car business in Kansas City. I went to work there for a summer with the intention of saving up money to go to law school. I wound up being successful in my first couple of months and decided the car business was the right one for me.
How and when did you decide to buy Gwinnett Place Ford?
I started in the business at a Cadillac Store in Kansas City and worked for that group until 1999, when I was presented an opportunity to buy into a couple of stores in Atlanta. I had always wanted to move to the south and thought the two franchises, Ford and Nissan, were great opportunities. We are going on our 13th year here in Atlanta and both stores are doing well.
What is unique about the way you run your business?
We were early adopters of the Internet and we’ve got a good head start on other dealerships that are just catching up now and discovering this thing isn’t a fad. The Internet is going to be out there to stay. We realized that many years ago. My staff is geared for the Internet. They understand it. They are technology driven. We’ve really worked on perfecting our craft.
Internet marketing has been and will continue to be a huge focus for us. I believe virtually the entire marketing of the dealership in years to come will be Internet focused. Certainly, the advent of the Internet over the last 10 years has changed the landscape of the business and it will continue to do that.
Right now, 65% of our business is the Internet – for both our Ford and Nissan dealerships. But, let’s focus on Gwinnett Place Ford, the dealership I run.
When we started out, we were much like everybody else. We used a lot of third-party lead providers. As time went on, we found out we could do most of that lead generating ourselves. We still use AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, but we get over 75% of our leads directly from our own website.
That’s impressive. How do you drive traffic to your ecommerce site?
We handle all our SEO internally. Craig Hooten, our Internet sales manager, is paramount in that arena and we’ve got a group of people here who enable the key words and stay on it for us. We’re constantly monitoring all that through Google Analytics.
How about SEM?
We also manage all SEM internally. We have the budget set up for SEM and it’s a vital part of what we do, but it is something that is being significantly eclipsed by our organic marketing as we have gotten stronger over time on our keywords. And that’s the way we want it to be.
What percentage of your advertising dollars are spent on the Internet vs. traditional advertising channels?
We are 40% Internet spend, and 60% traditional spend. Internet advertising is not as expensive as traditional advertising, so overall we have reduced our total advertising budget considerably over the years.
That 40% Internet spend goes toward SEO and SEM. Plus, we have a couple of lead providers I mentioned — Cars.com and AutoTrader.com – that we spend some money on.
On the traditional side, we don’t do newspapers anymore. We predominantly advertise on talk radio – WSB – the top radio station in Atlanta.
We also do network TV spots certain times of the year, such as Christmas and right after Christmas. The only other TV we do is cable to reach out and have presence in our market area which is Gwinnett County – the largest county in Georgia. We are about 25 miles North of Atlanta.
One thing you have to keep in mind is that even though we call it ‘traditional’ advertising, every single ad we do, whether it’s on network, cable or talk radio, there is one goal in mind and that’s to drive the customer to our website. So, our messaging is all about driving people to our virtual site. Our website URL is prominent in all these traditional ads.
How do you manage your website?
Dealer.com is our website host. They do a great job. They are very responsive to all of our needs and move very quickly when we need to make changes to our website.
We update our content constantly. And, everybody knows that having as many great quality pictures as you can possible have on your website that provide all the information that a buyer would want is paramount to success on the Internet.
So, we’ve hired professionals to help us with that. CDM, a local company, takes all our photos. On our site, we have a feature where you can click on the main photo of the automobile for a 360-degree walkaround. It’s not video, but it appears like a video, and along with audio, it gives our customers great in-depth information on each vehicle.
CDM also handles all our stickers and uploads all our content to our Dealer.com hosted website. We provide all the information to spice up the ads and make them more appealing to consumers. That’s really a huge part of what we do – making sure the right information gets to the consumer.
As a result of all this, how many Internet leads do you get each month?
Incoming form submissions from the Internet run about 600 per month, and then we also get about 600 telephone calls per month that go into our BDC from Internet sources. So, we have a total of 1,200 leads per month.
What is your close ratio?
When we started out, we were like everybody else. We were at a 6 or 7% closing ratio for a long time, until we decided we needed to limit the amount of leads each salesperson got and treat them very much like you would business managers, where they are not overwhelmed by the number of leads and they have enough time to work on those leads and serve the customers’ needs. This month we are closing at 18%.
How do you process your Internet leads?
All of our leads come into our DealerSocket CRM. It’s a very robust system that we’ve been on for a long time now. And, DealerSocket continues to make improvements to their system.
Craig Hooten, our Internet sales manager, looks at those leads and makes a response immediately. Response time is critical to us. Overall, on every lead that comes in — including the ones that come in at night that are responded to by an auto-response system — we run about 6 ½ minutes for response time.
We feel it’s paramount to be that responsive. The inquiring prospects are typically sitting at their computers and they’ve just sent you the lead. People today are in a hurry. Everyone is busy. They want a response right now. That’s the time they have to shop and you want to get right back to them. If you get much over 10 minutes — and I don’t have a scientific study on this — but I think your opportunity to reach them decreases tremendously. They’ve moved onto the next website or they are gone.
A lot of our leads are during the day, so people are shopping while they are at work. They pop on the computer, they find the vehicle they are looking for and they send a lead to us and it’s just paramount that we get back to them right then.
During business hours, as soon as a lead comes into our CRM, Craig gets on the phone and calls that customer to set an appointment. Whether he does or he doesn’t secure an appointment at that time, he puts that lead into the appropriate salesperson’s queue, based on how many leads each salesperson has currently vs. everybody else in the department.
So the person with the least amount of leads gets the next lead. It’s not exactly on a round-robin basis, but on who is ready for the next lead.
Each year our Internet department is growing. At our Ford dealership, we currently have eight dedicated salespeople getting Internet leads.
The quality of our team; their dedication; the fact that they are progressive; and that they understand that our Internet marketing and our ability to be able to respond to customers in a timely manner is critical – all this is just paramount to what we achieve.
I’ve got a really strong philosophy that the customers out there shopping have a goal. Their goal is to eliminate choices. We need to make sure that we are not being eliminated by not being able to handle the lead quickly enough or professionally enough.
We have to make sure that the customer feels over the phone or through the Internet that we’re experienced, that we have expertise in the marketplace and that we can provide them with the services they’re looking for. So our goal is to not be eliminated.
It’s so different from a brick and mortar business. The bottom line for being successful in Internet sales is this: You have to stay on top of your technology, you have to have the right inventory and the right people, and you have to make sure those salespeople are getting to the customers as much information as they can, as quickly as possible, to keep your dealership in the game.
How many days out do you follow a customer?
I’ll give you an example. Two days ago, one of my Internet salespeople sold a car to a customer he had followed for 396 days. I don’t want to make it sound like we are incessantly on these customers each and every day as hard as we would be in the first 3 days, but our CRM system is set up to follow that customer until they buy an automobile from us or someone else.
In line with your progressive attitude toward technology, what are you doing with mobile technology?
We’ve started our own mobile apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a very robust system, which allows us to get content to our customers — who have downloaded the apps – on a moment’s notice. We have certain mobile specials that we offer only through our mobile applications. You can see any inventory, new and used, with one click and contact anyone here in any department with one click. We also let customers know through our mobile apps when their vehicle is ready to be picked up after service.
Whenever we have a customer in the service department, we ask them to download our free apps. We also have a lot of point of sales material in the store that explains the benefits of the apps. We’re continuing to expand on those apps.
As part of our mobile apps, we are currently developing stickers for each one of the cars so customers can scan QR codes. We haven’t implemented this system just yet. The QR coded stickers are not on the cars yet, but are currently being made.
Did you develop the mobile apps yourself?
Solution One Mobile Marketing developed the apps for us. I looked at a lot of app providers before I decided to go with Solution One. They had the most robust interactive apps out there at the time.
How do you handle your online reputation management?
We are on DealerRater.com where we have 28 reviews right now. We are getting good reviews, since we’ve got good customer service at the dealership.
When customers are here and they’ve had a good experience, we encourage them to go online and tell others about it. Certainly, Google has changed that landscape and we’re working through that.
How do you use social media?
We use both Facebook and Twitter. Craig takes a lot of pictures of events we host and we try to get that out in front of all our customers and fans. Solution One Mobile Marketing is helping us with posting photos and content on Facebook.
I don’t know at this point in time how much social media is helping in terms of sales, but I don’t want to not be there.
What is your biggest challenge in the Internet realm?
Our biggest challenge is getting people to make appointments and show up. We want our ratio of shown up to appointments to be about 75%. Currently we’re only running 58% in that area.
What is your typical day like?
I come in at 7 a.m. and first thing I do is review all of the previous day’s operations, what the Internet leads were, how many phone calls we got, and the number of service ROs.
We do a ‘virtual save a deal’ meeting where the staff reviews the previous three days of Internet leads and incoming telephone calls to determine if there’s anything to follow up on and as a group we determine how we are going to market effectively to sell those customers a car.
After that we have a “sold save a deal meeting,” about automobiles that are sold, so we can stay on top of those and then an assets meeting, covering inventory, marketing, a contract in transit, and anything else of that nature.
With all this hard work and success, do you have any plans for expansion?
We just finished building a new store for Gwinnett Place Ford, and we moved in July 1. We tore down the old store and started from scratch and built a very open area that’s very technologically savvy. It’s more like an Apple store. We don’t have any offices. There are computers on each station. There are no towers, or glass walls. It’s all open.
All of our salespeople do their sales transactions at the sales bar. Our customers can speak to any one of the managers. It’s a very open atmosphere.
We’re a very progressive store. The personnel here, myself, my GSM, we understand it‘s all about customer service. It’s not the old school anymore. We don’t employ any of the tactics that have been used in the industry for years.
We think the Internet is where it’s all going and that relationship starts when that customer clicks on your website. Your website is your front line, not the store. And we think we have world class there on the website and on the telephone to get that relationship started and get the customers to believe in us and trust us that we are going to serve their needs. My salespeople have done a great job at doing that.
Can you tell us why your new car sales business increased so dramatically in 2011?
Our sales were up 65% in 2011 over the 2010 numbers, on the new car side. Of course you have to remember these numbers are a little bit skewed because we were under construction in 2010. If we hadn’t been under construction then, with the climate out there today and with Ford’s inventory today, I think we would have been up in the 25 to 30% in new car sales for 2011.
On the used car side, our sales have been about flat due to the lack of inventory out there and the transaction prices on used cars inching up closer to new car pricing. New car sales have become the stronger part of our business, but we are certainly committed to growing our used car business.
What do you foresee five years down the road?
I wish I had that kind of insight. Obviously as I said before, it’s only going to become more technology driven and we’re working on staying on that cutting edge.
As you know, technology changes at a very rapid pace, so you know we’re just going to have to stay close to it, and be agile and nimble.
How do you keep current in the digital technology world?
I read Dealer magazine. And, we try to glean as much as we can out of our neighboring auto dealers. We are located in an auto mall and we spend a lot of time talking with other dealerships. Plus, there are a lot of vendors that are trying to bring something to the table and we have an open mind.
We also have gone to the Digital Dealer Conferences and NADA every other year to see new technology.
Besides staying current with technology, how else will you maintain your leadership position?
We’re bullish on Ford. We think Ford is positioned in a tremendous spot in the marketplace and I think we’re going to keep growing with Ford for many years to come.
Ford has excellent quality leadership and I think that 2012 is going to be a fantastic year for the company. Ford has got some fabulous products.
Beyond that, I reiterate: everything will be weighted toward the Internet and we plan to keep up with it from a technology standpoint and from a personal service standpoint to make sure we stay a leader in Internet sales.