Opinions & Advice

“I Don’t Like to Look at a Screen”

image of Virtual Handshake

Don’t know about you but when I saw this headline quote “I don’t like to look at a screen. I like to look at a face”, of the latest Automotive News issue and its article NET LOSS : Few dealerships master the art of handling online leadsI almost lost it.

The article written by Donna Harris reflected on several dealerships around the nation and how they handle 3rd party leads and incoming flood of Internet generated leads through other venues. It was a well written piece and gave a very good glimpse on the current Status Quo in our automotive Internet Sales World. Everything was fine until I “stepped” on the quote of a sales person, a sales veteran for more than 20 years of domestic brand.

I don’t like to look at a screen. I like to look at a face.” is telling me as a leader of several Internet teams, that this Gentleman should definitely not receive any leads. Why – because of his preconditioning and seeing the Internet as the reason (and I quote) “online price competition has slashed his pay in the last few years in half…the Internet has created a cold sales environment”. Wow, and I thought that “off-line marketing oriented sales pro’s” from the past have learned something in the last 7 years.

I actually feel personally offended by the comment made, and by sales people who are seeking reason for their staling performance and smaller pay stubs on the technology site and not by themselves. What they do not understand is that the technology factor is a daily beast, and you need to adapt – whatever it takes and time it will take to get it right.

When I would have had the attitude in 2001 – “I don’t like to look at a screen. I like to look at a face”…guess what, I would have never met my beautiful wife, would never have three tremendous kids, and possible would still sit in Germany and paying 49% income tax. I met my wife 10 years ago on “the screen”, via AOL pen pals, and without having a face attached to the written communication, we hit it pretty much off.

Because I saw the opportunity what the Internet actually was able to give to an open minded person, I met my wife months and months later in the U.S. – when you want it is almost like a mid-funnel automotive buyer, who still is figuring out what model she wants.

Sticking to this engaging “new” medium at this point (a.k.a. email) – hitting the send and the reply button, this initial pen pal conversation went far further then ever anybody had thought it would be possible. We kept it interesting and information was flowing back and forth. Nothing different then an Internet lead inquiry, where you as a sales pro have the duty to keep the communication flow interesting and in timely manner.

So please; You Sales People in the world out there – promise me to start checking on your attitude and tweak it accordingly and show me a virtual smile when you receive an Internet lead. Just don’t judge Internet Leads as “evil”, but see the entire technological metamorphosis as an opportunity to make your email response stand-out and its content count – when you want just see it as your first “firm handshake!

All I can say here VJ is that the Professional Sales Consultants are Auto Retail Future, and that they need our empathy. Our innovation, and their books of business and brilliance in face-to-face interactions are a dynamic synergy. And, we must remember also, the traditional Auto Retail Professional Sales Consultant has been the handler of 'the handshake' in Auto Retail Past, is the manager of 'the handshake' in Auto Retail Present, and will absolutely own 'the handshake' of Auto Retail Future. Afterall, the best sales personnel typically ascends to the heights of management, and then on to dealering, and are the fabric of the entire auto retail sector. We must embrace the valuable insights and opinions of these professional sales consultants, and use them to help us manage a conversation that has rendered the traditional auto retail value proposition dysfunctional over the years. At the core of the matter is the conversation leading up to 'the handshake', (which truly has been too "discount" and "price" focused) and I think the experience of this gentleman spanning 20+ years is indicative of just how vital it is that we innovate our way into a better value proposition for all involved. And, OEM's and Dealers, and Vendors all profit because of the 50-50 value proposition 'the handshake' represents between the consultant and the consumer. Put plainly, "nothing happens until something is sold".
I agree especially with EMPATHY - on both sites. You know we German are known as the sometimes "tough love" guys and galls and we speak it out like we think it - no fluff, no "political correctness" (what is that anyway?). That sales people coming to the conclusion that Internet Leads are slashing their profits and income shows me that something in a dealership's process must be not work well enough. From my current experience, we are converting more and more into an internet store, with front-end profits in the $2K-$4K still achieving, and yes - from Internet leads as well.
It needs to start from the leadership level who explains these opportunities to its sales staff and points out the increasing inquiry flow over the months and years to come. Profit marging too low? - Send your used car director to auctions, who are known for "bargain pricing" (most likely in the heartland and the upper Northern states - instead to send him or her off to Orlando and all the sunny places where top "wholesale" dollars are being paid. So with processes like this (and many more) you can increase demand and still hold gross and make a good paycheck - I see it here at my dealership every pay-period - the typical "mini" commission for Internet Guys is rare.
Otherwise I appreciate very much your comment and nutrition of thoughts you brought in this discussion. Enjoy the Orlando conference!
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  • April 15, 2011
I've been reading your site for a few years now but never had cause to comment until reading this article. I am an F&I manager, but I still pay attention to salespeople and try to keep current on what's happening in my store and in the stores of my collegues around town. I've come to several conclusions....maybe y'all on this site can provide some feedback and answer a question I have.

It seems that very few stores (at least in my city) have true BDC departments. Everybody still has the traditional ISM or Internet "Department", the guy(s) or gal(s) who handle all the marketing, pictures, email quotes, phone calls, follow-ups and sales of any customer branded as an "Internet" lead. The floor salespeople are relegated to the sidelines and must depend on walk-up traffic to make their living. Doesnt this create the exact kind of resentment and "anti-Internet" attitude of salespeople? When I look at my store and I see the floor salespeople making 2-3K a month and struggling to survive and fighting over the few walk-ins we have and then I see the Internet Manager making over 12K a month (with a 2% close rate for new cars and a 10% close rate for used...he cherry picks like nobody's business) I see why a lot of stores are becoming sour on hiring veterans because of a perceived bad attitude or arent able to keep good people with a lot of experience. If 95% of your customers are "Internet" customers, then why is there only one department in a store allowed to handle them? Think back to the late 90's and early 2000's when Internet departments were in their infancy in car dealerships. If the GM called a sales meeting and said "Hey Billy, you are the only person allowed to take floor ups and sales calls. You will get about 250 opportunities to make a sale every month. The rest of you 15 salespeople have to split the 25 email leads we get every month" how do you think that would have gone over with the staff? My perspective is that the same thing is happening now, just in reverse.

Oh, and what if that same GM said "Just to make it more challenging (and to lower my comp payout) I am going to change the pay plan and make it volume-based." Really??

Maybe this is why veterans are so soured on the concept of the Internet customer? Maybe this is why their paychecks have been slashed? I don't know....but this is what I see in my own store and hear from a multitude of industry veterans from all kinds of stores big and small and from a variety of franchises.

You guys seem to be the experts in your field. Feedback??
Stephanie - welcome to having a voice on DealerRefresh! From your response, I have to say, I look forward to you speaking-up more often. That was a fantastic first comment - thank you!

I read the same article VJ did. I read it 3 times because it shocked me so much. It really made me think how backwards our process is and I think you stated that perfectly.

I imagine most of the early Internet Managers started much like I did; simply being the youngest kid on the sales floor who could type. What our bosses didn't realize is that there was more here than just typing skills. We were capable of visualizing full customer engagement without having to have a person sitting in front of us. It was a skill when I started, but I think it is the norm today (maybe my thinking is a little wishful). There is a new problem evolving, and Donna's Automotive News article hit on it: the Internet staff is too good at email. Too many Internet personnel prefer to email than to pick-up the phone. Unfortunately a lot is lost in typed communication and the phone is absolutely the second step in getting a customer, who submits an Internet Lead, in the door. That's a bit of a tangent, but I think it is an important tangent to reveal in this comment string.

To get back to the answer to your question...

In my opinion, it is quite simply a lack of understanding on management's part. Look at your management. Did they grow-up on a computer? Or did they start by selling cars and working up the totem pole in the traditional fashion? If so, it is going to take them some time to adapt to the new landscape. In the interim there is a great workaround called a "BDC." A BDC should be staffed with people who are only responsible for qualifying a lead into a physical customer (put simply: they handle phone and Internet traffic until it is in the store or has a scheduled appointment). These are people who prefer to not work with a customer in person; a staff that compliments a sales floor who only wants to work with a customer in person.

I call a BDC a workaround because the customer has adapted to communicating online and in person, but our main sales employees have not. To get around this issue a BDC is necessary. Some day, I hope, we will hire more rounded individuals who can handle all forms of common communication mediums.

The BDC is also necessary because of the cherry-picking Internet manager you mentioned. He has to cherry-pick because he has too much on his plate. He needs to become the digital expert (eCommerce Director is the common title) who manages the "non-traditional" including BDC personnel.

There is another beast at play too. The month to month mentality. I can write a series of novels on this topic, but will try to limit my response by stating: VISION is required to do good hiring, enforce proper process, and see the light at the end of the road. If it is just about hitting a sales number or gross then you're stuck in 1983. There are too many complexities today to view anything as linear.

Ask your boss if he has a 2 year plan. Ask him what his plan is for market leadership. Ask him when he plans to retire. A good leader has these answers. If he doesn't, then he is just another month to month car guy.
P.S. I cannot be politically correct nor can I shoot anyone anywhere other than between the eyes. I'm very blunt.
Stephanie, great response and as Alex said already; WELCOME to the community. You did wonderful in describing exactly what so many dealership "leadership teams" out there are lacking - Empathy, Innovation and Responsibility. I am actually not "sour" of the Gentleman and his quote, but most likely that it evencame to this and that he has the impression "it's evil". There is surely somehow a neglected process which made him tell how he see's it.
Too often did I see in the past (and present) that actually 2 competing teams are being created, as you described - on the sidlines the floor sales guys and on the right corner the Internet team. Floor sales people don't like Internet people "because they are getting all the leads" and Internet people see the floor sales guys as "the merit award team" or "cheese brother" (I honestly heart twice), who are getting spoon-fed by the SM or GSM.

It is something wrong when you see this kind of happening in your dealership is taken place and I applaud Alex, pointing it out. Email - Email -Email and the phone, our most important "weapon in sales", is almost not used any longer. How did one of a trainer I had in the pst said: You are wrting for the show - and phone for the dough". How true is that.

And last but not least @Alex - I know you have some German in you, otherwise I could not explain your bold and simple approach to name things by its name. Just like me. Hope you are doing well

Good Luck @Stephanie, and do not forget to ask the question Alex pointed out at the end!
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  • April 16, 2011
All very good points Alex, thank you for the response. I would love to ask my GM all those very pertinent questions, but I am making a solid attempt to tone down my feisty side lol. Like a lot of GM's and dealer principals I don't think he has the right answers and therefore wouldn't very much care for the questions.

It's nice to get some perspective from other people. It sounds like the way my store is run is typical. What scares me is that the economy and the car business are slowly coming back to life and I want the professionals in this industy to be prepared. It's for all our benefit. Even as an F&I person I see the powerful impact that not properly handling E-Traffic (is that a word??) can have on all profit sectors in a store.

Maybe I am being too idealistic, but how hard can it be to structure a store with an effective BDC? How hard can it be to open up sales opportunities on a fairer basis for the staff? How hard can it be to provide some training if necessary? Nevermind, I know the answer to those questions. It's all about execution on the part of owners and managers. I believe that they can have all the vision they want, they can have an awesome 2 year plan but if they suffer from a failure to execute then we are in trouble with a Capital T.
I am amazed at how well this entire site is maintained and monitored. This article, like all articles on DealerRefresh, is timely, important and devoid of SALES PITCHES. I cannot tell you how I much I want to puke when I read ADM. It is nothing more than 20 or so people posting useless crap meant to make themselves or their companies look good (in real life and to Google).

It seems every article on ADM is posted in more than a dozen other places. I call that spam.

Keep up the good work guys and nice job VJ!
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • April 17, 2011
Munch, on behalf of myself, Alex, Joe and the dealerrefresh community...Thank You!
Munch Hausen (referring of the German Baron of Munchhausen - nice touch) I appreciate your compliment and yes, I love post without a little bit "less" sales pitches as well. Thank you again Jeff and Alex for giving me the opportunity to have this post I wrote on the community. When you want a I have "possibly" a few more.