In March 1995 when Autobytel pioneered the consumer automotive purchase request, or ‘lead,’ by fax to a car dealership, few people knew that leads generated through what was then known (or barely-known) as the Worldwide Web would help to revolutionize the industry. But the purchase request process gained rapid traction for the efficiencies it provided dealerships and the convenience it provided car buyers. And, a few years later, when Autobytel supplied its member dealers (most of whom did not have a single computer in the dealership) with PCs to receive leads over the Internet, the process known as third-party lead generation was cemented as a critical and primary customer acquisition process for the industry.
Today, dealerships and OEMs take third party leads for granted, while automotive pundits often take pot shots, declaring third party leads moribund if not already dead. However, a 15th Anniversary of the Automotive Internet survey of dealerships recently conducted by Autobytel, shows what dealerships across the country understand on a daily basis, that third party leads are alive and kicking — and still one of a dealership’s most powerful marketing tools. In fact, according to Autobytel’s survey, 93% of the dealerships surveyed report that new and used third-party leads are an important part of their marketing mix and business generation.
At Autobytel, we took a long hard look at the existing lead delivery process and confirmed that the problem is not with third party leads per se – there are millions of car buyers submitting online purchase requests every month – but with vendors who have taken for granted the ease of third party lead delivery and have not evolved to meet the changes in the online customer, nor the rapidly transitioning needs of dealership marketing plans. A one-size-fits-all process for lead delivery is an anachronism in an environment where precision targeting of customers to meet not only the conditions on a dealership lot, but the ever changing macro climate, is a critical imperative for dealership ROI.
There is perhaps no more perfect example of the need for lead providers to provide both a nimble and customizable option for dealers than the roller coaster of gas pricing. When gas prices skyrocket, hybrids and low mpg vehicles jump off the lot, while high mpg trucks/SUV languish. Without a lead strategy enabling dealerships to precision customize their lead mix to extend reach and mine all possible web sources (broadening out to customers who are further behind in the buying cycle) for truck/SUV customers — while at the same time shaping a tighter territory and restricting sources for hybrid leads — dealerships cannot move the metal they need to move and can be left paying for leads they cannot use or do not need. And, as soon as gas prices skyrocket back down, a reverse and almost immediately implementable strategy is critical.
Bottom line: dealers need real time control over their lead mix. In our survey, the top four improvements to third party leads that over 90% of dealers would like to see are: 1.Control over leads, based on where consumers are in the purchase process. 2. Ability to adjust territory for desired models/lead sources. 3. More control over where leads are sourced, and 4. Better de-duplication.
We firmly believe that the new standard for lead delivery in this industry rests on dealers’ ability to customize and control their lead mix. And, as our industry recovers, it is imperative that third party vendors step up their game and provide dealers with greater flexibility and control over their leads. iControl by autobytelsm is our initiative to continue the online revolution by giving dealers want they want: control, customization and greater ROI.
Jeff Coats is the president and CEO of Autobytel. For more information, visit www.TotalLeadControl.com or call 866-589-5498.