Dealership MarketingIndustry News & Trends

Q&A with Mike McFall, President of Black Book Online

blackbook credit activator

Black Book Online offers Dealerships the “Super Lead”

With the announcement of the new Credit Activator, Black Book Online is offering dealerships a “Super Lead“. Most DealerRefreshers are very familiar, if not already a user of Black Book Online trade appraisal service. We’ve had many discussions around trade appraisal tools for dealership websites here on DealerRefresh but this new service is quiet different from the usual Black Book Online offering.

I sat down with Mike McFall, President of Black Book Online,  for a quick Q&A about the new service.

Follow the jump for the Q&A

Jeff – What exactly is this Credit Activator Service?

Mike – Credit Activator is a new service offered by Black Book as part of the Activator Complete package. It offers online shoppers a realistic estimate of their credit score so they’re better prepared to meet with a dealer, and in turn, the dealer receives a promising sales lead.  The process takes about 3 minutes to complete and doesn’t require sensitive personal information or a credit bureau inquiry.

Jeff – What made you decide to offer a service like this?

Mike – We determined that there was a need. In testing on other product concepts and in formal research, a recurring theme from customers is the need for access to information about credit. Car shoppers want to know where they stand before visiting the dealer.  But to get a bureau based score, they must either pay a fee or be willing to submit personal information like date of birth and SSN. We developed a better way.

Jeff – How does Credit Activator it work?

Mike –  Unlike a formal credit application, the Credit Activator process asks customers to complete a few short answer questions. In return, they get an instant credit score estimate that allows them to shop with more confidence.  You can go to and experience the process yourself.

Jeff – Why is this concept unique?

Mike –  We are creating a Super Lead for dealers. Connecting a credit score estimate to a lead service is the first step – the second is offering a connection with the trade appraisal. Customers will have the option to get both the appraisal and credit score estimate on the dealer website.  These customers become “Super Leads” because they’ve indicated their purchase intent and a large portion of the buying process has already been done online.

Jeff – What exactly is a “Super Lead”?

Mike –  Most leads offer very little information to the dealer, usually just customer name, vehicle preference and contact information.  A Super Lead is different because it includes information about the customer trade-in vehicle and the customer credit score.  The more a Dealer knows about the customer the easier it is to arrange a visit and sell a car.

Jeff – Do customers really want a credit score estimate?

Mike – Yes. A recent study conducted by Harris Interactive indicates that 91% of car shoppers would select a dealer who offered more transparency in lending options.  More than 12 months of testing with 18 pilot dealers confirms this finding.

Jeff – How was the credit score process created?

Mike – Our own internal experts, drawn from banks like Wachovia, created this patent pending scoring engine which is tuned especially for auto lending. Black Book is known for the best used car values, which are also used by lenders.  So, it’s natural that we would expand our services in to the credit area.

Jeff – How do automotive manufacturers and dealers benefit?

Mike – The results from our pilot program show that when placed on a dealer website, the Credit Activator product can double the lead volume compared to having the trade-in service only.

Jeff – Will lenders use the score estimate to grant credit?

Mike – No, the score estimate is not intended to replace the normal credit review process at the dealership.  But, dealers report that it can help reduce the amount of time customers must spend buying a car.

Jeff – How does Credit Activator compare to other similar services like FICO?

Mike – Credit Activator is a truly unique, patent pending service.  It provides a credit score range estimate based on questions relating to a user’s finances. Users are not required to supply a credit card, date of birth or Social Security Number and are not required to sign up for a monthly service.  And the entire process takes less than three minutes for the average user to complete.

Jeff – Why would dealers want to offer this new service?

Mike – This new service works for all dealers who have websites and who want to sell more cars.  Dealers can expect to increase their website lead volume by including the new service. Our pilot program reflects this.

Mike, thanks for taking a few minutes out of your busy day to answer a few questions for the DR community. It was a real pleasure. I’ll be looking into the Credit Activator service myself for my dealerships.

If anyone has additional questions, use the comment section below and ask away!

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
It's an interesting concept for sure. Would love to see it in action and more importantly hear what sort of success dealers are having with it. Is it accurate? Generating more leads? Any drawbacks?
Mr McFall,

I just toured the Black Book Credit Activator(BBCA). I liked the concept VERY MUCH, it harvested a lead, but with the results it produced conservative but accurate results for me. When I was over, I see you've tied it to a tradein form (which left me puzzled). I wanted it to take me deeper in the shopping experience!

Rather than moving to a tradein form, if you could transition to product selection, I think your hook (in the shopper) would sink far deeper. I realize your handcuffed technically, but I love your product and I'd like to see it grow AND it's value will grow exponentially if it's nested deeply in dealers sites.

I'll ramble a bit... but don't worry, all of it's tactical! I hope you and your team can find a few high ROI jewels!

As a shopper, I'd like the BBCA to tell me what common interest rates are found for my BBCA results (nationwide). To get this interest rate info, we'd need the shopper to input generalized vehicle preferences as interest rates from lending institutions are vehicle dependent. Is the shopper looking for new or used? Used with very low miles and under one model year old, or, an older used [higher rates here]). For factory finance incentives, there is a whole flow chart possible for new car finance incentives "You May Qualify for Nissan's 0% __month financing! [click here] for express service!"

At this point we're educating the shopper that vehicle choice will influence interest rates. This added variable further complicates the choices and commits the shopper to have a SMILING PERSON explain all this to them (read: dealer).

So far, that's easy, let's raise the bar!
We've got a credit score range and a general idea what the person is shopping for. The shopper is very close to a very personal shopping experience. Then, if we had a perfect world, the BBCA would dish up a BBCA pick list from my inventory. Can we do that? I think we can!

Black Book Credit Activator(BBCA) Shopping assistant.
BBCA system produces credit score projections and BBCA asks if they'd like a "shopping assistant" to help them find opportunities that match their proposed budget. Shopper agrees and creates CCBA membership login (at dealer site).

Black Book takes my inventory feed & presses it against BBCA query results, and produces a BBCA shopping list (disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer).

This would make an excellent PURL page (, or,

IDEA 2) BBCA "YES!!" icon
Behind the scenes, Black Book takes my inventory feed & presses it against the BBCA members Credit score results and downpayment and budget range. This produces a personal BBCA "YES!!" list. Matching vehicles sit on a file that my web site calls. If "YES!!" = stock#P55467, then "YES!!" icon is displayed on SRP and VDP.

Phase 2, the BBCA Automatic Lead Generator.
Each BBCA Member has built a dynamic query that drops it's results into a members file. Each evening inventory is refreshed and any NEW matches are emailed to the BBCA member and a dupe is emailed to the dealers adf address (dealers CRM input) so the previously assigned sales rep can interact with it.

Now we're hookin' the stealth shopper with super personal results! A great set up for highly productive repeat visits!

I tossed this together in a few hours, surely, I've missed some detail that'll slow this up. But, I should be real close! Lastly, If I am a website vendor and I can resell this to my subscribers, I'm in!

How'd I do? Thoughts?
woops, one more mod Mr. McFall,

We all know Bad things Happen to Good People...

Just when has Mr Good Guy fixed is poor score?

For those people with marginal or poor scores, BBCA dishes out credit help newsletters and follows them for months/years. BBCA invites them to re-test their score periodically. If I were running BBCA, I'd find credit repair agencies that want to purchace/rent my lead list, or, have these credit repair co's. create content and advertise on the BBCA newsletter (read: new revenue from idle leads). Once the credit has been repaired, BBCA resells that lead to dealers "Congratulations, your Credit repair work looks great!"
Mike - Thank you for taking the time to work with Jeff on this. The BBCA sounds like a fantastic tool. It sounds even better with Joe signing its praise.

We need to catch-up again.
Very nice approach as I read the Q&A... This will not just prepare the customer but as you mentioned prepare the sales consultant with helping them with the proper vehicle / lending based on their estimated score.

Great stuff and looking forward to seeing its success & dealer responses!
  • M
    Mike McFall
  • April 28, 2011
You can get a score without creating a lead at our demo site if you like. We have about a dozen dealers in the pilot, one of the best is Mike Maher of Weber Chevrolet in Missouri. He is seeing more than a lead a day using Credit Activator. Here is his comment.

“Dealership sales managers need to make the best use of their time and resources, which is why we often rely on leads. But, they have to be the right leads,” Maher said. “By using this new product, we have received 65 leads and sold 6 cars to date. It helps us by directing us to the right car buyers. This is a great product for your internet department’s tool box.”
  • M
    Mike Mcfall
  • April 28, 2011
Joe, I am thrilled that our initial concept has inspired such creative thinking. We hope lots of innnovation in credit process will result and that others will folllow your lead in heping us extend this basic idea into even more value to dealers and transparancy for customers.

We are really intrigued by the idea of pre selecting inventory based on the score. As you note, this is the next logical step. We also like the trade in link as a next step because it creates a super lead with the information delers need to engage customers.

Providing a link to interest rates is a big idea but we found some concern in our initial testing about protecting F&I margins so we deferred on this for a while. Linking to incentivised rates, credit repair services and leveraging credit score in a BDC environment are also natrual extensions.

I promise that you will be hearing more from us very soon about the ideas you have suggested and some other very interesting enhancements.

Finally, i would challenge you and otehrs to think about how this idea might be used in social media. Do you see it as a friendly and empowering way to engage customers in that context?

Thanks for the input!
  • D
  • January 3, 2012
Not hearing a lot of Buzz around this tool. What happened to it? Anyone using it with success?