Monday, July 13, 2009

GM is still swinging at the pinata

GM's announcement late last week of partnering with eBay in California is the latest in signals the automotive giant still does not get it.

Throughout much of 2008, GM continued to advertise their hybrid Tahoes, Yukons and Escalades. The question I asked our rep was "Who cares?" Working for a small GM dealership outside a metropolitan area meant the hybrid package was much ado about nothing. Even in the cities where there is a bit of demand for a $50000 Tahoe, there was not THAT much demand. The advertised these large trucks and ignored the core of their fuel economy- more vehicles that got 30+ m.p.g. than any other manufacturer. Even the hybrid Malibu was ignored due to low production.

Now, with just one more illustration of the lack of coherence, GM is, albeit, stopping short of hanging everything on the eBay program, but by announcing this strategy in a limited roll-out in California sniffs like even the management team moving this forward don't think it will work.

I don't have a lot of eBay experience, but what I have found is there are typically 2 buyers:
1. Bargain hunter- I am looking for the lowest priced vehicle no matter what.
2. Specialty hunter- I am looking for that lime green Gremlin I saw on the commercial

Perhaps the Z06 buyer might fall in the latter category, but clearly, the run of the mill truck or sedan buyer doesn't fit into either category. Furthermore, if customers REALLY wanted fixed pricing, would people, especially the G.M. customers, would have flocked to the Saturn stores in droves. Why didn't they?

The art of the deal. Everyone wants to feel like they "won" when they walk out of a dealership. They chiselled more off than their neighbor and got near retail for their trade. We all know the stories.

The difference here is retail customers will be treated like fleet customers, placing their order online, and then getting a call from a dealership. What to do with the trade? What about my rates? What about the options? Of all companies to try this, GM with their myriad of equipment options, especially on trucks, is laughable.

There may well be some successes with the experiment, but I think it will fail in a very short period and soon be forgotten.

Take some advice G.M. take off the blindfold and take a swing at the pinata with all your might. You have the product offering. Make no appologies or concessions for your product. Offering an upfront discount tells all you don't believe the vehicle is worth its price, and you are completely out of touch with the competition. That is why your market share has dwindled over the years.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I should have told them that!


This morning in our sales meeting, one of our guys was lamenting about the lack of success he had the last couple of days setting appointments. The conversation quickly led to placing blame on the quality of the lead in a few instances (what constitutes a "bad" lead; subject of another post), and timing on others (another topic).

One comment just leapt out at me. "After I hung up, I realized I should have said this! Okay. Why didn't you?

I realize people make mistakes all the time. I am a prime example. However, when I realize I made a mistake, I identify it, and try to resolve it. Whenever I hang up with my wife or children, and forget to mention something to them, I call back and tell them.

Have you ever hung up from a loved one and not told them you love them? Do you call them back and tell them? You should!

And you should do the same with a customer! If you realize you had a bullet in your gun to slay the beast, use it. Overcoming the objection is better than not at all. After you hung up, is it safe to presume you did not set the appointment? Thought so. So if you don't have an appointment, there is nothing preventing another sales person from following up with your customer to set an appointment and sell them a car. Nothing that is, except you.

Pick that phone back up, right now, and call them back. "I'm sorry Mr. Jones, after we hung up, I realized there was a critical piece of information I failed to share with you, and I would be doing you a disservice if I did not share it with you."

Do you think you might have his attention now? Now you have done all you can to set that appointment, but what's more, you have taken a load off your mind to allow you to concentrate on setting more appointments and selling more cars. Still not a believer? What about last Saturday night? You saw that good-looking guy or gal at the party or bar? You talked to them for a few minutes, you didn't seem to connect. Then a couple of minutes later, you came up with something new to say. You would go back for another shot, right? Especially if this was THE one person you were looking for. You would not leave anything on the table, right?

At this point in time for auto sales, you can't afford to leave anything on the table. Each up is more precious than ever before, so make the most of every up, every lead, and every call. Get your money's worth out of them, and you will sell more cars!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hooking the phone prospect

It's amazing to me, reading all the expert opinions of how to talk to a customer on the phone and sell them a car. They are all vaguely similar, yet somehow they all miss some of the major points. Getting someone in is one thing, getting them to ask for YOU is something entirely different. How do you do it? I know what is being written has worked in the past, that is how these people got to where they are. The problem is, times change, and your tactics have to as well if you are going to land the appointment and make the sale.

For what it's worth, here are my tips for setting an appointment and getting them to ask for YOU:

1. Make sure the right people are answering the phone. I have been at a store that allowed anyone and everyone to answer the phone so they all had a chance to sell a car. After showing the ineffectiveness of our appointment setting on the phone by looking at volume and listening to who's calling recordings, I was able to convince the sales manager to re-focus and train the poorer performing individuals to get them up to speed.

2. Answer the phone- Not just ANSWER the phone, but HOW you answer the phone. Remember, if this is a used car customer, this is the customers' SECOND opinion of you. The first should have been the listing and the photos showing their new vehicle in its best light. Answer with enthusiasm and passion in your voice and take control of the conversation immediately. One effective technique is to determine which vehicle(s) they are interested in, and ask to put them on hold for a moment. This allows you to regain control if it slipped away.

Regaining your composure, you can now better qualify the customer and establish yourself as the expert they need to work with in order to get a fair deal.

3. Should you miss a phone call, ensure a voicemail with a welcoming voice and professional message greets the customer, asking for their message and contact information, and assure them they will be followed up with shortly, or after you open. Another idea is to provide the customer an alternate phone number for the Internet department with perhaps a Blackberry device and someone on call to answer calls after hours. Remember, this customer is hot- they are looking at YOUR car, and need to be hooked right now!

4. When speaking with the customer, get their contact info. All of it! This sounds simple, but it takes a conscious effort. Ask for a good number in case you get disconnected. "Is this you mobile or work? Great. BTW, what is your work number?" And you email address so I can send you more information and directions to the dealership?" This is where you start building rapport with the customer. Ask qualifying questions of where they work, how long, profession. Ask what they are currently driving and why they are interested in THIS car. What attracted them to this one in particular. This will allow you identify alternative vehicles in your inventory. Remember, some 80% of customers making an online inquiry buy something DIFFERENT than what they contacted a dealer about. Be smart- give yourself as many bullets in the gun as you can. If the call is about a new Camry, ask if they have considered saving some more money with a certified pre-owned vehicle, and be prepared to explain the benefits of doing so. Ask if they would also be open to an Accord, a Malibu, Galant, Altima, you get the picture. Whatever is going to be similar to what they are seeking.

5. Ask WHY they are looking for a change. For example, someone looking to bail out of a RAM 3500 diesel and get into a Civic is probably looking to lower monthly outgo, though their need for a truck may not have completely left them. One of the most common reasons I hear is a growing family, so a sedan or a van are of particular interest to the customer. Be thinking for them. Become a consultant and not a salesman. A friend of mine once sold a couple a Camaro Z28 when they came in looking for a van. Mark asked why a van, they looked at each other blankly since both kids were out of the house, and realized that is just what they thought they were supposed to buy. They left in a car that made them feel young again, and Mark earned a customer for life. He sold them several cars over the last few years.

6. When setting the appointment (or asking any question, for that matter), be sure to ask yes or no questions to maintain control of the conversation, and either/or questions with regards to issues like appointment day and time. "Would today or tomorrow be better for you? Morning or afternoon? 2:15 or 4:45? (Odd times seem to have a higher show rate as opposed to on the hour appointments). Nail them down to the time!

When a date/time is agreed upon, now this is important.. Really important: "Mr customer, do you have a pen? Great! My name is Gerald Hand. H-A-N-D- real easy to remember, right? Great. My direct line is 214 555 5555. Please call me if you are running late. I have cleared 1 1/2 hours for you to give you my undivided attention. I need you to bring with you a couple of items" (STIPS if needed). "When you arrive, you are going to see a bunch of guys out front- just let them know you are here to see who? (Have him repeat your name). Great! I will be waiting on you. BTW, what vehicle will you be driving so I can keep an eye out for you?" (This will allow you to see if someone is skating you when they are late for the appointment and you see their trade outside).

7. Establishing yourself as their go-to person at the dealership is easy: "Mr Customer, I know your time is valuable, so is mine. When you arrive, you need to be sure to ask for me, even though some people will tell you they can get "Internet pricing". I know WHAT you are looking for, what you are trying to accomplish, and what is important to you, so I will be able to save you TIME, MONEY, and frustration. That is why you are shopping on the Internet, right? Great! I'll see you here tomorrow at 2:45. I will call and confirm tomorrow morning, and I will send you a confirmation email right now, with my contact info and our directions with a map."

8. The customer doesn't answer, so you have to leave a message. "Mr Customer, this is Gerald Hand at ABC motors returning your call about the A6 you found online. I have some interesting news to share with you on this vehicle, so please call me back at your earliest convenience so I can share it with you. I think you will find it very helpful in making your buying decision. My number is 817 555 5555, again, 817 555 5555, Gerald Hand, ABC Motors. Thank you for your interest. I look forward to speaking with you." Simple, to the point, give out no information that makes you unneeded, and generate some interest. When they call back, share with them you personally just walked the car, found it is in nearly showroom condition, and the Carfax reports 1 owner, no accidents, etc. Build value in you and the car. Now you go to steps 6 & 7 to qualify, set yourself apart, and book the appointment.

9. You've told the customer you would call to confirm- be sure you do so. With the follow-up email and phone calls to confirm, is it likely the customer is going to blow you off? Probably not. They will be thinking "This guy is on his game, he is a professional, so I had better be there or let him know I can't make it!" And that is exactly what you want.

10. A couple of hours before the appointment, contact them again with some contrived excuse. For example, for a 2:15 appt, call to ask them if they are running a little early or if you will have time to run out to lunch since you are prepared for them and don't want to miss them. They will tell you go ahead and eat and be back or they will be there on time.

11. They arrive. The only catch now is you had better be on your game to make sure you maximize their time and close that deal. Don't forget to ask for referrals when you have absolutely wowed them with your totally professional approach.

12. Don't forget to sell the dealership. It is amazing to me how few actually do this. Think about it. Unless you are selling a Ford GT, a Lambo, or some other rarer than rare vehicle, they can probably find a similar vehicle at any number of dealerships. What they need to know is why they should drive past 4,5 or more stores to see you. If you know why they should buy from you, you are ahead of the game.

Good luck, and let me know how it works!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

First things first- establish the foundation

PHOTO: Ken McCown photography


Congratulations! You have been selected to run your stores’ Internet Department. Now what? In this entry I will provide some key areas for you to focus on and hopefully ramp-up quickly and begin to be an impact player for you store.

First Things First

You need to understand what Internet sales is NOT. It is not a place for “computer geeks” with pocket protectors, meek people, someone who abhors the phone, or even someone who is “good on a computer”. None of these traits will make for a successful ISM. Rather, someone who is focused, great on the phone, can handle objections and is able to make a connection with the prospect over the PHONE. The phone is the life line of the department.

Assuming you have had some degree of success in sales yourself, you are hopefully versed in some of the basic rebuttals (If I could would ya?) and know how to get someone to commit. The very first thing you should want to do is find out EXACTLY what is expected of you. By that I mean what is supposed to happen now that you are in charge. Key areas to ponder and discuss are:

  1. What level of production is expected?

- Focus on new or used? Certified pre-owned? What would your GM define as successful?

  1. What constitutes an Internet Deal?

- Email customers only? Phone pops originated from the Internet? Customers finding a vehicle at the manufacturers’ website and driving in? Referral from a friend who found the car on the Internet? Get this laid down right now, and make sure they understand if you are not getting credit for walk-ins and phone pops from Internet driven events, your numbers will take much longer to get to where they want to be.

  1. What is the budget?

- Where is the money going? How much is there? If you want an increase are there more monies for leads? What kind of ROI are we expecting? Every store is different. Some dealers squeak by on a budget under $5000, and others "dump" money into web advertising. Manage the monies to get the most bang for your buck.

  1. What is the quota?

- How many new and used are we wanting and what kind of GP/unit?- What about last year for comparison?

- Is it realistic given historical data, inventory and budget? If you have been selling 30-40 cars/month on the Internet, your inventory is under 100 units and your budget is around $8000 (averaging $200/sold for advertising), you probably will not hit your objectives. How can you magically double production when all else remains the same?

  1. What kind of model is the department to be?

- Pure Internet: Cradle to grave where one ISM receives lead, contacts the prospect, shows the car, and handles the negotiations to delivery.

- BDC: Appt setters are the first response. Initial and subsequent contacts are made to set an appointment for the floor or specialized sales professionals.

- Hybrid: BDC personnel initiate contact, work the lead for say 1 week. If a quote is needed or after 1 week, the lead is handed off to an ISM, or vice-versa.

  1. Is there any historical data to review?

- Assuming this is not the first time the store has been on the web, there is some sort of track record to be captured and considered, even it is only the number of sales.

- Evaluate it, what is glaring that needs to be improved upon?

- What is the average response time? Shoot for under 1 hour, but take baby steps to get there. A slower, measured response is better than shooting a canned response after your autoresponder goes out.

  1. Which vendors are you using?

- Primary lead source? Hopefully your own website.

- How many 3rd party vendors? Autotrader, Cars, Autobytel, Dealix, AutoUSA, eBay, Craigs list?

i. How are they performing? How many leads/month? Cost? Are they actually buying?

ii. Closing ratios? Measuring how many you close will tell you if the leads are acceptable or not. Look for 6-9% on third party leads.

- What about current customer base? Are you marketing to current service customers? Are they getting monthly service specials

- How much for how much? Get invoices from Accounting, and a copy of all agreements with vendors.

- Dedicated phone numbers for the Internet? Autotrader, Cars, and many other vendors, including your website, can have a direct number to the Internet Department, and allow you to listen to what is being said to the customers.

  1. What is the GMs' vision?

- Where do we want to go? 25%, 33%, 50% of the business? What is his measuring stick?

- What is the strategy? (He is the strategist, you are the tactician; ensure a smooth integration with parts and service to prospect for good customers and trades)

- What is the policy on quotes? What is the policy on working deals? Can you work a deal over the phone and arrange delivery, or must they come in for the best price?

- Who do you report to?

- How will you be evaluated?

- How many people do you have?

- Are you allowed to promote from the floor?

- Pricing strategy? Quote everyone, be lower than everyone, Just Get ‘em in?

  1. Does management REALLY know what Internet means? Or is this just the thing to do now? Are they using it now to “Keep up”, or do they genuinely believe in the webs influence?

- For smaller rural stores or old family-owned stores, this may be more applicable than most. For example, one day a young man was checking out our Bentley Continental, and wondered aloud “Who in Gainesville would buy a Bentley?” I straightened him out and told him someone from Kuwait was buying it! After all, “World” is the first name of the world wide web. Many dealers have a hard time getting out of the box. Get outside your box!

- If your store has fiddled around in the past with the web, what is driving the change?

- Did they pick this up at their last 20 group meeting?

- Do they have resources (people they can call on) to assist you?

  1. Are they “all in” behind you?

- What are the skating policies?

- Open door policy?

- Weekly meetings with department heads to discuss issues?

- Open to reconsidering pre-owned inventory? (To be discussed later)


-How will you be compensated?

Gross Profit?



-What is fair?

So you're an Internet Director now! Now what?!

For my first post in this blog, I would like to lay out the parameters for what this blog is initially intended to do:

1. Instruct
2. Encourage.
3. Share ideas
4. Develop relationships/network
5. Develop new ideas/concepts
6. Discuss emerging technologies

I wish I had found a website somewhere when I first started that would succinctly tell me what I needed to know first BEFORE I got into it. What types of things to look for. What do I need to worry about, measure and report? How do I know what is right. What REALLY gets results? What do I tackle first?

It is my intent to share some of the hard knocks I learned during my learning process, chronicle the establishment of a multi-point directorship, and share them with my readers so they can more quickly impact their stores and enjoy quick results. In no way do I think I have ALL the answers, just most of them.

All kidding aside, I welcome comments, suggestions, ideas and questions from everyone as long as they are professional, and not inflammatory.

The first few posts will regard getting started, setting up, and going from here to there. We will then move onto popular topics like handling objections, developing pay plans, ensuring CSI, driving parts and service business. We will discus current and emerging technologies and how we may or may not adopt for an edge in business.

I look forward to what the coming year and (hopefully) better economy holds for the automotive industry. Lets grow together.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Step Two- The Leader's Reconnaissance

All good leaders have an eye on the future and the competition. In today’s market place, trends change quicker than you can change your socks. By watching what is happening out there (the competition) you will stay in tune with them and be able to evaluate what they are doing and respond accordingly. In other words, anything to help us gain the advantage.

Your recon will focus on the following items:

1. Where are the phone numbers ringing? Check every number you have online.
    1. How many times is it ringing? Keep it under 3 rings
    2. If not answered, is there a mailbox, and are the messages being returned in a timely manner?
    3. Is there a Who’s calling number? This provides a whisper to the customer the call will be recorded for quality control. You will be able to log in and listen to your people and the objections they are facing. You will find ones not setting appointments are probably giving out too much information, or if one is constantly bringing “heat” it may be because he is overpromising.
    4. If so, is anybody listening to the recordings?

If not- who is responsible? If so, what are they hearing as an opportunity to improve employees?

    1. If so, what weaknesses or trends are they hearing?

2. Where are the leads coming from?
    1. Contact info on each vendor and a copy of the agreements?
      - schedule an appt with the vendors ASAP- they often provide great insight and help, and sometimes have training events coming up to help you ramp up.
    1. What is your url? Does it make sense? Do you have specials listed? Does each and every page of your website and vendors have accurate information? My old store still has my name on the banners, over a year after I left.

    2. How is it performing in search engine results? Google, Yahoo, local listings, maps. What key words are important?

    3. Where is your inventory being pushed?
      What is the audience at each website/recipient? E.g., horse people, Gen Y’ers, affluent people?
    1. Where are the leads going?

    2. Do you have a lead manager?
      - If not, why not? Can you get by with Outlook or Act?
      - If so, can you be trained on it quickly? You need to learn how to respond to a lead, reassign, find, and generate reports so you are able to be self-sufficient.
    1. How are they being assigned?
      - Round robin? Enough people to handle no more than 120 leads/month.
      - Handed out? Hard to track but provides an opportunity to manage employees by interfacing and discussing each lead.
    1. Is there a process?
      - What is it? (Is it written down?)
      - Is it being followed?
      - What seems to be working, and what is not?
      - How long are you keeping leads active?
3. Are templates being used?
    1. Should be for the long term follow up. Personalized emails will get the best results, however, after a few days of non-response, you will need to handle them with pre-formed emails, waiting to get a response.

    2. Mass email campaigns? Remember your audience. Generate emails the targets will be interested in. For example, someone with a work truck will be interested in savings in the service department, but probably won’t be interested in custom wheels (after he has purchased) or what the lease special is on a compact car. Customers looking for a deal on a car will be interested in the accessories and parts specials, as well as a good price for their new vehicle.
4. Do you have access to the DMS system to check deals?This is invaluable. Unless you are desking every deal that comes in, you will miss deals. Sales people are lazy, and will not ask where they found you or the car. Back-tracking each morning and at the end of every month, use the DMS to screen names in your CRM and phone numbers in your Cars and Autotrader reports. You will be amazed at how many more deals you will find!

5. What are you tracking? Better yet, what do the GM and sales managers track?
    1. Leads
    2. Sold
    3. Cost
    4. Gross Profit
    5. Cost/Lead
    6. Cost/Sold
    7. Closing ratios
    8. Touches
    9. Certified
    10. Warranties, etc.
    11. Stock number
    12. Deal number
    13. Vehicle
    14. Age of vehicle
    15. Age of leads
    16. Distance of leads sold
    17. Response time
By tracking the basics and many of the above items, you will demonstrate to your GM you are thorough and meticulous in your reports, and they can come to you for information that can be regarded as factual. I warn you: garbage in, garbage out! The best thing you can do is to use the SAME METRIC every month. Don’t call “this” a deal one month and not the next. You will never be able to chart your course. Use the same stipulations for a deal each time and your numbers will reveal a trend in all you do.