Article

"Inside-Out" - The Road To Camelot

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Michael Wynns - Also by this author

When we think of Camelot, most of us think of castles, knights in shining armor, festivals, fair maidens, white horses and ivory towers. We think of mountain mist and the fire-breathing dragons. We think of singing swords and juggling jesters. We may even think about the good-looking English teacher that read to us during 6th period literature, but how many of us stop to think about how it all began?

We remember the glitz and the glory, but we often forget that it all began with an ordinary boy seeing an opportunity and pulling a sword out of a stone.

Funny isn’t it? When we think about greatness, we automatically think about the finished product. However, when we take King Arthur off of his pedestal and put him into everyday life, he was just an ordinary guy who achieved extra-ordinary success by taking advantage of opportunities as they came his way.

As the king, Arthur reminds us of a legendary leader, but as the “ordinary guy”, he reminds us that there may be a hero hidden somewhere in us all.

To put this into a more modern context; many of us get discouraged when we look at today’s Internet “mega-dealers” because the results they achieve seem too good to be true. However, what we forget is that we are focusing on what amounts to a finished product. In most cases, these “Virtual Camelots” were started by guys like you and me who saw an opportunity and made something happen.

To borrow from a popular expression, Camelot wasn’t built in day. In fact, it wasn’t even the original daydream destination. The original storybook kingdom was a called Carleon and was not replaced by Camelot until the late 13th century.

That’s right, the concept of Camelot took hundreds of years to perfect, but regardless of when and where, “once upon a time” happened. We need to remember that the events we refer to as happening “a long time ago” and in a place “far, far away” were happening “right here” and “right now” for King Arthur.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can a achieve.” -Unknown

Here are a few “Arthurian” principles you can apply in the not so distant future that may help you take the first step towards the road to Camelot.

Find a Round Table

Unless you are one of the lucky few who have complete autonomy on a deal, chances are your process is partially dependant upon people in other management positions. Try to set up a regular meeting where everyone involved can talk.

These meetings do not have to be every week, but I would suggest that you have at least one a month to discuss the following:

1. Process. Make sure everyone understands his or her role. This “round table meeting” is a great place for the Used car, New car, Finance and Internet departments to speak directly with each other. Communication is always a good idea, and unless a meeting time is set, getting everyone together in the same room can difficult.

2. Missed deals. Find out where mistakes are being made by using specific examples. Sometimes you (as the Internet Manager) will have to take the bow for missing the deal but if there are five people involved in putting a deal together then five people should share the responsibility for them. It’s surprising how cooperative people can be when there is a strong sense of accountability.

3. Brainstorm. Try to find ways you can help the other departments. In return, ask them for their input. Try to avoid the “you shoulda’s,” but look for ways to strengthen relationships within the dealership.

Slay the Dragons

Round table meetings will often uncover “Dragons” that interfere with deals. Take a proactive approach and slay them. Taking quick action will set a good example for the others in your department and will help validate the input from the other managers. If you are seen as “the guy who makes things happen,” others will be less likely to stand in your way.

Here are a couple of ways to kill commonly found dragons.

Poor response time.

  1. Have leads directed to a wireless device when you are away from the office. These devices are fairly inexpensive, and some will even allow you to store template responses. This will allow you to respond quickly and accurately when you are away from your desk.
  2. If you have a fairly small number of leads coming in, you may want to consider copying leads to your cell phone when you are away from the office. Even though most cell phones have character limits, you will usually get the subject line and return e-mail address. This works fairly well if you have access to a computer at home.
  3. If you are not seeing results from your reps after hours, you may want to consider an auto-attendant. Solv Technologies (and there may be others) offers a good auto attendant that will prompt your customers through a pre-determined path (set-up by you) and allow them to opt out if desired. Although it is not a substitute for a real person, this “chat-like” environment is very interactive and can produce significant results.

Low quality leads

Isolate what is corrupting the lead and identify the source. A couple of things to check are:

1. Is the information on your Web site and with your vendors current?

Outdated information can throw a red flag to the consumer. Also, keeping information current will often cause a user to return to your site. More visits will often translate into more leads; and a returning user will usually submit a higher quality lead.

2. Are you asking for too much information?

When it comes to forms, less is more. Long forms can be intimidating and cause a user to second-guess guess their impulses. Ask yourself, “Would I fill this out?” and follow your impulses.

3. If you are tracking geographical areas, try opting for a zip code field in lieu of asking for an entire address.

4. When trying to initiate a response:

a. Are you requiring the proper fields?

Making fields like "Name," "Phone Number," and "e-mail" can help filter out the tire clickers.

b. Does your Web site have a process?

Encouraging potential customers to aimlessly wonder may increase the number of minutes spent on your site but will seldom generate more leads. Ask yourself this: Would a sales manager let a customer aimlessly wonder the lot without direction?

Inaccurate Trade-in Values

This is one of the biggies. Using an online evaluation tool is a step in the right direction when it comes to winning a customer’s trust, but it often has the opposite effect when the estimate is several hundred dollars off. Overcoming these differences when the customer comes onto the lot is never fun and can put you into the “let me ask my manager” process that many Internet shoppers are trying to avoid.

Once again, there may be other similar products available, but Intelliprice does 3 things that are significant.

1. It pulls its data from local auctions – not national averages. It allows you (or your used car manager) to adjust the numbers on specific vehicles or reject specific vehicles all together (conversion vans, etc…).

2. It offers the estimate in the form of a range (Example: $2,548 - $3,248). This can be set as a dollar amount or percentage over/under the computed value.

a. Encourages communication between Internet and used car departments.

b. Encourages the customer to bring the car into the dealership rather than locking them in on a specific number.

c. E-mails a certificate to you and the customer with your logo on it. Many Internet car shoppers will look at several dealership sites before making a purchase. This certificate is accurate, attractive and, best of all, branded with your dealership’s logo. They offer a 30-day free trial and even have an “unlimited usage” package. This gives you at least 30 days to try something new with your Used Car Dept.

Like I mentioned earlier, there might be other alternatives, but the important thing is not the product but the results. If it doesn’t work, all you’ve lost is a little time. If it does work, you are one step closer to overcoming a major hurdle.

Build Your Army

Find the people within your organization that are interested in the Internet. Everyone may not be excited about what you are doing but there probably are a few. Likely candidates are your parts manager, your service writers and your finance managers.

Here are a couple of ways you may be able to get other departments interested in your cause.

1. Service Manager/ Service Writer
a. Many Service Departments have a list of services that do not require an appointment. All you need is one service writer willing to follow up on the leads to create a win-win situation. The service writer gets “ask for Bob” on the Web site and an incremental increase in write-ups. You get better content and another advocate closer to having total dealership buy-in. By the way, if your service writer does not have access to a computer, have your Web site provider copy the leads to his fax machine – just track them so you can make sure they are being handled properly. Try to touch base with this person on a regular basis and have an informal meeting with him (five minutes or so) every month. This will make him feel important and give you an idea of how things are going.

b. Replace the napkins in the waiting room with ones that say, “Did you know you can schedule your next service online? www.MyDealership.com.“ These are easy to stuff into a pocket or purse and will often end up in the customers’ glove box for future use.

c. Use your Web site’s coupon section to create an e-mail marketing list. Most service departments spend a fortune on direct mail campaigns. E-mail cost very little. Work with him to do a monthly e-mail campaign. Use the e-mailed coupons to get the customer’s attention (and prevent them from opting out of your list) and include a link to schedule a test-drive while their service is being performed.

2. Finance Manager

Find out if there are “flat-rate” items he would like you to recommend to your customers (gap, extended warranty, etc…). This will vary based upon your dealership’s pricing model, but trying to increase the bottom line is usually very much appreciated. As a rule, working closely with the finance manager will make him work harder for you.

3. Parts Manager

a. Find out what the high gross items are and promote them in your marketing and on your Web site. Spoilers, DVD players, etc… are great add-on items. A good price on something your customer wants may be the advantage you need over your competition down the street.

b. Find out if he has interest in selling parts online. Many dealerships are experiencing incredible success with online parts catalogues. You never know; you may have a closet entrepreneur hiding in your parts department.

c. Spend a few minutes looking through the yellow pages under “body shops.” If they have Web sites, they probably have e-mail. Put together a list of e-mail addresses and present them to the parts manager. It can be a great way to open conversation.

Unite the Allies

Once you have your army assembled, it is important you keep them on your side. Generating short-term enthusiasm is easy – maintaining it is the tough part. You will need to find creative ways to build a team atmosphere that gets everyone interested in working together.

Here are a couple of ways to do this:

1. Have sales feed service.

Most of us have a few extra minutes with the customer while the deal is being loaded for F&I, so why not use this time to introduce the customer to the Web site. CSI surveys always ask if the customer was introduced to the service department. Instead of marching them all over the dealership, do it online. Create a page on your Web site that shows the interior and exterior of your service department along with a picture of your service manager (or service writers). Use this to “introduce” the customer to the service team and schedule the first service.

When the customer gets home, they will have the auto-responder in their e-mail box as a reminder of how considerate you were.

By the way, this is also a good time to have them opt in to your e-mail list. This will allow service (and the rest of the dealership) to inexpensively market to them on a regular basis.

2. Have service feed sales

Add a line to your Schedule Service form that asks, “Would you like to test drive a vehicle while your car is being serviced?” and have them page you when the customer arrives.

3. Create a Dealership Newsletter

There are many companies that offer inexpensive ways to mass e-mail your customers (check out www.constantcontact.com). They take care of all of the legal mumbo jumbo and automatically remove e-mail addresses that have chosen to “opt out.” This is an excellent way to keep in touch with your customer base and market to cold leads.

With very little effort you can publish a professional looking newsletter that includes press releases on new vehicles, upcoming sales info, special APR’s, rebates, etc…

On top of that, it is a great way to get the other managers excited about your monthly “round table”.

Conclusion

A wise man once said, “the difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline.”

In our dreams, Internet departments sell 50 percent of all vehicles sold. They all make $2,000 on the front end. We all work 20 hours a week and we tell our customers to ignore the mist as they come into our ivory tower dealerships for delivery.

We may never ride to work on white horses or work in ivory towers but, with a little effort, we can all improve our work environments.

Many dealerships already sell 20 percent of their vehicles online. Some even have separate facilities with luxurious delivery areas and cappuccino machines. Throw in the fact that almost 70 percent of all car buyers use the Internet before making a purchase and suddenly the goal of 50 percent doesn’t seem so far out of reach.

The car business is still the car business, so we may always work ungodly hours. However, if we are willing to trade-in our goblets for coffee cups, we just may find ourselves in Camelot after all.

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