While advances in autonomous vehicles, connected cars, and online car buying grab headlines daily, dealership-level automotive marketing is also set to undergo a tremendous shift in the next few years.
The source of this disruption will be an ever-deeper ocean of data, tech-savvy buyers, and artificial intelligence—enabling real-time sophisticated engagement way beyond personalized retargeting and recommendations. Today’s and tomorrow’s buyers are looking for personalization and efficiency.
Although many of the greatest advances are still around the corner, it’s worth asking: What can forward-thinking dealerships do to advance their marketing practices and build an edge right now, while being prepared for the future?
There are two concepts that we see changing the game for dealers right now, demarcating the dealer of today and the dealer of the future.
1. Own tomorrow’s buyers, not just today’s
The pressure of a dealership’s floor plan financing puts a tremendous premium on moving inventory. This then creates a sales culture that sanctifies low-funnel and ready-to-buy leads.
In the process, valuable higher-funnel leads are being left out—leaving tomorrow’s money on the table. In some cases, those leads are even being marked as “bad” because sales team key performance indicators (KPIs) require high close rates, and focus on leads that close today, not tomorrow. The hope is that high-funnel leads will come back when they’re ready, but of course, they fall off the path and never really come back.
The answer to this challenge is not to expect sales and BDC teams to invest in high-funnel leads in the way they do low-funnel leads. Rather, it’s incumbent upon the dealership to take efforts to convert these high-funnel leads on the website and build a long-term, automated lead-nurture process that is easy to measure and simple to adjust.
Let’s start with capturing high-funnel leads. Most dealership websites are tough for these types of leads. Any conversion tactic that takes a significant amount of time and emotional investment will turn consumers off—an early stage shopper is just not ready for that kind of commitment.
Make sure you have low-risk, low-investment conversion opportunities on your site. A high-funnel buyer is unlikely to fill out a prequalification form but may, however, quickly give contact information to claim a free gift or a special offer.
Once you have high-funnel leads in your CRM, then lead nurture is the key. This should include drip emails that deliver not only reminders and offers to connect, but also useful content and buyer resources such as “5 Tips for Evaluating Your Trade-In Options.” If you can personalize this content to a person’s concerns and interests, your lead nurture will be even better.
The most sophisticated dealers also segment by funnel stage when deploying retargeting ads. When done well, high-funnel buyers won’t see something aimed at driving an immediate purchase, but instead something valuable that can lead them down the path to a “yes” in a few months.
To be ready for the future, you should have an extensive lead-nurture process in place. When you do, you get the first crack at putting the buyer in a car when the time comes.
You may even consider identifying a high-funnel lead capture, and dropping these leads directly into a nurture channel after a quick check-in. That way, you don’t invest time in a lead unlikely to convert, but can still focus on bringing the lead down the path.
If your BDC doesn’t have the internal capacity for this, look for platforms that can help with effective lead-capture follow-up.
2. “Cookie monster”: Not just for kids
The other key in setting your dealership up for the future is data collection and data-driven user engagement. Much of this starts with cookies and other forms of identifiable information you collect.
It’s crucial for your dealership to insist your vendors adhere to accepted and ethical practices when engaging in user tracking with cookies. Stay away from the grey area here.
With that said, you should think about your most basic data needs like a warehouse: All the data in your digital universe should flow to one place where it is organized, stored, and easily accessible. Be aware of how your CRM is storing data in the warehouse, and how it’s storing and alerting you about website visitor action in real time.
For example, let’s say you capture a web lead from Sarah on January 1. You can see that she looked at particular vehicle. She’s now in your CRM and follow-up process, but she’s gone dark from Day One. You start her in your lead-nurture process and then, at the end of March, she visits your website for 27 seconds and briefly glances at a car VDP.
Does your CRM know that and alert your sales team? Is she brought back into a more-aggressive engagement process?
Or, let’s say she briefly engages with a financing tool you have on your site. Does your CRM or data vendor know about it? Your vendor should be updating you and adding that element to your CRM file on Sarah.
With technology trends disrupting the industry, forward-thinking dealers need to think about how to keep their dealership ahead. Once you’re working with real-time data, lead nurturing, and tracking metrics, you’re set up for incredible possibilities.
You can then integrate marketing practices like ad targeting and onsite engagement, as well as behavioral-triggered emails, SMS, ads, and more. This requires a strong digital presence to energize and transform your business.
Your dealership can create a phenomenal experience for your shoppers. Don’t wait for the storm to come to stay ahead. Start acclimating today.
As backend lead engineer, Ido Elad develops algorithm and machine-learning technology, constantly improving AutoLeadStar products’ capabilities. He also codes integrations between our software and complementary software. Trained in computer engineering, he is proficient in Java, SQL, PHP, Python, C++, and natural language processing. Ido understands the technology of today, and the technology of tomorrow.
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