Best PracticesDealership MarketingOpinions & Advice

In their face! And other tales from the lead addiction chronicles.

In 2001, I was handed the reigns to my dealer group’s website. Back then, showing a list of cars like a spreadsheet was a big deal. Photos? Ha! Those were untenable due to cost. Third parties weren’t much of a thing, but neither was the online shopping experience. The first dealers to embrace websites became the online authority.

Once OEMs and third party classified joined the party online, and consumers had access to affordable internet, the dealership website was swiftly relegated to the bottom of the shopping funnel. Dealers have been playing the final stop game ever since. The bottom of the funnel is the *final* authority.

The consumer makes contact with the dealer to ascertain two vital pieces of information:

1. Is this vehicle available at your store?

2. How much will it cost me?

These questions are now being asked much higher in the funnel.

Through diligent monitoring and advanced data collection, we stumbled across a revelation. At FRIKINtech, our ability to connect multiple browser sessions across multiple devices opened a window that we previously didn’t even know existed!

My decade of operating Checkered Flag Auto Group’s websites, compounded with 15 years in the automotive trenches with DealerRefresh, followed by nearly a decade at Dealer.com all informed my certainty that car shoppers on dealer’s websites were most likely within one week away from making a purchase.

My brief enlightenment so far at FRIKINtech has revealed the opposite. In fact, a substantial number of online automotive shoppers repeatedly visit the same dealer’s website and revisit the SAME CAR over and over again.

What in the FRIK is going on?? Why doesn’t the shopper go ahead and buy the car or at least submit a contact form if they have unresolved questions? We can now watch, in real-time, as your shopper interacts with the vehicle quote. Interestingly, they have a tendency to stick to the same selections for down payment and financing terms (lease vs. loan, etc.). Are they trying to convince themselves to buy the car? Or, are they contemplating ownership of their first choice while waiting for something better to possibly pop up? A better sale? That’s where I’m placing my bet.

While we continue to unearth car shoppers’ motivations and hesitations, collectively we should all agree that contrary to our earlier beliefs and processes, the purchase decision is not abrupt. Digital body language has revealed that gradual engagement is a more effective approach than “BUY TODAY!!!”

To understand “abrupt engagement” think about gambling, and pornography websites (I said what I said.) It is loud and in your face with pop-ups, pop-unders, screaming chat, flashy lights, and all sorts of irrelevant calls to action all built in the hopes of lead conversion. Yes, dealers, you are right up there with pornography and gambling. How does that make you feel after investing millions in beautiful showrooms and legacies built on decades of serving your local communities? Your websites do not reflect your mission or intentions. Go beyond the home page and examine what a lead-driven pay plan has forced your internet department to build.

Let me get off my soapbox and get back to gradual engagement. If your website visitor is making multiple visits they are looking for something to progressively improve. That could be a fresh, resonating message that tickles their fancy or a price/payment change that entices their wallet. You can achieve both with revolving content and fluctuating prices… or payments.

Content is consumable text or video that references the car. For some shoppers, it might just be a seemingly insignificant/obscure feature that pushes them over the edge. My wife, for example, gets excited when a car can report the weather! And apparently there is no way to know if a vehicle is equipped with this dark magic unless you rev it up and turn on Sirius. Only then you can decipher if the weather subscription add-on is compatible. Not surprisingly, she has yet to find an OEM who mentions the availability of this feature – ANYWHERE. Keep the content coming! Your customers will eat it up no matter if you write it into VDPs, put it on a blog inside your site, or make model landing pages. Content is still king.

Next, there is an easier hurdle: Pricing. Best Buy, the grocery store, Target, and all other retailers mark prices up after something has been on sale. Dealers are too afraid to do this, but it works. Have a sale, lower the prices, and then put those prices right back where they were when the sale ends. Watch what happens. Spoiler alert: Customers will BELIEVE you when there’s a “SALE!!”

Or, even more clever, use the banks to your advantage. Captive lenders don’t compete, but Ally and U.S. Bank do! They wait for Toyota, GM, and Ford to publish rates *before* they publish theirs. Stealthy, they introduce slightly lower rates and residuals. After a week or so, they lower them a little more. A few days later either Ally or U.S. Bank may decide they are all set on that particular model and yield to the other lenders for the remainder of the month.

What a time to be in the car business! So, US Bank is regularly showing lease payments on Accords, for example, for $50 a month *less* than American Honda Financial and dialed in car dealers are attracting more customers without lowering their price. With the right tool at your dealership, all of this can be automated. Yeah. If your wheels aren’t spinning right now, you should just pack it up and go home. This is the future of automotive digital retail – and the future is now.

Gradual Engagement. It is easy to say “No” when all the dealer’s cards are on display. Instead, hold a few aces up your sleeve and reel in your trepidatious website lurkers with progressive enticements. Exploit your shoppers’ uncertainty and appeal to their deal-seeking hesitation by rewarding each revisit.

Some will pop before the lowest final offer is presented. Some will buy on the spot. Others will come back 10 times a day for another “hit.” It’s a path to greater profitability, an enjoyable experience, and, in fact, quite addictive for the consumer who wants nothing more than to beat the system- even if the victory is only perceived. As we all know, the house always wins. That is a gradual engagement.

—————————————-

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...

Gayle Rogers

Full Sticker
Sep 3, 2013
47
40
First Name
Gayle
“But it's easy to talk about and sum it up when you just talk about patience; we're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise dealer, and we're in here talking about patience. I mean, listen, we're talking about patience. Not a lead! Not an appointment! Not a sale! We're talking about patience. Not leads; not the leads that I go out there and die for and respond to every lead like it's my last, not the leads, we're talking about patience, man. I mean, how silly is that? We're talking about patience.”
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Reactions: Alex Snyder

TabFlythe

Full Sticker
Apr 12, 2019
69
52
First Name
Tabitha
Great post, Alex!
It takes 8+ touchpoints for a customer to make a decision to purchase so gradual (while continuous) engagement is so crucial! This means your customer is seeing your ad on Facebook (crafted with their specific vehicle search criteria in mind), your inventory on Instagram, your vehicle specs on your website, your customer reviews on Google, and populating at the top of their search results with a Google Ad (so, there are 5 of the touchpoints you need right there).

Roll that a seasoned sales professional's sales strategy and you have a killer combination that brings leads to the dealer's doorstep - without relying on third-party providers.
 

craigh

Super Moderator
May 19, 2011
1,681
1,150
First Name
Craig
It takes 8+ touchpoints for a customer to make a decision to purchase so gradual (while continuous) engagement is so crucial!
I've always disagreed with this logic and approach - I find it too surface level.
A dealer that advertises on 10 networks (Facebook, Google, billboards, radio, etc) is always going to have more touchpoints per sale than a dealer who spends less but still sells cars. I have never needed a single touchpoint to buy a car, but when I am in the market to buy a car I am overwhelmed with dealer marketing and communications. Just because I see them all, doesn't mean they're actually impacting the sale.
The data often comes from studies where they ask customers "how many times did you see an ad" or "check all the places where you looked before buying" - but none of that actually indicates that these touchpoints are required or actually resulting in a specific sale.

Customers I talk to don't slowly get convinced to buy a car by seeing overwhelming amounts of ads and touchpoints from the dealer - they decide to buy a car and then inevitably see and engage with these things everywhere. We also run countless campaigns where we send a letter to customers and with 1 letter we convince them to come in and buy a car.

Through diligent monitoring and advanced data collection, we stumbled across a revelation. At FRIKINtech, our ability to connect multiple browser sessions across multiple devices opened a window that we previously didn’t even know existed!

My decade of operating Checkered Flag Auto Group’s websites, compounded with 15 years in the automotive trenches with DealerRefresh, followed by nearly a decade at Dealer.com all informed my certainty that car shoppers on dealer’s websites were most likely within one week away from making a purchase.

...

Gradual Engagement. It is easy to say “No” when all the dealer’s cards are on display. Instead, hold a few aces up your sleeve and reel in your trepidatious website lurkers with progressive enticements. Exploit your shoppers’ uncertainty and appeal to their deal-seeking hesitation by rewarding each revisit.

Some will pop before the lowest final offer is presented. Some will buy on the spot. Others will come back 10 times a day for another “hit.” It’s a path to greater profitability, an enjoyable experience, and, in fact, quite addictive for the consumer who wants nothing more than to beat the system- even if the victory is only perceived. As we all know, the house always wins. That is a gradual engagement.
I do agree with all of this, and it aligns with what I tend to see personally (both at the stores I work with and with my own friends/family).
When someone is ready to buy a car, they go to the dealership website to see if the car is available. I also see them go back over and over again to show their spouse, their parents, check if the car is still in stock, drool over it, etc. They're excited about this purchase and many times they'll show you that in the data.
I don't often see people shopping dealership websites if they aren't in the market fairly seriously, as this is a low funnel step where they're often looking for a very specific unit that they've already decided on.