Article

Competing with the Jones’ of the World

February 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Karen Steckler - Also by this author

As a salesman in Oregon, Jonah Jones found himself frustrated by the lack of accountability and personal responsibility in the car business; at times he even found himself becoming bored. Jones thought the newborn online sales division might give him an opportunity to end his frustration and boredom, while allowing him to take control of his customers. In 1999, during the early years of the Internet boom, Jones made the move online and hasn’t been bored since.

Jones, now the e-commerce director for the Asbury Western Division, finds himself constantly challenged by the evolving environment of e-commerce. With responsibilities for nine dealerships stretched across Texas in the McDavid organization as well as stores in the Los Angeles and Northern California area, Jones doesn’t have time for boredom. David McDavid Automotive Group is part of the family of Asbury dealerships. Asbury, a publicly traded company, operates 94 dealerships with 129 franchises across the United States.

The pace and change of the e-commerce world keeps Jones on his toes. “There's not much history to go on to figure out how to do it ‘right,’ so you need to keep making smart decisions and trying new things,” he said.

The reason Jones decided to switch to the Internet side of vehicle sales was the desire to make sure that customers were treated properly and that the leads were effectively followed. “In the Internet department, I could track numbers and could set processes that hold people accountable for follow-up,” Jones said. With 37 percent (an average of 700 sales a month) of McDavid’s sales volume coming from the online department, a lack of accountability could prove disastrous.

He faces the normal challenges, like figuring out how to find quality  salespeople, keeping up with evolving technology and struggling with “old car dogs” that don’t want to embrace the changes that come with the online market. At times, his highest hurdle is sales people trying to undermine the online department. “That’s something I smile about. With such a large percentage of their business coming from online there are still a lot of people who are resistant. They aren’t good at adapting but [the Internet] is definitely the way things are moving,” Jones said.

 He believes that owners now see the dollars and cents of online opportunities. They are focusing on ways to find additional profit centers available in a market that is still facing reduced sales volume. Dealers are – now more than ever – open to the Internet and its development as a sales center in the dealerships.

Allen Levenson, vice president of sales and marketing at Asbury, laid out the purpose of their Web site. “The Web is there to generate leads; it’s there for e-commerce. We’ve tried to focus on a site that converts into sales. You have some dealers that focus on eye candy. They overload on flash.”  Levenson knows that it is important to have an attractive site that correctly brands your company, but he recommends keeping in mind that there are people still using dial-up connections. He stated that it is important that customers can easily navigate and access the Web site. He also stressed the need to keep inventory on-hand for the customer to see and ensure that every lead receives follow-up so that the Web site generates profit.

To accomplish their goals of a simple, easily loaded Web site that will convert leads into sales, they have partnered with several companies. Reynolds Web Solutions and McDavid worked together to develop the look and feel of the site. Reynolds offers a wide range of services including site design, real-time content management tools, inventory management, hosting, and marketing and sales training.

Search engine marketing however is entrusted to Auto Dealer Traffic.  They have been very effective in offering Asbury a targeted marketing medium with measurable return-on-investment results.  The company’s proprietary Internet and search engine marketing software manages dealers’ online advertising from sign-up through execution and includes real-time reporting. 

Jones estimates that 10 to 15 percent of McDavid’s advertising budget goes towards online marketing – and that number continues to grow. The ROI for online advertising at the McDavid Group is considerably higher than other advertising mediums, and the numbers are quantifiable.

The investment of advertising dollars into this growing segment is justifiable. In a recent study by JD Powers, it is estimated that buyers who found cars online doubled from eight percent in 2002 to 16 percent in 2006. Those numbers are a good reason to keep advertising dollars focused online.

"Print continues to serve an important purpose in marketing, but its role in the area of classified listings is diminishing quickly. The domination of the Internet over print in the used-vehicle market will only increase as today's younger buyers become a larger buying force in the market," said Min Cho, senior analyst of JD Power and Associates.

Jones is always on the lookout for new technology but is adamant about the fact that the people, processes and philosophy of the customer coming first is most important.  From the first contact that they make with the customer to gathering a name from an Internet lead, customer service is always a priority for Jones. “Keep them coming back with good service in the first place, then by staying in touch ‘forever.’ E-mail is a cheap way to stay in front of your customers.”

One way to ensure that your customers are first priority is to make sure you have the right people in your sales and Internet departments. Jones believes that if he could answer the question on how to find the perfect employee for the Internet department, he would have the competitive edge because people are the most important part of his business. “You can have the technology and build the processes, but without the personal touches, accountability and follow-up, you lose the customer,” Jones said.

“Processes are a big deal. So, we focused on making the Web site extremely effective, and we focused on staffing the departments up to proper levels. We also track our results very thoroughly; you can't fix anything if you don't know what problems you face,” Jones said.

 Staffing correctly is imperative for any dealership, but with Jones, it is one of his top priorities to make sure the correct individual is on staff.

“We have dedicated Internet sales. We try to put our best salesmen in [the Internet department] doing what they are best at, which is making appointments and selling cars,” Jones stated. Jones believes that some dealers fail in this, thinking that if they have a sales person who didn’t necessarily succeed in the field, they might succeed in the Internet department.

“We don’t put people in sales position that are ineffective on the sales floor. We hire the best, give them attainable goals and then make them accountable.”

Like any other dealer, they look for someone who has a good work ethic and is loyal, and then they thoroughly train them on the process. “In 30 to 60 days, you’ll be able to tell if you have hired someone who is going to work in your organization,” he said.

They have a policy of not overloading any staff member with leads. This allows the sales people to effectively follow up and close the sale. It also gives Jones a breadcrumb trail to follow when determining standards and how well his employees are meeting their goals. “We give them about 80 leads,” he said, “That way you can track their follow-up and make them accountable.”

Their success is built in part by a company-wide buy-in that has been a part of the Asbury Automotive Group’s philosophy toward the Internet since its inception. “Our organization doesn't make decisions based on emotion or ‘friendships’ as much as I typically see in the car business.  We try to make decisions based on how to sell more cars and make more profit,” Jones said.

Levenson believes that both Asbury and Jones’ commitment have helped McDavid’s Internet division grow. “A lot of people don’t have a Jonah Jones, they don’t have corporate support and they don’t find the support in the field. It takes a company-wide approach to make a successful e-commerce site.”

That company-wide investment is what Jones is going to use to keep his online e-commerce site moving forward.

“I want to make the McDavid Web site the place that people in Dallas think of when they want to buy a car. In all of our Web sites, I want to convert maximum visitors to leads. Keep marketing and making sure we stay fresh on new technology that helps us convert visitors to leads,” Jones said.

Organizations must have 100 percent management support; without that buy-in, no one will be competing with the Jones’ of the world. His advice to someone thinking about focusing in on the Internet as a profit center is simple: “Don’t do it half way.”

Vol 4, Issue 1

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