You arrive at your dealership. Your lot looks beautiful. The inventory stands tall. Your brand-new facility is spectacular. Your new responsive website is amazing. You paid top dollars for search engine optimization and a tangible digital presence. You feel proud.

You walk into the building and hear a receptionist paging the sales department to answer a phone call. You look over at the bullpen in hopes that your best salesperson answers, but, to your disappointment, he asks the receptionist to take a message. Or maybe a green pea raises his hand. Or maybe, even worse, the page is met with deafening silence.

Sales calls are a precious commodity and should be treated as such. If you and your team are not ready when the phone rings, you will continue to miss real opportunities for appointments and sales. Let’s take a closer look at why the phone deserves your full attention — even in the Digital Age — and how to improve the way your managers handle these leads.

Buyer Preferences

Consumers are shopping online at a higher rate than ever before. In addition, according to a Google/Polk study of recent car buyers, their decision time is shrinking: 81% of respondents decided to buy within three months of beginning their online research. With 58% of those buyers buying within one month, the competition and urgency have never been greater.

I realize you have been focusing on building your online presence and all the technology that goes with it. It all sounds wonderful, and it works — right up until the moment a Web visitor picks up the phone, hoping for a direct answer. And by the way, don’t think for the moment that, just because you installed a BDC, your problems will magically disappear.

According to a survey of users, online shoppers are three times as likely to contact the dealership by phone than by email or chat. Another recent study reveals that phone calls are outpacing eleads by a staggering four-to-one margin!

We can’t be too surprised. After all, more car buyers are doing research on their smartphones. It’s easy to click the “Call” button. How your team handles phone conversations will determine the success of your online presence, and a large portion of your success hinges on your ability to deliver a “high-touch” experience when an in-market shopper contacts the store.

If you can, you will certainly stand out from the competition. A study by Marchex Institute came to the following rather alarming conclusions:

  • 20% of all calls to dealerships during business hours went unanswered,
  • 53% of answered calls were from shoppers with detailed inquiries who demonstrated an intent to buy,
  • 23% of phone calls were questions about inventory, hours and directions,
  • 19% of callers asked about vehicles not offered by the dealer and
  • The remaining 4% were calls confirming appointments and completed transactions.

It gets worse. Hundreds of secret-shopper calls by Best Mark revealed the sad reality of dealership phone responses:

  • 80% of salespeople did not ask for caller’s name and did not provide theirs,
  • 89% of salespeople did not set a solid appointment,
  • 91% of salespeople attempted to sell a car over the phone rather than setting an appointment and
  • A staggering 95% of salespeople did not use a defined road to an appointment and simply winged it.

Combine all of the above with another Google study that found only 20% of car buyers start by shopping the brand they will ultimately buy. That means any dealer has a chance of capturing the business.

Strange Behavior

Understanding consumer behavior is an important part of designing your process. But let’s face it: Consumer behavior can be tricky, and it constantly changes as their journey is interrupted by technology and other variables. All we know for sure is that the “high-touch” experience will always be a positive, no matter how much technology evolves.

The first thing that must change is an understanding of the desired outcome of an incoming phone call: an appointment. When it comes to handling incoming phone calls, most dealerships are in reactive mode. Very few callers intend so set an appointment when they pick up the phone, and if they aren’t asked to, they probably won’t. Dispensing with this passive mindset is your No. 1 priority.

You know that shoppers are heavily cross-shopping brands and dealerships. They enter the competitive market with an open mind. They take the time to compare vehicles, dealers and prices in an ever-expanding radius. When they pick up the phone, there’s a reason. To respond properly, be sure the following pieces are in place:

  • An established phone call process and script,
  • A clear, consistent road to the appointment (see sidebar),
  • The ability to record and monitor calls for quality control,
  • The ability to track opportunities, appointments set, appointments sold and units sold, both for eleads and phone leads and
  • An appointed “coach” to lead your training efforts.

When the phone rings, will you be ready? Will your people be ready? In a competitive environment, the collective phone skills of your team are critical to success. The good news is that, unlike some new sales tools, everyone in your dealership has been using a phone their entire lives. They just need to get a little better at answering it.

Tony Troussov is the director of training for Automotive Development Group (ADG). He is an auto retail and finance veteran, a nationally recognized trainer and a frequent speaker at industry events. [email protected]