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Dealer Ops

Focused On The Phone!

Dealerships spend tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars each year attracting the sub-prime customer to their dealerships by television, direct mail, newspaper or even the Internet. The majority of dealers determine success of a particular campaign or event by the number of sales that were made during it. What most fail to remember is that advertising is not designed to sell automobiles; it is just the tool used to put potential buyers in touch with your sales staff.

Before the sale, before the presentation, and before the test drive can take place, the customer must cross the barrier of the initial contact. Usually it comes by way of a phone call. The phone call is the desired result of most sub-prime advertising, and, it is the way that three out of four sub-prime sales begin. The inability to convert initial contacts into dealership visits will easily undermine the most successful advertising campaign.

On our website, two common questions proliferate on the Bulletin Board. Dealers often ask, “How can you attract more special finance leads?” or “How can you get the people that call to come into the dealership?” The answer to both can often be as simple as improving the skills of those manning the telephone. Whether your department is staffed by a single person or a staff of 10 or more, it is vital that any person communicating with customers by telephone be properly trained to do so effectively.

To accomplish this, we must first identify the goals of the phone call. I have always felt the primary goals (whether the customer is calling into the store, or dealership personnel are responding to a submitted application for credit) is to establish good rapport and get the person to set an appointment to come into the dealership. Without achieving this, a sale will most likely never occur. Secondary goals become the gathering or clarifying of information used to qualify the customer’s creditworthiness, and, insuring that when the customer comes to the dealership they bring with them all necessary documents in order to take immediate delivery. The most important thing to remember, however, is that you are selling the ability to obtain financing—not selling a vehicle.

The best preparation for these goals is using telephone scripts along with role playing. Some people may roll their eyes when the word “script” is used, but nothing ensures sustained success any better than a well-scripted call and the practicing or rehearsing of the script until it becomes natural. The exact number and types of scripts will vary slightly for each dealership and the type of advertising that initiates the call.

Over the years we basically used the same script and then modified it to reflect what brought in the lead (i.e.—an infomercial, the Internet, or a fresh call directly to the dealership from a newspaper or television ad). Remember with many situations the dealership most likely already has credit information that the customer has supplied over the phone or Internet. As you craft your script, keep in mind your goals, and also remember to anticipate the four questions that you will most likely incur. You must be prepared to deflect those questions.

What are those four questions (that can so easily cause the phone call to slide the wrong direction)? The four most common are:

  • How much of a down payment will I need?
  • What will my payments be?
  • What is the interest rate?
  • Do you have any (fill in the blank) in stock, and how much are they?

Why is it so important to have answers prepared to deflect these questions? Any one of them can allow the customer to take the lead in the conversation, ultimately sidetracking you from your goal. In addition, at the time of the call, most of them can’t be answered. Even if you could, there is often no “good” answer. For example, if you quote a rate or a payment (heaven forbid) you have either painted yourself into a corner, or scared away the customer.

There are some of you that may think this is too simplistic. You and your staff are well-trained and oiled machines. Again, reflecting on 12 years of Special Finance experience, the fact is that even machines need maintenance. I know that if the appointment rate starts to drop then people are beginning to ad-lib or skip items on the script. That means it is “back to basics” time. On other occasions someone else will realize this for you. All a dealer needs to do is go to a 20 Group meeting where the moderator has taped mystery shopping interviews and your “star” ends the call and has failed to even get the customer’s last name or phone number. Going back to the lead-in of this column—this is a prime example of the effectiveness of your advertising being masked by the failure of your system or process. The ads did their job—the phone call came in—but the sales person’s ineffectiveness did the store in.

If I still haven’t convinced you, I recommend you contact a calling service. They can give you an accurate method of tracking exactly how many phone calls (and who made them), every type of advertising used and who really generates, and, more importantly, they record every incoming phone call for your playback. This isn’t meant to be “Big Brother” watching, but it certainly can provide for some excellent learning opportunities during your daily one-on-ones, or allow managers to save some otherwise lost deals.

Now, if all is handled professionally and correctly, you should be able to bank on the 6-3-2-1 rule. Six leads (or contacts) yield three appointments of which two will show and one will deliver. Some may wonder about the 50 percent appointment rate, but between the un-employed individuals, the person calling for someone else, etc., if you average an appointment with 50 percent of your leads you will have done a benchmark job.

The moral of the story is that most often dealerships are able to create enough leads to satisfactorily supply their store or department. Sometimes, they are even able to supply too many, where the sales staff starts cutting corners on the phone calls just to be able to talk with them all. Keep focused on the point of first contact, and you will see your numbers improve almost every time.



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