Future car-buyers who walk into the Hines Park Lincoln showroom have little room to question the dealership’s philosophy. It is carved for all to see in a big granite wall in the middle of the showroom, advertising their motto from the past 41 years of car sales: “If it is the truth, honest and fair, then it is good for both of us and therefore the basis upon which our relationship can long endure.”
George Kolb wrote the timeless words in 1970. Now, 41 years later, his grandson Ryan Kolb, operations manager and part owner, conducts daily business with that philosophy. Ryan has worked at the dealership since he was 12 years old, doing everything from “pulling weeds to cleaning cars.” His grandfather’s strategy has carried the dealership into the year 2011. Ryan works with his brother Adam Kolb, and his father and uncle are still majority owners of the family business.
Hines Park Lincoln of Plymouth, Mich., serves the suburban area halfway between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The dealership was named the FordDirect’s Lincoln Internet Dealer of the Year in 2009 and 2010, to which Ryan partially credits the dealership philosophy, which is hard at work everyday in his dealership.
The February 2011 FordDirect Dealer News announcing the 2010 awards explained that “winners are determined by a formula that ranks total sales as well as dealer close rates for” the previous year. In 2010, Hines Park Lincoln closed 20 percent of leads, and 12 percent of all sales were from Internet leads.
Leo Hillock, OCE/EVP FordDirect, said the winning dealerships “worked diligently to create a world-class Internet shopping experience that brings online shoppers into the showroom. He also applauded the dealerships’ ability to take “full advantage of opportunities to connect with potential customers” through their FordDirect websites.
Hines Park Lincoln gets new car sales leads from FordDirect and their own website (which is “simple” and to-the-point), but for pre-owned vehicles the dealership also uses other sites such as Cars.com and AutoTrader.com. The dealership is specifically enrolled in four FordDirect services, including: New Vehicle Marketing, Pre-Owned Vehicle Marketing, DealerConnection Premiere Customization and Search Engine Marketing.
Working through FordDirect means that the dealership doesn’t have to make changes directly to its website, but rather sends out requests whenever they want changes to be made. However, once the future customer makes it to the website and submits a lead, the BDC is the first line of communication with the customer.
In addition to Kolb, the two people behind the BDC’s success are Deanna Pfile, BDC manager, and Amanda Bryant, BDC coordinator. According to Kolb, the daily consistency of these two women staying committed to their follow-up schedule and building relationships with clients are the keys to the department’s success.
Periodic fine-tuning to the BDC has also helped successfully streamline its processes. Reynolds and Reynolds Consulting, which Kolb says the dealership has used for years, comes in two days per quarter to review the BDC’s processes, analyze what is working and make alterations (including changes to word tracks and email templates). Until November 2010, the team had three staff members, but Kolb said they were forced to reduce staff as the Mercury brand was phased out.
A little over a year ago, the BDC department was further streamlined when Hines Park Lincoln switched from using an Internet lead management tool to managing leads through the DMS, which eliminated the BDC entering data unnecessarily into multiple systems. “It saved them a lot of time so they could focus on what they should be doing instead of being repetitive,” Kolb said.
Kolb runs his BDC the way he runs his dealership, the “traditional” way by making appointments with leads and “trying to keep everything simple.” The most important rule is the dealership’s target five-minute response time to an Internet lead, 10 minutes at the most.
The BDC handles all leads that come into the dealership and responds promptly, answering questions and providing information, as well as following up with older leads.
The BDC follows up with the customer for at least 90 days, and sometimes pursues longer-term follow up for up to 180 days depending on the lead. When a customer comes into the dealership, they meet with a sales manager first; then they are introduced to a salesperson to take the lead from there.
Kolb said daily lead rates vary, and there is no rhyme or reason to the number coming into the BDC that day. However, the strategies behind the sales have complete reason. Having been the former BDC manager himself, he realizes just how irreplaceable consistent BDC efforts are to the closing rates.
“You have to give the customer what they want,” he said. “No gimmicks, no tricks.” Kolb said they may offer alternatives or other ideas to the customer, but if someone asks specifically about a certain car, they will be given the price up front without hesitation. As his grandfather said, it’s all about building relationships based on the truth.
While some dealerships work to find the balance between being persistent with customers and being overly pushy, Hines Park Lincoln doesn’t struggle with that. Kolb relies on a set schedule that his dealership has tweaked over the years since their BDC was formed in 2004. Running the BDC himself was “the best thing ever,” according to Kolb.
It was that struggle that led Hines Park Lincoln to be one of the first dealerships to utilize the BDC as a new dealership department, Kolb observed. He acknowledged that it may be a controversial idea, as some dealerships don’t see it as a profit center because it is “abstract.” However, it’s hard to argue with his success.
“If you run [the BDC] how it’s traditionally supposed to be run, it frees up salespeople to be salespeople. Our salespeople have not answered a phone call from a customer; they get our BDC. That takes the pressure off.” Kolb said some dealerships in his area have “flashier websites” and some have “terrible” sites. “We probably fall somewhere in the middle,” Kolb said. “But BDC wise we are competitive in our market, to the point that we don’t know what each other are doing.”
Developing the FordDirect website has been a timesaving decision for Kolb, who thinks it is a possible solution for dealerships that don’t have someone on staff to run a website. He says that there’s “nothing flashy” about the website, but it is in line with his personal philosophy of keeping things simple and doing what works.
“I’m fairly satisfied with the work they are doing,” he said. “A lot of Internet leads come from FordDirect.” However Kolb isn’t stopping with FordDirect. He is also launching a third-party website to “test to see which one gets better results.” The new website, true to his style, will not be “super high-tech.” Instead, he’ll keep it basic.
With the new website, scheduled for launch in April 2011, Kolb is pursuing some new initiatives. The first is a blog focusing on community involvement, new Lincoln vehicles, and other topics both he and a third-party provider will create. He also has social media trends on his radar.
The Hines Park Lincoln Facebook page is in the works, and Kolb is looking to develop a presence on Twitter. “Honestly, I think the best way to use social media is for salespeople to use it individually,” suggested Kolb. He has personally sold six to seven cars to people he hasn’t seen since high school, but reconnected with over Facebook. “The key if you’re going to use it is to get followers and put out relevant information. It’s all content, and keeping your name in front of them.”
He’s also planning to incorporate text message marketing into the dealership’s traditional media by including a call to action in the dealership’s television commercials for customers to text a certain phone number for special deals. Additionally, customers cruising the lot can text a number on a vehicle’s windshield to receive full sale information about that vehicle.
Regardless of the media, Kolb said his first priority is starting a relationship. The Internet is just one of his many means of connecting prospective buyers to one of his 18 salespeople. “I don’t think there is such a thing as Internet buying. It’s just another way of contacting the dealership.”
Aside from his consistent BDC and successful Internet efforts, Kolb also credits the Lincoln brand and their marketing, especially the changing technology that draws a younger crowd. With the loss of over 50 percent of business volume from Mercury in November 2010, Kolb finds himself concentrating more on certified pre-owned vehicles, as well as giving loyal Mercury lovers alternatives like the popular Lincoln MKZ and MKX.
All the awards in the automotive industry cannot replace customer feedback. Kolb said the best compliment they have received is that they actually respond to leads in a speedy, low-pressure way. “We don’t beat people up,” he said. “All you have to do is contact the person and be genuinely interested. You don’t have to sell people; you just have to listen.”
It can be found in any relationship guide—listening creates strong relationships. But for Kolb, the advice came straight from his grandfather’s quote, and he has found success in that philosophy.
Vol. 8, Issue 5