Industry News & Trends

Digital Dealer Magazine – was that my mug shot on the cover?

Digidealer_coverOn the cover of Digital Dealer Magazine

I was actually hesitant on posting about this for some reason. I’m not the conceited type believe or not.

It was actually nice to be on the cover of the thinnest Digital Dealer Magazine ever. And the article I thought read well, thanks to Laurie Halter over at Charisma Communications. Thanks Laurie, you did a great job.

If you have not noticed, Mark Dubis is no longer with Digital Dealer as the editor and Sandi Jerome is back on the hot seat. It was evident that my cover story was a little different then what maybe you have been used to reading over the last year or so.

I will express that I’m a little pissed. In the original copy, there was a small blurb about DealerRefresh but for some reason that never made its way into the final article. Hummm…why is that?

Anyways, I’m the type that is rarely happy with the final result and is always looking for better, so as I read the article I feel as if I need to better clarify myself on a few of the subjects. Therefore I think I will take the next few weeks to dig deeper into a few of the subjects in the cover story.

If one thing came out of being on the cover, it was that I needed to head on over to! HA!

If you would like to read the entire article I have posted it below.

Jeff Kershner – Digital Dealer Magazine Interview- Internet Sales Manager- Mercedes Benz of Hagerstown – by : Digital Dealer

With an average of over 30 percent of monthly dealership sales generated from the Mercedes-Benz of Hagerstown dealer online marketing efforts, Jeff Kershner, Internet sales manager, is doing a lot of things right to attract buyers and turn Internet leads into sales. A passion for new Internet trends, like blogs, online social networks, viral marketing and search engine optimization, coupled with a solid belief in essential business practices like prompt follow-up on leads, has led Kershner to build a growing Internet business for the dealership. In the following interview, Kershner explores Internet tools that have worked to pull in leads, explains how dealerships can effectively use the new Internet trends, and tells us why one “old-fashioned” sales technique will never go out of style.

What is your current position in the automotive business?

I am the Internet sales and marketing manager for Mercedes-Benz of Hagerstown in Hagerstown, Maryland. I have been in this position for a little over two years. I manage all of the Internet leads and the follow-up activities performed by the sales team. I also desk deals, appraise vehicles, manage our online inventory, our dealership blog, online service coupons, incentives and everything else having to do with our online marketing efforts.

Can you tell me more about your dealership blog?

I started our dealer blog back in September of 2005 but have just started to get serious about it lately. We’re actually in the process of completely re-designing it (which should be live by the time you read this – A dealer blog can be very powerful because it’s a great way to communicate with your customers and drive new traffic to your dealer web site, but dealers need to be realistic about how much work a blog is. To be effective, a blog needs to be updated at least weekly (at minimum), and most dealers don’t have the appropriate resources to accomplish that. Also, for a blog to be a true quintessential element of your dealership online marketing efforts you need to understand how the search engines work.

How do you define search engine optimization (SEO)?

“Snake oil” – I’m kidding, of course, but dealers do need to be careful with services selling SEO and automotive search engine marketing (SEM). SEO is used to describe the technique of optimizing your dealership web site to enhance its chances of being ranked in the top results of a search engine once a relevant search is undertaken. A number of factors are important when optimizing a web site, including the content and
structure of the web site’s copy and page layout, the HTML meta-tags on the page, off-page optimization and the submission process. If SEO is going to be a part of your online marketing arsenal then you need to have a good understanding of it and dealers need to be careful with what vendors they choose and what web site providers they work with to host their web site. Too much flash and frames are a big no-no!

Do you think hiring a vendor for SEO will increase a dealership’s Internet sales?

Not necessarily. You can optimize your site to attract more traffic, but that does not mean that you’re going to turn all the extra traffic into additional leads and sales. What a dealer needs is a web site that can convert traffic into leads. A lot of dealer web sites aren’t primed for lead conversion. To convert traffic into leads there are many factors to consider: the right call to actions, persuasive copy with compelling content, navigation and layout, just to name a few.

It’s time to move dealer web sites to the next level. Rather then using your web site to just show inventory and specials, dealers need to use their web sites to build value in the services they provide. One small example of including compelling content to build value would be to hyperlink the words “certified pre-owned” when using them to describe your online inventory. This way, the buyer can click on the link and learn what “certified pre-owned” means. They are learning something about your services in the process of shopping your inventory. Along with having good content, also make sure that every page of the web site has your phone number on it in big lettering. A phone number can be your strongest call to action. I end every vehicle description with our phone number; these same descriptions carry over to my other online marketing ads. I get more phone calls by using the phone number that I include in my vehicle descriptions than the free tracked phone number third-party lead sources provide. Again, it’s all about placement and persuasive copy. A great book that I recommend on this subject is “Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results” by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg.

What Internet sales tools on your dealership website have worked to pull in leads?

For us, having an online trade appraisal tool works well to bring in leads. I currently use Black Book Activator, and because it gives a broad range of accurate possible values, I haven’t had any customers coming in and receiving an unexpectedly low amount for a vehicle. Plus when the customer does visit the showroom, I know they have used our online trade appraisal and we can structure the deal accordingly.

The biggest problem with the appraisal form is that it can produce just as many bogus leads as good leads (especially when your web site is strong in the search engines), therefore I personally qualify these leads
before assigning them over to a salesperson. For some dealers it can be difficult to get the buy-in from their used car manager because they often don’t want to give out trade numbers before seeing and appraising the vehicle.

Having updated specials on our web site can also produce many phone calls and leads. It’s imperative that you keep your specials page updated; it’s one of the most visited pages on a dealer’s web site, however, most dealers never update their specials pages. Service coupons can also be an overlooked but a very important factor that keeps customers coming back to your dealership web site. In the past when we haven’t had service coupons on our site, I’ve actually had calls from customers looking for them. How about an RSS feed for your sales and service specials?

Do you use e-mail campaigns to pull in leads or service appointments?

I use a separate database that is set up by customer name and vehicle of interest that I use for e-mail campaigns. I don’t advise that dealers use their CRM for “blasting” out e-mail sales campaigns because when
you do, with time you can run the chance of getting your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or e-mail blacklisted. Your CRM program is for managing customer relationships, not for managing your advertising. I’ve found that we can dramatically decrease our opt-out rate by sending e-mails that are more targeted, so a customer gets e-mails about a vehicle that they are interested in, not an e-mail containing irrelevant information.

You mentioned that you created a MySpace page for your dealership. How do you see dealerships jumping on the trend of online social networks?

Social networking for dealers can be a tricky avenue for dealers so you have to be careful. I did create a MySpace page for our dealer: I did it for brand awareness within the local community, and I think that it is the best thing a dealership can use it for. It’s all about getting your name out there. I made our page personal, with a photo of myself, photos of the dealer and details about our business. I also upload our commercials and post information about our current models and provide a few links to our dealer web site and blog.

The thing to remember when using social networks for marketing is whom you are dealing with. These are “today’s” consumers. Today’s consumers pull the information and marketing that they see fit to persuade their buying decisions. Today’s consumers shy away from the old conventional “shove down your throat” advertising. Also remember that there’s no way of measuring the value in dollars of having a MySpace page or other social marketing avenues. This type of marketing space is best used for dealer brand awareness, which might not get you a sale today, but could increase your visibility and reputation for future sales. I also make use of YouTube for public awareness and viral marketing. It’s the idea that if one person sees your stuff and likes it, they’ll send it to all their friends, who will send it to all their friends, and so on. I post all of our dealership commercials and vehicle walk around videos on YouTube.

You are definitely at the forefront of new online trends. Do you subscribe to any “old-fashioned” techniques to bring in leads and convert them to sales?

Fast follow-up by phone is essential to making sales. Get the customer on the phone, build rapport like no other, and gather the right information by asking the right questions. Know your inventory and explain the benefits (this is why I personally take photos and write detailed descriptions of each one of our used cars).  My floor sales team is my “Internet sales team” (and a great team I have!). I’ve trained them to use our CRM, best practices for Internet sales, follow-up process and how to use the phone. When I assign them an e-mail lead, they immediately pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. If they can’t get the customer on the phone, they use a crafty e-mail template I’ve created that tells the customer that their request for information has been received, and we have tried to call. The salesperson then follows up with another phone call to the customer within 45 minutes. We don’t give up until we get the customer on the phone and since we are not a volume dealer, we don’t waste any time with people looking for no money making deals!

Most of the Internet phone calls come through me first; I then assign the customer to the salesperson that best matches the customer’s personality. I know my salespeople very well, so I match up my leads/customers according to what I perceive the personality to be of each member of my sales team.

What final piece of advice would you give to Internet sales managers out there trying to turn their Internet traffic into leads?

Know your geographic market area and the shopping habits of the average consumer that resides in those areas. Take full advantage of what your web site offers. If you’re using, Autotrader or any other inventory marketing web site, use all the advantages they have to offer. Don’t second guess yourself and make of the most of every day. Being an effective ISM means having a rare type A/B personality, and losing touch with one or the other can mean the difference of a good or great month. Get out there, meet and greet and get involved with the deals. Do not lose that personal touch that it takes to make a deal. It’s too easy to hide behind the computer every day and take credit for sales without shaking the hands of the customers that just bought a vehicle from your dealership.

NOTE: This Digital Dealer Magazine interview was featured in the May 2007 Edition

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.

Pretty good read. I think they did a good job demonstrating to readers that emerging media and advertising trends are real. I suspect the fact that they removed reference to DealerRefresh itself is because Roscoe would see it as a threat to his readership. I have run in to this on occasion, with the Ask Patty folk most recently. I think these are examples how business is in this industry. A lot of people are "afraid of the competition" which in this case is just silly because DR is certainly not a competitive threat to DDM. Hopefully soon people will start realizing that. There is too much "old school" thinking in the automotive industry and it really holds things back in my opinion. The Real Estate industry seems a bit more enlightened on these emerging media trends, and definitely other publications and communications companies out there not in automotive.

Congratulations on the interview. Your baby face really came out nicely on the cover, hehe.
I saw a commercial for Weight Watchers this morning. If you sign-up now, you can get an extra day of meals for free - what a deal! :)


You bring up a good point. It reminds me of a Wired Magazine article from a month or two ago about "transparent business". It mainly referenced blogs as being outlets for companies to expose their true business practices. It promoted the linking of competitive entities for the betterment of evolving an industry. Think of this as a blogging "20 Group", but within your own marketplace.

You're absolutely correct on there being too much "old-school" thinking within the car industry. It can be very frustrating when speaking to progressive thinkers, such as the participants on DealerRefresh.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 8, 2007
Alex, I read that same article in Wired as well.

I wonder if Manufacturers will ever get onboard with blogging or ever take a "web 2.0" approach with the social networking? I could see Scion and for some reason Subaru being really successful with social networking. I'm sure most companies are afraid of the transparency.

Oh too, I opted not to do the meal packages. Thanks for the heads up though!!
  • K
    Keith Latman
  • June 12, 2007
I don't think kindly of you all that infer Jeff is fat. Success adds a few pounds and I for one think he looks brilliant
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 12, 2007
Keith, Umm..gee...we'll...thanks? Ha.
Tell it how it is Jeff! That's why I love this site, keeping everyone honest and to stay informed!

Oh yeah, could ya hold me a spot in line behind you at the weightwatchers?!


I have only one regret, that I could not do your interview for DDM before by exit. Maybe I can do a good interview from the new magazine I am working for now.

All the best.

Mark Dubis