Successful Internet dealerships are built on an interdependent strategy that puts showroom sales pros and BDC agents on the same page.

Successful Internet dealerships are built on an interdependent strategy that puts showroom sales pros and BDC agents on the same page. 

The term “Internet dealership” has become so pervasive that the words have all but lost their meaning. An Internet dealership is neither a virtual store nor a brick-and-mortar dealership that also happens to have a website. A true Internet dealership is an operation that breaks down the silos of showroom sales and the business development center (BDC) and fully integrates them.

But that’s really only the first step. To go “all in,” you must include every profit center, including F&I and fixed ops. It might not be easy, but tearing down your silos will give you the boost you need and the quick, accurate responses today’s car buyers demand. It’s not that hard. Plenty of dealers, including many of your competitors, are doing it right now.

With that in mind, let’s look at six changes you can implement this month.

1. Show Some Respect

How many of your leads are Internet leads? … Don’t answer! It’s a trick question. The vast majority of people — probably 99% — do some sort of research online before they call, email or walk into your dealership. Everyone is an Internet prospect to some degree, and a separation between the showroom and the BDC is quickly becoming archaic. Unfortunately, it’s still the most common setup.

Worse yet, there is no shortage of conflict between those departments. I just concluded a three-day workshop for 200 automotive industry professionals, including dealer principals as well as general managers, Internet and BDC managers, OEM personnel and state dealer association representatives. Our goal was to bridge the gap between the showroom and the BDC, and when the Internet and BDC managers weighed in, it became clear that an “us vs. them” mentality was pervasive in their stores.

Their complaints about their treatment at the hands of sales managers and consultants are echoed in dealerships across the nation. They specifically mentioned the following:

  • A lack of respect, including rudeness and outright hostility,
  • Being treated like secretaries or receptionists,
  • Being asked to do “gofer” work for the sales team,
  • A lack of real-time management support, including TOs and objection-handling, and
  • A lack of communication between departments.

The results are predictable. There is no consistent protocol for prospects whom the BDC spent days, weeks and even months grooming for a showroom visit. They are handled like a fresh up, thrown to the next available wolf and forced to repeat everything they told their BDC agent.

This disconnect is further evidenced when the customer leaves and the BDC begins the torturous process of chasing down the sales team for updates and notes in the CRM. This is bad on so many levels, starting with the first “duplicate” contact with the customer. This is a waste of time for everyone involved, and it leaves customers with the impression that nobody at your store knows what they’re doing.

2. Train as a Team

At the heart of these issues is a severe training disconnect. The sales team may have absolutely no idea what processes and strategies the BDC is following, and vice versa. Yes, they have different jobs, and specialized training can be extremely helpful. But their shared objective is more sales, and shared training is the first step toward meeting it.

Sometimes the showroom sales team is forced to work in or directly with the BDC, usually against their will, and they often produce more collateral damage than actual sales. Mistakes, lack of continuity and brand degradation typically follow.

If you think I’m exaggerating, ask your own BDC manager. If they say I’m crazy, congratulations! You are among the few dealers in the country who have achieved perfect harmony between the showroom and the BDC. You probably also did a great job hiring your managers and staff, created a plan for synergy and success, and demanded accountability.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that most dealerships are hopelessly lopsided. The numbers prove it.

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s latest numbers indicate that there are approximately 17,500 dealers in the U.S., and the average dealership has three managers, 10 salespeople and 96 units sold per month. Add to that the fact that the average dealership receives about 400 leads per month from a combination of dealer, OEM and third-party websites — all being handled by two or three BDC agents!

The average buying cycle is 45 to 90 days. If a dealership has 400 leads from the first of the month to the end and delivers only 40 units, that means 360 are not sold. Some of them have changed their minds or bought elsewhere, but you will start the very next month with at least 200 carryover leads plus the fresh 400. That is a total of 600 opportunities to try to engage and convert in one month with only two or three people dedicated to the task. That is seriously lopsided!

3. Reject Mediocrity

I recently presented at an NADA Ford 20 Group and met a general manager who sells 300-plus units with the help of 27 salespeople. Sound good? It’s not. After speaking with the GM for three minutes, we discovered the dealership is shorting itself about 100 units per month — a loss of about $220,000! How? Simple. I asked how many of the prior month’s 300 sales came from Internet leads and phone ups, and he said it was about 100. So, wait a minute. If you divide the difference by 27 salespeople, that means that, outside of the logged Internet and phone leads, each salesperson averaged about seven units sold.

That’s horrible. Here’s why: There are eight ways that a showroom sales consultant can sell an automobile: Internet, phone, walk-in, be-back, prior customer, referral, service conversion and prospecting. Eight tools, seven sales? Pathetic!

You and your managers have to stop being complacent with mediocrity. I used to average 30 units per month on the showroom floor, and plenty of sales pros sell many more than that. But the average number nationwide is 9.6. Really?

Mediocre sales teams suffer from ignorance, apathy or both. If they don’t know how to sell more, you have to train them. If they don’t care, you need to say goodbye.

Luckily, there are countless opportunities for training. There are conferences, seminars, videos on demand and, of course, in-store training. Find the solution that works for you, get everyone involved, take part yourself and demand accountability.

Sales pros who are willing to sit in with the BDC will find new opportunities to prospect customers, assist with TOs and help BDC agents answer objections and product questions.

Sales pros who are willing to sit in with the BDC will find new opportunities to prospect customers, assist with TOs and help BDC agents answer objections and product questions. 

4. Take Care of Business

We run around telling our people that selling cars is like owning your own business. That can be true, but you need to train your people how to be business owners. The road to the sale and product knowledge is not education for running your own business. Not even close.

Now for the Internet department. You need to create a “customer factory” or an “appointment factory.” What I have seen that works best in my 17 years of showroom and BDC immersion is appointment setters or BDC reps. Asking these agents to do a gazillion different things — like service, unsold showroom traffic, CSI and lease retention — is the wrong approach. They should only focus on Internet sales and inbound phone ups.

Try to imagine a call center with a team of Internet sales coordinators who are trained sales professionals. But they don’t sell cars. They sell appointments! They will be trained in:

  • In/outbound phone process,
  • In/outbound email process,
  • Social media communication,
  • Real-time video communication, including Skype and FaceTime,
  • Video emails,
  • Qualifications,
  • Objection-handling and rebuttals.

Figure out how many leads are coming in and how many reps you will need, and divide them into two shifts — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. — to ensure you have all hands on deck throughout the day.

The bottom line is this: The more calls your department makes, the more connections with prospects you will have. The more connections you have, the more appointments your team can make. The more appointments your team can make — and the more appointments they can confirm — the more appointments will show. The more appointments that show, the more vehicles delivered. It is very simple math, not magic. This is a numbers game.

5. Don’t Let Leads Idle

So let’s say you have four or five Internet sales coordinators dedicated to setting appointments on overlapping shifts. There will be two hours on either side of the overlap in which only half the team is present. You know you can reroute fresh leads only to people who are on shift. But what happens to all of the “active” leads in their CRM or ILM? You know, the ones that are just sitting in their files? Exactly — nothing! They just sit there until someone comes back into work! That makes no sense.

You can’t let half your leads sit idle simply because no one is scheduled to work. Now compound that with the fact that the average Internet buying cycle is 45 to 90 days! That is a major problem.

There is a simple solution. Your inclusive training should be designed to get everyone trained and certified in both Internet and phone sales. I realize there might be people on your staff who don’t want any part of it. Some of your managers may be among them. If that is the case, well, it is what it is. The people who do choose to participate are going to give themselves a major advantage.

Once your showroom sales team is properly trained, they will be prepared to work cohesively with the BDC team. So when they are not busy doing product presentations, demo drives, deliveries or chasing stips — and with the desk’s permission — they should be living in the BDC!

First and foremost, they should be filling in for the agents who are late, sick or otherwise absent. That will give you a full team of callers on all terminals at all times. And even if all your scheduled agents are present, they will be starting with the freshest leads and working their way toward the oldest. I suggest your showroom sales pros start from the oldest and work toward the freshest. They can meet, crisscross and do it again! Remember, the connection rate on phone calls is typically in the 11% to 14% range. You need more people on the phones to get any results.

In addition to having the sales team act as utility players, they can also handle outbound calls, assist with TOs and help the BDC team overcome objections and answer questions about your vehicles.

Now, you might be wondering why in the world your sales team — especially the veterans — would want to sit on the phones when they’re accustomed to being fed by the BDC. There are two reasons. First, it’s your dealership, and you said so. Second, if they don’t, they are going to be left out of the action.

The national average for appointment shows is somewhere around 50%. Depending on how many showroom sales pros you have, they could be waiting through 10, 15 or 20 shows to get their next opportunity. If they join the team, they can make as many calls and set as many appointments as they please. And as an added bonus, making and taking calls and assisting on TOs, questions and objections is going to make their workday go by a whole lot faster than standing outside the main entrance ever could.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. The dealer clients of ours who have made these changes are reaping the rewards. They say the showroom reps who have trained and worked with their counterparts in the BDC are the top-performing sales professionals in the dealership. Think about it. … How could they not be?

Sean V. Bradley is CEO of Dealer Synergy, a nationally recognized digital marketing expert and author of “Win the Game of Googleopoly,” a No. 1 Amazon bestseller. [email protected]