Article

Raising the Internet Department of Behlmann Automotive

June 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Internet Director Finds Success by Improving Online Shopping Experience


In today’s high-tech society, the Internet can be incredibly rewarding with proper nurturing and commitment, and Anthony Bartoli, Internet director and sales manager at Behlmann Pontiac Buick GMC, treats the Internet department like a child—a method that has proved successful at more than one dealership in St. Louis, Mo.

Like raising a child, getting an Internet department off the ground and running involves extensive time and energy. First, it’s important to develop the philosophy by which the department will operate. The Internet department at Behlmann Automotive wasn’t founded by Bartoli, although he developed the philosophy by which it’s run today. He began working for Behlmann (which is also a large retailer of conversion vans) in 2001, and went to another dealership in 2005, where he first began his Internet sales management career.

His work at the other dealership led the Behlmann owners to realize the Internet’s sales potential. While still working at the other dealership, Bartoli began working for Behlmann on a consultative basis to develop their Internet department. The Behlmann Internet sales department had been stuck in its infancy for years as a one-person department selling only two to five vehicles per month. Before returning to Behlmann full time, Bartoli worked with Dealerskins to develop a new Web site for the dealership, and he finally returned to Behlmann in May of 2007 (just in time for the launch of the new Web site). Almost two years later, the Internet department averages 75 sales per month and tops 100 some months.

Bartoli’s Internet sales philosophy is simple—shopping at Behlmann.com should be just as easy as going into the dealership. “If you look at [the Web site], it’s as easy as one, two, three, and that’s how it should be … if you treat [an Internet customer] just like a customer on the lot, you’re ahead of the curve in this game.” As someone who researches online before making a purchase, he looked to other popular online retailers for ideas. “I shop [online] for virtually every product I own … so I looked at what sites work and what sites don’t outside the automotive industry.”

One takeaway was how to effectively represent products online. “If you go online to look at a product, you want to see the actual product,” he said. Stock photos are typically a different color with different options. That’s why all new vehicles are photographed and posted on the site to make sure Behlmann.com shows visitors the exact product offerings.

With that said, if you go to the Web site to view the new vehicles, you might see a few stock photos in the new car inventory. In order to get new inventory posted as quickly as possible, Bartoli sometimes uploads stock photos of new vehicles that are still en route to the dealership; however, those photos don’t last long. He and his staff photograph vehicles upon arrival (weather permitting) and upload photos to VinSolutions, which then adds the photos to Behlmann.com and several other third-party sites. Bartoli said it only takes about an hour to photograph and upload photos of 50 vehicles.

He also stressed the importance of up-to-date specials and customer testimonials online. “A lot of dealers [will] have a link for specials and it says, ‘No specials available at this time.’” He said manufacturers and dealerships usually advertise rebates or specials on television and in the newspaper, so why they aren’t advertised online? “It’s very easy to do, and by changing my specials it moves me up in the rankings all the time … it’s the specials, keeping inventory fresh and real on there.” As for customer testimonials, he believes using them adds credibility to the site and dealership, adding that they’re “worth their weight in gold.”

This information-rich and thorough online strategy has no doubt contributed to the dealership’s remote sales. Bartoli has sold to people in California, New York, Florida, Denmark, Germany, and South Africa, amongst many other locations. To complete remote sales, “We still do a proper delivery. We do a video presentation of the vehicle. It’s easy to create [a presentation] on DVD … and we answer questions via phone.” He said every aspect of a vehicle is covered in the video presentations, which is especially important when presenting a conversion van with a video. A conversion van delivery typically takes an hour to present because the vehicles have so many options.

One thing has become clear to him over the years in Internet sales. He said, “Customers aren’t as price-driven as you think they would be. If you can answer their questions and provide a valuable service to them, they’re going to go with you every time.” Not only is it important to answer questions when a customer calls in, it’s also important for customers to find answers to their questions on the site. Behlmann.com has several options under the “Research” and “Finance” tabs and extremely detailed vehicle listings that should answer most customers’ questions.

Bartoli also has sites like OnStar and the dealership’s eBay store framed in on the homepage, so people can research outside the site without actually leaving. It keeps people on Behlmann.com and improves page views per visit. Bartoli said, “Customers view anywhere from eight to 14 pages per visit … [which means the site is] engaging the customer, giving them information and linking to [other pages the customer wants to visit].”

On a daily basis, he tracks where his customers come from – search engines or third-party sites – to make sure he’s not using Internet advertising dollars on campaigns or tactics that don’t produce desired results. “A lot of people throw money at stuff. One of the nice things I learned a long time ago … if it doesn’t work, don’t spend money on it.” He said too many dealers neglect tracking the return of all their investments, especially advertising, so they don’t realize when something isn’t working. He also tracks the dealership’s YouTube videos. “I’ve got YouTube videos out there that get over 1,000 hits [per vehicle].”

Behlmann.com is also included in all the dealership’s traditional advertising campaigns. A frame with just the URL is attached to the end of the store’s TV commercials, and there are several billboards on the major highways that all advertise different reasons to go to Behlmann.com—value your trade, set a service appointment or even apply for financing.

One aspect of Internet marketing Behlmann currently isn’t using, but has used in the past, is search engine marketing (SEM). Bartoli said, “The thing I like about it is you can turn it on or turn it off. If I didn’t have enough leads for my guys, I’d turn it on again … You can only handle so many leads … If you’re going to do SEM, you have to monitor it and you can’t just have a company do it [without monitoring it].”

SEM isn’t the only thing he thinks should be monitored. “Everything is trackable, from bad leads to lost leads, and I pay a lot of attention to the lost leads … If somebody bought something else, I want to know why … they didn’t buy from us and how we can improve,” said Bartoli. And his tracking extends beyond measuring ad campaigns or lead conversion rates. He also looks at how many hits his specials are getting and which vehicles are viewed the most on his site. “I get e-mailed every morning the reports on my specials and on my inventory … I can actually tell you I’ve had 12 hits on my Denali that’s on special, or my G8 on special has had 14 views this week,” he said. By monitoring the most viewed vehicles, he gets cues on what vehicles to include on his specials page, and in addition to reviewing how many times each vehicle is viewed, he can determine where the viewers are located. 

Other aspects of business he tracks include (but aren’t limited to) sold logs, ROIs, profits, and sales goals (as a whole and for individuals throughout the month). He also compares the number of hits on popular vehicles online to how many opportunities the store had to sell those vehicles on the lot to determine if the two are commensurate. “That’s what I like about Dealerskins. If you want reports, there’s a way to get them to you … Sometimes I think these guys are saying ‘Oh, my gosh. This guy’s nuts.’ They go, ‘No one’s ever asked for it.’” But if it’s trackable, Bartoli wants to track it. While he believes customers aren’t as price-driven as one would think, he still makes sure his inventory is competitively priced. To monitor market trends in Internet pricing, he uses vAuto’s pricing tools.

Over the past two years, Behlmann.com has grown from infancy to a mature site that accounts for about half the dealership’s total sales with the right product mix for the dealership and Bartoli’s constant watchful eye.

Vol. 6, Issue 4

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