Article

Dealership Adds Lead Alert - Response Times Double

October 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Menlove Dodge Toyota of Bountiful, Utah is no infant in the Internet retailing realm. The “Last of the Little Guys” have been online for over a decade, but lately their success level has risen, while the cost per sale has fallen. Rich Lucy, director of Internet services, credits their recent and continuing success to the “right kind of people” turning 600 to 700 leads per month into 150 sales; a well-rounded Web site that informs and engages visitors; a suitable, on-going marketing strategy; and a new alert system that assists in handling the growing number of incoming leads.

Menlove opened in 1961, and in 2003, they were Utah’s #1 volume car dealer. Over the years, they have consistently received Toyota’s prestigious President’s award and have been named a “Five Star” dealer by Chrysler. Many customers return for future purchases and often refer the dealership to friends and family because the dealership provides excellent customer service.

Lucy’s career at Menlove began in November of 2003 selling vehicles. After a year of selling, he was promoted to the director of Internet services. What differentiates Lucy from most Internet directors is his opinion on dealership market share: “I don’t believe I should have to share the market. Everyone can buy a car from us.” He added, “The owner and management staff really care about their customers.”

In the Internet department, a quick response is crucial to landing the sale. One recent program Lucy has piloted is a new lead alert system that improves response times. As soon as a lead arrives the clock starts ticking. Within 15 minutes of its arrival, Lucy is sent a Microsoft Alert e-mail and text message notifying him of the lead. At that point, one of his staff members is expected to call the lead. “We always call,” said Lucy about following up on leads. Even if the potential customer requests an e-mail, the staff makes the phone call. Their goal is to contact every prospect before their competitors, and the phone is a much better form of communication over e-mail for building purchasing excitement.

Staff members on the lot are also sent e-mails alerting them of new leads. After 45 minutes, if a lead has still not been responded to, Lucy is then sent another e-mail and text message to alert him of the lead’s unanswered status. If he receives this second notice, he seeks out his staff and makes certain a call is placed. Lucy frankly stated, “You need some kind of alert system.” Thanks to this new lead-alert system, he can guarantee all leads are contacted within an hour of arrival – even when he’s off the lot.

Now that the dealership has settled in with their new alert system, Lucy can occasionally take a day off. When he is away from the store, he routes the first alert to another manager on the lot. The second alert is still sent to him, and at that point, all he has to do is make a call to the dealership to instruct someone to follow up on the lead.

Even though the dealership is receiving more leads each month from their Web site, they still use two third party lead providers (Automotive.com and AutoUSA.com). Lucy believes a well-rounded, updated daily Web site produces better lead results. On Menlove.com, customers can browse in-stock inventory, apply for credit or make vehicle payments to Menlove Financial Services. They would like to generate enough leads from their own site to completely avoid using third party lead providers, but that’s not quite a reality yet. After the initial call to the customer is placed, the dealership dedicates two weeks to turning each lead into an appointment.  Throughout that timeframe, a total of three phone calls are made and eight e-mails are sent. The last of the 11 communications is designed to inform customers that Menlove will always be available for their car-buying needs.

It is possible to purchase a vehicle from this dealership without ever stepping foot on the lot. The vehicle can be delivered to the customer’s driveway, where all necessary paperwork can be completed if the customer meets the credit requirements and applies on-line. Lucy believes a well-rounded, updated daily Web site produces better lead results. On Menlove.com, customers can browse in-stock inventory, apply for credit or make vehicle payments to Menlove Financial Services. If a customer ever has questions while browsing the site phone numbers always prominent.

Lucy said, “You have to offer the customer a million ways to contact you.” He believes having numerous – maybe not quite a million – ways to contact his staff is an absolute must. Upon entering the site, customers are instantly offered three ways to contact the dealership: a toll-free phone number, a general e-mail link and a live chat link. The contact possibilities don’t stop there. As customers dive deeper into the site, a “CONTACT WHO?” link is available. This page has links and contact information listed for specific departments or manager’s phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

Their site provides an abundance of information – all available with a few short clicks. This intuitiveness allows shoppers to quickly find the information they want without becoming overwhelmed. The basic principle of a well thought-out, intuitive site encourages visitors to return.

The site has a great deal of content, yet it isn’t difficult to find desired information. The site is intuitive, which allows visitors to easily move through the site without overwhelming them and invites return visitors. The basic principles of having well laid-out content that is intuitive to navigate applies to any Web site and helps guarantee success.

A simple three-step process to buying a car online, a “Build Your Own” vehicle option, a “My Car Page” feature and the ability to schedule a test drive are just some of the features that appeal to the Internet vehicle buyer. By simplifying the car-buying process, Menlove.com appeals to those customers who dread – what they perceive as – the long, drawn-out process of buying a car. Even if the process sometimes takes more than three steps, that small number three is less intimidating than a 10-step process.

A little imagination is all that is required to “Build You Own” vehicle: it’s often a dreamers tool with customer’s building vehicles they can’t purchase. However, it can help them define the type of pre-owned car they want before walking on the lot. This feature also creates awareness for users by alerting them to the fact that they do have options. Customers like to know they can choose what they want.

The “My Car Page” feature is a system to allow registered users to view maintenance for their vehicle(s). They can view upcoming service appointments and vehicle maintenance history, as well as schedule service appointments. Users receive alerts on vehicle recalls and service specials. When any maintenance is performed by Menlove’s service department, the vehicle history is automatically updated. Maintenance records are important when the customer wants to trade for their next vehicle. The convenience of this feature might lure some customers that might take their vehicle to an independent service shop, back to Menlove for service.

While the “My Car Page” feature is a definite asset to potential customers, dealerships receive their share of benefits by offering it. Each time a customer logs in to their My Car Page from the dealership Web site, their car page is in a frame that resides on the dealership site. The opportunity to browse Menlove’s inventory is always present, along with the dealership phone number, e-mail address, live chat option and more.

Potential customers don’t go to Menlove.com just to browse inventory and apply for credit; they also go to the site for dealership information and maintaining service records of their vehicles. More traffic equals more leads.

Lucy understands the necessity of advertising and marketing. When business is good, he is often asked if cutting back on marketing is an option, and he firmly replies, “No way.”

In the spring of 2006, Menlove entered the worlds of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Their intent is to attract customers who want to buy but are not already committed to them or another dealership. According to Lucy, it’s simply an effort to get business that “may be up for grabs.” He also added that they will “see what the return on that investment” is down the road.

One simple, yet important principle Lucy is vocal about is the quality of the Web site he manages. He said, “Your Web site is the whole basis for what you have to spend.” Why would any dealer dump money into online advertising without a well manicured, up-to-par Web site that is able to compete in the market.

While many dealerships showcase part or most of their inventory on their Web sites, Menlove displays every vehicle they have on the lot and list how each vehicle is equipped – new or used. Showcased features are optional items; not standard features such as power locks, power locks and cruise control. Lucy feels the in-depth listings invite customers “to shop around a bit longer because it's just like being on the lot.”

Menlove Dodge Toyota, an online veteran and award-winning dealership, has evolved through the years developing and maintaining a strong online presence all while sustaining their “Last of the Little Guys” slogan and image. They have the proper combination of qualified employees, a lead alert system that ensures no more than an hour passes before the first customer contact, a defined follow-up process, and a functional, intuitive and interactive Web site that makes visitors want to return. This combination gives Menlove the upper hand in evolving with the ever-adapting business of selling cars.
 
Vol 3, Issue 8

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