To understand where your advertising dollars are most effective, how many times have you asked a customer on the floor, “What brought you in today?” While this information is important to your success, are you raising the question at the wrong time?

What brings the customer in today?
The problem with asking car shoppers as they walk in the door to tell you what brought them in today is two-fold. Customers don’t want to appear eager to buy, so they try to maintain their bargaining position with a poker face and a noncommittal response, “I was just driving by your store.” They don’t want you to know they’ve done their homework or that they’re doing anything more than “just looking.” At the same time, what to say may not be easy because several factors probably played a role in their decision to see the car in-person.

Think of your own shopping habits. Before making a significant purchase, you likely consulted friends, coworkers or family members for their suggestions. You may also have gone online or scanned the Sunday newspaper ads for pricing, options and availability. And, like the car shopper in front of you, you probably went to a couple of stores to see the product for yourself and to gauge if you “liked” the business and the people working there.

If a salesperson asked what brought you in today, would you go through the complete list? Or would you simply respond with the answer that you felt would leave you with the most room to negotiate?

Finance and Insurance (F&I): The right person, the right time
Collecting customer feedback on what combination of online, print and broadcast outlets to include in your ad buy should take only a few minutes. During the in-market training events the training team hosts around the country, dealers tell us that they have the most success with a one-page form the customer completes in the F&I department. The deal already is negotiated, and car buyers find they have time to fill while the service department preps their car for delivery. Some stores sweeten the request with a free soda.

To learn what other dealers do, we asked DealerADvantage readers last month to share how they manage their media surveys. While nearly nine out of 10 dealers have a process in place, more than half require the salesperson to ask car buyers as they enter the store. Nearly one in four dealers said they assign the job to their F&I team, while 13 percent fail to even ask.

A handful of dealers told us that they send post-sale surveys, an approach we don’t recommend. Despite their best intentions, car buyers typically fail to respond. They forget or view it as just another consumer survey and discard it. And in many cases, car buyers think dealers should already have this information. Again, if you really want this data, ask for it — and ask for it in F&I.

The right questions
To get the information they need, successful dealers ask several questions. The idea is to understand all of the online, print and broadcast outlets your customers use — not to make them rank the No. 1 option. For example:

  • What Web sites do you visit while shopping for a car?
  • What newspapers do you read?
  • What are your favorite radio stations? When do you listen?
  • What are your favorite local/cable TV stations? When do you watch?

You can then drill down into this data to determine which media outlets deliver car buyers vs. which media outlets are popular in your market. You may be surprised. For example, published ratings for radio station X seem to indicate it is the clear choice, with a “drive-time” audience twice the size of radio station Y — yet 75 percent of the people who bought a car from your store tune-in to station Y.

This data can also help you weigh the reach of third-party online classified listing services and the strength of their partnership network. If a good amount of your buyers say they spend time at Kelley Blue Book’s or, you’ll know to maintain — or increase — your ad spend with and/or, respectively.

So while car buyers may not be able to tell you the one thing that brought them in today — Were they really “just driving by your store,” or was it your new online display ad? — they do provide the best indication of whether an advertising strategy is effective. To expand on a Hollywood cliché: Build your advertising presence around where car shoppers are, and they will come.