Internet Department vs. Floor Sales Staff

Recently, Gregg at Park Avenue BMW asked a great question on the DealerRefresh forums:  “Do you protect your Internet Sales Staff from the floor?”  The conversation has been very valuable as it talks about many different scenarios.

How do you structure your Internet Department?

  • Sales agents who handle leads
  • BDC
  • Internet Sales Managers
  • Internet Sales Coordinators
  • Appointment Setters
  • Out-sourced

There are a great number of ways to do it, but before we talk about the nuts and bolts there are quite a few of us who owe our jobs to our traditional sales staff.

The ideal scenario is for a customer, who submits an Internet lead, to work with the same sales agent they are going to buy their car from.  If that’s ideal, why do we even have an “Internet Department”?  You can take a look at an older article about Why We Suck or you can agree with me that for the majority of sales staffs there is a predominate culture of “I’ll wait for a customer to show up before I ever try to generate my own customer.”

Because the majority of sales agents don’t want to answer a ringing phone, don’t want to call a customer back, and certainly don’t want to respond to someone’s Internet quote request we end up with an “Internet Department”.

I have heard all sorts of theories on personalities and even more excuses directly from sales agents themselves, but at the end of the day I have learned I will lose the battle of trying to force a sales staff to “get it”.  So why not play to their strength:  working a customer in person.  It is what they want to do anyway.  You do this by staffing a BDC with appointment setters who are solely there to put customers in front of our sales agents – win win!  And then the Internet folks get to thank their sales agents’ for not wanting to fully do their job because they’ve provided us with a fantastic career!  The loser is the dealer principle.

How do we play to everyone’s strengths and make the dealer principle a winner again?

It is done through CRM.  With a CRM that allows a customer to work with multiple dealership employees you can now create process that plays to each person’s strengths.  The dealership’s CRM architect is a coach with a playbook who is going to write plays for your offensive and defensive lines.  This person knows what motivates both the Internet Department and the traditional sales floor.  This person may even know how to incorporate your special teams into the mix (service, parts, bodyshop).  The goal is to win a customer….for life.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a CRM architect is the sniper rifle you shoot your silver bullets through.

Your CRM architect can program your dealership process to make long passes or multiple hand-offs depending on the direction a customer goes.  This person is part of the dealership staff because your process needs to be fluid and ever-evolving.  Of course, this person is going to want a say in how your Internet Department is setup, but I bet this person is going to want something that allows a lot of fluidity and a team effort with your sales floor.  Through this person, all the nuts and bolts come together.

Am I speaking Greek right now?  If so, please let me know because I am more than happy to answer your questions.  This is a very long and big topic that spawns all sorts of considerations.  But, doing CRM right could be the single greatest thing you do for your dealership this year.  And a key element to that is finding a CRM architect who “gets it” and owns it.

My last question:  Do you have a CRM Architect?

P.S.  Bet this isn’t the ending you were expecting when you started reading this article.

Alex Snyder

Alex was one of the automotive industry's first eCommerce Directors. Whether it is the latest Internet trend or the oldest selling philosophy, Alex Snyder has a unique approach to the automotive business because of his years of experience. During these years Alex was introduced to Jeff and became a integral part of DealerRefresh. Alex has since moved from the front line of the dealership and is now the Senior Director of Product Design at Dealer.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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19 thoughts on “Internet Department vs. Floor Sales Staff

  1. I will share my primary struggle with the BDC approach. While it appears optimal in this situation, as the BDC folks do all the "grunt work" and all the sales folks have to do is handle the in-person appointment, I have found that this is not necessarily what our shoppers want. Most of our phone callers and email leads have detailed questions about the vehicle they want to purchase, or have questions about financing and/or trade-in. The BDC rep is trained to turn that lead into an appointment, and is not usually an expert in our inventory, or our financing/trade-in departments, so they are continuously putting the customer's concern aside and pushing them for a date and time… "I am not sure if that truck has enough power to tow your boat, but I can schedule an appointment for you to come in this evening".

    More and more the market is shifting towards the customer having the power, where they want their questions answered and their price quote in hand before they will make an appointment to show up in person. I fully understand how great a struggle this is, but maybe the reality we face today is that the old days of standing outside the dealership smoking endless cigarettes and drinking countless cups of coffee while waiting to "work" when the customer arrives in person have gone away, and we need to change and understand that today's modern salesman needs to work harder to earn the savvy shopper's business, and work the lead directly…

  2. If I could have it my way, the BDC would not exist in our industry. The BDC is simply a crutch for an ineffective sales team.

    Yes, it would be wonderful if the floor salespeople could handle phone-ups and Internet leads. The problem, most dealerships don't provide their salespeople with the training required to master these forms of customer communication. And if they do provide them with training, there's no ongoing accountability or effective follow-up training.

    The easy fix is to install a BDC. With a BDC you only have to focus on training a small percentage of people instead of all your salespeople. Now for a larger dealership or big dealer group, the BDC can be justified. For smaller dealerships it can become an expensive addition to the bottom line. Dealerships that succeed with floor salespeople usually have a very strong management team.

    There's no reason why a dealership can't make it happen with salespeople right off the floor. Take the case of one of my customers, Lexus of Omaha. They used to let most of their salespeople work Internet leads. We gave all of their salespeople phone and Internet training and then implemented our monthly Coach-a-Call program. After two months we identified two floor salespeople that were really good at handling phone-ups. They got good because they put forth the effort and practiced. So the GM decided to let those two individuals handle all Internet leads. It was no surprise to me when they had one of their best months ever in regards to Internet leads. Now some of the other salespeople are starting to get the message and they have picked up their phone game. Mastering the phone is the key to appointing Internet customers. The GM is now looking to bring a couple more floor salespeople to the Internet party and we have identified a few individuals who are ready. Taking a phone-up or Internet lead is not a right, it's a privilege.

    Kevin, I agree that when your salespeople can handle the customer from start to finish, it's obviously a better experience for your customers.

    Nice article Alex!

    Jerry Thibeau

    President

    Phone-up Ninjas

    585-749-2015
    http://phoneupninjas.com

  3. I absolutely agree with identifying a CRM architect and continuously improving how we communicate with current and potential customers. Its about using the CRM to help create a valued relationship that matters over time. So when the prospect becomes sales ready, the first thought is to contact the dealer they trust and want to do business with.

    Now it doesn't matter if the first contact is by walking in the front door, on the phone or through the internet, everybody's job is easier because there is some level of trust already started.

  4. Everyone brings up valid points. I think we could all do away without BDC departments as long as the proper training is provided to sales people. We need to stop thinking of one department as an internet department and start thinking of the dealerships in a whole as an internet dealership. I just left a dealership where I ran a solid BDC department. While we were great, there were flaws like pricing questions, working deals over the phone, and questions about inventory. The only reason that we really were able to move quickly and efficiently is that I came from a car sales and sales management background where a call can be turned to me and I can build rapport with customers by answering their questions. I would utilize all of the technology available to me to get them information. They would convert to an appointment, come in, meet me. I would pass them to a sales consultant who was able to continue. Some customers do not like the experience of working with someone different once they show up. This is what our business has become and if we can all work together to change it maybe we will see more success. I ran internet departments where I had sales people doing start to finish. I ran BDC departments. Let me tell you, the departments with sales people doing start to finish always had the highest close ratios and we converted way more appointments that showed into sales. With a BDC, the figures are different. The BDC is designed to create as much traffic as possible for the dealership. The only flaw that I see is that sales people when busy with deliveries cannot respond to internet leads efficiently. I propose an internet department with sales people and maybe 1 or 2 assistants that can help with overflow and extra follow up. It all comes down to management, how they want it. Someone comes in and teaches them an idea that seems brilliant, they try it no matter how bad it really is.

  5. I am the internet manager at a two store location and I evolved into using an Internet Team, without much experience in the automotive world I used one of the above approaches where I gave everyone in the dealership 2 months to work on leads and then I filtered the 3 best salespeople (using all aspects, response time, sales, follow-up…cant be just one) and we formed an "Internet Team".

    My philosophy has always been that its better for a customer to have one stop shop for the first contact to answer all of their questions, why should it be any different for our customers? Unfortunately I'm at the point where I've maxed out the potential of the floor salesman within the Internet Group and I need true online salespeople to grow the department, not the watercooler guy who gets up from his desk every 10 minutes. Management wants a BDC, as stated above its the easy way out without having to TRAIN the existing staff from start to finish. I am pushing for an internet savvy staff who we can nurture to become seasoned salespeople.

    Would like to hear more from Internet Managers who have tried different strategies, but I agree with a lot of the concepts listed here and currently practicing them.

  6. I have read all of the feedback on the subject from management standpoint and certainly there are good points that make obvious sense. I would also like to offer an opinion about the effect that the internet also poses to the sales staff and management groups. I have been selling imports going on 16 years now and while I have known that the automotive sales industry was changing for quite some time, I think it is safe to say that it has now made the full transition to the new age of information and the ease of obtaining that information. Thus, the Internet Department. According to the manufacture that I work for ( Subaru ) 94% of our customers are now starting to shop online before they have ever been to the dealership or test driven a vehicle. I don’t know about you but 94% seems like a BIG number to me. What is the realistic outlook for the modern day salesman on the floor with the current and growing trend in today’s consumers buying trends? That’s a question that will be asked more often than not in the coming days in our industry that will represent the challenges for management groups to cast doubt on a bleak outlook for more experienced salesman that are limited to waiting for business to pull in while growing internet departments are fielding the majority of serious consumers starting the process from their keyboard or Smartphone. This has at least freed up the floor salesman so that they may be available to greet customers and get them to their appropriate internet representative that they have an appointment with! Yes, the change is here my friend! My personal strategy would be to have my strongest fielding the opportunities and more importantly maximizing the opportunities and realizing that the convenience is the motivating factor to the customer and not always price which is where the focus of the typical internet representative is based on. This is usually reflected in your store’s sales log! I do look forward to the new age of selling cars and embrace the opportunity. I also believe we can take a good thing and make it better!

    Thanks,

    Keith McGill
    Shortline Subaru
    Denver, CO

  7. I prefer a controlled environment to handle calls as well as leads. Jerry’s point is valid for having a well trained sales force able to handle calls correctly, unfortunately there is a lot of sales person turn over in dealerships and it can easily turn into to chasing your tail.

    Regardless of how effective a phone trainer is, it has been my experience that not everyone can be trained to be great on the phones. It takes a certain skill set and dedication.

    In a controlled environment calls can be T.O.’d real time and the person answering the call isn’t currently doing anything else, like having a conversation with a co-worker when the page “available sales call on..” is heard. Many sales people will grab at the phone and take the call without really being 100% prepared to handle that call. Sales people, that are taking ups and delivering cars do not have a singular focus on what is on the dealers website at any given moment and since that is where the call is coming from, I find it to be a priority for anyone taking calls.

    My vote is and always has been for the (BDC) or whatever you choose to name it. I would rather have a skilled manager sitting in the same room, listening as the call as it takes place than listen to the recorded call after the fact, reviewing missed opportunities.

    Up until recently the car dealer culture influenced the dealer’s internet culture, now we see it coming around the other way. Eventually Jerry will be right; The BDC will not be necessary, but until the vast majority of sales managers and people become “ecommerce” minded that will not happen. Either way effective training is the key to consistency and growth.

  8. Alright Alex;

    Couldn’t resist, champion…

    A very important aspect of the discussion missing here is, all dealership settings are different based upon dealer nameplate, size of dealership, size of dealer group, etc. etc. One would not necessarily run an ISD for a mega-dealer Toyo point as he might a single point import roof.

    To that point, below are three instances of success I have managed.

    #1 – Saturn HUMMER of Union City was a 75 car per month combined roof dealer point that existed South of metro Atlanta. Here, I began with an alphabetized lead distribution process, assigning specific leads to teams of Professional Sales Consultants (PSC’s) who had corresponding last names – for instance John Doe and Jane Dans would handle leads with last names ending in A – E. Added incentive was given to Appointments set via the floor professional vs. the ISD, and we kept an appointment board welcoming the ISD Customer at the front of the showroom right beside the receptionist. After we grew our ISD 125% (first three months), I added a full-time Asst. Internet Sales Manager, trained her in BDC (handling phones) and ISD functions and eventually migrated her onto the showroom floor as a PSC with complete BDC and ISD training. I hired the next Asst. and kept going as such until we grew almost 700% in the department over the course of about 18 months.

    #2 – Bill Heard Chevrolet in the same vicinity of Atlanta was a massive undertaking and I went through the service department as an outsourcing agent for increasing Fixed Ops appointments, first and wound up putting together a comprehensive ISD Management Solution. In a nutshell, BHE operated a BDC which handled all incoming calls from advertisings both online and off (as they were trained to push all customers to the Internet in their print, radio, and television marketing). As the appointments were set via the BDC, an email with all details was sent to appropriate New or Pre-Owned Sales Manager. Depending upon the manager, (they had like six at the time) there was a specific PSC assigned the Internet Deals, or they might distribute the appointment to a randomly selected PSC. Either way, in this model, the BDC generated the appointment and put it into the hands of manager who delegated from there. Remember, we are talking over 600 units from this store in some months!

    #3 – Baranco Lincoln Mercury was North of Atlanta, in a very affluent corridor of the city. At this dealership, I was essentially a one-man show to the tune of about 20 units per month on average. This was my first soiree into ISD Management, and what I did was created a “How Our ISD Wins” document which was a business manual explaining the value of the ISD and how each additional department inside the dealership could benefit from helping and how to help. (Alex, I’d be happy to share these docs with DR community, though they are well dated) This process allowed me to take an hourly approach to managing the department, as I schedule myself to handle ISD appointments myself in the afternoons and evenings, and incentivized (via $25 cash bonus) any PSC agreeable to accepting ISD appointments in the 9a until 2p time period when I was following up on leads and handling administrative duties. This store was an example of Good ISD Grosses, because the process allowed each deal to stand on its own merit. Plus, we were selling the Lincoln Navigator full-sized luxury SUV in droves back then, too.

    As you will note above, there are several different approaches that may be taken towards developing a successful ISD. The idea is to have a dealer or organization willing to pay competitively to have good people in place.

    With just ‘good’ people, the bad habits are cut down significantly and training becomes auto-piloted and the managers get to be best at their assigned duty to work with and help every member of the team reach optimal capacity.

  9. I am trying to intergrate the Internet Department with the Sales Floor, however we all know that it is dificult. Do any of you have any ideas?

    •  @Mallory Keller Mallory, that’s one loaded question. You may want to join and search through our forums at http://forum.dealerrefresh.com.
       
      First thing to consider – is upper management on board with this initiative? If not, then you’ll be fighting a loosing battle from day one.

  10. Can someone please tell me if this sounds normal or fair ? I work at a dealer that sells 140 cars new and used combined. We have a BDC who sets all the appointments for the floor and the Internet. All the Internet leads via email or phone using the “internet phone”go to two salesmen and the phone ups to the floor. The Internet team sells 20-25 cars each while the floor team averages about 12-15 each. Seems to me a bit unfair since the BDC sets the appointments and does the follow up. Does anyone have a system that keeps the whole floor happy and making money ?

  11. I think that it’s a very good think to intergrate the Internet Department with the Sales Floor. they are gettinig closer, online and offline sales must work together! thanks for the post and keep up the good work!

  12. Interesting discussions.  I am starting over after wiping myself out in the stock market.  Sales is my chosen profession going forward, and I am seriously considering going into automotive sales.  It’s my hope you can give me some advice.
     
    I’ve spoken to multiple dealerships now.  One had a classic floor sales team, who they try to motivate to use the phone more, but surprisingly did not even use emails or have email addresses on their website or biz cards.  Others had floor sales staff and e-commerce staff.  One seemed to have some organized way to distribute both leads and walk-in traffic so there seemed to be some fairness in their distribution.  Most seemed to just leave it up to the guys and gals on the sales floor, so whoever was most aggressive and got to someone first go that person. 
     
    I can sell, phone or face to face, and can write well, so emails are fine too.  Ideally, I would like a combination of all three, but ultimately my interest is where I would most likely be able to make a steadier and greater income, in this ever evolving high tech world we are in.  Auto sales guys have long had a bad reputation, but as with anything, there are good and bad.  I’ve heard people complain how the internet is causing incomes to drop.  That said, I imagine there has to be a way to leverage the Internet and the phone together to make more money, not less.  I like that this kind of sales career is community based.  I like the income potential, and being able to be both indoors and outdoors, speaking with people on the phone, speaking with them in person, and building a network of contacts/prospects as I go about my daily life.
     
    I had been thinking that if I could find a dealership, new and used, that had enough walk-in traffic that over time I could average maybe a $3k-$4k/mo income just from that, and get creative and motivated daily using the phone to reach out and build a larger customer base and referral network that way, that added effort would be what it took to get me to six figures annually. 
     
    Now, hearing all the high income promises in job postings, and the wide variety of dealership approaches to this changing environment, I don’t know what to think.  Now, I am imagining that there might be a dealership that has e-commerce/phone sales people who not only take incoming emails and calls, but can proactively call out, and thru either approach get to keep those prospects, build those relationships, and ultimately schedule in-person appointments for me not for some else.  I think the relationship should be maintained with one person beginning to end, but I am concerned that e-commerce/phone sales people are used more to set appointments for floor sales staff. 
     
    I would either want to be on the floor, but free to use my smart phone to be dialing out and answering forwarded calls, between any walk-in traffic that occurs, maybe going to my desk sporadically, or be a straight on e-commerce/phone sales guy, not a floor sales guy, but be able to set and keep all my own appointments, maybe even taking walk-in traffic from time to time during busy periods.
     
    Can any of you tell me if any of the above scenarious are realistic?  In which scenario would I be more likely to make a greater income, as a floor sales guy, or an e-commerce/phone sales guy?  Other suggestions?  Thank you so much.

  13. Mallory Keller Mallory,
    My Internet Department and my sales floor is very integrated.  It may not work for everyone but it works here.  I have a single person who does my BDC and I have a Internet manager and myself.  We take in all the leads new  and used and when a appointment has been set and the customer comes in we introduce them to a trusted salesperson that we work with.  It seems to make the whole store money this way and everyone is very happy.

  14. Mallory Keller Mallory,
    My Internet Department and my sales floor is very integrated.  It may not work for everyone but it works here.  I have a single person who does my BDC and I have a Internet manager and myself.  We take in all the leads new  and used and when a appointment has been set and the customer comes in we introduce them to a trusted salesperson that we work with.  It seems to make the whole store money this way and everyone is very happy.