Taking Control of Internet Sales

In less than two years, New River Auto Mall has gone from not having a business development center to having a BDC that works over 1,300 leads each month and is responsible for between 30 and 50 percent of total dealership sales each month. Business Development Manager Amanda Stewart said a lot has gone into making the auto mall’s BDC what it is today.

President and Dealer Principal Warner Peacock believed his stores were not handling Internet leads as effectively as they should and brought Stewart on board in July 2009 as a business development coordinator to make sure Internet leads were properly logged into the CRM system and assigned for follow-up. This was no small task. The auto mall, which is in Hardeeville, S.C., encompasses nine rooftops and 15 franchises, and the stores “all had very different processes and they handled their follow-up differently,” said Stewart. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t consistent and some stores were doing better than others,” hence the need to develop a BDC.

That BDC, now housed on the second floor of Hilton Head Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, is a centralized operation serving the entire auto mall. Stewart, who started the BDC with a staff of only two, now oversees eight Internet sales coordinators (ISC), two full-time receptionists and one business development representative (BDR).

New River Auto Mall
In Hardeeville, S.C., the New River Auto Mall's centralized BDC is housed in the Hilton Head Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram store and handles all the business development efforts for the auto mall's nine rooftops and 15 franchises.

The eight ISCs work both Internet and telephone leads, since all phone traffic coming from the auto mall’s numbers listed online is routed through the BDC. “The only way a customer will get [the BDC] is if they find an online number, and that’s a lot of calls,” she said. Of course, not all of those calls are sales inquiries, which is why the BDC always has at least one receptionist on duty (two on high-call-volume days; i.e., Monday and Friday) to route calls to the appropriate places. “There’s no reason why [fielding non-sales-related calls] should eat up an Internet sales coordinator’s time,” said Stewart.

The job of an ISC is to respond to the leads by phone or email, assist the customer with any information they need, and set an appointment at the appropriate store. Stewart said ISCs are not nor are they intended to be vehicle salespeople. “It’s important they don’t try to be,” she said. “They know the product but ultimately they’re focused on selling the appointment and the dealership, not selling the car.”

The BDR is focused on setting service appointments from the dealership’s monthly email campaigns, contacting existing customers who have not been back into the dealership for a while, and calling vehicle owners regarding open recalls. For now, Stewart said, “We’re really focused on growing the sales side of the BDC first, and then once we feel like that’s good and solid … we’re going to explore expanding the service side of it.”

A rather uncommon trait of the New River BDC is that while the department itself is centralized and serves the entire auto mall, individual ISCs are specialized in specific vehicle brands. Stewart explained that even though the ISCs do not sell the vehicles, they need to have excellent product knowledge in order to provide the best possible customer service. To that end, each ISC is required to be certified in two brands, sometimes more, depending on the typical lead volume generated by the respective brands. For example, Stewart said one of her ISCs is certified in Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi and Volkswagen because those tend to be “pretty low-volume brands.” She also noted that the ISCs’ combinations of certifications need to be in brands that are related or similar, such as Nissan and Infiniti or Chrysler, Dodge and Ram.

In addition to their brand certifications, all ISCs are required to take what Stewart referred to as the NRAM (New River Auto Mall) certification, which is a 40-question test “that just makes sure they understand what my expectations are in our department and that they have a general understanding of all of our brands.” They are provided with a manual covering general knowledge about each brand as well as information they need to know to help sell the dealership to the customer.

Stewart said the BDC will work a lead by phone or email for up to 36 weeks before pushing it into “nurture marketing,” meaning the BDC will not continue active follow-up but the customer will receive the dealership’s monthly emails.

When it comes to setting appointments, Stewart has found the best method is for the ISC to tell the customer to ask for a manager at the store they are scheduled to visit. “Then it’s at the manager’s discretion [to whom the customer is assigned] … and it’s different at every store,” she said, explaining that some managers will give the customer to the salesperson who greeted them, while others prefer to have only certain people handle their Internet customers. This method ensures that leads will not be assigned to salespeople based on the personal bias of an ISC.

Amanda Stewart"It's important [the Internet sales coordinators] don't try to be [salespeople]. They know the product, but ultimately they're focused on selling the appointment and the dealership, not selling the car."

- Amanda Stewart, Business Development Manager, New River Auto Mall

Stewart said she monitors BDC performance through their Higher Gear CRM tool but also runs her own manual reports to track lead conversions, explaining that CRM reports can be inaccurate if someone accidentally enters incorrect information somewhere along the line. Each ISC uses a spreadsheet to keep track of the appointments they’ve scheduled, how many customers show up and how many are sold, and sends that spreadsheet to Stewart daily so she can review the information against the CRM system’s report and make certain everything is accurate.

She said the ISCs are very good at keeping track of this information because “part of how they get paid is based off of how well they’re performing, so they pay attention to it … They want to know if their customers are coming in,” she said. “It helps that I’ve got a whole team of [ISCs] that are also watching that desk log like a hawk and making sure that everything’s accurate.”

ISCs are full-time and paid an hourly rate plus a spiff for each customer they’ve had contact with who comes in, with or without a set appointment. “We call it a ‘touch,’ meaning that something they sent to the customer, something they told the customer, motivated them to come in,” said Stewart, “so they still get compensated for that.” They are paid an additional spiff if the customer buys. “But it’s not a commission,” she explained. “It’s not based off of what we gross … and it doesn’t come out of the salesperson’s pay.”

Stewart has individual performance goals for the ISCs, but recently made a change to further improve the department’s overall performance. “A recent change we made that has made a huge difference is now we work on a buddy system,” she said. The BDC’s buddy system was established to ensure each customer is taken care of without requiring ISCs to work more than a 40-hour week or handle work matters during their off hours. Each ISC is paired with a buddy, another ISC (usually with similar brand certifications), who can step in to help a customer if the ISC they’ve been working with is unavailable. The ISC notes their buddy’s contact information in their email signature and on their voicemail greeting and instructs the customer to contact that person if the ISC is unavailable. If an ISC receives an email from a customer while they’re off the clock, they simply forward the message to their buddy.

“We want to be focused on providing the best customer service, so in order to do that we have to have somebody available to them when they need them,” explained Stewart. “Customers are never … going to have the feeling that they’re not getting taken care of.” If the paired-up ISCs reach a certain number of sold units as a couple, they get a “buddy bonus” at the end of the month. “It encourages them to work together, and they love it,” she said. She added that the BDC has received compliments from other departments in the dealership on how well they all work together.

In December 2011, 200 vehicle sales were a result of the BDC’s efforts, a record number for the department and 41 percent of the auto mall’s total sales that month. She said over the past year, the BDC accounted for 30 to 50 percent of the dealership’s sales each month. The department is usually able to set appointments for about 30 percent of the leads each month, 85 percent of which typically show. Their overall closing ratio is between 13 and 15 percent.

New River Auto Mall
To provide top-notch customer service, each Internet sales coordinator (ISC) in the New River Auto Mall BDC specializes in two vehicle brands, sometimes more, depending on the lead volume generated by the respective brands.

When it comes to monthly lead volume, Stewart said it’s realistic to expect each ISC to manage about 150 leads per month. “I’m constantly monitoring [lead volume] to make sure that I’m not overworking them because when you get above 150 leads per month, you don’t convert as well. You’re just not able to give the customer as much attention or follow-up as quickly and as diligently, and we’ve seen that,” she said.

The BDC worked about 1,300 leads in December and was on track for 1,450 to 1,500 in January, “which means I need more Internet sales coordinators because that’s a lot,” observed Stewart. She plans to hire at least one more Internet sales coordinator with the addition of the auto mall’s fifteenth franchise, and construction to expand the BDC’s office space began in early January. “We’re going to have about eight to 10 more areas for people to sit because we’re adding on another franchise … and we’ve got land for more, so as we continue to grow, we’ll need extra people,” she said. “We also want to work on expanding that service aspect.”

Stewart said the auto mall relies heavily on organic leads generated by the stores’ websites. “We get really great traffic on our websites,” she said. “We’re constantly focusing on video [to improve SEO], and we’re really active with the social networking [sites], so people find us.” The group maintains Facebook and Twitter pages as well as a YouTube channel.

She noted that vehicle walk-around videos have been useful for more than just SEO. “It’s a good tool for our ISCs,” she said. If a customer is looking for more information on a particular vehicle, the ISC can offer to send them a video walk-around. “Customers really like it,” she stated. “And it’s not a generic pics-to-vid type of thing. It’s a human voice, walking around the car, pointing things out,” she explained. “And if we don’t have one [for the vehicle a customer is interested in], our ISCs will run downstairs, take one on their iPhone and email it.”

Stewart said the auto mall recently started using an iPhone app called cDemo Mobile Inspector to help with walk-around videos. The app, which is an inventory merchandising tool, is used at New River to capture photos and data about a vehicle and has proven to be an extremely useful guide for structuring the walk-arounds.

Most of the walk-around videos are now done by a full-time, in-house photographer/videographer the dealership hired to maintain uniformity in the process. “We’re a big company and it was difficult to organize that and … [ensure the videos] were consistently done well,” said Stewart. “It’s just part of the process now that when a [used] vehicle goes through the recon center, she shoots it and makes the video.” The cDemo app works well for the process because it guides the user on what vehicle data to enter, so the person making the walk-around video isn’t required to have extensive product knowledge. “By the time she’s done, she knows that vehicle, and then she does a quick walk-around video.”

Vol. 9, Issue 3

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Kimberly Long

Kimberly Long

Assistant Editor

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