“Adapt or Die” Why Dealerships Need to Experiment with their Internet Sales Lead Processes

by Ashley Karr

You may have heard of the motivational sales phrase, "always be closing." But, when it comes to handling internet sales leads, dealerships really need to be thinking "always be experimenting": Define a process, test it, improve it.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Joseph Davis about this topic. Joseph is the E-commerce Director for the Ewing Automotive Group in Plano, Texas. He lives by this philosophy and has some actionable advice for sales and marketing leaders at other dealerships.

Ashley: Can you tell me more about your dealership and your role there?

Joseph: I've been with the Ewing Automotive Group for nine years. Our active brands are Mercedes-Benz, Buick, GMC, and Subaru. We're in an area just north of Dallas. For the last five years, I've been the E-commerce Director for our group. I'm responsible for our internet directors, our third-party vendors, our sales process, our reputation, and all things dealing with the internet.

Ashley: What do shoppers expect from their car buying experience with Ewing?

Joseph: What we've found is that our customers want their experience to be very easy and very fast, and they want transparency above anything else. Our prices may not be the lowest in the market, but if we're transparent and we make the process easy for them, they still come to us and buy. The days of spending half the day in the dealership are gone. That's why we try to work our sales processes to get them in and out as quickly as we can . ***


Ashley: That's a great transition into my next question. How would you describe your sales philosophy and what are the main things you think about?

Joseph: My sales philosophy is basically five steps: It's process, training, accountability, measurement, then rinse/repeat.

  1. Process: Building a process is the number-one piece to my sales philosophy. Dealers should have a process that works and should think through all of the variables that they can.
  2. Training: Dealerships should train everyone from the top down, to show them how their role impacts the process and the rest of the team.
  3. Accountability: Process and training don't matter if people aren't held accountable to expectations. On the flip side, not holding people accountable will ruin a store's culture.
  4. Measurement: Dealerships need to measure to find flaws and see if there are more efficient ways of completing a task.
  5. Rinse and Repeat: Take the learnings from the measurement phase and revise processes accordingly. Our own staff loves that we are constantly finding new ways to do things better and more efficiently.

Ashley: These are great steps, have you found that they work?

Joseph: I'll give you an example of how we've implemented these steps. We mystery shopped over 150 dealers across the nation. We looked at what communications the top dealers are sending internet leads, what we're sending, and what the customers want to receive. From those learnings, we boiled our customer communication down to the bare minimum, so that it's still impactful to them and tied it to interactions with our sales team.

We set the process and we trained our sales team from the top down. The general manager had to know the sales process as well or better than the sales rep on the floor without any visual aids. So, everyone is equally held accountable to what we expect. Then we measured results. We give everything three to six months.

I hate to say this, but it doesn't matter how well you think through a process, you're going to miss pieces. I looked at all the different audits that we did and saw patterns emerge, saw where sales reps were taking shortcuts. Those shortcuts were probably better than what we initially built because they found a way to do things more efficiently.

Then I revised the entire process and rolled it out. Finally, we rinse and repeat. That way, we're always getting better. After we started this new process, we're now closing 125% more internet leads each month.

Ashley: And I'm sure seeing the numbers move like that gives everyone confidence that the process is working.

Joseph: Absolutely. We've done some different things such as instituting video into the sales process. So, every internet lead has to receive a personalized video from the sales rep, every single time. Other dealers in our area aren't doing this, so it's a real differentiator for our dealership. Sure, the sales reps initially fought tooth and nail with this new process. However, they saw the videos helped double the engagement rate with our customers, and that turned around their opinion. It was just a matter of forcing the process in the beginning, showing them that it works, and then the light bulb goes off and now they all love it.


Ashley: What metrics is your internet department looking at each week to assess how everything is working?

Joseph: I really focus on ROI and total sales. But, if the work going in is flawed because the process is flawed, it doesn't matter what my engagement rate is. That's why creating and following a clear process is so important. It changes the value you place on your metrics of success.

Ashley: What does your relationship with your marketing team look like at Ewing?

Joseph: Well, let me take off my internet director hat and put on my marketing hat. I'm also on the marketing team. I work hand-in-hand with our Marketing Director at our group. She handles the traditional marketing, which is only about 10% of our total budget. We're really a digital automotive group, and we'll always be moving further away from traditional.

Ashley: That's interesting. Few dealers have gone so far digital.

Joseph: I'll tell you why. You can't track traditional marketing, but with digital, I know where my dollars go. I can't measure something like a billboard. I can't even remember the last billboard I saw and thought, "I've got to use that product." Sure, branding is important, but we've been in business since 1940, and it's not as much of a priority as it used to be.

Ashley: With all of your experience in mind, what's the one piece of advice you'd give to other dealers or internet directors in the auto space? 

Joseph: Don't ever think that you've arrived and that you have the process-perfected. I've fallen into this myself — every time I think we've mastered everything, we lose market share, and it's an uphill fight to get back what we've lost.

Dealerships should always look for ways to improve their processes. I promise you that your competing dealers are doing that right now.



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