June 2011, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
I guess I was wrong; this Internet thing is not a fad. I’m afraid it is here to stay.
Trust me, they had to drag me kicking and screaming to get online, but now that I am, I can’t see how I functioned without it. It truly is the greatest thing since sliced bread or offshore reinsurance companies.
The great-grandfather to the Internet as we know it today was called Prodigy. It was really the first online tool and was nothing more than an online encyclopedia—the first Wikipedia, if you will.
Today, there are so many online tools that not only make it easier to operate in the BHPH industry, but are paramount to having any sustainable success. If you’re not online, you are definitely behind.
One of the biggest and best tools to have in your online BHPH tool belt has to be social media. Just about every dealer I have the privilege of working with uses social media in some capacity. Dealers are using social media for two reasons: collections and advertising/marketing.
They are using it to locate customers who have lost their way or forgotten to send in a payment for a while. It is simply amazing how much information our customers are willing to share with total strangers on social networking sites. A word of caution: There is some case law currently pending involving a collection agency who had an employee create a false profile to locate some skips. So if you are going to use social media to collect, I say go for it; just be very careful about who uses it and how it’s used. I have yet to see a delinquent account that was worth the keys to the dealership.
Dealers are also taking advantage of the social network craze to get their message out and brand themselves in their markets. Some dealers have simply created a profile for their dealership similar to one an individual would set up. These can be a little suspect unless you have someone constantly monitoring what is posted. Most dealers now are creating a business profile. The difference on a business profile is that the business owner has tighter control over postings, which can be a benefit if you ever have a disgruntled customer or employee.
More tools to have in the belt would be online auctions. Inventory is not getting any cheaper or easier to find. The ability to sit in the comfort of your office and purchase vehicles is becoming invaluable. The auctions offering this service provide very in-depth condition reports and usually a multitude of pictures so you can get a good feel for what you are buying.
Another tool to have in your online belt would be a people-search site. Last year in a few of the BHPH 20 groups I have the honor of moderating, we asked the members to bring to the meeting a list of the people-search sites they use. We compiled those into a master list and came away with a list of over 20 different sites our dealers are using in collections and underwriting. And the best part is that almost half the sites on the list were either free or at minimal cost. One thing to remember when using one of these sites is to always search for yourself first to see how good the information on the site is. If it doesn’t have current information on you, then there is a good chance it won’t have any for your customer either.
But the main tool – the hammer, so to speak – to have in your online belt is a website. If you don’t have an active website, you are losing business and thus money. Notice I used the word “active.” Just having a website is not good enough. You have to keep it updated. You need to analyze it on a regular basis to make sure when someone is searching that you come up on the first page of the search. It should have some form of application to capture information and give a customer the ability to make a payment. I know what you’re saying. “This is buy here pay here, not buy here pay online.” I felt the same way; I wanted to see my customer and the vehicle every week. I hate to say it, but this is the twenty-first century. Our customers are very technology-savvy.
I have only mentioned four online tools. These are the most used in our industry. But there are so many more that should be in the tool belt or at least in the tool box. Sites such as MapQuest, craigslist and eBay can be used for anything from skip tracing and purchasing inventory to finding employees. Other sites that can be used in the same capacities would be online newspapers and online banking. What better way to verify a customer’s income than having them print off their bank statement while sitting in your dealership? No need to send them home to get it. The same could be done with the utility companies. A lot of people are paying their utilities online and therefore have an online account set up.
So as you can see, there are almost endless possibilities to what the Internet can provide. The moral of the story: Get online or get left behind.
Vol. 8, Issue 3