We caught up with Scott at the Digital Dealer Conference & Expo and sat down with him for ten minutes to capture his views on the state of our industry from the perspective of a company who generates 11 million leads per year.
DN: What is the difference between other companies, and yours? Specifically on the used side?
SP: Years ago, we were basically all categorized as lead referrers. Today, the differentiation is a special niche / hook. I think most companies now focus on various attributes of price, be it CarGurus, TrueCar (and what is deemed a good deal or a bad deal), AutoTrader, or Cars.com. On the dealer side of the business, it comes down to “attribution” which is an often-overused buzzword.
When it comes to AutoWeb (formerly Autobytel), we’re really focused on connecting consumers to dealers and staying out of the pricing conversation. We’ll send you a high-quality lead. We’ll showcase your phone number because we want consumers to contact you directly via voice or text. We’ll provide you with the tools you need to manage those text leads properly, or turn your website into a virtual showroom. We’ll send qualified traffic straight to your website. We’re the man behind the curtain driving traffic and leads to our dealer and OEM clients. We don’t spend tens of millions of dollars building our brand and we don’t get in the way of price discussions. We’d rather help our dealer and manufacturer partners brand themselves and have those discussions with their customers.
DN: Autobytel is not based on the price model?
SP: No. We want to make sure the consumer is set on a car before price enters the equation and even then, that discussion must occur between the dealer and the customer. Just as every thumbprint is unique, so is every car buyer. Their credit, the value of their trade, their down payment, whether or not they are a long time, loyal customer, whether or not they live close and will service their vehicle at the selling dealership…all of these factors impact a transaction.
We were founded by a dealer so we understand that there is a time and a place to discuss price and it shouldn’t be at the start of the conversation. That’s like putting the cart before the horse. There’s a saying that “price is only relevant in the absence of value.” We want to be the one creating value – for consumers and for our industry partners.
DN: What kind of pushback do you get from dealers for having what some consider distracting ads pop up from other dealers when someone is looking at their inventory on the Autobytel site.
SP: Annoying popups aren’t part of our strategy nor are they a part of our process. Our strategy is understanding that consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to buying a car (pardon the pun), so it’s really about giving people options. The common assumption is that vendors are pushing people to submit leads, but that isn’t the reality. Think about this for a second – there are over 360 make/model combinations available on the market today. When you take trim into consideration, now you’re talking about more than 2,100 different configurations that consumers are researching, pondering, and considering for purchase. The path to purchase isn’t linear anymore. Industry shopping data, like that from Google, shows that people add and delete vehicles from their consideration set up to the point of purchase and even when they have decided on a vehicle, they often switch brands altogether or buy used when they intended to buy new and vice versa.
What if a vendor shows you a Maxima and then they show you other Maximas as well, some in other color combinations, some with different options you might not have considered like a cloth interior that saves you $1,500. Perhaps you can’t afford a Maxima but the Altima’s price interests you. We know firsthand that many people do, in fact, defect from Maximas to Altimas. There are multi comparable vehicles on eBay and vendors outside of our vertical that provide consumers with multi-comparable vehicles and have been doing so successfully for decades. They give consumers options by featuring the vehicle of interest and then other comparable vehicles they might be interested in. That’s why we suggest in our training programs that dealers give consumers the information they’re looking for when it comes to the vehicle of interest, and then information about other comparable new vehicles in their inventory as well as comparable used vehicles in their inventory – either same brand or off brand.
DN: How do you charge dealerships and satisfy their need for expense attribution?
SP: We’re different than most vendors out there because we charge by the glass, not the bottle. We only charge by the lead that is generated from a five-line process – this process includes fields of pertinent contact information inputted by the consumer. It’s a straight $25 per lead, period. Many companies out there, charge you a flat monthly rate, usually in the thousands, and at the end of the month – for those thousands you spent – they’ll send you some leads, show you how many people clicked on your cars, called you, or sought directions to your store. They’ll provide you with attribution and analytics to make you feel confident about that thousand-plus dollar expense. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Our model is this: If you’re up to the plate, we’re going to throw you a pitch. We have all of the same analytics to show attribution, but if we don’t send you a lead, your bill is $0.00. If a dealer gets one lead a month, they get a $25 bill per month. If they receive 100 leads, they get a $2,500 monthly bill. You only pay when an automotive consumer clicks on your ad and is delivered to your website. It’s really very simple.
DN: Once a consumer fills out a lead form for a certain dealer’s vehicle does that lead get sent elsewhere, say to another local dealer?
SP: We let the consumer drive the experience. If we have a consumer in Westwood and two other Mercedes dealers in the area, the consumer has the option to check two or three boxes for other dealers to contact them. The consumer drives this process, which is critically important. We’re not here to force the consumer into anything. We allow them to control the experience.
DN: What are the biggest issues dealers have with Autobytel?
SP: At the end of the process, we hand off the consumer to the dealer. We can’t control the pitch and there are a lot of influences out of our control. Some examples include the fact that the consumer can’t buy because of credit issues, they can’t buy because they don’t have enough money down, they can’t buy because they don’t love the car, the dealer has a low close rate, there is a distance obstacle between the buyer and dealer, etc. We try our very best to set expectations based on what processes the dealer already has in place. If they have one person handling 500 leads, it’s simply not going to work. If they have a close rate of 2% across the board, that’s typically what they can expect from us.
DN: Why do dealers love Autobytel?
SP: For starters, we were founded by a former car dealer and we have dealer DNA in our blood. Most of us have sold cars or worked in the auto industry in some shape or form throughout our professional careers. What’s more, we don’t get in the way of price discussions – there’s a time and a place for talking price, and we feel the dealer and the consumer should have that conversation, not us. We also send high quality leads and automotive traffic directly to dealers. We’re very committed to that. Finally, we’re a true dealer partner. The dealer is our customer, we’re proud of that fact, and we provide them with the tools and services they need to improve their business. You pay for what you get, and you get what you pay for. We let consumers control their experience, and we let dealers negotiate their deals.
Author: Kelly Kleinman
Now celebrating 10 years in the digital marketing space, Kelly Kleinman’s experience includes working in a variety of marketing and advertising capacities with such iconic American entities as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers, MLB, NASCAR, Sony, Universal Studios, MGM, Allstate Insurance and many others. He’s written blogs covering a wide spectrum of topics. Highly experienced in the world of Google AdWords and B2C Social Media campaigns, he has also written dozens of websites across all categories and is a go-to digital media consultant for many companies looking to push the needle and get into the next gear. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org