When Internet sales managers, Internet directors, general managers, and dealers use the term “CRM,” they are usually referring to a specific software product, vendor or system and much less frequently the actual process of customer relationship management. Obviously, a great CRM platform is a huge asset to any well-run car dealership, but one aspect of CRM that dealerships frequently botch is the process of responding to their website leads.

JD Power’s 2008 Internet Mystery Shopper Study found that only 68 percent of dealerships followed up with their website leads within three days. That’s an amazing figure. I’m confident that dealers have improved since then, but that stat is only three years old. The average response time for dealers who did follow up was 12.4 hours!

Compare that to the follow-up time in your actual dealership, since your website is simply an online extension of your physical showroom. Would you tell a customer in your showroom to wait 12 hours for the next available salesperson?

In 2008 (at a time when less than 1 percent of dealer website traffic was from mobile devices), over 40 percent of automotive Internet consumers were not willing to wait even five hours for a dealer to follow up, according to CapGemini’s Cars Online 07/08 study. Consumers are expecting immediate responses, regardless of the medium (phone, website, chat, etc.) used to interact with your dealership.

According to the groundbreaking study by Dr. James Oldroyd of MIT that used InsideSales.com’s actual call data, a company that receives a lead from its website is 100 times more likely to reach that lead if they call them within five minutes than if they wait 30 minutes. Furthermore, if they waited more than 20 hours, it was actually less effective to call the customer. They were better off letting the customer reach out to them again.

A subsequent March 2010 study by InsideSales.com and Dr. Oldroyd found that for business-to-consumer inbound leads, 90 percent of appointments were set by calling immediately, with an email follow-up. Emailing immediately and then calling was extremely ineffective, so if your Internet sales process is to send an email auto-responder and then call, instead of calling immediately and then following up with an email, your process would fall into the “extremely ineffective” category.

Immediate, effective phone follow-up can also dramatically increase a dealership’s website lead-show rate. Some dealers have gone from under 40 percent show rates to nearly 80 percent, doubling the effectiveness of their websites by simply responding to their website leads in the time frame (less than five minutes) and medium (phone) that customers prefer.

A dealer’s response time and response quality are more important now than ever. In the past, when auto shoppers came to your showroom, the investment of time and energy they had already incurred (leaving the house, driving to the dealership, etc.) was high, so they may have cut your dealership staff some slack if they had to wait. With your website traffic, your dealership doesn’t have that margin for error. If a website visitor doesn’t find what they are looking for, or doesn’t receive a phone response from your dealership quickly enough, your competitor is just a click away.

Ten years ago, customers were visiting seven dealerships on average before they actually bought a vehicle. Compare that to today where the number averages about two. If your dealership isn’t giving a timely phone call in response to your website leads, don’t assume they’ll just walk onto your lot. If your team doesn’t talk with the customer before they begin visiting dealerships, that customer isn’t coming to your lot.

So how can your dealership do better? Consider using chat as a virtual receptionist, greeting website visitors “at the door” instead of waiting for them to walk up to the reception desk (submit a lead). Another way of getting your website leads into your showroom is to give them an incentive. Many of our dealers use a coupon offering a couple hundred dollars off (redeemable on purchase), or you can even give away $25 gift cards to customers just for showing up at your dealership. Some dealers double their website show rates and lead-to-sale rates by combining website incentives with immediate phone call follow-ups.

So for 2012, get back to basics with your customer relationship management. Call every lead within five minutes. Use 24/7 chat so your dealership can immediately respond even when the dealership is closed. It can increase website leads by 40 percent. Finally, provide incentives on your website for any customer submitting a lead to give them further reason to actually show up. If you can incorporate all of these into your CRM in 2012, you will sell many more cars for a minimal investment.

Vol. 9, Issue 2

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