Chances are you’re familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a pioneer. On the upside, there is the opportunity to make your own way and do things no one has done before. On the downside, a lot of pioneers wind up with arrows in their backs. If you’re working as an internet sales manager for your store or dealer group, you can probably relate. As you know, the job provides an opportunity to help the business capitalize on a huge source of revenue – if you can quickly learn the ropes and master the skills needed to turn online shoppers into showroom buyers. Let’s look at tips successful ISMs offer to help you survive and thrive in this crucial assignment.
- Understand the job is about managing merchandise and sales. “In internet sales it’s not just about good sales technique,” says Jeff Kershner, a former ISM and training manager with MileOne in Baltimore. “There is a whole element of merchandising and online tool management that floor salespeople don’t have to deal with. You have to know how to work with search engine marketing and search engine optimization, how to register a URL, how to set up a website, how to post video on YouTube in a way that it can be found, etc., to be truly effective. If you don’t have these skills already, you have to spend the time to learn them.” He adds that many new ISMs who come off the sales floor become frustrated with all this behind-the-scenes work, especially if they are being compensated on straight commission. But the online sales channel will never hit its potential without them.
- Manage expectations. Internet sales are made on a different timeline than showroom sales, according to Cory Mosley, principal at Mosley Automotive Group. “In the showroom, the expectation is if the customer comes on the lot you can close the deal,” he says. “It’s also assumed that if the customer doesn’t buy within 72 hours you’ve lost the sale. Internet customers, though, can take 45 to 90 days to make a purchase. That means you might need a wealth of follow-up before you can close. Otherwise, when they’re ready to make the decision, it’s like starting over.” ISMs have to be prepared for this longer sales cycle, and they have to make sure management understands it, too. “You have to know that a contact isn’t necessarily a real lead in the traditional sense. It may just be an opportunity for the future, one that will have to be nurtured before it bears fruit. Making that adjustment in thinking will definitely help you keep a positive attitude.”
- Find a way to connect. “In the store, you have a lot of tools at your disposal to make a personal connection,” Mosley says. “There’s the excitement of the vehicles, the ability to bring a manager in, balloons and popcorn for the kids, etc. It all adds up to an emotional connection. None of that is available on the internet. In fact, the anonymity of email and the internet is attractive to people who are afraid to come in the showroom because of a previous bad experience. You need to respond quickly by email, engage them on the phone as quickly as possible, make a connection by asking questions and schedule an appointment for them to visit you. Otherwise you will be two or three steps detached from the customer.”
- Develop superior communication skills. “When it comes to good salesmanship the rules haven’t changed,” Kershner says. “You still have to be a great communicator. Only now you have to be able to do it through email and the phone as well as face-to-face.” If your writing is weak or your phone skills are rusty, Kershner says you need to work on them. “With email, you don’t want to simply respond like a robot. You need to grab shoppers’ attention, create interest and a sense of urgency and show them what’s in it for them. On the phone, you want to start building a relationship instead of just answering questions. You also want to ask the customer to take an action. Questions such as ‘Can I fax some information to you tonight?’ or ‘Can I bring the car by your work so you can test-drive it?’ help get shoppers engaged with you — and not your competitors. The more you can get shoppers to feel like you’re working for them, the more likely they are to buy from you.”
- Know your products. Nothing puts off customers faster than having the feeling that they know more about the vehicles than the salesperson, according to Kershner. “With all the information that’s available on the web these days, it’s easier for a customer to be well-informed,” he says. “The ISM has to keep up with it, but don’t just go for the obvious stuff. Learn the little-known facts about the vehicle, the safety and performance features, to make shoppers feel good. Also be sure to open your inventory when you call. The vehicle that first attracts them may not be the one they ultimately buy.”
- Learn the technical tools. This is important whether you’re doing the work yourself or working with outside vendors to manage your website, online merchandising, SEM and other technologies, says Kershner. “You don’t have to become an expert on them, but you want to know enough that you can speak intelligently to your vendors,” he says. “You have to be able to blow away the smoke and look behind the mirrors to make sure you’re getting what you expect.” He adds that understanding how to read statistics, especially SEM results, is critical for tweaking and tailoring your online offering to maximize sales.
- Earn a seat at the management table. Mosley and Kershner agree that what the ISM does and how he/she does it is largely a mystery to management. As a result, it’s important that the ISM be made part of the management team to assure that decisions that affect the internet channel are being made based on the proper information — and for the right reasons. “You’re asking for failure if the ISM isn’t in the management meetings,” Kershner says. “The internet is a vital part of every store’s future, yet it’s unlike the rest of the store in many ways. You need to be where the decisions are being made to protect against misconceptions and gain the resources to grow the business.”
- Have an action plan. “Things don’t always go the way you want them to,” Mosley says. “If you’re not prepared for that it can be a disaster. Look at what happened in New Orleans when Katrina hit. They didn’t have an action plan, and it caused all kinds of problems. When Gustav hit recently, the city knew exactly what to do and took all the proper steps. People get flustered or fail because they’re not following a process. If you have a plan, you know what to do and how to handle it.”
- Stay on top of statistics. One of the best things about the internet is that nearly everything is trackable. As a result, “There is a wealth of knowledge available to the ISM,” Kershner says. “You can see where leads are originating and how much time a particular customer is spending on the website. You should also be tracking which offers deliver the most traffic, how many leads sold from each source, the cost per sale, etc. The more information you have, the better you can find out what’s working.”
Looking for additional tips you can implement in your store today to drive more traffic with your online advertising and desk more deals with your internet sales processes? Check out Cars.com’s DealerCenter. Here, you can read previous editions of our DealerADvantage newsletter or listen to archived recordings of our DealerADvantage LIVE webinar series.