Co-sponsored by Dealer Communications and Dataium, LLC, the Digital Dealer Website Excellence Awards competition recognizes automotive dealers, managers and their website providers for exceptional performance of the websites they design, host, and support.
“The competition, which is held twice yearly in the spring and fall, is the first of its kind and is completely objective based upon independent, unbiased analytics of dealers’ websites performed by Dataium, LLC, the largest aggregator of auto shopper behavior,” says Michael Roscoe, president of Dealer Communications, and initiator of the awards competition.
Ten dealerships were named award winners in various categories for the Spring 2012 competition. (See story in the April 2012 issue). Ideal Nissan was named the Overall Dealership Winner, because it scored in the top five dealerships nationwide in multiple categories:
- Greatest Share of Leads Among Website Visitors
- % of Auto Shoppers Returning (% of Be Backs)
- Unique Visitor to Auto Shopper Conversion
- Inventory Search Volume
Dataium Co-founder and President Jason Ezell states, “We evaluate dealer websites purely on a statistical basis – monitoring the major performance metrics that lead to higher lead conversion, thus more opportunities for dealers. Although there are other factors to consider: the dealer’s market, inventory size, overall marketing strategy, etc, there is a distinct correlation between website structure, content and ease of functionality and overall website performance. This dealer’s website utilizes all of the major best practices that we see common among top performing websites. So it is clear that this dealer has a website that maximizes the consumer experience which consistently produces extraordinary results.”
Shawn Reardon, Ideal Nissan’s Internet director, as well as its service and parts director, recently shared with Dealer magazine his thoughts on Internet marketing and sales.
Shawn, first of all, how do you feel about your dealership winning the Digital Dealer Website Excellence Award?
It’s really great to be recognized with this prestigious award for all the thoughtful planning and work that went into building our website by our in-house team. Of course, we’d also like to give credit where credit is due to our website provider DealerOn. DealerOn was named the Overall Winner in the technology solutions provider category of the Digital Dealer Website Excellence Awards for providing hosting and ongoing support for our winning website.
How long have you been working with DealerOn?
It was just a little over a year ago that we hired DealerOn to be our website provider. We had done a lot of research through our 20 group and other contacts, and we looked into all the solution providers that focus on auto dealerships and we made the decision to go with DealerOn. We found DealerOn to be highly attentive to our questions and they were just the kind of provider we were looking for. DealerOn works with us as a true partner and is very proactive in providing strategy to maximize our leads and optimize our conversion rates.
Ali Amirrezvani, co-founder of DealerOn, notes: “I am proud and thrilled that our customer, Ideal Nissan, has been awarded the Spring 2012 Digital Dealer Website Excellence Award by Dataium and Dealer Communications. Ideal Nissan does a great job with their online marketing efforts, and it’s fantastic that they are receiving this deserved recognition.”
Shawn, what’s your secret to success in driving high volume traffic to your award winning website?
DealerOn does our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and that works very well for us. We also have a blog on our website with fresh content that is written jointly by DealerOn and one of our staff members here at the dealership. That fresh content helps our website rank higher organically for keywords.
We also work with DealerOn, ReachLocal, and AdLogic in our pay-per-click search engine marketing. That also is going very well for us. We constantly monitor our keywords and update them on a regular basis, because the keywords that work today may not work as well tomorrow.
Is your website your only source of leads?
Our website generates a tremendous amount of leads for our Internet sales team, but we also get leads from well known 3rd party lead providers, like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, and also from Craigslist, Gold Digger, RoadLoans.com, Trigger Leads, and as a result of direct mail done by Aspen Marketing. In addition, we get leads from Nissan corporate.
We also have another very important source of leads for our Internet sales team: lifecycle leads from our own Service BDC. Our BDC tracks our customers’ service history and determines when our customers are ready to trade in their old car for their next new or used car, and sends that ‘new lead’ into our CRM.
You’ve probably heard it said: ‘Sales sells the first car to a customer and service sells every car after that.’ That is certainly our philosophy here. It’s a lifecycle. You have to work your BDC service calls to keep the customer in the lifecycle and bring them back time after time for service until the customer is ready to trade in and give the dealership the opportunity to sell that customer the next car.
Is that lifecycle philosophy what led to your unusual combination of duties at the dealership — as Service & Parts and BDC Director, as well as Internet Director?
In a way, yes. I got into the automotive business right out of college 12 years ago. I started here in the sales department. We weren’t as focused on the Internet then as we are now, and after a year, I moved to the service department and worked my way up to become service and parts director over the three dealerships we have in the Rochester/Buffalo NY market. Then, a year and a half ago, I circled back around and added duties as Internet sales director to my duties as service and parts director.
I see everything I do as part of that lifecycle of sales and service. Service and sales are not separate. They really do affect one another, and so I’m helping to pull that all together, wearing multiple hats.
I set up the service BDC, which my assistant oversees on a day-to-day basis. I consider the BDC and my Internet Sales group to be essentially the same team, because we are working towards the same goal. Our BDC has a staff of four and we have four Internet sales specialists, and there are 12 additional sales representatives on the showroom floor.
What I see happening over the next few years is we’ll get to a point where the Internet department will be one and the same as the entire sales department. I do believe that almost all of our leads originate online from one source or another, even the ones that appear to be walk-ins at first. So, our BDC and Internet team will evolve to be simply a lead management department and manage all leads for all sales. That’s my vision.
You mentioned direct mail, as a source of leads. How much does traditional advertising factor in to your marketing mix?
We do a lot of direct mail, but virtually no TV or newspaper. We do radio only occasionally, if we are having a big sale.
While many of our leads may originate from paper – like a direct mail piece – by the time the lead gets to us, it might show up as an e-mail or phone lead. We can only track where our leads are coming from up to a point. So, in a real sense, our Internet leads are not a separate entity. They are part and parcel of our overall effort.
Once you get all these leads, how do you handle them?
All our leads are sent into our CRM tool, Reynolds & Reynolds Contact Management, which works extremely well for us. We also use Reynolds & Reynolds for our DMS, and we are pleased with that as well.
Our Reynolds & Reynolds Contact Management CRM attaches a customized schedule to each type of lead that comes in – via website, email, phone, or as a result of direct mail, or simply by a customer showing up at our door. Then each Internet lead with its schedule is distributed to one of my Internet sales specialists. Each of these schedules is uniquely designed to make sure all the customer’s needs are met by our sales specialists and that the customer’s questions are answered promptly and accurately.
If a lead is from an email address, there will be a personalized email that goes out from me to the customer right away. Technically, it is an auto-responder, but nobody’s going to know that it is one. It looks like it came personally from me and it introduces the benefits of doing business with our dealership and it indicates one of my Internet sales specialists will contact the customer shortly. Our practice is to have a single sales person handle each lead from start to finish, so a customer gets to know one person and works with them from initial contact to delivery of the sold vehicle. We believe that provides the best customer service.
What is your average response time to leads?
Right now we’re running three to six minutes response time during business hours. Occasionally, it takes 10 or 15 minutes. The response e-mail goes out to the customer quickly and introduces the Internet sales person and provides information on the specific car the customer was looking at. Then the sales person will follow up the same day with a phone call and the schedule stays active until the sales specialist completes every task on the schedule or sets up an appointment with that customer, and then the CRM funnels that lead into an appointment schedule.
That appointment schedule looks to see: Did the customer come in for the appointment; were they sold or not sold; does the appointment need to be confirmed? Based on what those answers are, the CRM pushes the lead into the next schedule, or if we sell the car, it ends that schedule and sends the lead into our follow-up schedule which includes setting the first service appointment.
What kind of results are you getting with these tightly customized schedules from your CRM?
Our goals overall are 50/50/50. Let me explain. However many leads we have in a given month, our goal is always to set appointments on 50% of those leads. Of those set appointments, our goal is to have 50% show up at the dealership. And out of the shown appointments, our goal is to sell 50%. We are very close to meeting those numbers in any given month.
How long do you follow a lead with no appointment?
Generally, we will follow a lead for 120 days, but the timing of our contacts with the customer will be different depending on whether it’s a new car lead or a used car lead. It’s my belief that customers looking to buy a new car are in the market longer than a used car buyer.
For a new car lead, we push nine points of contact within 30 days. In other words, I have my Internet sales specialist contact these customers and go at them real hard for 30 days, but if the customer tells them on day seven: ‘I’m not in the market right now,’ my sales people know to stop the schedule, and restart it later when the customer will most likely be back in the market.
For our leasing business, for instance, customers may get an e-mail from Nissan that says: ‘Your lease is due in six months.’ That customer may go on our website immediately to look around, but when we try to contact them, they may not call us back. That doesn’t mean they are out of the market. It means they’ve got 6 months before that lease runs out and they may not get serious until 45 days before the lease expires.
If it’s a used car lead, our CRM schedule dictates that there will be nine points of contact within 14 days, because our window of opportunity is generally shorter with these customers.
But, whether it is a new car lead or a used car lead, our policy is that a single sales person handles each lead from start to finish. So a customer gets to know one person and works with them from initial contact to delivery of the sold vehicle.
As the supervisor of multiple departments, what is your typical day like?
That’s a loaded question. I really don’t have a typical day. But, the most important part of my day is verifying that all my personnel know what their expectations are. I review with each sales person daily: How many leads have you talked to today and yesterday? How many appointments have you set for today, tomorrow, and the weekend? How many have shown for the month? Of the ones who haven’t shown up, how many have you called to re-set the appointment, and if you haven’t reset the appointment, why not? How many have you sold? How many sold, but not delivered?
I look at the sold appointments to see if they were logged correctly in the CRM tool. The core of my job is finding out if we have followed through on all the opportunities we have to do business.
We record all our calls and if a prospect does not show up for an appointment, I listen to the calls the sales person made to that prospect to see if I can help that sales person improve his or her technique. If there was a customer objection that maybe the sales person didn’t hear, I can hear that and better coach the sales person on how to respond to that type of objection the next time it’s made by a customer.
I also look for leads we didn’t handle well last month, and sometimes on a slow day, we’ll send those leads back to the top of the Internet sales person’s list, instead of flipping them to the BDC for future follow up.
What are your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenges are: Keeping up with the changes in technology; understanding the demographics of our customers and how that’s changing; finding ways to transform our way of doing business into the way the customer wants to do business; and finding the personnel that are able to work in that ever changing environment.
It’s obvious we are going to have to cater to the people who want to do everything on their mobile devices and on the flip side, we’re still going to have to be able to deal with the person sitting at home at their desktop computer. The challenge of the customer on their Smartphone is he/she can be in the middle of your showroom, searching for how much your competition is selling a vehicle for when you haven’t even presented your quote yet. While the customer at home on their desktop computer may not have the same ability without a Smartphone, a majority of them do their homework and educate themselves before ever stepping foot in the dealership.
But, whatever the case, I know that my staff and I will have all the tools we need going forward to handle all our customers in the digital marketplace no matter how fast technology changes and advances, because Angelo Ingrassia, our dealer principal, has really supported me and my team, and so has our general manager, Mike Jensen. I get a lot of useful feedback and encouragement from both of them. And, with our robust website as our foundation, we are now making strides in other areas of the digital marketing world.
How are you handling online reputation management?
There’s so many places people can go to write and read reviews, it’s difficult to monitor them all. Right now, our focus is on the more trusted sites that customers are going to, like DealerRater.com.
We’re getting better at online reputation management. It’s an ongoing process. Any dealership is not going to make every person happy, every time. We are focused on improving what we see as the two keys to reputation management – getting our happy customers to put their reviews up online and demonstrating that we have responded appropriately to any negative reviews. I believe if you are wrong, admit you are wrong, fix the problem, make sure the customer is satisfied, and then let the public know exactly how you made things right.
How are you handling social media?
We are just starting to work on social media, with Facebook and Twitter, and it is the next thing we will get better at.
What do you see as the future for your dealership?
I see our Internet department becoming more of a lead generation and management department and that is really what propels and will continue to propel the dealership sales into the future.
I don’t see that just for my dealership; I see that for the industry. Over the next five years, the dealerships that are going to be most successful are the dealerships that embrace digital sales and marketing now and start finding ways to put it all together and understand how it all works. It’s really not a separate arena; it is where all of our business is going. There is so much upside to Internet sales and marketing that none of us are really touching yet and we can all do so much better at this.