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The Future Is Now!

Well, those readers that have been following my columns over the past years should recall that I have been encouraging readers to embrace the Internet as the area of greatest opportunity for growth. I have related success stories about dealerships with proper systems and word tracks in place in which the closing ratios were higher than other types of Special Finance leads and the cost per sale, much lower.

Noting that, I had the pleasure of announcing the 2003 Internet Dealer of the Year Award, the 2003 Pre-Owned Retailer of the Year, the Top 100 overall sales rankings and finally the Top 50 Pre-Owned sales rankings at our Internet Retailing conference. Of particular note was the ranking of the Top 50 Pre-Owned retailers, as it is in this category that you will find the majority of the Special Finance sales.

There were some very remarkable occurrences in the Top 50 rankings, more specifically in the Top 10. First of all, Metro Auto Wholesale, Portland, Ore., claimed the top spot for the second year in a row. Particularly noteworthy is that the managing partner, Jeff Carrier, stated that 75 percent of his 2,869 Internet-based pre-owned sales in 2003 were Special Finance sales! That is roughly 175 per month.

The next noteworthy accomplishment was turned in by Joe Battista, of Manassas, Va. He actually provided two. First, in spring 2002 he decided to turn to the Internet to reach the Special Finance customer in the hotly contested Washington, D.C. metro market. He took his Auto Express of Manassas store from zero to 1,046 pre-owned sales during the balance of the year, to place it at #3 in the Top 50. Of those, 95 percent were Special Finance. In addition, he opened a second location in nearby Woodbridge, Va. in mid-2002 and managed, with 266 pre-owned sales (all but three Special Finance) to get it ranked #40!

Placing sixth, twentieth and thirty-sixth in the Top 50 were three Easterns Automotive Group stores, also located in the Washington, D.C. metro-market. Steve Hall, the president, helped guide the three locations to a total of 1,671 pre-owned units, which were 80 percent Special Finance.

Certainly not least, but holding the final spot in the Top 10, is Bobb Chevrolet of Columbus, Ohio. Jeff May, dealer principal, had his organization embrace third-party Special Finance generators, delivering 637 pre-owned units, primarily in the later half of 2003.

In scanning through the entire Top 50, I noticed a significant increase in pre-owned sales, in particular by organizations that I am able to identify as getting involved with Special Finance and the Internet in the later half of 2002. Knowing the current sales rates of 20 Group members and other clients, I predict that next year’s version of this list will feature a number of newcomers, with many of them dominating the top half of the Top 50 list. That stated, and even with the increased involvement by dealerships over the past 12 months, it still remains a market that is virtually untapped, and if approached properly, will return tremendous rewards.

Carrier and Battista, during a panel discussion at the Internet Marketing Conference, identified that their primary focus remains on turning the lead into a dealership visit. While their organizations used differing structures, they both approached the all-important outbound phone call similarly, which is the key. Recognizing the Internet-based lead is different than the “standard” lead; a regimented but friendly word-track is the key—along with bringing all leads into the dealership, not just those identified as easily-recognized deals.

Three things remain important in dealing with the Special Finance customer and the Internet. Time, the outbound call, and the ability to work the deal with “typical” Special Finance processes.

The immediate response is paramount to success. During my retail career, while using third party leads, it was quite possible for an unwitting finance manager at a competing dealership to submit one of their customers through an online credit approval system such as after they could not get one of their conventional lenders to take a deal. (This is the closest thing that many dealerships have to Special Finance). With the alliances that exist within the industry, that application to (input with the customer sitting in front of the F&I desk) would immediately get turned down, sold by to another third party generator, and then be delivered to our desk within seconds of the original input. Our department would then immediately call the customer (most likely on their cell phone which the F&I manager had used for input) and we would reach them while they were still sitting at the desk. It happens. All the time.

The outbound call is as important as the time it is made. Understanding the mindset of the customer—especially the customer that comes “blind” from a third party generator—is extremely important. First, they applied online primarily to save any further embarrassment or humiliation. They usually assume they will get an immediate answer (by e-mail), and will not have to look at someone in the eye or talk with them to potentially receive the “bad news.” The first thing you must do is call, and immediately establish a rapport. Those achieving strong success quickly establish rapport (not always easy to do), do very light verification of the information input (what good does it to find out the applicant’s underwear size?), ask for the appointment, confirm it and get off the phone. That is it. Grinding the customer for credit details, asking questions that get you talking about specific vehicles, price, interest rates, down payments or rates will only cause you to build barriers and your “appointments-kept” ratio will plummet.

Finally, it takes all eight components of Special Finance to make it work once the customer comes to the dealership. Remember, the Internet leads are truly an extension of advertising, and instead of buying advertising, you are buying leads. The key is to work them properly and consistently to turn the leads into sales.

Congratulations to all of those that have embraced Special Finance and the Internet, especially Jeff Carrier and Joe Battista. Both of their organizations have done a terrific job, and I would only expect more from them next year. They have found out that the future is now—you ought to as well!

Until next time, Good Selling!


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