For third-party lead providers, it's clear that providing dealerships with the highest quality leads, in the areas they wish to target, will be key.

For third-party lead providers, it's clear that providing dealerships with the highest quality leads, in the areas they wish to target, will be key.

Leads and the processes that drive them are changing at a fast pace. Whether it’s obtaining leads or managing them once they filter into the dealership, technology is reinventing the landscape every time dealers pause to catch their breath. With that in mind, ADM spoke to a wide range of experts, and they agree there are a few key areas to keep a close eye on in the lead-generation and -management space.

First and foremost, mobile technology is shaping the future of automotive buying and selling, and leads are not exempt. “There is a level of innovation occurring that is on par with the establishment of ecommerce in the late ’90s,” notes Todd Dearborn, vice president of sales for El Segundo, Calif.-based CarsDirect. “Desktop Internet access is no longer the only digital medium. Our data tells us we’re close to — if not beyond — 50% of our consumers using a mobile device every time on a vehicle transaction. In fact, the trend is toward consumers using only mobile devices. Email is losing ground to texting, and text platforms are blowing up, with new innovations every day.”

And part of that process includes reaching customers not only at the right time, but in the right place as well. “The next advancement in leads will be real-time geolocation leads for customers in your area, on the move, looking to buy a car,” predicts Zach Klempf, the CEO for A1 Software Group based in San Francisco, Calif. “Dealers will need to respond on the spot through the consumer’s preferred form of communication.”

“People expect to be able to buy almost anything they want right now, from anywhere — think,” agrees Charlie Crowder, marketing director for BlueSky Marketing, based in San Ramon, Calif. “It’s about continuing to adapt to the mobile user, targeted and social marketing and providing transparency and choice for the consumer. People want to know who they are working with, what their options are and to dictate how they wish to interact with you. The auto industry needs to adapt to this mentality and technologies supporting this notion will lead the way.”

Social media marketing, in particular, is quickly becoming a major source of information and advertisement for car buyers, right alongside texting. Those platforms offer dealers new ways to forge relationships with their current and potential buyers — if they handle the leads correctly.

As Alexi Venneri notes, “New tools to monitor and crowd-source to find in-market prospects are already here, and the advancement of social media advertising allows dealers to do extreme targeting to drive new leads in ways that have never been previously available.” The co-founder and CEO of Digital Air Strike, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., went on to say, “New ways to ‘check-in’ such as Swarm — where consumers don’t even have to [do anything], but their friends know they are at your dealership — is a great example of a new lead source.”

The Desktop is Still Relevant

New technologies aren’t limited to only mobile platforms, however. Scott Pechstein, vice president of sales for Irvine, Calif.-based Autobytel, believes there is still quite a bit of mileage to be found with lead techniques that target desktop computer users. “Pay attention to a very exciting product on the horizon: virtual showroom technology,” he notes. “Dealers can communicate with consumers on their websites — by text, audio or video — while co-browsing (taking over the cursor and digitally walking a consumer through the website) just like they communicate with customers on their lot. With virtual showroom technology, dealers can even see what customers are looking at on their websites, and what information they’re researching. It’s an incredible sales and marketing tool.”

To go a step further, dealers should be tying their inventory — complete with the individual vehicle detail pages (VDP) for every car on the lot — into their websites as well. “Today, consumers want to see and evaluate the actual vehicle they want to buy — and the best way is by looking at the VDP,” stresses Dean Evans, CEO of San Francisco-based LotLinx Inc. “That means serving up the VDPs to consumers at any and all points in their shopping process. No middlemen, middleware or convoluted process involved in making that connection — [they want] direct access … to view and engage with the vehicle that they are considering purchasing, right on the seller’s virtual lot.”

And the push for driving consumers directly to the dealer’s own VDP, rather than general landing pages or to third-party sites, is growing in popularity. Even lead-generation platform Dealix, a CDK Global Company, is looking at this technology and how to incorporate it into its own services. Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy Kim Jennett notes, “With so many new auto shopping sites, the possibilities are endless. Driving leads to the dealer’s VDP, rather than a third-party form, will continue to grow. I was recently at an event where Twitter announced their plans to offer lead forms, and Google continues to try to penetrate this market as well. … For third-party lead providers, it’s clear that providing dealerships with the highest-quality leads where they control the makes and models they wish to sell, in the areas they wish to target, will be key.”

Inbound marketing is another set of new techniques dealers can and should be exploring to help increase the number and quality of the leads from their own websites, according to Paul Potratz, COO of Potratz Advertising in Schenectady, N.Y. He gave an example to illustrate inbound marketing at its best: Assume John Smith bought a vehicle in 2014. Then, in 2015, he returns to your website to shop for vehicles for his son, who is now of driving age. For whatever reason, John does not submit his information to your online form. 

“With inbound marketing, the technology would know John is a past customer and would automatically send a custom email saying, ‘Paul here. I wanted to check in with you and see how your 2014 Camry is working out. Also, I am not sure if you are aware, but this year we have significantly increased our affordable used car inventory with vehicles priced under $15,000. If I can personally be of any assistance, or if you know of anyone in the market for a low-cost vehicle, I am always available and would like to be of assistance.’ The technology would also notify management and the salesperson that a past customer is on the website and what they showed interest in. This way management or the salesperson could also call the customer.”

Not every aspect of lead generation is — or should be — about high-tech tools, however. While those technologies will continue to play increasingly large roles in lead generation and management, they are not the only advancements out there. Making better use of credit applications, in particular, is an area some of our experts believe more dealers need to focus on moving forward.

“Credit will play a larger role in online lead-gen opportunities,” says Mike McFall, the president of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Activator Division of Black Book. “As car shoppers with diverse credit profiles research finance options online, dealers that offer smart, seamless credit information for their customers will experience a higher success rate in online conversions.”

Bill Wittenmyer, partner of Orange County, Calif.-based ELEAD1ONE, sums up the future of leads perfectly, noting, “Streamline the lead process, and then once dealers offer consumers the ability to execute remote appraisal and desking negotiation — providing an ‘Amazon’ experience — the automotive retail business will dramatically change.”

Toni McQuilken is a freelance writer with expertise in auto retail, F&I and agency operations. [email protected]