The fact that salespeople need proper training is nothing new. Training salespeople has been an essential part of running a successful auto dealership since customers started test-driving vehicles. Add in the internet and the whole digital marketing revolution, and throwing an untrained salesperson on the sales floor is asking for trouble. No matter how much potential someone may have as a salesperson, if you throw them out on the sales floor, wish them good luck, and hope for the best, you are going to be disappointed with the results. If you want your dealership to succeed, you need your salespeople to succeed, and for that they need to be trained to deal with today's internet consumers.
It's not only the sales staff that need training though. Dealership owners and upper management need to learn to navigate the internet, manage their online reputation, and find online consumers in a constantly changing environment. The internet offers both opportunities and dangers. If you don't treat consumers the way they want to be treated, both online and off, your reputation will suffer and, with it, your sales. If you know how to find consumers online, communicate with them, and create value in your dealership and vehicles, however, you are bound for success.
There are a lot of opportunities on the internet and more than one way to succeed, but you need to stay up-to-date on the latest in internet marketing and reputation management. Just last summer, for example, Google changed their algorithm to prioritize their online reviews over other sites, such as dealerrater.com and edmunds.com. Fair or not, this had a dramatic effect on dealers everywhere. Suddenly dealers who had worked hard to build up their review count suddenly saw their reviews banished to small links at the bottom of the Google review page. This was, and is, obviously a problem for many dealers, but those dealers who have a mentality of ongoing education for themselves and their employees were able to promptly learn, from marketing professionals and their own research, how Google reviews work and use what could have been a roadblock as an opportunity to seize the top of the Google search results—some of the most valuable real estate on the internet.
At Dealer Marketing Magazine we strive to keep you up with the latest in internet and traditional marketing, but ongoing training requires more than just reading magazines such as ours (although it is an important part!). To truly stay on top of an ever changing sales environment, requires training from experts. Two of those experts are Glenn Pasch, COO of PCG Digital Marketing, and AJ LeBlanc, Managing Partner of Car-mercial.com, both agreed to answer some of our questions on the latest in internet marketing and how dealers can stay on top of the rapidly evolving sales environment. Take a look at what they had to say and let us know what you think at www.DealerMarketing.com.
How can dealers learn to use social media to help grow their sales and their dealership?
Glenn Pasch—I don’t think it’s going to be a linear process where if you start using facebook, you can track that you sold this car. I don’t really think that most of the marketing, both traditional and online, is a linear path anymore. Where you can know that one specific ad sold me a car. I don’t think that exists.
What I tell most of the dealers that I chat with is that facebook is a cocktail party. Whatever you would say at a cocktail party, you should say on facebook. If we were at a cocktail party and I came up to you and said, “Hey Michael, I’m a car salesman, do need a car? Do you need an oil change? Hey oil change!” After a while, you’re going to say, “please don’t invite Glenn to the party, he’s annoying.” But what do we talk about at cocktail parties? We talk about sports, our families, our kids, events happening around, charities. Now, in the conversation something about a car might come up and someone might say, “Oh yeah, I gotta get my oil changed this weekend.” Then you could say, “Oh yeah, I got a friend who runs a dealership. Come on down, they’ll take care of you.”
Facebook is really about advertising and putting out on the web the social and human side of your dealership…not inventory. Your website is pushing metal and price. Facebook should be talking about the people.
Who works at the dealership? What do they do? What do you do in the community? Look at all the pictures of happy customers who come here. Look at all the videos of peoples saying here’s why you should come to “Mike’s Auto”: come down here, they take care of you; they made me feel comfortable; there’s no haggling; it was great.
When people are doing their research and have decided on the car they’re looking for, the next step is choosing a dealership. When a customer starts researching dealerships, if one of them stands out when they look at their website…if they go to their Google places and see great reviews, then stumble across your facebook and open it up and it’s just Wow, this is just a fun place to go to, and the competition doesn’t have that, that’s how you’re going to convince people to come. You’re enticing them with the experience, and ultimately that’s what you’re selling to them: the experience of doing business with you, because realistically, they can get the car a million places.
AJ LeBlanc—The instructions [for facebook and other social media sites] are all pretty simple; dealers just have to spend some time doing it. But what I see a lot of dealers doing is using facebook as a place to post every single vehicle that comes in for sale on their lot. The problem is that facebook should be used for you to maintain a customer touch point with your current customers and fans, people who want to follow the dealership, but since they’ve already bought a car from you, they don’t need to see every car that you’re bring into the dealership posted on facebook for them to look at. They’re not in the market for a new or used car every day—it’s once every couple of years.
What happens is dealers lose fans, because they’re trying to post their inventory through facebook. Facebook should be used to push your specials out for the week for your service department, or if you have a really neat charity that you sponsor, happy testimonial pictures, and videos of customers, so that fans of your facebook page can see that people in the community are having a good experience and continuing to buy vehicles at your dealerships. It reinforces to your fans that they should come back around to buy a vehicle or get their vehicle serviced at your dealership, because people are still going there and having a great experience.
Twitter should be used to reach out with specials, not to push every vehicle, out to every one of your followers, every single day. Your followers do not want to know about the 100+ cars you take in every month and what models they are and what trim packages you have for sale. If they want to find your vehicles—they know how to look it up on your website.
If you bought a new plasma TV or went to a restaurant recently, did you go online and check out people’s reviews and read about their experience? Well, people are doing the same thing about buying a vehicle. They want to see what other people say. Ninety-seven percent of consumers check your dealership out before they step foot on the lot. It’s pretty much everybody. I think almost 70 percent of a dealership’s customers are putting their post purchase experience online—whether it’s good or bad. Dealers should manage their reputation, their social media, and the way that they appear on the internet, because customers are putting their experiences online for other people to see. And people are looking to see what people have to say about the dealership—good or bad. So, reviews are important, social media is important, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it and the wrong way is to use it as a complete sales tool and consistently bombard everybody with every single car that comes on your lot…that’s a no-go.
How can dealers approach customers armed with research from the internet?
Glenn Pasch—At the end of the day sales is about solving a problem. This person is coming to you, because their car needs to be serviced or they need a new vehicle, so you’re solving a problem for them. Dealers need to figure out what the customer’s problem is and how can best to solve it for them? I can get this done now while you’re still here, or I’ll get it done later, but I’ll give you a loaner car, or can I drop you off somewhere?
You’re making that experience easier for them to solve their problem. Same thing with buying a car. I think the difference now-a-days is that salespeople just have to be more transparent. The days of advertising one price, but when the customer comes in, it’s really not that price, is going to be less effective and actually backfire sometimes on dealers. People are not going to put up with that anymore. They’re in your dealership, because of what they found online and now you’re telling them it’s not there, so they’re walking out and are probably going to go bash you online. Then the next person who looks for you online sees that the customer bashed you and what you did.
It's about being open and honest and solving customers’ problems, fixing what you can, and finding a car they want. That’s really the approach and just understand that you can’t hide stuff anymore. If you’re offering a discount online, but someone walks in the dealership and you don’t tell them about it. That person’s going to pull out their smart phone and they’re going to start surfing and they’re gonna find out about it. How embarrassing is it if a customer says, “Hey Mike, you didn’t tell me about this $500 discount online, what’s up?” You may say that’s only for online, but then all you’ll hear is: “OK, what else are you being sneaky about? I’m outta here.”
Transparency is key. The dealers that are transparent and understand that there’s really no difference between online and offline are the ones who will succeed. The days of “Let me talk to my manager and see what we can work out” are coming to an end, because people will drive further if they think they’re going to get a transparent deal.
AJ LeBlanc—They should approach informed customers the same way every dealership should have been approaching customers for years. You get a customer and bring them into your “family” and have them buy more and more cars from you over the years as they need new cars. You also want to get the service business and the referrals from them.
Dealers need to treat the customers well and give them an amazing experience. What often ends up happening is the customer comes to the dealership, they’re there for hours on end. There’s all the back and forth; then they buy the car and they never hear from anybody again except the first week when the dealer sends them the CSI index questionnaire. And maybe a holiday greeting card, but after that, nobody ever hears from the dealership again. That’s one of the reasons why car dealerships and dealers have gotten a bad reputation for just getting the sale and then not staying in touch.
I would say that the best thing to do for a dealership would be to create the same experience they would have if they stayed at a nice hotel, like the Ritz, or flew on a really nice airline, like Virgin America…or one of those really great experiences you get when you go to a nice restaurant. People spending 10, 20, 40, thousand dollars on a car should get the same experience.
You’re customer is spending a lot of money. Why don’t they deserve to be treated well and have a great experience from the beginning to the end? There’s so many points in the buying process that could be improved to create a better relationship with the customer and generate more purchase visits in the future, more service visits, and more referrals, but not a lot of dealerships are trying to improve all their processes internally, pre and post sale. There’s a lot of room for dealerships to improve upon the experience their customers are receiving, both during the purchase transaction and then post purchase transaction. Stay in front of the customer to remind them that they’re part of a “family” and ask them how they’re doing with the vehicle. See if there’s anything that’s needed. A once a year holiday card doesn’t do that. It doesn’t cut it. It takes time and effort.
It’s intensive, it’s exhausting. It takes energy to call people up and say “hi” and follow up with them and see what their needs are. It takes time to do these things and there’s a lot of room for improvement in car dealers.
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