Dealership Marketing

Dealership Call Tracking Study: Three Lessons for 2011

Do car dealerships really know how their advertising dollars are performing?

For an industry that spends as much as it does in advertising, one would assume that they are tracking the return on investment down to the penny and taking action based on what they see.

As a relative newcomer to the world of automotive marketing and call tracking, I was curious about whether or not this was the case. To find an answer I decided to take a hard look at the call and website tracking data from a representative pool for dealerships to see what it was trying to tell me.

For the month of November, I isolated 17 of our larger automotive dealership clients that were tracking all of their calls and dealer website sessions to see if there were some common threads that we could learn from. I looked at total calls and unique callers for each store and then compared that with the percentage that came from the main website. Then I looked at how many web sessions occurred at each store and the associated referring source and referring keyword for each.

This is what I found:

Call Tracking Study Chart

In summary, 17 Large Dealerships included in survey (extreme outliers or bad data was omitted from the
analysis as shown in red above)

  • 56% of calls are coming from their main website # (54% of unique callers)
  • Google is referring 43% of web visitors
  • Roughly 29% of referring keywords are some combination of the dealership name (roughly refers to the fact that defining this variable across 17 stores is not a perfect science)
  • 26% of visitors came in through the direct domain

The first question I asked myself was, “What is this telling us?” Well, I think the data is screaming a few things at us.

  1. Most people are going to the website before calling the dealership (Duh!).
  2. Over 2/3 (69%) of website visitors are coming through Google or the Direct Domain.
  3. Over 1/2 (29% + 26% = 55%) of people knew exactly where they wanted to go when they started their search.

The next question I asked myself was “What does it mean?”. I think there are a couple of important takeaways from the data and not all of them are new.

1. We have known for a while now that the internet was the dominant source for driving phone calls. People are using the internet like the yellow pages.

This study reinforces that and lets us know that most of those people are entering the website before making the call. Embrace that fact! Don’t be afraid to drive everyone to your website. The data tells us they are going there anyways.

Make sure your website is well constructed and invites phone calls. Understand the analytics. We know that a single page view and a phone call are some of the most valuable, so don’t get too upset about your bounce rate.

2. As numbers two and three above highlight, the people visiting your website set out to visit your website before they say down at their computer. They did not find your website while conducting some long drawn out search that eventually led to your site. They sat down and entered your url directly or typed your name into Google. I think that this fact illustrates the vital importance of branding.

How did they know your name? Where did they hear about you or your website? Where did they see it? This data suggests that could have come from any number of sources (, Radio, Print, Facebook, etc . . .). They were branded at some point with your name and initiated a web session based on that prior branding. Make sure your marketing efforts are organized accordingly.

3. Finally, you can see that tracking all of these streams is more challenging than ever, as is interpreting the data. It becomes more important than ever for the marketer to dig into the conversion rates of these secondary channels because there is a high likelihood that they are translating to conversions via Google and Direct Domain due to the branding effect they have on the consumer.

Proper attribution of conversions tied to branding is the next big challenge for marketing analytic companies. In selecting a call tracking provider, dealerships should be sure that the vendor that they select is at the forefront when it comes to technological innovation. If they don’t have this on their radar, you should probably look elsewhere.

As a call tracking provider, we get questions all of the time about the data that we provide, and one of my favorite sayings is “The data is the data, and it doesn’t lie.” The data presented above is valuable information. If you have any marketing budget at all it is absolutely vital that you are looking at the data. It usually tells a story, and the moral of the story is always smart marketers spend less and make more.

Here are a couple of bonus observations from this study:

Bonus #1: All of the dealerships surveyed in this study use CRM and Call Measurement religiously. It is ingrained in their process and culture, dictating much of their sales strategy and approach. All of the dealerships surveyed in this study come from large automotive groups (more than 80 stores) and represent the top producing stores within their respective automotive group. Is there a correlation between the two? As I like to say “The data is the data.”

Bonus #2: The top seven producing dealerships surveyed in this study also utilize outbound call measurement, meaning they track and measure all outbound calls to potential customers. In addition, one of these stores actually received more inbound calls from their Outbound Caller ID than any other source by a wide margin (a blog in and of itself waiting to be written). The moral of this story is, if you’re not using outbound call measurement, why not? The data suggests that you probably should be.

  • B
  • January 13, 2011
Patrick, great article and thank you for sharing this data. I firmly believe that call tracking education and strategies are so important for measuring the return on branding, marketing, and advertising investments.
  • A
    Alex Snyder
  • January 13, 2011
Now that I'm looking at the analytics of thousands of dealers I'm seeing a lot of these same things Patrick. You're absolutely right; branding is HUGE!

Thanks for helping to keep the focus on one of the most critical arenas of profitability. You drive it home with your conclusion "and the moral of the story is always smart marketers spend less and make more." By the way, we too have seen the incredible success of using a tracking number as a caller ID and return call number---with upwards of 37% appointment sets on the "return call"! Automobile sales remains a battle of the strongest, and those that religiously use state of the art tools will continue to dominate at the expense of those that don't.
Patrick, great post. Thanks!

After looking at call tracking for 2 years with a large dealer group, I can attest that from what I was able to with our reporting, everything you have here hold true.

Branding is HUGE. Dealers need to find their balance of directional marketing and branding. Drive everyone to your website and be sure your website is not only a converting machine but gives a true representation of your dealership.
Patrick! Good Shot Bro.

I love good data driven analyses'

Brian says "call tracking education and strategies are so important for measuring the return on branding, marketing, and advertising investments" Agreed Brian.

I think Alex is on the money with "looking at the analytics of thousands of dealers...branding is HUGE!"

Chip's insights are very useful "those that religiously use state of the art tools will continue to dominate at the expense of those that don't."

And Jeff's thoughts "Dealers need to find their balance of directional marketing and branding." is anything but an overstatement.
All these things lead me to similar conclusions. The ABC's are still the ABC's however the way in which we communicate the ABC's are now a little different in effective "speak" & action. The days of fighting passion & killer gross on deals are wearing the already tired consumer out. If dealers want to get high ROI & Long term results, I would recommend putting down the Red Bulls, Coffee, & Machine Guns. Rational thought seems to be a feat only avatars can reach when you consume & use these potions & vices. So first things first...let’s get functional for the average dealer…put the caffeine down, take your finger off the trigger, & take a deep breath. Next comes reading great articles like Patrick’s…then next implementing these devices in your dealership. Car dealers are tired, vendors are tired, & consumers are tired. Winning battles are awesome. Selling cars by solving problems without battling is even better. Evolution is very important. So while passion is fabulous, I believe the compassionate dealer will be the victor in the days to come.

Great article! Of course you've only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. The meat of the iceberg is what happens once a dealership employee answers, or in some cases doesn't answer the phone. As Chip can attest, a lot of phone calls are not handled as they should be.

There are a lot of dealers who have call tracking, but fail to utilize it properly. Somebody at the dealership needs to be listening to those calls. The problem, who has time? That's where CallRevu can help. The data they can provide a dealer is of great value. Once you start this process, you'll then realize the opportunity for phone training. Of course this is my specialty at Phone-Up Ninjas.

A three pronged approach will work wonders for any dealer. Employ a call tracking service like Century Interactive, use CallRevu to monitor your calls and then train your people accordingly.

I personally use Century Interactive for all my call tracking needs. If you haven't seen a demo of what they can do, you're missing a huge window of opportunity. I did my due diligence a year ago and they were the logical choice. I would highly recommend you call Leah Becker at Century Interactive and get a demo today. Her number is 214-295-9519.

Sorry for the sales pitch, but this is such a great article and CI deserves the plug.
Great point Jerry. It is suprising how much time and effort goes into ensuring that the showroom floor, sales lot, and customer facing employees make the best possible impression on potential buyers compared to how much time is spent making sure that the impression made on the website and over the phone leaves the buyer happy. More and more people are making decisions based on what the see on the website and what they hear on the phone. Shouldn't we spend some time and money making sure those areas are optimized? I smell another survey article coming.
Brian, You are right on point. Off topic, I saw some information on the upcoming Digital Marketing Strategies Conference. Good stuff.