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Sweat The Small Stuff

The sixth edition of the Internet Achievement Awards is now on the books (literally). Each year our staff spends countless hours sorting through the entries in the 10 weeks before the awards make it to print, and this year is no different.
Other things remain the same, too. As has been the case in each of the last six years, I always take time to recognize Dave Smith Motors and the phenomenal job done by the dealership’s Internet department. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the magnitude of their achievements. Their Internet production would be simply amazing if they sat in the middle of a mega market like Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle, where millions of buyers work and reside. To accomplish what they do in a town of 2,400 people in northern Idaho defies description. When looking at last year’s Internet Achievement Awards, Dave Smith Motors improved the production of their Internet department this year by another 744 units, which is more than all but the top 130 dealers’ production in the entire country. What can be in store for next year? 

One thing for sure, to accomplish what Dave Smith Motors did, you simply must sweat the details, making every lead and appointment count. However, it is apparent that the overwhelming majority of dealers don’t sweat the details when it comes to their own Web site. Having reviewed hundreds of Web sites to help determine the winners in the best Web site categories, I found more than 75 percent of the sites reviewed had embarrassing problems, including an amazing number that contained significant errors on their homepages. Broken links were certainly the most common problem. There is no excuse for that happening. Don’t go blaming the vendor that is hosting your site, either. It is the dealership’s job to proof the site, just like you proof your broadcast and print advertising.

As long as we are talking about the details, consider another frequent offense. With the Hispanic market becoming such a significant niche, dealers are wisely adding Hispanic pages, content or translation tools. Great…until you click on the “Español” link and are directed to a page with all or part of the information in English (an occurrence on 70 percent of the Web sites reviewed). How offensive is that?

The issues didn’t stop there. I couldn’t count the number of times I clicked on links entitled “Specials” and found blank pages or others saying “Check Back Later” (you bet), while some contained hopelessly outdated information. Remember, the sites that I spent my time reviewing were the ones nominated to be the best in the country! I found one dealer with a special that expired in 2005; another expired almost a year ago.  Another “special” even wished me “Happy Holidays.” Consumers are interested in sales and specials; isn’t that what most dealers advertise? If you have a button or a link labeled “Specials”, for goodness sake pay attention to it—your customers are.

Now that I have been a “consumer” again the last few years, I look at sites a little differently. While I am searching for my next vehicle, the search will usually take me all over the country. One thing I look for is something that sets a dealer apart, as well as establishes credibility. The top independent dealers seem to do that much better than most franchise dealers out of necessity. Use the “About Us” section of your site to really tell your story. Don’t just use the same generic stuff that other dealers use.

The same goes for employees. People like to know who they will be working with. Names with faces go a long way. Take the time to include your team on your Web site. If I am working with Willie Ligon at Expressway Dodge, I want to see his big smile. Even if you have a team of 50 sales people it can be done very tastefully and effectively.

While on the subject of employees, most dealers now have an employment application on their Web site. That’s a good start. Some have taken it one step farther listing the various positions that often have more frequent turnover within their organization. One organization (only one – Ralph Schomp Automotive) really nailed it. The site actually includes the entire job description and skills needed for each position. That is sweating the details, yet dealers say it’s too hard to hire good people.

In summary, my guess is that too many dealer principals or general managers aren’t taking the time to review their entire Web sites. If they did, I am betting many of the aforementioned errors would be cleared up within 24 hours.

Finally, just so that you know Dave Smith Motors isn’t perfect, they too had some broken links on their “About Us” page. It shows that the people in that dealerships Internet department are human, but I know too well that they do sweat the details. As long as they are selling 8,025 units over the Internet each year, we can cut them a little slack!

Until next month,
Sweat the details!


Vol 4, Issue 5
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