Marketing Highway - The Internet Route: Shifting Gears at the Right Time

November 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Robert M Moore - Also by this author

The shift toward Internet marketing has led many automotive industry experts to convince dealers that the way to increase their profits and get the most from their marketing dollars is to spend more on their digital marketing and advertising efforts. Yes, key words, micro sites, search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) can all contribute to successful Internet sales, but to what end? And, who’s getting the real ROI from your expenditures—your dealership or the outside marketing firms? Too often, it’s not the dealership.

As a dealer, before jumping on the Internet-charged bandwagon, you should ask yourself, “Do I need more leads, or do I need to do more to improve my performance with the leads I already receive?” The industry currently estimates that most dealers receive plenty of quality leads via the Internet, but are not managing those leads in a way that turns them into viable sales. Evidence of this shortcoming is supported by how many lead providers are now looking to secondary markets to sell off “unabsorbed” leads. Why invest more money driving customers to your Web site if the final result is little-to-no lift in sales? Before optimizing your Internet business, first optimize your e-commerce processes. 

Internet-Savvy Shoppers Call the Shots
Internet shoppers dramatically impact your bottom line, so it’s critical that you pay close attention to whether their questions are being answered—and answered in a timely manner. According to J.D. Power (2008), nearly 70 percent of new vehicle shoppers now use the Internet in their shopping process. In addition to being accustomed to having knowledge at their fingertips, Internet buyers tend to be “time-poor” and want to avoid traditional sales methods.

If your Internet personnel are not responding to these leads within an acceptable amount of time, your process quickly conveys to the Internet buyer that you are not interested in their business. What’s more, your store is quickly written off by the Internet buyer as a place not to buy, and they’ll move on to other brands or dealerships. Consider your Web site an extension of your showroom. Just as you would not ignore the customers on your lot, you should not ignore the ones on your Web site.

Know Your Business and Your Business Processes
The most critical order of business is to determine how many leads you’re currently receiving, your lead response times, your appointments-to-show ratios and your sales-to-appointment rates. If these numbers are not competitive with current standards, you should strongly consider investing energy toward improving the functional aspects of your e-commerce process.

Having the right processes in place will not only help you gain new customers, but it will also help you prevent damage to your dealership’s reputation and business. Without the proper foundational processes in place, spending more money on digital marketing in an attempt to drive customers to your showroom could do more harm than good. Once that is addressed, then—and only then—should you consider increasing your digital marketing dollars.

Make The Internet Work as a Part of Your Dealership
Ineffectively managing the leads that you already receive and then spending money on the Internet to increase these leads will not gain you higher volumes of customers or cure your ad spending woes. Only by developing and testing a sound e-business sales process will you learn how well your money is working for you and achieve better business results.

To get started, check with your manufacturer about their e-business process initiatives. You may also consider contacting your DMS provider or third-party e-business consultant as a way to get started. Remember, as demanding as today’s buyers are, if you meet the needs of today’s Internet shopper, you’re well on your way to using your marketing dollars to help you gain lifelong customers.

Vol 5, Issue 10

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