Article

Four Dealers Drive Success With Special Finance

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by John Zieglar - Also by this author

At first glance, the four dealers featured in this article do not appear to have much in common. The Dick Hannah Dealerships, Red McCombs Automotive, Paragon Honda and Acura and the Sheehy Auto Stores vary in size, volume, number of rooftops and market demographics. Paragon Honda and Acura is a dual point store located on a tiny sliver of real estate in Queens, NY; the other three are multi-franchise dealer groups with many rooftops spread out across a variety of locations on the east coast, the west coast and Texas. Two of the dealerships use a centralized Customer Relationship Center to manage their leads; the other two rely on independent Internet Departments with a separate manager and staff at each one. Not only are their business models different, the demographics would appear to vary as well. Dick Hannah’s northwest market would appear to be different from that of Red McCombs’ Texas market and neither of those areas would appear to have much in common with the densely populated markets of Paragon in Queens, NY and Sheehy in the Washington, DC area. So what’s the common thread? Special finance and incremental sales.
Apparent differences aside, each of these dealers recognized the wealth of money to be made in special finance, and each has learned to use the Internet to tap into the special finance profit opportunity. Each one has found a way to use their Internet marketing system to reach the special finance market. Each is constantly working to refine their strategy and process for using the Internet to generate incremental leads and sales.
 
The Right Web Site
 
Paragon, Sheehy, Dick Hannah and Red McCombs are quick to point out that you need more than a great website and CRM tool; you need to build a complete strategy for marketing your dealership’s subprime capabilities, you need to get the right people in place, implement a process and establishing a pricing philosophy. Brian Benstock, from Paragon put it best, “While the right website won’t solve all your problems, you won’t get far without it.” Each of our four dealers met with moderate success before making the switch to a website provider that delivers results and now each of our featured dealers can share what they’ve learned while increasing results anywhere from 154 to 380 extra sales per month.
Joe Orr, from Dick Hannah tells us that it made sense to streamline and simplify their homepage to create a prominent spot for their “Dick Says Yes” button. As a general rule, the right website gives the customers what they’re looking for and compels them to contact the dealership. Apply that principle to the subprime market and you know that the subprime customer is looking for credit and approval information, not necessarily a new car or “Why Buy Here” type of information, so you give that customer a prominent button for the Special Financing part of your website. Once there, Dick Says Yes provides three easy ways for the customer to get further into the process and continually prompts them to fill out an application on line.
 
Orr explains, “The key to building a Web site that is capable of generating subprime leads is to provide information the customer is looking for and a way to contact the dealership. For example, at DickSaysYes.com we include a ‘How it Works’ button that provides FAQs, 6 Steps to Reestablish Credit, Fast Bankruptcy Approvals and other areas that speak to what’s important to the subprime audience.” Orr’s team has learned that to set yourself apart, you need to make it interactive, high tech, clean and user-friendly. At the same time, Orr cautions against overloading the customer with too much information and never losing sight of the fact that you need to always provide easy and obvious ways for them to contact the dealership. “A website alone won’t allow you to increase market share but it’s important to find a provider that focuses on results because you can get wrapped up in technology for technology’s sake pretty quickly.”
 
Rad Weaver, from Red McCombs shares a similar success story: “In one month, we increased sales from 40 units to 500 units by utilizing a new digital marketing strategy. Gross profit increased from $60,000 to $750,000 per month, and closing ratio rose from 3 percent to 19 percent. We increased our volume by changing the way we advertise and sell over the Internet.” Sub prime sales currently account for a relatively small percentage of the tremendous increase in sales, but by providing easy access to “Fresh Start Financing” from the home page, www.RedMcCombs.com is enabling the group to make steady inroads.
 
The Right Process
 
Rad Weaver also reminds us that the promise of “Fresh Start Financing” and the relative anonymity of applying over the Internet can certainly generate a lot of leads, but if you don’t have the process in place for managing them, you’ll only succeed in alienating the customer. According to Weaver, implementing the right process can be handled in four easy steps: “To implement the right process, you first need to define it and make sure you’re looking to the best in the industry to incorporate proven best practices. The second step is to train the process. The third step is to use reports to monitor and measure what you’re actually doing. The last step is to use the reports to identify problems and opportunities to continuously improve the process and the results.”
 
When asked about best practices, Weaver talks about automation. Any time they find a smart new way to use the Internet to increase leads (as with Fresh Start Financing), they’re able to minimize the strain on their staff by automating much of the follow up which keeps their people free to attack the phones. Process automation enables them to handle more leads with greater quality and consistency while maintaining the focus on using the phones to set appointments. Without automation, Red McCombs would have had to increase overhead by bringing on more people to manage the increased lead volume.
 
The Right People
 
If Rad Weaver is an advocate for process improvement, Brian Benstock of Paragon Honda and Acura is the champion for recruiting, hiring and training the right people to effectively manage the subprime profit opportunity.
 
The first thing Paragon did was to get the right people and that is what they call the key to their success. Without great people, they are the first to admit that they would not be selling 154 extra sales a month and capturing a steadily growing share of the sub prime market. Most recently the department added people to handle Spanish speaking customers as well as specialists capable of serving the Asian community. Paragon’s Customer Relationship Center handles all internet and sub-prime leads and their primary goal is to set appointments. “We train our team to be black belts on the phone so that they’re capable of doing a wonderful job selling the appointment. Members of our sales team who qualify for Executive Sales Mentor status sell the car,” said Benstock.
 
According to Benstock, “We strive to curb employee turnover and increase employee satisfaction because customer satisfaction hangs in the balance. Making a difference in employee satisfaction at your store hinges on 4 areas of focus: Recruiting Process, Hiring Process, Orientation Process and Continuous Improvement Process. If you’re lacking in any of those four areas you’re going to wind up hiring out of desperation, rather than inspiration.” Paragon does not dedicate separate members of the CRC staff to respond specifically to subprime leads, however they do look for certain skills when trying to find the right person for the job.
 
Skill Set for Sub Prime CRC Specialist: (Person handling all incoming leads)
 
  • A passionate desire for the job
  • Creative
  • Great sales skills: enthusiastic, customer focused, good listener
  • Great phone skills: clear, cheerful, speaks “with a smile”
  • Focus on customer satisfaction
  • Solution minded
  • Good work habits
  • Good follow up habits and skills, detail oriented
  • Not afraid of technology
 
In addition to the skills listed above, Benstock has found that the CRC Manager also needs to be able to motivate his or her staff, hold them accountable, train them and incentive-ise them. The right people are the key to keeping the website and process running smoothly.
 
The Right Marketing Strategy
 
The successful dealers featured here all agree that the right website, the right process and the right people can still fail to generate additional sales if not fueled by the right marketing strategy. Roy Reutter, from Sheehy, is passionate about the power of the Internet to function as a marketing tool – not only for special finance, but for all your dealership’s profit centers. He explains, “At the Sheehy Auto Stores, we sell about 26,000 cars per year across 12 dealerships with 18 franchises and 1,000 employees. You might be surprised to hear that just two years ago, an organization this size was only getting 904 Internet leads and only selling 103 vehicles across all 12 stores. If 70 percent of the car buyers use the Internet to research and shop for a car, we were missing that opportunity and we knew it.” He says, “Traffic to our phones, showroom and website has exploded with the use of advanced search engine placement and bulk e-mail marketing. At Sheehy we were getting 900-1200 Internet leads before our new marketing strategy, and today we average 2500 leads per month, which does not include phone traffic or walk-in. We’re able to send thousands of Buzzmail campaigns that generate measurable traffic with just a few clicks and at no additional cost.” The dealership has been able to eliminate the poor performing lead providers and advertisers and only keep those with a low cost per sale. As a result of their new marketing strategy, their cost per sale has dropped to $197.
 
Reutter shares that, “Whether you’re focused on subprime, employee discount programs, blowing out aged inventory or running service specials, the great thing is that digital marketing can help you shift away from conventional advertising which is notoriously expensive and increasingly difficult to measure. Digital marketing is the opposite in that it’s cheap and 100 percent measurable.” Right now Sheehy follows a three part approach to using the web as a marketing medium: 1.) They market their own website 2.) They use third party lead providers 3.) They use targeted, bulk email campaigns. It seems to be paying off because overall, their return on investment has gone up, their cost per sale has dropped, they’re tapping the subprime market, their traffic and leads have skyrocketed and sales are way up.
 
Vol 2, Issue 10

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