Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Online Vehicle Advertising Gorilla Ate My Digital Homework

Silly title, yeah, but here's my point:  Is Autotrader's purchase of VinSolutions the "death knell" for other Website/CRM/Digital/etc. vendors in automotive?  Do I need do no more study or market homework for tool selection, and so I just have to call Autotrader to get all my strongest needs satisfied?  To the first question, I don't personally think so IF the other vendors focus on improving their products to compete.  At least not for a while.  To the second question, well, I'd guess that was Autotrader's intent, which I am thankful for, but I am wary to make sure something of this size will stay focused on my and my dealer's needs.
In my career that includes several other non-automotive vertical markets, I've been through a number of tool-market consolidations that moved us away from the "best of breed" mentality--and I can say from personal experience that consolidation can be good, bad, or both for the end user. 
In this case, I think the complimentary products of the Autotrader suite, and the vision of cleaning up the data integration and marketing nightmares that happen with multiple vendors already, are definitely very good things for us in the industry and for dealers.  The bad thing is that while the inflatable gorilla is (rightly, and yay!) disappearing from the top of our buildings, it is being possibly replaced by a much-heavier Autotrader gorilla that is now strongly inserted in a position to influence the bulk of our used car supply chain, especially for marketing and pricing.  Autotrader, HomeNet, vAuto, KBB, CDMData--and now VinSolutions.  That's quite a gorilla.
And, as long as that gorilla stays off my roof, I don't see that as a direct threat to business, and I loudly applaud the independence that Autotrader has given and still gives to the purchased products it has added.  I hope they always do that.
And that's the possible threat in the future that I do worry about--because I worked many years for, and worked for many more years with, another gorilla called Microsoft.  My hope is that Autotrader continues to work to provide tools (by development and purchase) that we can use, and never to provide tools they control us to use.  That was the Microsoft mistake, which ultimately involved the Department of Justice (you can see a very minor reference to little ol' me in that mess here).
My hat's off to Autotrader and to VinSolutions, as this particular marriage makes more sense than just about any other acquisition for several years now in the automotive space.  I look forward to some great things from both of them!
Let's all just have an eye out for this new gorilla and make sure he never sits on our dealership building.  We can't afford that weight on the roof.  And neither, frankly, in my experience can Autotrader.
So, keep watch that new gorilla doesn't ever show up there, and go enjoy the results of this new arrangement for your dealerships.  There's a whole lot of good here:  Let's use it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CRM: Why a Good Internet Lead Manager (ILM) is Essential to Making the Most Sales!

By Keith Shetterly,
Copyright 2009, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

When reviewing a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) for your dealership, the operation of the Internet Lead Manager (ILM) as part of your CRM software is essential to achieving your best Internet sales--regardless of whether you operate a BDC, an Internet Department, or cover your Internet leads with an “Internet Dealership” approach where any sales consultant can competently receive and sell customers via Internet leads.  Without a solid ILM to manage them, your Internet leads will not be effectively answered, tracked, and matured to sales.

The ILM is your Internet doorbell, answering machine, and automated greeter for your customers, plus it is the tracking tool that an Internet Director and/or GM uses to make sure the customers are subsequently being answered and worked by live sales consultants in a consistent, effective, and sales-producing manner.   A good ILM receives a lead, alerts staff and management, provides an email auto-response to assure the customer that staff is working to answer their needs, reminds sales staff for a live response, allows you to prioritize your leads (1st Party, 2nd Party, and 3rd Party),  monitors and reports on lead response time, keeps track of the phone and email conversations with the shoppers and customers using the CRM, and escalates any unanswered leads for sales and management attention until they are answered.   An ILM must also integrate with—or be an actual part of, hopefully—your CRM software to ensure that customer contact by the sales consultants is monitored, organized, and moving towards an ultimate sale.

All this applies whether the lead was a direct query to your website(s) from the customer, came via new paths such as social media, or was sent by a lead provider.   And, though not classically an operational point, the screens used to monitor an ILM should also be concise and easy to read for at least customer name, lead time, lead type (GM, Dealix, AutoTrader, etc.), response timers, last sale staff action, last sales staff action overdue, and type of alert(s) and escalation(s).

ILM escalation paths for unanswered leads or overdue follow-up are extremely essential to getting the most sales from your leads.  If no “live response” is provided from the sales staff within 15 minutes, for example, then the ILM escalates the lead to the next salesperson and/or to a wider group of salespeople who can and will respond. 

These escalations should provide distinct “escalation” alerts to email, phones, and the ILM screens for the appropriate sales staff and one or more managers, and they should provide multiple escalation steps in cases where any initial response is still needed past the first escalation.  This escalation operation must be as flexible as possible—in fact the ILM should allow for different escalations depending on the shift and/or day of the week and, as well, depending on lead type/source (1st Party leads from your own website should go “red” faster than others, for example).  And escalating by make and new/pre-owned is even better (you might want leads from a demo up for sale or a manufacturers program get fastest attention, for example).

The ILM/CRM combination must also ensure that all emails and phone contacts are logged and available for monitoring, planning, appointments, notes, etc. so that the lead is moved along to a sale in a successful and coordinated fashion.  Reminders and automatic scheduling of emails, calls, and letters in a contact schedule for working Internet leads are essential, as is a good organization of the email templates that are a must for the fastest Internet sales response (speed wins on the Internet!).

And so your customer presses your Internet doorbell, your sales staff contacts them immediately—and then they get them promptly into the store and sell them a vehicle!  Sound good?  With an ILM working as described here, your Internet lead handling be organized to get the most sales you can, just like that.

So, how much of all this does your current, or being-considered-for-purchase, ILM in your CRM do today?  If you don’t know, be sure to ask.  The Internet is your greatest sales source in history, and if somebody rings your Internet sales doorbell, you need a solid, sales-enabling ILM to help you answer it and sell the most vehicles.

There’s that doorbell now.  Hear it?  Your ILM should.

Visit Automotive Digital Marketing Professional Community

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Good Ol’ Boy Network (GOBN) Limits Dealer Success

The Good Ol’ Boy Network (GOBN) of the car business limits us in how we apply experienced and/or capable people, how we run our dealership’s business, and in how we approach women for everything from ownership, to manager spots, to sales positions. And, by limiting all that, it limits our success.  And our profitability.  Let me tell you my own experience with the car business GOBN, and then I’ll address the point I’m making on limits.
I came to the car business in my 40’s (I’m now 52) with experience ranging from owning my own business, to Fortune 100 Consulting, to several years at Microsoft. I entered the sales floor, as perhaps many do, because I had a financial issue—I had a cash flow problem with my business, and so I was making an effort to offset that slowdown.
I was privileged to work with several great salespeople who were happy with me until I started selling #1 consistently. Eventually, they came back to liking me, but what really happened next was inevitable: I knew so much about sales and marketing, and the dealership group’s attention to marketing and the Internet was severely lagging. They couldn’t run a marketing program in any coordinated fashion to save their lives. I tried to help, but I ran right smack into the GOBN: I couldn’t possibly understand the car business! And the people they had running all the marketing and Internet were just fine. Really. They knew them all very well, how could it be otherwise??
And so I sold lots of cars and left when my cash was right again. The main store’s GM called me very shortly after that, though, and he said “I get it even if other’s don’t. I need your help in a BDC with phones and Internet, can you come back and help me?” And so I did. And a shout-out to my old GM, Mike, by the way: Thanks very much for that!
He and I worked together and took the BDC—even back then—to running 40% of the dealer’s vehicle retail business. I eventually moved on to an eCommerce position at a large group, and for me the rest is history as they say—I’m now an independent consultant (, but I still have all that experience, both outside and inside the car business. Plus I qualify now for some entry into that GOBN. Who knew?
Though that’s still not true with everyone who considers me, because I’m not twenty years in this business making all the same mistakes they are making (if not direct business mistakes, then business-limiting mistakes because they are still GOBN-oriented).
So, what are a few of the most common GOBN limits? First, that experience outside the car business isn’t any strong help to a dealership; second, that running the dealership AS a business, instead of by GOBN “relationship decisions", is not possible nor profitable; and, third, that women are never, ever part of the GOBN.
Yeah. I said it. Women are limited by the GOBN in the car business. Still. I’ll write more on that in a minute.
I already covered the GOBN’s reaction to experienced and capable people when I wrote about my own entry into the car business. What I see for GOBN for relationships that hold back their business success is perhaps best given in questions: Who knows a GM who buys a random direct mail piece because his buddy at another dealership “killed it” and sold “fifty cars” from it last month? Or has seen the management clearing-out that happens with some GM regime changes? Or still sees print advertising spend over digital because the GM has a long-standing relationship with the local newspaper? And so on. Exactly.
And back to women, then, to wrap up, and I’ll ask some more questions: How many women GMs and managers are there? Would a successful woman ever get online as a dealership Marketing Director and write on an automotive professional blog site (using both their personal name and their dealer’s name) in angry posts, some containing profanity (see the thread here)? Would even my actions there be done differently? Why do lots of capable women leave the sales floor? Why do the ones who stay do so well and yet cause such jealousy?
GOBN, that’s why. For all of that and more.
We need experienced, capable people with new ideas; we need to run our dealerships as businesses, not as clubs; and we need more women in sales, management, and ownership.
And we lag on all these because of the limit of the GOBN, both in business practice and in attitude. Removing that limit will do more for long-term dealership success than any new efforts on Internet, Social Media, Reputation Management, etc. ever will alone—simply because those are all really most successful when change for business success is really embraced.
And the car-business GOBN hates change. Have you noticed? So did the dinosaurs, perhaps, and they are now encased in rock. Don’t be a GOBN fossil and miss modern success and profit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Shetterly's Laws" Series . . .

The current dealership elements of the "Shetterly's 3 Laws of..." series are on the page "Read Shetterly's Laws" on this site.  This series is my attempt to boil down modern marketing, sales, technology, process, and such to the necessary essentials for a dealership, focused on increasing sales.  Adoption and Implementation of these sales-increasing items is too often slowed by overly-complex presentations and proposals that make what is really straightforward "meat and potatoes" seem so often like a plate of spaghetti!

This causes hesitation, and--as the surviving deer across America could tell us if they could talk--"hesitation kills".  And, in these days of rapid change in consumer behavior involving the Internet, mobile phones, etc., dealers cannot afford crippling (or business-deadly) hesitation.

And so I hope this series "Shetterly's 3 Laws of..." helps dealers understand those essentials necessary for their modern business needs in order to increase sales.  For more information, or to hire me to help your dealership, please email me at or call/text me at the phone number in the header of this site.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Series - "Internet Sales How To" #1: Support Your Price Quote!

I taught at Brian Pasch's 2011Automotive Marketing Bootcamp, and  I didn't get to everything in my class because of time, of course.  However, besides ALWAYS having calls to action (more on that later), I have another tidbit of many tidbits for you to get response from your Internet leads:  Support your price quote!  How do you do that?  Like this:

Here's my great price on a great xxxxxx, $__________, which with tax, title, and license gov't fees is $_________.  And here's our great <reviews, videos, etc.>.  Please call me ASAP to discuss a test drive!
In other words, send the shopper support for your price that is "buyer generated content", e.g. your buyer reviews and buyer testimonials.  This is a great way to consistently beat the competition that always submarines you by a few hundred dollars to get the deal.  People care about reputation when they are shopping!  And here's something else to add to make them buy from you:
Here's my great price on a great xxxxxx, $__________, which with tax, title, and license gov't fees is $_________.  And here's our <reviews, videos, etc.>.  Please call me ASAP to discuss a test drive!
Additionally, while you are shopping, at the bottom of my email is a list of consumer-advocate questions to help you shop.
And, so, at the bottom of your BRIEF email, you put:
Consumer Advocacy Questions to Ask All Dealers:
  1. Do you have an online reputation presence for yourself and/or your dealer that I can look at? (know who you are doing business with)
  2. Do you have any hidden fees?  (this will scare off bad-practice dealers)
  3. What is your total price with tax, title, and license gov't fees? (otherwise, you can't do an apples-to-apples comparison)
Make sure you handle all three of those well yourself and that you have a price supported by your previous buyers' reviews--and you will get the shopper's call and the appointment.  And your competition is left behind!
For those of you who don't have great reviews, go get them.  No great videos?  Go film them.  Because your competition IS going to make these changes, eventually.  Don't you want to be first?
Who wants to win?
by Keith Shetterly,
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reputation . . . "Managed"??

“Reputation Management” (RM)??  I was part of the first group of folks who started using this term, as far as I know, and I have come to strongly dislike it:  A great reputation is created with great customer service; it isn’t managed.  However, if, by RM, you mean that you need to let the world know about your great reputation that you get from delivering great customer service and working to correct unhappy experiences, that’s very good; unfortunately, RM is sometimes positioned as a way to overcome valid bad reviews (get them off SERP 1, for example).  Or, worse, the term “RM” is sometimes hijacked by people wanting to advertise a way to “correct” your reputation, much like the firms that advertise to “clean” consumer credit.  And just as false and un-successful.

So, how do people find your reputation?  Nowadays, it’s found online by searching on a make/model in you area, searching on your dealership’s name (52% of website hits are from direct searches), finding Google Places rolled-up reviews, finding sites such as your PrestoReviews site on the first SERP, getting DealerRater info, and various other review sites such as MerchantCircle, etc.

And how much impact is a reputation?  Reputation is the oldest advertising, but it has been long-eclipsed by one-way, one-to-many commercial advertising (newspaper, radio, TV).  Available data says that, however, if reviews are available, 82% of online shoppers will read them—but what the shoppers do with them next is currently in some debate:  How much do reviews influence their choices?

Do you really want to wait for that data?  Not if you want to win.

And, so, the first real “management” you need to do for reputation, besides delivering a great customer experience, is to understand and properly react to what’s actually happening with customers that is now being relayed via reviews, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  And in ways it will be sometimes hard to see or measure.  And sometimes in real time!

For example, in my own case I’m “friends” on Facebook with my wife’s dear friends, a couple.  The husband, call him “Ted”, was on Facebook complaining he was being mistreated at a dealership during the sale, and I happened to catch that in my Facebook news feed—and I realized it was the dealership where my friend, Mike, was GM!  I called Mike, and it took a few days to sort it all out, but “Ted” was finally happy and crowing about the good experience to all his friends on Facebook.

That’s “hands on” Reputation Management.  Real reviews from real people, really in the dealership, that lead to a real and great reputation.

And we come to the age-old question, paraphrased:  If a tree has a great customer experience in the forest, and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?  In other words, how do you amplify the advertising that is a review?

The first answer?  SEO!  This is why I’m a big fan of PrestoReviews, which accepts reviews from customers in the dealership (allowing for the fastest resolution of any issues) and turns them into fantastic search engine results.  We talk a lot about the extremely high value of “user-generated content” for great SEO, as we should, and this is “customer-generated-content” and very dealer-centric.  This is the best of what I already wrote “Real reviews from real people, really in the dealership, that lead to a real and great reputation”, now leading to great SEO--brilliant, and a great win for any dealership.  And the Presto Reviews are starting to roll up into Google Places, as well, which is even better.  Here’s a screenshot of a search for a PrestoReviews client Hawkinson Kia (click on it to see it full size):

The next answer?  It’s not Yelp.  If it's anything else, it’s DealerRater, in my opinion.  Yes, I know DealerRater is best used as a paid service, and that it runs its own search engine efforts using your reviews (your content!), and which it sometimes also turns into ads for competitors within your review listings,  Not dealer-centric on those points.  However, for now consumers use it and it’s dealer-only for ratings (no other vertical markets) and has a strong “review-site” foothold, and it’s not that expensive to do the paid version.  AND DealerRater reviews will often roll up into Google Places, and that’s the real value.  There are a few other sites like MerchantCircle to consider, as well.  Here’s a Dealerrater screenshot (click on it to see it full size, and note the competitors shown are actually in Houston, which is where my IP is):

Anyway, to wrap up here, I’ll live with the term “Reputation Management”, as it’s got that strong foothold, too.  However, without hesitation and regardless of what tools you use to manage letting people know about it, I’ll tell you how to simply and always have a great reputation:

Start with a great customer experience!

P.S. Check out Shetterly's 3 Laws of Reputation.