Grappone Automotive's Developing BDC

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. That is certainly true for the business development center of Grappone Automotive Group, a six-franchise dealer group with four rooftops in Bow, N.H. Over the course of about seven years, the dealership’s BDC has continuously evolved. Today, it exists as a centralized operation handling Internet leads and incoming sales calls for all six stores and is responsible for 50 percent of the dealership’s 600 sales each month. In August, that level reached a record 53 percent.
The BDC has moved far beyond its initial structure, which was essentially a large Internet department, handling Internet leads for all the stores but no incoming sales calls. When it was decided that the department would begin taking sales calls, a shift in the operating model took place. “At that point, we felt it was necessary and … more effective to have two or three individuals in each store, [so] we tried the decentralized model,” said Jena Bucknam, Internet sales manager. She explained that the reason behind the decentralization was so the business development representatives “could have access to the manager [and] readily access any information that they needed to.”

Grappone Honda
Grappone Automotive Group, a six-franchise dealer group in Bow, N.H., has a centralized business development center that handles Internet leads and incoming sales calls for all the stores. The BDC is responsible for 50 percent of the dealership's 600 sales each month, and in August 2011, the department reached a record of 53 percent.

They operated under that model for about a year before moving back to a centralized operation serving all the stores, located in a building that used to serve as the Hyundai showroom. There are plans to eventually relocate the BDC to the top floor of the Toyota store. The decision to consolidate again was prompted by the steadily-increasing number of consumers going online to research and shop for vehicles, and the fact that those shoppers were often comparing makes and models across multiple Grappone sites. Centralizing the BDC brought a greater measure of consistency to the group’s lead management process; instead of being contacted by three different business development representatives from the Honda, Ford and Toyota stores, for example, the customer now deals with a single BDR, regardless of the vehicle brands the customer is interested in, until he or she is turned over to a sales associate.

One rather unique feature of Grappone’s BDC is the presence Sales Manager Steve Burrill three days a week. Bucknam realized that because of the department’s lead volume and the complexity of the information customers wanted, the BDC would benefit from having easy access to a sales manager. “Oftentimes the managers in the stores were too busy to take our phone calls … so we weren’t able to respond to the customers as quickly as we needed to,” she explained. Burrill, who is currently the sales manager at the Hyundai store, started out on the sales floor at the Toyota store before serving as sales manager for the Ford and Mazda operations. Bucknam said his experience with those brands makes him the ideal person for the job. “Hyundai, Ford and Mazda have been our biggest challenges as far as getting prices—because we do believe in giving prices right up front,” she explained. “Their systems and trim levels are a little bit more intricate than Honda’s and Toyota’s, as well as their incentives.” When Burrill is not at the BDC he is still accessible by phone whenever he’s needed.

Bucknam, with the help of a BDC assistant manager, monitors the department’s daily operations and oversees 10 business development representatives. They are responsible for handling all incoming sales calls, making contact with all organic and third-party Internet leads (which includes handling chat on the dealership’s websites and on third-party websites), gathering and entering customer information into the CRM system, setting appointments, and following up on missed appointments and to reset them. They also contact many of the stores’ lease-end customers and handle some of the unsold showroom follow-up, depending on how busy they are with Internet leads. Bucknam said, “Where I want to get eventually is to be doing all of those things, every single day, 100 percent.”

In terms of Internet leads, she said they are using some third-party leads but have scaled them back. “Our organic traffic is very, very strong, so we’ve limited the amount of third-party lead providers because we simply don’t need them as much,” she said. However, she added, “Internet customers don’t just shop one dealership. They’re not local mom-and-pop dealership customers anymore … and we understand that, so that’s why we do put our names out there on these other websites that consumers are searching –,, Auto USA and Zag, or TrueCar – which has actually worked very well for us because it’s allowed us to expand our market share into Vermont, Maine [and] Massachusetts.”

Jena Bucknam"I think we're very innovative and ahead of the Internet curve right now, but it changes every day so we have to stay on our feet and keep consistently changing."

- Jena Bucknam, Internet Sales Manager

Trying to find the right balance between organic leads and the number of third party-leads has been tricky. “That in itself was a very hard process, as any dealer will tell you. There’s not a silver bullet for that,” she stated. Bucknam has spent a great deal of time examining reports and analyzing data to determine return on investment.

When it comes to incoming sales calls, Bucknam said there is a distinct advantage to having BDRs field those calls and work with the customer through the early stages of the buying process; it is often easier for them to build rapport and make inroads with the customer, she said, which isn’t always the case when the customers are dealing with someone from the very beginning whom they know is a salesperson. “Their guards are very high [in that situation],” she said. “We let them know right away that we don’t work directly on the sales floor, [that] we’re here to save them time and money, and we’re on their side … It really does bring their guard down.”

The drawback is that occasionally customers are a little dismayed that they cannot continue to work with the same person when they visit the dealership. The customer is assigned to a particular store’s sales manager, who will then turn them over to a sales associate. “Sometimes it does upset customers because we’ve built such great rapport with them that they’re expecting to meet with us,” said Bucknam. However, she said, Grappone’s BDC worked with sales trainers at Kain Automotive to develop a process to make the turnover go as smoothly as possible.

“We call it the Grappone Express or VIP Appointment process,” she said. The first and most critical step occurs before the customer ever shows up: the BDR must make certain all information on their interactions with the customer is noted in the CRM system. Then, a folder is created that contains notes on everything discussed with the customer and any other relevant materials like a CARFAX report, a Black Book online trade appraisal (if the customer completed one), or the vehicle listing viewed by the customer if the lead came through a third party like or Having all of this information beforehand helps the sales manager address any potential issues with the salesperson before the customer arrives for the appointment.

Upon their arrival at the dealership, the customer will see a large screen in the showroom listing all the appointments for the day and their arrival times. The customer will ask for the sales manager, as previously instructed by the BDR, and the sales manager will let the customer know the desired car is already pulled up and waiting for the test drive, along with any alternatives the customer was interested in. The sales manager then introduces the customer to the sales associate who will assist him or her during the visit. Bucknam said this process is “another key feature for the customer—knowing that we’re ready for them and expecting them.” She said they’ve been successfully using this process for appointments for about a year. She added, “I’d say we’ve perfected it over the past six months to where it’s finally seamless.”

Regular training has a lot to do with the BDC’s success in establishing and maintaining a seamless operation. “We’re very big on processes and training,” said Bucknam. In addition to periodic phone and Internet training with Kain Automotive, she actively and continuously monitors the BDC staff’s performance. “On a daily basis I sit with the individual reps for 20 minutes at a time and just listen to them, watch what they’re doing … even the ones that have been doing it for five years,” she stated. She also records phone calls, so she and the BDR who made the call can critique calls and compare notes.

Additionally, sales meetings are held every Saturday morning, during which Bucknam chooses two BDRs, randomly picks a lead for each, and then uses a projector to walk through everything that was done. As a group, they discuss what the BDR could have done to improve as well as the things they really liked. “It’s a silent supervisor,” said Bucknam. “When they’re working on a lead, they’re thinking, ‘This could be called up in the next Saturday-morning meeting. What am I going to do to stand out and make myself look good in front of everybody else?’”

Grappone Toyota
The Grappone Toyota store in Bow, N.H., will soon house the dealership group's centralized BDC. After testing out a decentralized model for about a year, the centralized model was reinstituted due to an increase in consumers going online comparing makes and models across multiple Grappone websites. Recentralizing the BDC brought a greater measure of consistency to the group's lead management process.

There are also individual performance goals that must be met, although Bucknam said she has shifted away from looking solely at total sales and now focuses more on kept appointments, because it is the biggest indicator of potential sales. “The more appointments you have that show up, the more sales you’re going to have.” The BDRs also set personal goals for themselves each month. Bucknam sits down with the BDRs to review their number of contacts the previous month, appointments set and appointments sold, and then they determine how many more contacts they need to reach their goals. Their numbers are updated daily, so BDRs always know where they are in terms of set and kept appointments and sales.

Business development representatives are paid a base salary plus a bonus amount for shown appointments and an additional amount for those shown appointments that sell. Bucknam said she also sets up different bonuses throughout the month, like whoever gets the most DealerRater reviews or whoever sets the most sold appointments receives $100 bonus. “It keeps it ever-changing and a little bit more fun.”

When it comes to finding the right people for the BDC, she said, “We do not hire anybody from the sales floor.” In her opinion, salespeople are very good face-to-face with customers but “they don’t always have the skill set that my BDRs do, who are very good on the phone [and] are good at the long-term follow-up.” However, while no one moves from the sales floor to the BDC, some BDRs eventually transition to sales. “We’ve had several BDRs go to the sales floor from the BDC because they’ve become so proficient and well-trained in the processes we have here, and those people are great, great resources for us down the road because they know the system. They can help their peers with the CRM system; they understand the [BDC] process.”

Bucknam has even more plans for the department’s future. “I think we’re very innovative and ahead of the Internet curve right now, but it changes every day so we have to stay on our feet and keep consistently changing.” On her to-do list for the BDC are such goals as handling 100 percent of lease termination customers and unsold showroom traffic, and possibly even sold traffic. She would also like to eventually take on service calls and follow-up. Additionally, she said, “A goal of mine is to use our database to market to customers, doing stuff that generates business,” since that is what business development is all about. The more immediate focus, she said, is “keeping [the database] accurate and getting as much information as we can—email addresses, phone numbers, physical addresses. That way we can get to a point where we are spending our marketing dollars on our own database rather than purchasing leads or mailing lists from [third-party] providers.”

In the meantime, she will continue trying to “find that perfect number of leads and to increase the close ratio and then the contacts-to-kept-appointments,” she stated. “There’s a sweet spot and I have yet to figure out what it is for our dealership.” She is confident that Grappone’s BDC is on the right path, though. “A year from now, I see [our BDC] as being the fifth store at Grappone,” she stated. “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here, and it’s not just myself—the sales managers, my executive committee, [fourth-generation owners] Greg and Amanda Grappone [are proud too]. It’s a great, great company to work for.”

Vol. 8, Issue 11