Car Dealer Serving Up More Auto Sales Digital Marketing
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Serve Up More Sales At Your Dealership
7/1/2006 - Tamara Seymour
Spend much time in the kitchen? If you know even a little about cooking, you understand
the importance of using the right ingredients, in the precise amounts. Skip a step anywhere in the
process and your signature dish is likely to flop.
The same holds true for your Internet marketing mix. There are millions of automotive Internet users
(AIUs) out there who are hungry for just the right car. It’s up to your dealership to concoct a winning
IM strategy that attracts these online shoppers to your showroom and leaves them satisfied.
Here, we will cover the key components of a comprehensive IM strategy. We will also take a look at
what some of today’s successful, Internet-focused dealers are doing to draw crowds of customers to
the table—and keep them coming back for more.
Websites —keep them fresh
Today, at least 94 percent of U.S. franchised new car and light truck dealers have Websites,
according to the Annual Dealership Internet Survey from the NADA industry analysis division. And
according to a 2005 study by J.D. Power and Associates, almost half of all AIUs are visiting dealer
sites before purchasing a car. As the competition increases to capture the attention of Internet
prospects, your Website will need to be more than a glorified business card —it must convert
browsers to buyers.
“We just revised our site this year,” says Brenda Ritzman, eCommerce director at Bob Baker Ford in
San Diego (www.bobbakerford.com). “And that’s when we started to see the conversion rate go up.”
She says that the conversion rate for prospects that had made contact with the dealership through
bobbakerford.com had risen to almost 13 percent in May 2006. According to some industry figures,
the average conversion rate for dealer Websites is closer to five percent. “The site is doing really well
right now, so we’re not changing anything else at this time.” But she says that as fast as things move,
it’s possible she’ll consider making additional changes a couple of months down the road.
Even if your Website contains the latest and greatest tools that allow car shoppers to view stock and
MSRPs, take a virtual test drive, fill out finance forms, and schedule sales and service appointments,
it may be time for your dealership to look beyond the “one site does it all” approach and consider
creating multiple, campaign-specific sites and pages.
Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix, Arizona, currently manages more than 300 URLs or Web addresses
along with over 20 Websites, landing pages, and micro -sites. “We typically build and launch at least
one new micro-site and new landing page each month,” says Ralph Paglia, eBusiness director at
Courtesy Chevrolet. Paglia says that he relies on multiple vendors for his full-featured sites, including
BZ Results (www.Chevrolet-USA.com), Reynolds Web Solutions (www.LatinoChevy.com), and the
Cobalt Group (www.Phoenix -Courtesy-Chevrolet.com). “In the future, we plan on making increased
use of deep links within these sites to connect prospective buyers with specific content that is most
relevant to them, without requiring them to click through Web pages that are of no interest to that
individual buyer.” (View samples of specialized landing pages and micro-sites at
www.2007Tahoe.com, www.ChevyPriceQuotes.com, www.Phoenix-Chevrolet-Dealers.com. View
examples of deep link marketing URL ’s at www.Chevy-Tahoe.com, www.Cobalt-Chevrolet.com .)
Search engine marketing—your new bread and butter?
There’s a reason why so many vendors are actively promoting SEM to dealerships—it works. J.D.
Power & Associates report that in 2005, 90 percent of all Internet new vehicle shoppers used a
search engine, like Google or Yahoo! during their shopping process. When these online shoppers
enter a keyword combo, make, model, and zip code, for instance, and your store’s name and URL
pop up in a prominent position within the search results or the sponsor results, your chances of
getting a good Internet lead go way up.
“If you’re not there at that initial point, you’re missing out on a lot of really great sales opportunities,”
says Stuart Lloyd, CEO of ClickMotive , a company that helps dealers learn how to use search
engines to become their own lead vendors.
Search engine marketing, which includes search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search
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advertising, is no easy undertaking for dealers. That’s why most choose to outsource at least a portion
of their SEM efforts.
Courtesy Chevrolet started using Google’s “sponsored link” ads to drive car buyers to deep links
within its multiple Websites, landing pages, and micro -sites. Today, Paglia’s team internally manages
a portion of their SEM. But they’ve seen some of the best results through outsourcing. “To supplement
and improve upon what we do in-house, we use ClickMotive and BZ Results for sponsored SEM
within our region,” says Paglia. “ClickMotive has some of the most sophisticated SEM execution
capabilities within the industry and they consistently produce leads at a far lower cost per lead than
our own in-house efforts have been able to produce.”
Bob Baker Ford outsources the majority of its search engine efforts and has been impressed with the
results thus far. “SEM gives me more quality leads and it costs less, ” says Ritzman. She says that
SEM is currently delivering the best ROI, generating leads with closing ratios in the 14 to 16 percent
range, compared with eight to 10 percent for her third-party leads and OEM leads, respectively.
Dealers who are just now venturing into SEM terrain will find that paid search is indeed one of the
most affordable ways to get quality leads, with the cost -per-click at only a buck or two. But as more
dealers, third-party lead providers, OEMs, regional distributors, and associations compete to buy up
keywords, the pay-per -click model may ultimately result in higher costs per lead. “It will no longer be
the cheapest because everyone’s doing it and driving the prices up,” says Lloyd. But he reminds
dealers that the conversion rate is what they really should be paying attention to. “Anyone can get you
clicks. Conversion is key. ”
An assortment of leads: third-party providers, Internet classifieds, and online auctions
Even if your dealership has an award-winning Website and a successful SEM program in place, you
don’t want to leave incremental sales on the table by ignoring other lead-generating opportunities.
We ’ve already noted that nearly 50 percent of AIUs are visiting dealer Websites before making a
vehicle purchase. That means that at least 50 percent of online shoppers are relying on Websites
other than dealer sites to research and locate a vehicle of choice. They’re visiting information sites like
Kelley Blue Book’s Kbb.com , or Edmunds.com ; online classified sites such as AutoTrader.com
(recently rated the most useful automotive site and most visited automotive classified site in the J.D.
Power and Associates 2006 Used Autoshopper.com Study); and auction sites like eBay Motors . Plus,
they’re hitting hundreds of other specialty sites that cater to car buyers. Dealix, Autobytel , and other
companies are collecting leads from all of these sources and offering them to dealers for usually less
than $30 a lead.
“We buy a significant number of leads from third-party providers such as Dealix, iMotors.com ,
Cars.com ’s NewLeadsPlus, and quite a few others,” says Paglia. “Every month we review each of
over 20 provider ’s leads using several criteria.” He says that he starts by analyzing lead volume per
supplier. Then he determines how many of the leads were duplicates of leads received from other
providers, how many of them contained bad email address and/or phone numbers, how many
appointments were generated from those leads, how many prospects showed up at the dealership,
and how many vehicles were sold. “For us, the use of third-party lead providers is simply a business
model that produces sales and profits, but is subject to intense scrutiny with each vendor being held
accountable for ROI results. ”
On the used vehicle side, Paglia says he relies on Cars.com and AutoTrader.com. “Both are major
sources of leads and phone calls that result in sales for our used car Internet teams.”
Courtesy is also an active seller on eBay Motors. To ensure they get the best results from their
auction efforts, they outsource auction management, listing, and vehicle selection services. “The eBay
Motors sales average about eight units per month, thanks to Liquid Motors ,” says Paglia, “They have
doubled the results from what we were doing without their help.”
Tools and teamwork —staples at every dealership
Want to make every Internet lead count? Start with a committed team and the proper tools.
Courtesy’s line-up consists of a dedicated Internet sales team supported by a customer relationship
center (CRC) and two full-time CRM administrators. “We have specific people assigned to various
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sources of leads, ” says Paglia. “For example, leads received from GM’s Certified Internet Dealer
Program are routed to specially trained and certified Internet sales specialists.” He adds that other
sources and types of leads are handled using processes specifically tailored to optimize closing ratios.
Follow-up emails and phone calls will vary according to where the lead came from.
A typical dealer may receive more than a hundred online leads every month—leads that pour in from
numerous sources. To manage these leads and convert more of them to sales, many dealers rely on
lead management systems, such as Autobytel’s Web Control ®.
“Web Control was designed with the Internet professional in mind,” says Mark Pantages, director of
sales training for Autobytel, East Coast. “When you pull up a prospect, everything that you want to
do—send and email, make a phone call—it’s all on one page.” The system lets dealers analyze lead
sources, track return on investment, measure salesperson performance, and automate email
campaigns to target customers with personalized promotions. “With Web Control’s broadcast email
tool, dealers can keep in touch with customers every week, so if it takes 90 days for your customers to
buy a car, you can be in touch with them every week for 90 days. ”
Another important piece of a solid strategy is applying Internet technology to promote other areas of
the dealership, such as special finance. “We have several micro-sites and landing pages that we use
in targeted campaigns to drive our eFinance team ’s business success,” says Paglia. “Last month, the
Courtesy Chevrolet eFinance team sold 32 vehicles and grossed over $118,000 in profits, with over
half of that profit coming from F & I products and services. ” (View samples of these specialized sites at
www.AZautoFinance.com, www.GreatCreditAuto.com .)
While the initial vehicle sale is what most dealers strive for, don ’t forget service, parts and accessory
sales. “You can get a customer to service five times a year, but you can’t get a car buyer to buy five
times a year,” says John Miller, CEO of @utoRevenue.com, one of the industry’s pioneer permission-
based email marketing providers. “We work with dealers who have 70 percent of their customers on
email, and literally generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, just from email campaigns. ”
Dealers often employ email campaigns to send out service reminders, and the customers who view
these emails can conveniently set service appointments with the click of the mouse. “We have stores
with over 600 customers a month setting online service appointments, ” says Miller. He adds that
@utoRevenue now offers @utoScheduler , a program that integrates with a dealer’s own in -house
scheduling system. He says that with @utoScheduler the dealer ’s process is streamlined even further,
“with less human intervention required.”
Additional food for thought
New Internet-oriented products and services are featured at conferences and in trade publications
every month. New vendors are calling you every week to tout their up-to-the-minute technology. How
can you make sure you’re on top of the latest trends and getting the most for your Internet marketing
“I’m constantly reading and I’m constantly making phone calls to people who know what they’re doing,
what’s next, what’s working, what’s not,” says Ritzman. “I’m constantly reaching out, always looking to
be on the cutting edge.”
That’s exactly what dealers should be doing, says Miller. “You need to do your research and be
extremely selective in who you choose to help you. If someone walks through your door and says ‘I do
email marketing’ or ‘I do Websites’ or ‘I do search engine optimization,’ listen to their presentation, and
then make 10 phone calls to dealers who will tell you the results they received.” He also stresses the
importance of avoiding long-term contracts. “In today’s market, with technology changing so fast, no
company should be asking for —and no dealer should be signing—a long-term agreement.”
If you’re new to some of the tools and services out there, you may want to consider hiring an
unbiased, experienced Internet marketing consultant to help you sort through your options, given your
budget. And once you do decide to go with a certain vendor, take advantage of their ongoing training
sessions and seminars. “There should be some kind of consistent training at every dealership,” says
Autobytel’s Pantages. He says that at least every 90 days you should be doing a “recap” to determine
what part of your IM strategy is effective and what may need to be tweaked.
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The recipe for success is never going to be the same for every dealership. But once you do get that
Internet marketing mix right, you’re sure to see an increase in the number of online sales feeding your
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