Dealership Marketing

Seeing The Forest Rather Than Just The Trees

Is “Call Us” Or “Email Us” Really the Best We Can Do On Our Dealership Websites?

Let me congratulate you for being on DealerrRefresh. That act alone puts you at the forefront of one of the biggest trends to ever hit the car industry: The Internet.

Now let me challenge you with a question:

“Why does your dealership have a website?”

In 1995, NADA recommended that every dealership get one as the future of the industry was going online.

It is now 15 years later, NADA’s recommendation was achieved many years ago; yet what is different?

From a business standpoint, today there are fewer cars sold, consumers have unprecedented access to information, and a hugely improved ability to negotiate. Dealers have many new costs (3rd party leads, websites, CRM tools, Internet staff, paid search) and traditional media is less effective than it used to be (i.e. newspapers, radio).

Yet as our friends in the newspaper industry know all too well, fortifying your defenses is effective against predators but useless against environmental change. This is the Internet, where copies of information are free, everyone could be a customer, your competitors are just a click away, and customer loyalty isn’t merely a consequence of geography.

To treat the Internet as a threat to the way things “should be or were” is to miss the point that it’s a new medium which favors some business models and hurts others. It is this insight which leads to the “ah ha” stage of where I am going with this.

The high level answer to the question of “Why you have a website” is of course that you want to sell cars. Yes you want to sell service and parts too, provide consumer convenience to your map and hours, communicate your about us, etc. but above all we all want to and need to sell cars.

With that single goal in mind, drill in to what you actually do online and see if you like what you find. Specifically, what do you ask consumers to do on your website? Call? Email? Fill in a web form? Chat? A pop-up coupon? Do you present an ocean of VIN decode data, pictures and video then ask them to talk to you?

Is your online competitive presence structured around how well you organize these “calls to action” and how well you respond to what you get from there?

Now put your consumer hat on for a moment. You probably use the Internet all the time. If you were in the market for a car, would you find the functionality that you provide attractive, engaging, and appealing? How about when you filled in a form and then your next point of contact was a phone call from the dealership where you were told that the next step in the process was to set an appointment to come in to the dealership for a vehicle, trade, and credit consultation?

Not feeling the love? Your customers aren’t either. They’re playing this game under protest and they’re telling you with things like 98% bounce rates from your website and non-response to your attempts to follow up.

As an aside, (and please argue with me, DealerRefresh is a blog not a newspaper) it is my opinion that social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter are not going to change how consumers feel about the experience you provide online. To me these services have a role in branding, attraction, consumer engagement, and search engine optimization, but as a profitable sales channel of their own, or as a means to get consumers to do what you want, they are a waste of time.

It is 2010 not 1995. Is call or email and come on in really the best we can do? Is that the future of the Internet for car sales: to use it as an interactive yellow pages that generates leads so we can drive consumers offline and into our showrooms so we can sell the way we used to?

I originally planned on writing this blog post about how dealer websites needed to be fundamentally overhauled so as to have structured workflow with sufficient depth to the consumers’ process and thereby guide consumers down paths to produce effective conversion rates by answering their vehicle need questions, getting them to engage, respond, etc. but that seemed too technical and quite frankly, self-serving since that service (custom websites) with the associated shopping cart product is what my company provides.

So here is my question to you:

“If call or email isn’t the future or the best we can do, what is?”

Websites, supported by social media, must address the issue of online sales with this question in mind - In what way are we making the buying experience fun, easy, and transparent?

Consumers have all the power today and we must work with that force, not against it.

I agree that SM sites are not going to change a customer's buying habits, but quality content and honest brokering on them will invariably create a positive buzz.

To not be using Facebook and Twitter and other SM sites in protest is akin to not having a website in 1999.
I love Social Media. It is my fondest hope that all of my competitors blow precious time and resources chasing their SM rainbow.

Who wants to FB Fan a Realtor?
Who wants to FB Fan a Grocery store?
Who wants to FB Fan a Swimming Pool co?
Who wants to FB Fan a Plumber?
Who wants to FB Fan a Landscaper?
Who wants to FB Fan a DWI attorney?
Who wants to FB Fan a Car Dealership?

While all the SM zealots are painting Rainbows and Unicorns, dealers are referring people to their poorly performing site. 97% of shoppers that visit your site and BUY elsewhere.

If decision makers could visualize this, they'd get some enthusiasm for "on-page conversion" but... their High School buddies found them on FB and that's what's cool now.
This article is very interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, I spend an awful lot of time on dealership's websites combined with many years of retail experience and I can tell you from what I have seen we have a long way to go. I think we are missing the big picture like the title of this post eludes too. Here are my ten thoughts. I know Jeff it is amazing I have one thought much less ten :)

1. People buy cars- So as a dealership we must go where the people congregate and that currently means leveraging Social Media platforms. Don't worry Joe most dealerships will get it wrong and waste time and resources chasing the gold at the end of the Social Media rainbow leaving plenty of car sales for you.

2. Websites are mostly the same- It is rare to find a dealership website that is so unique that it makes me want to stay and hang out on it. Being unique on the Internet is difficult at best but definitely possible. It just takes being creative and carving your own non-template trail.

3. We live in a world of instant gratification- I blame Google for this one. I can find anything I want instantly with just a couple of words in a search box. The automotive sales process still forces shoppers through too many hurdles. Fill out a form, get an email, a phone call if you are lucky and the Sales Gods are smiling on you. We then force the shopper through the same old processes AKA wolf in sheep clothing.

4. Lack of Consistent Processes- For all the years we have been selling cars I can't believe we haven't gotten this part down to a science. Henry Ford standardized manufacturing within a couple short years yet we have been unable to produce consistent processes in the retailing side in over 100 years of selling cars. We need to sit down, write out processes and live them day in and day out.

5. Email is dead- To clarify what I mean email is dead in its current form. It is a dated technology that limits number 3. Chat is gaining momentum but I can tell you we are only touching where this technology will take us. Think Google Wave, video, mobile and who knows what else will come down the pike. The key is to be open to new ideas and try them out. They won't all work but who cares; that is not the point. The point is you are either going to get on this train or your not.

6. Learn about split testing- One thing that the web offers that brick and mortar will never have is the ability to test two similar webpages or elements on the page and measure which produces the best results. This allows you to create "Kaizen" continuous improvement. Without it you are a ship at sea without a rudder.

7. Customer care is the future- One thing that we need to learn about all this Social Media and reputation management is that peers and networks will have an influence on who will do business with who. It won't be the only reason but creating new and innovative ways to roll out the red carpet for shoppers both online and at our dealership will do one thing-deliver happy satisfied customers.

8. Generate your own leads- Every dollar you spend should be building your brand. Every dollar you take away from that builds someone else's brand. This is the first thing I learned in marketing 101. We spend a lot of money every month paying to build the brands of other companies that provide leads. I know some of these companies do a lot to generate traffic and sales for our dealerships but at what cost?

9. Listen to your phone calls everyday- If you are not listening and critiquing phone calls every day you are missing a huge opportunity. Just ask Jerry Thibeau. He will school you in the importance of actively listening to calls and improving how you and your team handle them.

10. Spend time with customers- Sometimes we get so caught up with all this technology mumbo jumbo that we miss the key to make our business better and that is talking with our customers every day and uncovering the reasons why they purchased from our dealerships. Shoppers both who bought and didn't are a great resource to understanding what we are doing right and wrong.

Brian, I think you did and awesome job on this article and you point out some of the fundamental issues facing retailing cars online. I think we have a long way to go still but the key is to get on the road and start moving in a direction. Put one leg in front of the other and within a short time you will be amazed at how far you have traveled.

I'm with Joe, for the most part, when it comes to social media. Social media, by definition, is designed to allow interactions and communications between friends. I think there is a real danger of alienating your "fans" if your posts approach being defined as spam. I don't want to be informed, on a daily basis, of any dealers' lease specials. But taking a quick video of your customer and their new car at delivery and posting on their Facebook wall actually seems to fit in with the media's purpose and exposes your dealership to new prospects. Using social media as part of a comprehensive SEO/SEM or reputation management program also makes sense to me.

Checking out Brian's company's website, it looks like their purpose is to help dealers make their sites transactional. I'm not sure how many customers want to put a car in their "shopping cart" and check out like at amazon. My guess is it's a very limited number. If the number is of any substantial size, why not add the functionality? The beauty of the internet is giving the customer every possible way to contact you and letting them pick the way they are most comfortable.
Hey Brian it is good to see you up and here. This is one of the few pieces of information lately that has compelled me to chime in. Hats off man.

You are saying a few things here:
a.) Car dealer websites are not futuristic enough
b.) All they do is prompt people to call or email
c.) Social media isn't changing or improving anything

I agree that social media won't change the game. They won't make a bad dealer better just like a poorly managed CRM or website won't either.

But car dealer sites today do what they are designed to do quite effectively, and that is to convert in-market buyers. What they do not accomplish is the nurture and cultivation of prospective buyers, nor do they engage and retain customers.

This I would argue is where social media has a role. Just like CRM has a role in addressing those aspects of the business as well.

Social media really is just a termed coined to define this era. But the essence of it is key. As @mfeldkamp has suggested, ...[t]o not be using Facebook and Twitter and other SM sites in protest is akin to not having a website in 1999".

To answer your question, I resort to one of my favorite all-time quotes, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." -Peter Drucker
Great post Todd. Very well said.
Thank you Alex :D
  • M
    Mike Morgan
  • March 23, 2010

I can understand that you do not want to come off as self serving so let me come from a completely different angle.

I applaude you for using the word custom website. I mean truly custom and custom strategy and custom plan. Your industry reminds me of the travel industry in early 2000.

The travel industry was giving dollars to expedia, and the many others like them. Finally the hotels, rental car companies and others said NO MORE and took back control of their industry and started making money.

Today you can go to a hotel website and be given a guarantee that you will not find a lower rate. The hotels developed their own plan of action.

I apologize in advance for my negative tone. I am certainly trying not to get business off of this platform but encouraging you people to look for help outside of your industry. Bring in a fresh pair of eyes.

I own an interactive agency and I stumbled across this website doing a little competitive anlyasis for an auto group.

The one thing that stands out to me (an outsider looking in) is that most of you are developing/marketing websites but got your start from the auto industry. In other words you grew up in this verticle but you are in your own little bubble and not seeing what other industries are doing.

In this industry you have, and many more ready to guarantee this and promise that. You are buying leads you could have gotten on your own if you would just put a strategy in place.

Most of you are talking about Social Media when you dont used Advanced Analytics (use one outside of your vendor like google) nor do you have a true strategy planned out.

You are using way to many vendors and the vendors are here today gone tomorrow - just waiting for the next guy to walk in the door and promise you 150 leads .

You guys need to SLOW DOWN, pocket some money and formulate a strategy.

One of our clients is a large rental car company. It took us a year to figure out their strategy online. Through trial and error we had successes and failures but we firgured out what worked, documented why and over time developed a rock solid strategy so we knew if we spent XXXXX in online advertising we could expect XXXXX in sales as a result.

You see the measurement is the true value of the web. This is something that most dealers never had before. Put your vendors through the ringer and see who is providing value. I bet most aren't.

As an agency we would never take on two dealerships in the same market however some how they have convinced you guys that it's okay.

You are cannabalizing yourself. If you want to breakout then think outside the box. Hard to think outside the box when you are taking advice from someone who really isnt on your team.

I would hate to be in an industry where it is all about $500/month for this and $250 for that.

Are you really happy with the performance of your vendors?

Do you know with certainty the true value they are bringing to the dealership?

Are you managing your own set of books to make sure what they are saying is reality?

The time is now for you to learn how to measure what promotions are working, what your website traffic is really doing. Or example...

what percentage of website visitors are looking for cars?

what percentage are service department customers looking for a phone number?

Have you filtered out your own employees from your web traffic stats?

How much traffic does your competitor have on their website every month?

95% of the dealerships cannot answer these questions yet.
Joe Pistell is my new favorite person. For months I've felt like the only voice saying that SM is the most over-hyped and useless marketing technique ever. It is absolutely not going to change the way you communicate with customers and sell cars, parts and service. The only people making money in SM are the SM Gurus charging money for new services and consulting. The one thing dealers need to be concerned with is tracking what is being said on them in consumer generated content services like Yelp.

As to Brian's question, the answer to what is next is obvious - mobile communications. Consumers don't answer phone calls from sales people, don't want to talk on the phone, don't listen to voice mails, don't get emails siphoned off by ISP blocks and spam filters and don't often open emails due to email inundation.

What do consumers like? The ease and anonymity of text messaging. Your website should be engaging people through their mobile devices, capturing their mobile phone number and earning the right to keep in touch directly with the one device they always have with them and in the method that they strongly prefer - text messaging.
  • J
    Joe High
  • March 26, 2010
This is a topic I feel very passionate about. Too much of the focus of a dealers website is based upon justifying an internet managers position by counting leads and visitors. The truth is that the majority of consumers don't submit a lead so if your entire site is all about distracting the consumer with lots of lead-gen pop-ups and leave behinds, you are just slowing down the majority of the consumers that just want to see what you sell, if you have it, and how much it costs.

My entire presentation at Digital Dealer will be focused on this topic. Please come by if you want to hear more about my opinion on the topic.
  • K
    Kris Thomas
  • March 29, 2010
I have never agreed with anything that Joe Pistell has ever written on this site. Hell froze over and I agree completely with what he said! SM gurus be damned. Facebook and all that junk doesn't sell cars. The Dealerrater article is self serving. Of course they are going to say their poll says more people want car promotions on FB, because it is in their best interest to say that. Way to go Joe!
Thnx for the kudos, This is Brian's thread, speaking for us DR pioneers, Brian has been waaay out ahead of the market for years waiting for our marketplace to be ready for an ecommerce solution.

My anti-SM rant and Brian's vision have a common denominator... "on page optimization". IMO, until we dig and find out what is on our shopper’s minds and address these issues with on-page solutions, Brian's ecommerce game plan won't ever get to 1st base.

Our shoppers use our sites as a catalog site, not a commerce site. IMO, we can't get to an e-commerce dealer site until we get our shoppers so comfortable with the onpage experience that they _readily_ use the forms on the pages we offer them now.

For example, Sutherlin Nissan rocks with a 7% conversion ratio, this is the highest visitor-to-lead stat I've ever seen. Most of us normal dealers are coming in at 3% or lower. Regardless, these numbers suck. 95 of 100 shoppers are un-motivated to communicate with us (let alone give us money) IMO, numbers this poor come from a LOT of unanswered questions on our shoppers minds. On-page optimization needs to addresses these mystery issues.

Because we have a home-brew indie web site <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> (thnx to Matt &amp; crew at HomeNet!) we are free to explore new ideas without the legacy problems of the big boy vendors. For example, we added a simple and bold tradein button on the VDP and the response was amazing, we doubled our lead count overnight. This simple act confirmed to me that the upside from on-page optimization is huge.

I am not saying that our customers will ever embrace ecommerce, but to get to ecommerce, we need to Crawl, Walk, Run.

Sutherlin Nissan conversion stats thread: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

I noticed you mentioned Sutherlin Nissan for having a 7% conversion ratio. I do not want to brag (but I guess I will), but over the last 3 months I am getting a 9.18% conversion ratio from my site (filled out lead forms divided by unique visitors). I do not include phone calls in conversion numbers, because customers will call back those tracking numbers when they are not on your website anymore, which will inflate your conversion.

Regarding where dealer websites will go? read these articles on what trends move the market:

<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

I think our customers will want to see more transparency. I think customer testimonials are a good example of this and they will become more and more important.

<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

This article writes about Nowism. Great example of this is that more and more customers want to visit your site on their mobile phone and not wait until they get home behind a computer.

9+% is SMOKIN!

I can quickly see how Sutherlin got hot strong lead counts, a strong brand, little competition (for such a large market), deep inventory, a great dealer rep and (most important) a 45 min drive from Atlanta.

You&#039;re not so easy to figure out.

You have 5 other Acura players in your market. Your Dealeron site is rockin the Acura search. A quick look has you with &gt;200 new acuras in stock (quick look, your biggest player in Dallas area?) I can see of all of the brands out there, Acura demos must be top3 for &quot;likely to use the net&quot; PLUS a brand that dosent discount (haggle) much. Hmmm... The 9% is sick! I&#039;d love to see how it stacks up against other Acura players in gigantic markets.

I&#039;ll read your links this weekend!

How is that annoying pop-up coupon thingy working for you?

We own another dealership and get around 7%+ from that dealeron site. I do the SEO myself for our sites. Our other dealership is <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> although they have certain features turned off that affect the conversion (e.g. they do not have the &quot;request sales price&quot; button on new inventory.) They think their customers do not like that.

The coupon popup is what sold me initially on dealeron, because they allowed me to use it for free on my previous vendor&#039;s website and immediately saw a 1.5% increase in conversion. We now receive 60% of all our leads from our own website and around one third come from the pop-up. They turn in to sales in a high percentage also.

If you are interested in trying the coupon feature on your site, so you can see how well it converts, let me know. I am sure I can get dealeron to give it to you for a few months for free.