Your website is now the first place the majority of customers encounter your dealership and if you want to grow your business in the 21st century, your website needs to rank high in the search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, as well as be compelling enough to keep the attention of customers and convince them to contact you once they visit your site. The question is: How do you do that?
There is certainly no shortage of advice about internet marketing. If you search Google for “internet marketing strategies” it returns 18,200,000 results. I’m sure that some of those links lead to perfectly good advice, but with so much information and no way to determine which links have the answers you’re looking for, you could spend months reading articles, blogs, and studies before you find what you need.
In order to help you cut through the clutter and get a clear understanding of what you, as an auto dealer, can do to grow your business through your website, we have spoken to several industry experts to bring you some useful, to-the-point information that you can put into practice at your dealership. Our experts include Mike DeCecco, director of industry relations and spokesperson for Dealer.com, Mitch Golub, president of Cars.com, Everett Mullens, CFO of Auto Jockey CRM, Inc., and Jock Schowalter, president and CEO of Dealerpeak.
All of our experts have years of experience using new technologies to help sell more cars, which after all is what we’re all here to do and we’ve convinced them to share some of their ideas with you. Of course every dealership is different, so we’ve tried to bring you a variety of opinions so that you can find what works best for your dealership. Here is what they had to say.
What are the most important new tools and technologies to help dealers market vehicles on the Internet?
Mike DeCecco—Video is not new, but it is critically important, especially video that sits on your own domain name…Google awards two potential additional organic listings for extremely relevant video content. Also, it’s no surprise that video creates a more engaging experience, which keeps people on your site longer and potentially increases conversion.
Paid search is key to a successful vehicle marketing strategy, especially for used vehicles. Franchise dealers still carry a large percentage of off brand used vehicles and it can be difficult to market those cars effectively. Paid search that is integrated with your inventory and deploys automatic ads can play a huge role in marketing these vehicles. For example, if you carry Toyota and you have three used Honda Accords in inventory, how will someone searching in Google find those cars when your website content is specific to Toyota? The answer is they will find them on classified listing sites and other venues where they will be lumped together in a sea of vehicles from other sellers. If you’re doing paid search that is integrated with your inventory, people searching for Honda Accords can see that you have those vehicles and be directed to your inventory only.
Mitch Golub—We increasingly see dealers add online chat, mobile capabilities, and video to their internet media mix—both on their store’s own website and with automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com. These tools allow them to connect with shoppers they might not have otherwise reached and more fully merchandise their inventory.
Chat, for example, is proving particularly popular and effective. We routinely hear from dealers who close a deal within a few hours of activating chat and who enjoy great appointments-kept and appointments-sold percentages. Chat works because it allows car buyers to get the information they want in real-time, right from the listing, without having to make a phone call or send an email and then wait for a response.
Mobile technology allows dealers to literally put their inventory in the hands of on-the-go buyers. As portable internet devices become more common, shoppers are researching their next purchase when and where it’s most convenient to them––whether on the morning commute, during their lunch break or on the dealer’s lot.
With video, dealers tell us they’re able to build excitement around the vehicle by showing its condition and highlighting interesting features. For stores with large inventories or limited resources, video "stitched" from still photos with a voiceover may be the way to go. Other dealerships develop full motion videos that provide a virtual test drive as the salesperson gives a full, walk around demonstration.
Everett Mullens—Obviously the current hot button is social networking. Auto Jockey provides our own internal technologies to improve optimization, plus we integrate with many of the social networking sites. We also have an extremely powerful lead generator for Craigslist that is wowing our dealers. We also educate our dealers on free tools such as GooglePlaces. If you haven’t done that already, then you need to jump on it right away. Once you have control you can post money saving coupons on your Places page. Also, other up and coming social marketing tools are Groupon or BuyWithMe. These group buying sites have the potential to push more buyers to you in a short time. These tools may assist you in other areas such as your service and parts departments.
Jock Schowalter—By now most dealerships should have a solid platform to manage leads and present vehicles on the internet using their dealerships website. Those are the basics. Now they need to look at placing their inventory in more places to reach a broader audience. The most important thing they can do is make sure they have multiple photos on every vehicle and in depth marketing descriptions for each vehicle. Video walk arounds are also a great way to showcase your inventory.
What is the best way for dealers to take advantage of the advent of online chat technologies?
Mike DeCecco—Be available. When you deploy an automated chat service, people will see through that right away…If you’re going to have live chat, make sure it’s a live person on the other end.
Mitch Golub—To take advantage of chat, we recommend that dealers develop a sales process and train their people on it. They also need to monitor chat sessions, just as they do with email and phone calls, to ensure the process is followed and that opportunities for improvement are not overlooked. What does that process look like? Similar to a good phone call, an effective chat session focuses on answering the shopper’s questions and opening the store’s inventory to find the ideal match. From there, salespeople should work to build rapport and set a firm appointment to visit the store, where they can most appropriately ask for the sale.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dealers should only begin using chat if they and the people assigned to it are committed. If customers can’t access someone via chat or have a bad experience, they’re likely to form a bad impression of the dealership and take their business elsewhere.
Everett Mullens—Chat can be a great tool for communicating real time with your on-line customers. A critical component, however, is making sure you have enough knowledgeable staff to monitor your website. Proper staffing and proper sales techniques using chat can provide dividends.
Jock Schowalter—The best way for dealers to take advantage of online chat is to have someone available to chat. There is nothing more worthless or unprofessional than inviting someone to chat on your website and not having anyone on the other end to answer the customer wanting to chat. That team should be knowledgeable about how to engage a customer in a chat session and convert that conversation into the next step in the buying process.
How can dealers best take advantage of social media?
Mike DeCecco—This is a sticky question…Really, dealers should not engage in social media until they are doing the basics first. That is, making sure that they have all specials updated, are handling leads appropriately and have well merchandised inventory. When a dealer is ready to engage, they need to remember that social media is just that…social. It’s not about blasting out inventory and selling vehicles. You wouldn’t do that at a party if you wanted people to like you right? Social media is all about developing meaningful relationships that will translate into fandom and incremental sales. For example: Think about the lifespan of vehicle ownership instead of the quick buck. Successful companies that have engaged in social media have been successful because they focus on service, giveaways, and small transaction prices with a shorter buying cycle. How does that translate to a dealership? Fixed operations aligns with that strategy beautifully. Keep yourself relevant and valuable by providing content on your social media sites that revolves around ownership and service and you’ll see your fandom rise.
Mitch Golub—A couple of ideas to consider include:
· Share photos. Did your dealership help sponsor a walk to raise money and donations for the local food bank? Take pictures of the event and post them to your Facebook page or tweet a link to them from your Twitter account. Customers and prospects in the photos will likely pass them along to their friends and family, helping to promote your store and create a favorable impression of the dealership.
· Be creative. Do your Facebook friends include their birthday on their page? We’ve heard from dealers who check their CRM system to see if they have their address as a former customer or current prospect. If so, they send an "old-school" birthday card in the mail.
Another important point to remember: online forums. While social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube command the headlines, enthusiast sites serve large communities of car buyers. If you have sales and service employees who have a passion for off-roading or sports cars, for example, and can share their expertise, encouraging them to participate can drive additional sales in the showroom, the service department, and at the parts and accessories counter.
Everett Mullens—It is important to post events or happenings at the dealership on the social media sites. It is just as important to recognize and respond to clients through these channels as well. With a “thank you for your purchase” or inquiry as to your “service satisfaction”, your dealership shows thanks for their patronage, and gives the personal touch that can present itself with future visits or good word of mouth that travels very fast on online social circles.
Jock Schowalter—The best way to take advantage of social media is to become engaged in social media on a daily basis. Social media is about developing rapport and relationships with your customers using the many social media outlets available. Too many dealers believe that having a Facebook fan page is all they need to do. They need to build value in that fan page by actively driving people to it and engaging them in meaningful ways that builds the relationship with the people that are members. Facebook and others are just the media to communicate. It still takes people to create the “social” part.
What has been the effect of user-generated content and review sites on dealership Internet marketing?
Mike DeCecco—Dealership rating sites have had a tremendous impact on dealership business both positively and negatively. In our ever more transparent world, dealerships that try and get away with providing a sub-par customer service experience will be losing market share at an alarming rate because everyone will know they don’t treat consumers well.
The most important thing to remember is to be engaged. Know where your customers are rating you, monitor the sites, respond always with kind remarks, and attempt to correct the situation. The last thing people read can be the truth in their mind…If you let negative ratings sit out there and you do not respond or engage, consumers will assume they are true. Also, be sure you’re getting people to positively review you. Do not provide an incentive to do this, rather just ask…You’ll be amazed at how a flood of positive reviews will make a negative review seem trivial. Also, recent research by Kelton and DriverSide shows that consumers tend to shy away from purchasing a vehicle from a dealership with negative service department reviews…That’s right, service department reviews can and will affect sales. Be sure the whole dealership is engaged in reputation management.
Mitch Golub—For dealerships that understand and know how to harness the power of internet marketing, the effect has been profound. They’ve assigned people at their stores to monitor and respond to these comments, using the information as an objective indication of business processes that are working or that need to be improved. Particularly with negative reviews, they’ve learned to recognize the feedback as an opportunity—both to resolve the issue and reestablish good will with those customers and to demonstrate their commitment to excellent service.
Consumer surveys show that car buyers understand problems can arise in any sales or service transaction. In fact, they often report more confidence in dealerships that have less-than-perfect ratings—as long as there’s a demonstrated record of professionally resolving complaints and not simply ignoring or brushing them aside.
Everett Mullens—I think sites like Yelp, Google places, or even DealerRater have changed the dynamics of customer relations for the better. The client that would not say anything about bad service feels safer to put their complaints online under the guise of a hidden identity. The progressive dealer can use this to better gauge their customer service and to show the prospective client that the issue will be handled in an honest open fashion. Also by rectifying the situation through an online channel it can become a written testimonial on how far your dealership will go to make the client happy.
Jock Schowalter—That depends on how well the dealership is doing in taking care of their customers. Review sites can cut both ways. We encourage all of our dealers to ask their customers to give them reviews. Good or bad, the reviews will bring out areas of opportunity to make sure every customer is satisfied. If there is a problem, the dealer has every opportunity to make it right. If the dealer is paying attention to CSI then the review sites will be a tremendous asset to them.
What are the top 3 “must have’s” for any dealer website?
· Integrated video
· Paid search for all profit centers
· Effective fixed operations marketing to the dealership’s client base
Mitch Golub—First and foremost: Inventory. These days the website represents more than an extension of the physical showroom. For many car buyers today, it is their first point of contact with your dealership. Every car on your lot should be easily located on your website and fully merchandised with descriptive sell copy, multiple pictures and/or video, and a competitive price.
Next, an "About Us" section. Just because car buyers have arrived at the dealership’s website, that doesn’t mean they know the store. In many cases, they’ve been directed there from an automotive shopping site where they were viewing new and/or used-car inventory.
Finally, up-to-date contact information. Car buyers can only connect with your sales and service staff if you provide the correct names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Similarly, for walk-in visitors, you may want to include directions and a map to your store.
1. A mobile ready website gives you a whole new base of emerging customers. Make sure that the mobile and regular websites run congruently so that there is a consistency for your brand. Make sure all changes are instant on both sites.
2. Social linking. Remember to not let these links overpower your dealership or brand. You don’t want the client thinking this is Facebook dealership and lose your branding or name recognition.
3. Easy to navigate website that gets your potential buyer were they need to get with the least amount of clicks. In turn, this will project the ease of dealing with your dealership.
Jock Schowalter—Besides the obvious things like current inventory, photos, and descriptions I would recommend the following important features:
1. The ability to negotiate on-line using the dealer’s website. Watch your lead conversion rate double.
2. A mobile version of your website.
3. The ability to track user traffic patterns and behavior in real time. We can track user behavior in real time and response in the CRM based on what the customer is doing on the website as it happens.