Management Responsibility: Marketing Optimization versus Convenience

businessman thinking about customers

Over the past few years I have observed a gradual shift from seeking to understand various aspects of digital marketing towards a resolve to “handle it” with the least amount of management involvement and monitoring as possible. A few short years ago, dealers and their managers focused on acquiring the understanding and knowledge required for them to comprehend the workings of such marketing strategies as Retargeting, Behavioral Targeting, Search Engine Advertising, CRM Process design and execution, as well as trying to gauge the effectiveness and ROI of such organizational designs as a Business Development Center (BDC). But more recently I have seen far too many dealerships where the management prerogative seems to be more focused on convenience and reducing the necessity of a manager being involved. This trend is not the way to gain a competitive advantage, nor will it take advantage of the capabilities of new marketing technologies, advertising tactics, and organizational effectiveness models such as specialization and streamlined process.

Let me give a graphic example…As any dealership that has ever had appointments set by a BDC will attest, there is a distinct point of friction when the customer arrives at the dealership for their scheduled appointment. In most cases, the customer does not remember the name of the person they are supposed to ask for when they arrive, they do not know where they are supposed to “check in” and they become frustrated with the whole affair when the salesperson who greets them asks questions about the vehicle they are interested in and their trade-in situation, which the customer has already discussed in detail with the dealership’s BDC associate they have been speaking with and emailing. Various methods have been used to mitigate this point of friction on the marketing to sales fulfillment chain of customer communication.

Resistance to management involvement and what is needed to optimize sales results is far too often the enemy of marketing optimization…Let me explain; I am going to describe a proven process which dramatically increases the sales close rates on appointment shows generated by a BDC. However, let me just say right up front that after observing several dealerships, which have successfully implemented this process and workflow, that I believe the reason it improves appointment close rates is because of the impact it has on the sales people working for the manager this process engages and less so for the impact it has on customers. Most experienced automotive sales professionals will understand this point very quickly.

Optimized Appointment Reception Process

When an appointment is set by the BDC, the Customer Service Representative (CSR) prints out the customer’s profile information from the CRM application. They also print out the three most recent note entries, and three most recent emails. A list of vehicles and any prices quoted is included with this print out. The papers are placed in a manila envelope with the customer’s name written on the tab. The manila folder is brought to the dealership’s showroom reception desk where it is placed in a bin slot that indicates the day of the week the customer is scheduled to show up at the dealership.

During the conversation the CSR had with the customer while setting the appointment, the CSR advised the customer that he/she would be sending directions to the dealership from the customer’s home or work address. This is a proven effective means of ensuring that if the customer will not be able to make their appointment, for any reason, they will notify the CSR who went to the trouble of generating the appointment and customized directions from the customer’s home or workplace.

More importantly the customer has been instructed in very clear terms that they must “check in at the reception desk” when they arrive at the dealership. In practice, this is a highly effective request with over 90 percent of customers remembering the action they must take when they arrive at the dealership, which is more than a 300 percent improvement over the percentage of customers who remember to ask for a dealership employee by name. I have had several managers tell me that the reason why this part of the process works so well is that most Americans have been conditioned over many years of showing up for medical and dental appointments, job interviews, work related meetings, and other scheduled appointments, to check in with the receptionist and “sign in” that they have shown for their appointments. Regardless of the reasons why, we now know that dealership customers who show up for an appointment and are told to check in at the showroom reception desk will overwhelmingly comply with these instructions…on the other hand, customers who are told to ask for a dealership employee by name, rarely do so.

The optimized appointment reception process proceeds as follows…When the customer checks in at the reception desk, the receptionist pulls out their manila folder, smiles and informs the customer: “Welcome to ABC Motors, we have been expecting you.” The receptionist then pages, calls, or waves over the sales manager on duty. He/she then walks over to the reception desk, upon which the receptionist introduces the customers to the manager, while handing the customer’s folder to the manager. In some stores we have seen a variation on this process where the CSR from the BDC is called by the receptionist and he/she comes to the showroom instead of the sales manager to greet the customer. Either way works well, as well as a hybrid where the store does both depending on how busy the managers are.

At this point the manager or CSR welcomes the customer to the dealership, thanks them for setting aside time for this appointment and states “In order to make the best use of your time today, we have created an agenda for your visit. I would like to quickly review this agenda with you, and if it sounds good to you, we will get started. OK?” At this point, almost all customers seem mildly impressed with the level of preparation that seems to have been done by the dealership in anticipation of their appointment. In actuality, the agenda is a preprinted document used for almost all appointments unless there are special circumstances. The manager or CSR pauses and either waves over a sales person or has the receptionist get a salesperson, if one is not already attached and observing the appointment reception process, which is usually the case. If appropriate from a timing perspective, the manager now introduces the sales person as the “product specialist” who will be assisting the customer during today’s visit to the dealership.

The manager now pulls out the customer visit agenda which is a bullet pointed list with check mark boxes next to each agenda item… The manager looks up at the customer, smiles and begins reading from their appointment agenda;

  • “First, we are going to show you the vehicles which (CSR’s name) has identified before your visit today as being the ones you are most interested in considering.”
  • “Your product specialist will show you the features of each vehicle and you will select one in which to take a test drive so that you can make a well informed decision about whether or not the vehicle suits you.”
  • “After the test drive, if the vehicle meets your expectations, your product specialist will bring you back to the showroom where we will review the numbers which you have already seen from the CSR.”
  • “If the numbers meet with your approval, we will introduce you to our financial services manager who will review available financing options, rates and terms. Upon your approval, the documents will be prepared and you will sign for your new vehicle.”
  • “Your product specialist will go over the vehicle again during our delivery process which will ensure you understand how to operate and enjoy your new vehicle before driving it home.”
  • “So that we make the best use of your time, the entire process is designed to take less than 90 minutes. I recommend we get started. OK?”

Having executed this appointment agenda review over a hundred times myself, I can attest that most customers just sort of nod and grunt “OK.” Some will make a statement like “We are not going to buy a car today, we are only going to drive it and go over the numbers.” At which point the manager politely acknowledges and draws a line through the last few agenda items, smiles and says “well then, that will certainly take less time, but please do be sure to say goodbye to me before you leave, I sit right over there.”

Over three out of four customers simply smile, being very impressed with the whole process and are eager to get started. Think about this, because I have seen it dozens of times. The salesperson is standing there, nodding and smiling, but more importantly, that salesperson has watched the customer agree to buy the vehicle if it meets with their expectations. This has a dramatic effect on the salesperson’s attitude towards the appointment and dramatically improves their enthusiasm for serving the customer.

As much as this optimized process works so well in setting the stage for dramatically higher appointment to sale ratios and improved customer satisfaction with the sales process, why have such a small number of dealers implemented it? When I ask, the most common answer I get is that it is too much work for the sales managers… Say what? Can I get you to say that to the dealer principal?

Why does the appointment reception with visit agenda review work so well?

Let me recap a few observations having observed this and variations on this appointment reception process:

  • The customer is positively impressed with the level of professionalism this process implies. I have heard customers say things like “It made me feel like they had their act together.”
  • BDC prepares folders, so in a subtle way this process discourages CSR’s from entering “soft appointments” into the system, which are the ones that usually do not show up.
  • Sending a customized map and directions to the customer by email creates “reciprocity” a powerful human emotion that drives increased appointment show ratios.
  • The impact of meeting at least three people, including a manager upon their arrival at the dealership increases the likelihood of the customer buying a vehicle during their visit and sets the stage for a management turn at the end of the process which is a lot friendlier and less confrontational than if the customer had never met the manager.
  • The salesperson sees the manager involved, customer agreeing to a trial close and is dramatically encouraged by the feeling of “This is a deal”…An enthusiastic salesperson is far more likely to make a deal than a skeptical one. This may be the most powerful impact of this entire appointment reception and visit agenda review.

I will never forget a consulting colleague of mine calling me from a store in the deep South and asking what she could do to improve on a dealership that was already doing everything right. When I described this appointment reception with visit agenda process, she laughed at me “you gotta be kidding,” she said. Two months later she called me back and said this single process implementation had improved their appointment to sales closing rate from 28 percent to 46 percent and dramatically improved the satisfaction of the sales managers and sales people with the BDC.

Ralph Paglia is vice president of digital for Tier 10 Marketing in addition to being the founder and editor-in-chief of the Automotive Digital Marketing Professional Community (

Michael Bowen


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