The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Greg Goebel - Also by this author

I guess it must have something to do with the Internet Achievement Awards. That or the fact that in the 18 years I have owned dealerships, 12 months was an eternity for me to drive any single vehicle. In any case, it seems like every year as it is time to compile the results, I am also looking for a new set of wheels.
First, I must congratulate Ken Smith of Dave Smith Motors on their four-peat as the Internet Dealer of the Year. Year after year Ken and his team continue to raise the bar on Internet performance. I have personally visited their operation in tiny Kellogg, Idaho, and seen first hand their process in the flesh. I have also run across people five states and over 1,000 miles away wearing the bright pink Dave Smith Motors license plate, having purchased their car in Idaho.
Dave Smith Motors’ accomplishments are truly amazing. To put everything in perspective, their totals from 2003 still have yet to be eclipsed by the next closest dealer in the ranking this year. It absolutely shows that opportunity for any dealer is boundless, regardless of their facility or size of their locale, if they are willing to continually think outside of the box and accept nothing less than excellence.

OK, I digressed. Back to my annual car buying experience. Some of you may remember my first column I wrote on this subject about two years ago. It was the first time that I had been on the retail consumer side of the equation since 1985. Bottom line back then was that I was searching for two particular vehicles—either new or used.

I made 42 separate inquiries over the Internet in my quest, the overwhelming majority to dealerships. In nearly every request for information, I included verbiage nearly pleading for someone from the dealership to call me. I had eight people contact me via e-mail (six dealers) and one person out of 42 actually called me. In the end, I wound up buying the vehicles the old fashioned way. I went to the stores in person (well not exactly true…I called them and did most everything over the phone).

The bottom line was that if I were to ask the dealer principal at each of the stores I attempted to contact they would probably say the Internet didn’t work well for retailing vehicles (I’d probably smile and just give them Ken Smith’s number).

It doesn’t matter how you get your leads. You can have them streaming into your server like there is no tomorrow, you can avail yourself to the top ranked lead providers; you can post 1,000 vehicles on the online auctions and classifieds…if you don’t contact the customers it is no different than ignoring the ups that walk into your showroom.

Flash ahead two years. Here I am in the market again. This time really and truly as a retail consumer, not having been influenced by new car introductory meetings by my franchises or having spent time in the auction lanes (something like the candy stores of 40 years ago). OK, I still have MMR, but heck, it seemed like half of my used car buyers always did, too.

My family and I are now Florida residents and are ready to trade the more utilitarian all-wheel drive vehicles for something more suited for the warm climate. (Also, a three-car garage in Florida seems to be built to about two-thirds scale to their Midwestern equivalents.) The bottom line is I really don’t know what I want, but I know I want something different.

My consulting and training travel schedule makes the rigors of door-to-door shopping a pain. Also knowing that nearly half of our 2005 Top 50 Pre-Owned Retailers are huge e-Bay Motors sellers, and between them and some of my clients that also do well with e-Bay, I just know that even using the Internet, there is no way that I am going to repeat the experience of last time. One way or the other, whether through contacting a dealership through their Web site or by bidding on a car, it will be different this time. As a result, back on the ‘Net I go.

As I write this, in the last three weeks I have now contacted 31 dealerships and four individuals via e-mail or by bidding on vehicles. Also, when using e-Bay Motors I will generally place some low-ball bid until I hear back from the seller to have a few specific questions answered about the vehicle, at which time I will make every attempt to buy the vehicle if it is what I want.

To date I have received eight e-mails (not counting auto responders): six from dealers and one phone call (a phone call that all by itself will be the source of a future column). The odd thing about this is this time, I deliberately contacted or bid on vehicles by members of our Top 20, including Numero Uno themselves (I am going to be back in their neighborhood soon, and figured I could fly out and drive home). And so far, not one of the Top 20 has contacted me.

That kind of blows the hypothesis that the dealer principals of the stores that are not making contact would eschew the belief that retailing over the Internet doesn’t work.

I will report back in the future as to the end result. Simply put, to sell cars you have to talk to the people. You can have the best lead providers, the best Web site and the best CRM tools, but if you don’t contact the customer they will most likely buy somewhere else. It makes me think back to the last few years I had my dealerships and wonder how many people really contacted my stores and weren’t contacted by my own staff.

I have stated for years that I believe that the Internet is simply just another form of marketing and advertising–another way of putting the customer and the retailer in touch with each other. That means in some form you or your dealership have paid to have the customer initiate the contact. Make sure you do your part to contact them back!

Until next month, Good Selling!

Vol 2, Issue 5

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