Dealerships doing business as usual running high risk in age of digital retailing?

Now is the time for dealerships to embrace digital retailing.

That was the message from Mark O’Neil, chief operating officer of Cox Automotive in a recent interview with WardsAuto before he spoke at the 2017 Automotive Forum in New York.

He suggested that the ability to do car deals 100 percent online is about a year away, WardsAuto said.

033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)“Fundamentally, the consumer has learned to engage digitally in every other retail category – shoes, pizza, mortgages, electronics, books, pick any category,” O’Neil said, according to WardsAuto. “But the auto industry has held back in letting them do it.”

O’Neil’s message comes down to “if the industry doesn’t [change], someone will create a disruptive technology that will put the current dealer or manufacturer at risk.”

“When customers want something, they always get it,” the executive told WardsAuto.

Looking at the data

Although dealers might say they already have embraced digital, “when you look at the data – we look at how enabled websites are to transact electronically – they are woefully under delivering,” O’Neil said.

“Everyone has embraced using digital for merchandising and increasing brand awareness. The industry has done a terrific job of letting customers use the Internet to research, shop and get pricing. But not, ‘OK, now I want to buy it.’ That’s a huge leap. The dealers who enable that will thrive.”

O’Neil said that “all the pieces, absent one, now exist” for 100 percent online transactions.

The missing piece

“That missing piece is the secured, legally binding contract. But we’re getting real close to that,” the executive told WardsAuto. “The four tools that are available online are getting a real payment, getting pre-approved, financing, seeing an F&I presentation – and selecting products that fit needs – and getting an offer on a trade. By embracing those four, you’re 80 percent of the way there.”

O’Neil’s comments echoed a recent report in Automotive News, which cited industry experts who believe that the 80 percent or more of “dealers who lag behind [on technology] must catch up or face a fate similar to that of independent bookstores in the era of Amazon.”

Dealership concerns

Among dealership concerns with going fully digital are the loss of personal contact with prospective buyers and the perception that the sale of F&I products will be hurt, the report suggests.

Although Automotive News cited one dealer, David Kain, president of Kain Automotive in Lexington, KY, who said that “the studies we’ve seen show that consumers actually buy more F&I products using iPads in a dealership on their own than a finance manager can sell them.”

See WardsAuto’s full report on its interview with the Cox Automotive executive.

No time to waste with online sales leads, ‘secret shopper’ study suggests

Five minutes.

That’s the optimum amount of time for responding to a sales lead.

With such a narrow opening, less than 40 percent of automotive dealers respond to queries that quickly, based on data from a study by Conversica, a sales-and-marketing software provider.

The study said that the 49 percent of the dealerships who responded to queries met the five-minute standard and that 94 percent of those who responded did so within 24 hours, but that nearly 20 percent of dealerships surveyed did not respond at all to online queries.

Researchers submitted inquiries through 59 dealer websites as part of a broader “secret shopper” study of 538 companies from nine industries.

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“Internet leads are an expensive resource, crucial to the success of automotive dealerships,” said Alex Terry, Conversica CEO, in a press release about the survey. “Our annual report offers a snapshot of how dealerships are handling leads today and how that behavior is changing over time.”

“We compared real-world execution with best-practice research to help dealerships see where they’re performing well, but also to pinpoint processes that need to improve,” he explained.

Overall grades for lead follow-up skewed higher for the automotive industry than other industries, the report showed, with 38 percent of dealerships receiving an “A” and 52 percent getting a “B” – a total of 90 percent – compared to 67 percent for other industries.

The study showed that almost three quarters (74 percent) of dealerships which responded used four key elements cited by Conversica: a personalized greeting, specific mention of the inquiry, contact information and responding at a time similar to the inquiry.

“But weaknesses persist in the auto sales process,” according to Conversica.

“While the auto industry as a whole performed well compared to other industries, there was still plenty of room for improvement,” suggested Conversica. “One in five (19 percent) did not respond at all to a direct sales inquiry from their website, and 75 percent failed to make the eight or more attempts that research demonstrates are needed to engage an Internet lead.”

Breaking down the numbers further, 24 percent of dealerships made one to two attempts to reach leads, 14 percent made three to four attempts and 19 percent made five to seven attempts.

Only 25 percent of those who responded made the recommended eight attempts per lead.

“While a steady stream of leads from your website or other sources looks like a huge success, you shouldn’t pop the champagne cork just yet,” wrote Conversica’s CEO. “Now is when the real work begins: Engaging each and every one and turning them into revenue for your dealership.”

More details of the survey are available in Conversica’s online report: 2016 Sales Effectiveness Report | Lead Follow-Up in the Automotive Industry.

Top five uses of the Dealer Extranet

Easy access to the right information is key when working to put deals together.

No surprise there. But what may surprise you is all the different ways the Santander Consumer USA Dealer Extranet can enhance your deal-making abilities.

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300The Extranet is the next best thing to having your buyer on the line. You have real-time access to information and systems that can get things done. If logging in to the Dealer Extranet is not a part of your regular routine, you could be missing out.

Here are five of the top uses of the Dealer Extranet:

  1. Rehash applications with the Rehash Tool – If you need to update the numbers or revise the type of vehicle being purchased, plug your new info into the Rehash Tool and receive a new structure in real time.
  1. Track deals in Funding – The Extranet will allow you to check the status of your deals in Funding and see if you need any additional documentation to complete your deals.
  1. Upload stips – Speaking of additional documentation, uploading stips is a lot faster and easier with the Dealer Extranet. You bypass the hassle of faxing, and the stips go directly to the funder’s queue.
  1. Print a purchase letter – Get a breakdown of the total funded amount for your deal. The purchase letter shows all applicable fees, participation and discounts.
  1. Access the Dealer Resources section – The resources section is a one-stop area for important documents. Just about any document a dealer needs to do business with SAF can be found on the Extranet.

These are only a few of the benefits of the Dealer Extranet. There are many more ways to optimize your callbacks. Of course, we think the Extranet is great, but don’t take our word for it.

Listen to what one dealer had to say about why the Dealer Extranet is such a great tool:

Many vehicle owners worry about sales pressure if they respond to recalls

Millions of vehicle owners who don’t respond to recall notices are worried that dealerships will try to sell them additional repairs during their visit.

That’s based on a survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

The UMTRI survey, which involved more than 500 participants, found that nearly four in 10 were worried about sales pressure – the highest response rate among 10 concerns cited – and even more than not having access to the vehicle while it’s getting repaired.

050417 IL Many vehicle owners worry about sales pressure if they respond to recalls

Overall, nearly 20 percent of vehicle owners don’t respond to recall notices, according to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration – about 10 million each of the last three years.

“There is general recognition of the problem of low response rates,” UMTRI’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle said in their report, Consumer Preferences Regarding Vehicle-Related Safety Recalls, which also suggested possible ways to increase response to recall notices.

Besides worrying about sales pressure (38.4 percent) and loss of access to a recalled vehicle while it’s getting repaired (37.2 percent), the UMTRI survey found these concerns preventing response to recalls:

  • Having to wait too long to get vehicle repaired (35.9 percent);
  • Uncertainty over importance of actually getting the repair (30 percent);
  • Not knowing when (or how soon) repairs are necessary (26.4 percent);
  • Uncertainty over whether the recall applies to owner’s specific vehicle (26.2 percent);
  • Not knowing what to do or who to contact after receiving a notice (25.8 percent);
  • Uncertainty over whether repairs are optional or required (22.5 percent);
  • Not having experienced the problem described in the recall (19.4 percent).

Other findings relevant to dealers in the UMTRI survey include:

Effect of vehicle age, safety risk and distance to repair facility

  • Owners are more likely to get “relatively new vehicles” repaired (82.8 percent who rated importance at 10 on a 10-point scale) and “relatively old vehicles” (50.4 percent).
  • Vehicle owners who perceived a higher risk level (10 on a 10-point scale) were two to three times as likely to get repairs as owners who perceived a lower risk level.
  • Survey respondents who resided less than 15 minutes away from a repair facility were about 20 percent more likely to respond to a recall notice than those 15 minutes or more away.
  • The less time it takes to schedule recall repairs the more likely owners are to get them done.

Sivak and Schoettle also reported on vehicle owners’ preferred methods for recall notifications and the options that could increase likelihood that they will respond to recalls.

Preferred method for notification safety recalls

Mail (73.8 percent) and email (64.3) percent were most favored by far.

A third or fewer respondents favored notification via text message, notification at dealership when service is performed, phone call, advertising campaigns or public-service announcements, notification during vehicle registration or inspection, or other methods.

Options increasing likelihood of responding to recalls

Ability to go to any of the manufacturer’s dealerships (58.9 percent), ability to bundle recall repairs with regularly scheduled service or maintenance (52.1 percent), some type of incentive such as a free oil change or free gas fill up (50.6 percent), or ability to use own mechanic or repair shop (42.1 percent).

Of course, it ultimately is up to the vehicle owner whether he/she gets a recalled vehicle repaired. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give the reluctant ones a nudge.

For your dealership, it could be a win-win, creating customer goodwill and more revenue.

Tax season may be over, but Sizzlin’ Summer has just begun

Keep up the momentum.

Tax season may be over, but there still is good reason to push forward into the summer, according to ASMs and RSMs at Santander Consumer USA (SC).

And they are ready to help dealers maximize business through some of the hottest months of the year.

“Everyone is tempted to relax after the rigors of tax season,” said TY COTHREN, an SC regional sales manager for a five-state region stretching from Colorado to Wisconsin. “But we have to keep pushing – not lose tax-season momentum – or we will miss our opportunity to grow.”

“Although the outlook for auto sales are positive in 2017, they are not expected to continue at the same pace of 2016,” said DESTRY WOOD, ASM for northwest Washington state. “Every deal will count.”

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300“My main focus over the summer months is to keep tax-season momentum going as much as possible,” said BILL SMITH, area sales manager for northeast Pennsylvania. “I remind dealers what Santander did for them during the months of January through April, so please continue to give us all your looks and a chance to earn your business … don’t try to guess what contracts we will buy.”

Other members of the SC team also spoke of keeping up tax-season momentum to build business.

But ASMs CONNIE ZEIGLER, who works with Dallas dealerships, and ALICE RODRIGUEZ, whose area includes West Texas and parts of eastern New Mexico, have other ideas as well.

“Since car sales have been a little light so far this year, the goal is to help my dealers increase customer traffic and sales opportunities, and Santander’s direct mail program is a great option to provide quality customer leads,” said Zeigler. “I want to make sure all of my dealers are aware of this program.”

“It’s a good time to get dealers to focus on their portfolio balance, because the normal deep tax-season buying can tilt some dealer portfolios negatively,” said Rodriguez. “I plan to push for more near-prime applications and contracts to ensure that portfolios strengthen over the summer. I hope to engage dealers to assist in the remedy, leveraging relationships I have built over the years.”

Other ASMs and RSMs suggested a variety of ways they can help dealers drive business:

  • PATRICK CIAMPO, an RSM whose region covers four states in the Northeast, plans to “circle back after tax season and give dealers a closer look at what Santander offers and how to best use our program, because, in many cases, we can help these stores sell additional units and make larger profits on their car deals.” He cited S-Guard, RoadLoans and direct mail, noting that “many dealers don’t realize we do much more than auto finance.”
  • STEVE VANHOOSER, an inside sales manager for a four-state upper Midwest region, attributes to recent program updates “a steady increase in the number of stores giving SC a chance to earn all their business, especially in the prime and near-prime marketplace.” He also emphasized the importance of getting stores to use the Dealer Extranet and Rehash Tool when they’re working with SC to make the funding process easier and more efficient.
  • ROBERT CUMMINS, whose RSM responsibilities comprise Texas dealers and inside sales, said, “We have seen a strong response to our program during tax season, and there is no reason dealers cannot benefit from our program throughout the year. … For example, if there is a lull in customer traffic at the dealership, the Santander direct mail program can generate leads.”
  • JEREMY BEATTY, an ASM who covers eastern Long Island, N.Y., also expects to “target dealerships who are a good fit for our Direct Mailer program, which can yield a high return on investment and does not require dealers to have an elite status with SC to sign up … Every dollar counts these days and dealers will appreciate our efforts to help them be more profitable.”
  • ROBERT PLEMEL, ASM for northeast Ohio, said, “My main focus will be to add value by increasing overall profitability for my dealer base … including training our dealers on systems and credit structures that will increase their bottom line.”

Ultimately, much of the sales team’s planning goes to several key ideas.

“Market share is really difficult to gain and very easy to lose,” said RSM Cothren, “so we want to fortify the relationships we built in Q1 and not watch them wash away with the outgoing tax-season tide.”

“Relationships are the key,” said VanHooser. “My stores know I’m there for them and their businesses.”

“That means enabling dealers to leverage our program to its fullest,” said Zeigler.

What you need to know to turn used-car shoppers into buyers

First commandment to turn shoppers into buyers

Know thy customer.

Three simple words that are easier said than done for dealerships that sell used cars.

“As dealers, you want to match up the right car with the right customer as quickly as possible,” says the introduction to a CarStory white paper based on responses to a recent survey of used-car shoppers. “It helps you move cars, and it helps turn shoppers into repeat, happy customers.”

So what did CarStory find were reasons Americans were seeking a used car instead of new?

The top two reasons far and away, followed by the percentage of shoppers who chose each, were: save money, 60 percent, and get a good deal, 53 percent. In fact, four lesser reasons also made some reference to savings, including getting more features for the money, 26 percent; reducing insurance costs, 19 percent; minimizing depreciation, 17 percent, and avoiding hidden fees, 13 percent.

Value-based propositions

Only two of the top eight reasons cited by CarStory (surveyed shoppers were allowed to select more than one reason) involved something other than saving money. Those were getting a special model you can’t buy new, 32 percent, and getting exactly what you see, 26 percent.

So, first and foremost, be sure you are making a strong value-based proposition.

In “How to convert used car shoppers to buyers,” CarStory also reported that eight in 10 used-car buyers (81 percent) want to know vehicle condition, followed by accident history (77), service history (75), listing price (74), value of the vehicle (73), make (72) and mileage (71). Also important are price compared to the market, dealership’s reputation, selling prices of similar vehicles, mileage compared to similar vehicles, comfort features, cost of ownership and fuel efficiency.

Vehicle descriptions matter

But dealer vehicle descriptions fall short for most shoppers, according to the survey, in which 47 percent of women and just 38 percent of men felt they got all the information needed to make a decision.

“Understanding what information your customers need to make a purchasing decision can help move them along the buying process,” says CarStory, which provides independent reports about the value of individual vehicles and features in specific markets.

Understanding what customers are feeling, meanwhile, can take a positive experience even further.

CarStory found that used-car shoppers who answered the survey were mostly excited (49 percent) or optimistic (44 percent) and, to a lesser extent, satisfied (28 percent) or happy (23 percent).

The trick, of course, is to make sure they stay that way during and after the sale.

The most important three-letter word

The WOW factor.

That’s what car dealers must achieve in the used-car sales process.

Car shoppers today go through a lot of steps before deciding what they’re going to purchase, so grabbing and holding their attention are major challenges for dealerships.

“This implies that dealers have just a few opportunities to really wow potential buyers,” says CarStory, which conducted a three-week survey of used-car shoppers, and not much time to do it.

“Today’s auto shoppers use 24 research touch points in their car-buying process,” says CarStory, citing a Kelley Blue Book report, in a white paper, How to Convert Used Car Shoppers to Buyers. “Every time a consumer leaves a dealer website to find more information, it is a lost opportunity.”

Following are the most common steps from CarStory’s own map of the buying process, in order, with the percentage of shoppers who referred to it in the survey (most frequent in boldface):

  1. Search for vehicles online, 86 percent
  2. Calculate the amount I can afford to spend, 68 percent
  3. Ask friends and family about purchasing a car, 36 percent
  4. Read online reviews, 53 percent
  5. Check vehicles’ market value, 59 percent
  6. Narrow down the search, 52 percent
  7. Consider other vehicles, 60 percent
  8. Sell or trade another vehicle, 31 percent
  9. Ask a dealer for recommendations, 14 percent
  10. Read auto magazines, 13 percent
  11. Check accident history, 59 percent
  12. Test drive a vehicle, 74 percent
  13. Call dealer to pre-negotiate, 20 percent
  14. Negotiate price at dealer, 56 percent
  15. Negotiating financing at dealer, 41 percent
  16. Drive the car home, 76 percent
  17. Share vehicle purchase on social networks, 7 percent

The process offers a key lesson to dealerships selling used cars, according to CarStory.

“The best way to capture most shoppers [is to] engage them in the online research phase,” says CarStory, referring to the most-typical first step by consumers in the used-car-purchase process. “But how long do dealers have to capture a buyer’s attention before that buyer moves from the online research phase to, say, Step No. 6, narrowing the search? Not long.”

“To better understand consumer attention span … we looked at the average number of search results pages (SRPs) and vehicle detail pages (VDPs) that consumers across our marketplaces view,” says CarStory. “And then we looked at how many leads, on average, consumers submit.”

The results show that out of 7.8 million unique consumers who viewed SRPs across 350 marketplaces, 4.1 million made it to at least one VDP, generating a total of 182,533 leads, says CarStory.

That means eight visits to your website generate five VDP views and just one or two leads. So, go out and wow your prospects, then be prepared to make the most of those results.

And now the most important number

Consider nine your lucky number.

So suggests a white paper on results of a customer survey by CarStory.

“From our survey, we learned that most people who buy a used vehicle do so to save money, or at least to get more bang for their buck while minimizing depreciation,” says CarStory in its report. “Based on this, we looked at ways that dealers could price vehicles to improve consumer interest.”

And what pricing insight did the survey provide? That the number “9” is better than “0.” Seriously.

“We looked at ways that dealers could price vehicles to improve consumer interest,” says CarStory in its report. “We started with an obvious question: What effect does ending a price in 9 have on consumer interest and conversion? This, of course, is the oldest trick in the book and one that is detailed in the journal of Quantitative Marketing and Economics.”

Yes, it really works

“We found that dealers that end their prices in 99 convert shoppers from the search results pages to vehicle detail pages much more often,” reports CarStory. “Prices that end in 99 versus 00 showed a 16 percent lift in SRP-to-VDP conversion. Prices that end in 999 performed nine percent better than those ending in 000. … Take away: Always end your price with multiple 9s.”

But, apparently, the number nine isn’t just important in used-vehicle pricing, according to CarStory. It also comes into play in the number of photos dealerships should use to maximize impact on shoppers.

“The first best practice when it comes to images: represent the car accurately … [because] misrepresenting the car online will just lead to disappointment and frustration in person,” says CarStory. “Second best practice: Use fewer images [on non-dealer websites] that show the vehicle highlights, including the hero shot, dashboard, seating configurations and key features.”

Post fewer images?

And by fewer images, CarStory apparently means nine. Not 10. Not 20. Certainly not 30. Just 9.

“Using fewer photos may seem counterintuitive, but we looked at lead submission rates on vehicles based on the number of images the posting contained,” said the CarStory report. “We found that nine images offered optimal lead submission potential. Postings with nine images saw a 50 percent higher lead submission rate than those without any images, 56 percent higher lead submission rate than those with 20 images [and] 71 percent higher lead submission rate than those with 30 images.”

“It appears that consumers are suffering from image fatigue,” said CarStory. “We see some listings with 40 images. When you share so many images it forces the consumer to navigate the picture carousel to find the ones that best tell the vehicle’s story.”

Now, what’s your lucky number?

When words matter most for sales funnel

Words matter.

Especially when you’re asking someone to take action on your website that keeps them engaged (increasing your chances to convert them into a customer).

“The first step towards acquiring a new customer [is] getting them to raise their hand and take an action,” says CarStory in its white paper. “Providing the right call to action (CTA) is yet another way you can convert a shopper to a buyer by winning their attention and their clicks.”

CarStory even compared specific CTA words and phrases to see which words generated bigger responses.

The calls to action to which shoppers are most likely to respond by category?

Double-check that CTA

They are “Check price” (about 36 percent of shoppers survey), “More information” (about 27 percent), “Contact the dealer” (about 14 percent) and “Schedule a test drive” (10 percent). Some CTAs that didn’t fare as well: “Check availability,” “Make an offer,” “Save/add to wish list” and “Request financing.”

But even knowing the right categories for your CTAs doesn’t mean your work is done.

“In the price category, the CTA ‘Check price’ outperformed every other option by three to 10 times,” CarStory said, with about 46 percent of respondents saying that would move them to action. Fails included “Is this a good deal,” “Get an e-quote,” “Free price check,” “Get an awesome deal” and others.

“If you are using anything but ‘Check price,’ now would be a good time to update your website.”

In other CTA categories, similar action wording did best with prospective customers:

More information: “View details” was scored 31 percent better than “Vehicle details,” even more over “See more details,” “Get information” or “Request more information.”

Contact the dealer: “Email dealer” generated a greater response than “Call dealer” or “Contact dealer.” Added CarStory: “It is interesting to note that consumers flagged ‘email dealer’ … when, in fact, most sites don’t allow you to send an email, but rather have you submit a lead form.”

Scheduling a test drive: “Schedule a test drive” outscored “I want to test drive” or, simply, “Test drive.”

Or, as CarStory says: “Calls to action – they are not all created equally.”

We’ve made you a list, so check it twice

We know what you’re thinking …

Now that you have read the first four parts of this blog post, what you really need is a checklist that hits the high points of the series to ensure that you are making the most it.

(Although, for details, you still will have to go back and read parts 1 to 4 above as needed.)

The checklist is divided into four parts – pricing, value, attention and merchandising. Here’s the checklist from the CarStory white paper and where you can find details:

Pricing

  • Understand where each vehicle falls in the market and make sure you’re highlighting the points consumers value most (Part 1).
  • Always end prices with a 99 or 999 (Part 3).

Value

  • Never miss an opportunity to highlight “must have” features (Part 2).
  • Always include seller comments and remember to highlight reconditioning details (white paper).
  • Provide consumers as much of the information as they need, otherwise they will leave your site or your lot and find it somewhere else (Part 2).

Attention

  • Always include the right images, but only nine to 10 at most for your marketplace partners. You should absolutely include all images directly on your website (Part 3).
  • Update your calls to action to include a strong verb-plus-direct-object construction (Part 4).
  • Don’t overwhelm the user with too many CTAs – focus on the ones that will move buyers through the process (Part 4).

Merchandising

  • Focus your merchandising efforts on the [top five] areas that matter most to consumers (Part 1):
  • Vehicle condition
  • Accident history
  • Service history
  • Listing price
  • Value

“Dealers can do a lot to improve the way they communicate to consumers with better information, pricing and merchandising,” says CarStory. “By doing so you will help consumers move through the sales process more efficiently, help your inventory stand apart and, ultimately, drive more sales.”

This checklist and this blog post should help you get and stay on track.

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Social media changes the game online, but what’s it to you?

Connecting.

It has a lot to do with whether your business is successful.

“Relationship selling has been around for years, but sometimes what’s old can – and should – be made new again,” wrote Mike Esposito at Dealer Solutions magazine.

And today that almost certainly means having a positive social-media footprint.

Would you buy a car from you?

If you’re looking at your dealership from the outside-in to answer that question, as suggested in two previous articles, how you are represented by your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or other social media accounts must be among your success metrics.

033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)In those articles, we pretended to be a general manager of an actual dealership pretending to be a customer and looked at online impact and reputation and how easy our website is to use.

RELATED

Paying attention to your dealership’s online reputation matters

How easy is your website to use compared to the competition?

We weren’t entirely satisfied with the results as we looked at the websites of our dealership and two of its nearest competitors representing the same brand.

How do our social media efforts stack up?

The competitor that made the best online impression in our previous assessments – website impact and ease of use – came out with the strongest first impression on Facebook with a distinctive, themed cover photo compared to the fairly standard dealership photos used on our page and the other competitor’s.

They also were crushing it on Facebook with an audience three times that of ours and the other competitor’s. And they generated a better review average (some were included on their timeline).

Although timelines of the three dealerships we’ve been comparing were similar, none fared very well against a list of possible content provided by Esposito in Dealer Solutions magazine.

Those content ideas in Dealer Solutions were:

  • Vehicle maintenance tips
  • Travel tips
  • Dealership employee profiles
  • Manufacturer news
  • Safety recommendations
  • Community involvement
  • Customer testimonials
  • Dealership events
  • How-to guides (infotainment use, driving in bad weather, etc.)

The top dealership also had the most active Twitter timeline, but all three leaned heavily on promoting products rather than engaging audiences with vehicle-related content such as that on the list.

Our general manager had seen enough to know he/she had work to do to enhance online presence.

Now that you know the lay of the online landscape, how would you answer the question: Would you buy a car from you? If the answer is no, maybe or I don’t know, you may have some work to do, too.

How easy is your website to use compared to the competition?

The question remains …

Would you buy a car from you?

“To help improve the customer experience … consider looking at your dealership from the outside-in to examine your dealership processes and experience what customers experience,” wrote Chris Walsh, marketing strategy, competitive analysis and sales process expert.

He posed the question in a recent article in Dealer Solutions Magazine, so we took it a step further, pretending to be a general manager of an actual dealership pretending to be a customer.033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)

Related: Paying attention to your dealership’s online reputation

This time we took the analysis a step further, moving on from online search results and reviews to look at the websites of our dealership and two of its nearest competitors representing the same brand. For purposes of this exercise we also looked at the same model vehicle.

It didn’t go as we hoped, possibly leaving our dealership to wonder about the answer to that question.

Two of the three dealerships, including ours and the one that received the best online reviews, delivered similar homepage experiences, providing a search function that allowed us to identify certified pre-owned models that we were seeking and generating similar results.

The same two dealerships also offered real-time online chat, which they initiated but didn’t overplay.

The third dealership provided a less robust search function – in this case, requiring an extra and not-so-obvious step to screen for certified pre-owned vehicles – and no live chat opportunity.

The presentation of CPO models that met our search criteria was the same across the board.

Another point of difference, however, was the Web page navigation bar – our dealership offered 11 choices, dealer No. 3 offered 10, and the No. 1 dealership provided seven, although it had the strongest eye appeal and dropdowns that were better organized and more engaging.

Overall, the dealership with the highest review ratings also provided the most pleasant, friendly interactive experience online – a result that could motivate our general manager to make some changes.

Because every minute a prospect spends with your competitor is one he/she isn’t spending with you.

In any case, looking at your store as a customer would, seeing what they see, can be eye-opening, helping you make your dealership’s online presence a better customer experience, and, most important, bringing more prospects to – and through – your doors.

Next: Social media changes the game online, but what’s it to you?

Sizzlin’ Summer sales season the right time for a perfect pitch

Are you ready for another Sizzlin’ Summer?

Although sales have fallen a little short of last year’s record pace so far in 2017, the months from late spring through the end of summer typically are among the strongest of the year.

“To be sure, the overall industry remains in decent shape with sales at a near-record pace following two consecutive full-year highs in 2016 and 2015,” reported USA Today, following automakers’ announcements earlier this month of March sales of 1.56 million.

Even a plateau in volume means strong selling opportunity for franchise dealerships.

IL-BLOG_70404-12 (Sizzlin' Summer III Logo)_300x300Santander Consumer USA (SC) is positioned to help dealers plan for the big months ahead with tools and programs meant to strengthen relationships that help build businesses.

The Dealer Extranet, the Rehash Tool, which allows dealers to rework their own deals 24/7, our Dealer Advocacy program, S-Guard, a revamped RoadLoans program, and a direct-mail program have the potential to generate powerful results.

Many of these SC tools and programs will be featured in our upcoming baseball-themed email campaign “Sizzlin’ Summer III,” which should arrive in your inbox approximately every three weeks beginning April 19 with “The First Pitch” and running through Sept. 13 and the “Postgame Show.”

But the linchpin to building successful relationships still is SC’s dedicated team of area sales managers and inside sales managers who cover all 50 states and serve as a Dynamic Resource to dealers.

Most of the top-performing dealerships suggest building relationships with SC buyer and ASM; using all available programs “because this will lead to higher sales” for your dealership, and sending a wide range of credit scores because SC funds deals across the credit spectrum.

“The ASMs are always available and willing to help, and the buyers work to help close deals,” said one dealer. “And Santander gives fast approvals. This is key when trying to work a deal with a customer.”

To get to know SC better see How your ASM can help you make more deals with Santander, then contact your ASM or our sales department to see for yourself.

Because Sizzlin’ Summer is fast approaching.

Paying attention to your dealership’s online reputation matters

Would you buy a car from … you?

That was a question posed in a recent article in Dealer Solutions Magazine. How you ultimately answer it could tell you a lot about the state of your dealership.

“A lot of attention has been paid over the past several years to the processes inside the dealership for buying a car,” wrote Chris Walsh, an expert in market strategy, competitive analysis and sales process.

“Yet, the customer experience outside the dealership is equally important, especially since the vast majority of consumers start their car-buying journey online … Delivering a poor experience online means you’ll likely never get to see those shoppers in your store.”

033017 IL Time to move on from tax season and plan for May-hem (and summer)The article suggests looking at your business from the outside-in – the same way your customers would. And that means you start by looking for a brand or model that you sell.

We tried it with an actual dealership – pretending to be a general manager pretending to be a customer.

To begin with, we Googled a favorite make and model in three adjacent communities, and our dealership came up second in the results after four paid ads, and still on the first screen. Then we searched for our dealership simply by brand and city with our sample dealership coming up first after two paid ads. Not a bad start we figured, but, of course, there’s more to it than that.

Next our general manager’s attention was captured by ratings stars of DealerRater.com, Cars.com, Yelp and Facebook just below and still on the first page of the search results. That proved to be a bit of a double-edged sword, although the outcome generally was favorable.

Our dealership ratings ranged from highs on DealerRater, 4.6 stars out of five from 491 reviews, and Cars.com, 4.6 stars, 619 reviews, to a low on Yelp at 2.6 stars from 143 reviews, with our average rating for 1,427 reviews across the four websites 4.3 stars. Still, we noted that we would go back to take a look at positive and negative results to see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. But be careful about how you handle negative reviews, though – you don’t want to make matters worse.

Then our general manager checked out results for two of our nearby competitors, one of which scored better across all four websites, averaging 4.8 stars from 7,303 reviews, with the second scoring better on one website (Cars.com) but worse on the other three, averaging 4.0 stars from 1,706 reviews.

While online reviews aren’t the only online performance metric to consider, the results certainly are a red flag if our general manager is going to maximize his dealership’s sales.

“Be honest, if you were the customer, from which dealership would you buy?” asked Dealer Solutions.

Next: How easy is your website to use compared to your competitors?