Article

Keeping Up With the Times Online: The Evolution of BillWalsh.com

July 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Daymond Decker - Also by this author

When you’ve been selling vehicles for generations – since the 1850s – you eventually get pretty good at it. But if you don’t keep up with the times, you can easily get left behind.

Bill Walsh Automotive has been keeping up with the times for more than 150 years. The dealership is a fourth-generation family-owned-and-operated store owned by Bill Walsh. Bill Walsh, Jr. is the general manager and Internet/BDC manager. The business has evolved from a single-point Dodge dealership into a multi-franchise dealer group.

The business now has more than 225 employees in 24 franchise dealerships, and the Internet is a large part of its success. In 2007, there were about 1.5 million views on their Web site, and so far this year, there have been 440,000. From that, about 330 appointments have been set each month with a closing rate of 40.29 percent—more than 8 percent higher than the closing rate of their floor traffic.

No doubt they take the Internet very seriously at Bill Walsh. They went from a plain, two-dimensional Web site to a full-service destination site with the help of BZ Results. BillWalsh.com was one of the original “World Wide Wheel” sites. Their original site established a Web presence, but customer demand required that they step it up.

The missteps were rampant. “We made every mistake possible,” he said. “We had the wrong people. We had the wrong pay plans. We had the wrong processes. We had everything go wrong!” Then Walsh took the operation over himself and made sure to hire all the vendor partners personally, and things started to change. “We had an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he added. “We had managers who thought the Internet was a joke, who later came back and made sure they were counted in the Internet process.”

Walsh knew that the next generation of customers would not be satisfied with two-dimensional photos of cars, an address and a phone number. Customers want information online, and they want it immediately. Once the dealership realized this, they knew they had to give the customer what he or she wanted, so they beefed up the information given online, and they were rewarded with more online sales.

BillWalsh.com reaches customers through e-newsletters. They are sending out 167,943 e-newsletters to existing customers. The reports from the e-newsletters show who opens them and who clicks through on particular articles. Armed with that information, the dealership can then follow up with customers who read certain articles and send them more information on vehicles of interest, including a media-enriched Virtual Test Drive complete with audio, high-impact images and multiple submission buttons.

They are also very choosy about what information they send out to customers to avoid inundating them with useless information. There is a less-than-2-percent bounce rate and unsubscribe rate.

To make shopping on BillWalsh.com more personal, the Web site runs photos of its customers doing everyday things with their vehicles. This keeps the dealership connected to the community and makes the online customer appreciate the family atmosphere. It also makes them a destination site.

“My goal is to make BillWalsh.com a frequented site, not just a generic site with just information from the manufacturer,” Walsh said. “It engages the shopper.”

Bill Walsh employees use BuzzTrak, the virtual BDC manager, to collect data. They like that it’s intuitive, and it’s specific enough that they can extract the data of prospects in the market. The Internet team is on the system every day, combing data and making sure every lead gets the proper follow-up. All contact is captured in the customer’s profile for future reference, which they call their “memory keeper.”

Bill Walsh Automotive considers BillWalsh.com to be its 25th franchise. The site has its own budget and advertising, and it’s listed on every license plate frame and on wearables throughout the store. They’ve made the Web site part of the overall culture of the business.

Search engine marketing has been successful at BillWalsh.com. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Walsh said. Tracking performance lets them redirect their marketing dollars to the better-performing campaigns. “Measuring dollars and the productivity of the dollars is essential,” he stated.

But all that marketing and tools wouldn’t be any good without the people. “We have unbelievable tenure,” he said. They don’t believe that people buy cars from Bill Walsh Automotive; they buy from that salesperson. Then, entire families buy from that person.

It starts with the Internet department. There are seven people answering 116 dedicated phone numbers, which go directly to their cell phones. If one phone is busy, it’s automatically bumped to the next number. With this system, a person is never shuffled around a phone system, left on hold or sent to the wrong department. Plus, there’s a human being on the line at all times—no automated phone systems!

The dealership measures the effectiveness of different advertising campaigns with AdTracker, a powerful call tracking/managing tool with the ability to record calls. Every month, Walsh listens to all 600 to 700 sales calls. He is able to track all the traffic to make sure no sales leads are getting lost, and he can also monitor sales calls to properly train salespersons on how to overcome objections.

Walsh offered some advice for those who want to start or re-energize their online sales.

“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” Walsh said. “Don’t try to outsmart what’s already out there. There’s a lot of really smart people out there. If you try to overthink it, it gets too complicated.”

Vol 5, Issue 6

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