Where Did All The Special Finance Customers Go?

February 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Greg Goebel - Also by this author

It's Time to Fish Where the Fish Are

“Where did all the Special Finance customers go?” “What is working to attract SF customers?” These are just a couple of questions that fill my e-mail inbox on a daily basis. They are from people looking for lightning in a bottle.

This just in: The retail automobile market is tough – real tough –  tougher than it has been since World War II. And I know those of you who read my writings have seen my comments warning of this for over a year. So if this is where the industry is now, how does it get to “there – a place where business is thriving the way it was several years ago,” and how do we find a way for our special finance department to survive until it does? You are missing customers..

I have always believed in advertising aggressively into a bull market, and being cautious in a bear market. Up to now, it was basically seasonal in nature. When I used to roll out a heavy marketing and advertising blitz, I wanted to do it in a market where there were many interested consumers on whom my message could make an impression. Obviously, that isn’t the case now. So what do you do?
Well, first, please don’t take this as advice to cease all advertising. You simply can’t do that. You have to continue your brand in the market—continue to remind people that you are able to help them, and most certainly ask for business. You simply must be prudent about what you spend and reasonable about your expectations. Forecast your deliveries and spend appropriately. (Yes, I realize that forecasting in this climate is difficult.)

Past that, I think now is the time to buy and generate leads—quality leads. Since it is currently difficult to predict consumer demand (as we head into the holiday season), one thing is fairly certain. If you receive a real-time lead from any source, that customer is most likely in the market to act. They went to the trouble to submit their information (most often over the Internet) to apply for an auto loan or to have someone contact them, and they did it within the last 24 hours. To me, that indicates current interest, which is highly desirable in this climate.

Make no mistake, leads differ in quality. First and foremost, I would prefer a lead that you have generated on your own dealership-branded SF Web site. That means the customer has made the conscious decision to apply to your dealership, therefore contacting them and setting an appointment for them to come to the store will be relatively easy to do. Accomplish this and you will close these leads at a significantly higher rate than most.

Of course, this method requires two things. First, you must either have a dedicated SF Web site or a dealership Web site where the SF message can be easily identified. Next, you must spend the time and money on search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to have your site rank in the top four or five in your market, so that your customers will find you.

If you can’t generate enough of your own leads, you can simply purchase them. Yes, the closing rate for these leads is less than what it used to be, but there are a number of lead generators – via the Internet and other methods – that are able to provide you a consistent quantity of real-time leads. While the customer is not aware of who the end-receiver of their information is (hence a greater challenge of turning them into an appointment), they are looking for an auto loan. I work with dealers who are still doing a very significant part of their business from these leads. They do work, and they simply cannot be ignored.

Regardless of which type of leads you focus on, solid telephone skills and processes will be paramount to achieving success. Space here does not allow me to go into the necessary skill sets and processes, but if you peruse the “Articles” link and Discussion Forum posts on, you will find a number of articles detailing what is necessary, along with specific phone guides. Certainly, the key is to remember it is your goal to set an appointment (that will be kept) rather than trying to get the customer approved with a finance company before they come in.

In today’s unprecedented market, when things that have worked in the past seem to work no more, it is easy to lose your way. It is easy to waste tens of thousands of dollars in marketing and advertising if no one is interested in listening. Some things remain true, however. There are still finance companies eagerly looking to finance the subprime credit customer, and there are still subprime credit customers looking to buy vehicles. In this climate, I would certainly make sure to focus a significant portion of my ad spend to purchase or generate real-time leads from people who are looking for a vehicle today. It is called fishing where the fish are – and they are still out there.

Until next month,
Spend smart!

Vol 5, Issue 12

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