Anthony Monteiro
Anthony Monteiro
Prime Motor Group
Business Development Director

At Prime Motor Group, Anthony Monteiro’s college training as an architectural engineer seems to have served him well in his nearly two-decade long automotive retail career. Since starting as a floor salesperson in 1989, he’s applied his knowledge of technology and processes to work with car buyers and provide them the information they need to make a purchase.

“It was an easy transition for me to kind of get more involved in the technology side of the business,” he says. “It was something that I knew and understood compared to my peers.”

In his role as business development director at Prime, Monteiro helped the New England dealer group open a BDC for its sales and service operations, implement a CRM system and establish internet sales processes. He oversees business development activities for Prime’s nine Boston-area stores and works with a Maine-based manager for the company’s BDC and seven stores in the Pine Tree State. 

What does Monteiro enjoy most about the retail side of the automotive industry? “Pretty much everything,” he says. “It’s an exciting, dynamic business. It’s always challenging.”

DealerADvantage recently spoke with Monteiro to learn more about Prime’s internet initiatives and how those strategies are helping to drive sales. His Boston-area stores sell between 1,200 and 1,500 new and used cars each month – upwards of 40 percent of them to internet car buyers.

DealerADvantage: How does online fit into your overall media mix?

Monteiro: It’s more than half of our spend. In the last five years, it’s grown from approximately 10 percent. In the next five years, it’s probably going to flatten out. We still see that you have to be on TV because people haven’t stopped watching that. Radio is much less due to the fact that we find a lot of people in our market are listening to satellite radio.

DealerADvantage: How are your BDCs set up to manage internet sales?

Monteiro: We’ve transitioned into what is called a hybrid BDC to take a team approach. There may be three or four people in the BDC that work with three or four people on the showroom floor, and they’re a team. When the lead comes in, the BDC person initially takes the lead, processes it and gets the information from the customer. Then, within a day or two, the agent folds in the salesperson, and they work as a team with the customer. Customers can call the salesperson on the floor, or they can call the BDC agent. It really doesn’t matter. We tell the customer that we understand that sometimes it’s difficult to get salespeople on the phone because they’re out doing a delivery or test driving a car, or they may have a day off. There’s always somebody staffed in the BDC during the hours that we’re open every day.

DealerADvantage: How do you manage email contacts in the BDC?

Monteiro: Email goes directly into our CRM system, where it gets assigned to the person who has the highest skills to handle the lead. The agent takes the lead and processes the response email based on our current inventories. They offer the customer some options and choices on various vehicles that we may have in stock. They send that email to the customer, and then they call the customer.

We’ll follow up for 90 days. From there, a lead goes into a campaign database. If we haven’t sold the car in that 90 days, trying to email customers and reach them by phone, then the email address goes into a campaign file. Those customers get our monthly newsletters, our monthly promotions or whatever email communication that we broadcast on a monthly basis from that point forward.

DealerADvantage: What’s the initial response time for that first email and phone call?

Monteiro: Our benchmark is 15 minutes. We probably average for the whole BDC at right around 20, 25 minutes. The phone process is similar. Basically, our system sees where the call came from, what source — if it came from Cars.com or AutoTrader.com or our website — and what franchise it belongs to. The system will then route the call to an agent that has a skill set to take that phone call. The goal is to answer the customer’s questions and set an appointment.

DealerADvantage: How do you manage the hand-off to the salesperson when the customer comes into the store?

Monteiro: It depends. When the salespeople set an appointment for customers to come in, they would ask for the salesperson. When the BDC sets the appointment, the agents ask customers to come in and ask for the manager that’s on duty during the time that they scheduled their appointment. The manager, before the appointment, reviews the customer with a sales individual that they’ve selected. They go through the notes, and they go through the process. They get the car ready, pull it up, make sure it’s gassed and put the plate on it. The customer comes in and asks for the manager, and the manager transitions the customer over to the salesperson.

DealerADvantage: Do customers like meeting with the manager?

Monteiro: Yes. Our process calls for the manager to have at least two, if not three, touchpoints with customers before they leave the dealership. The first one occurs when we set an appointment and the manager that day calls to confirm. The manager basically says, “You’re going to meet with my salesperson, Brian. He’s one of my best sales guys, and he’s going to go over the Audi A4 with you. When you come in, please make sure that you ask for me. I want to say hi to you and thank you for coming in.” So the customer walks in the door, asks for Anthony the manager, and I walk out of my office. I shake hands, I say hello. I call Brian over and I say, “Hey Brian, here’s Mr. Jones that we talked about earlier. I know you pulled this car up front. Can you take a few minutes and review the vehicle with him?”

Let’s say that we can’t get together on the price or whatever it is, the third contact occurs when the salesperson asks me to talk with the customer. The salesperson always wants to key that customer to a manager anyway, but now, when I come in as a manager, I’m not some stranger that’s here to try to bump the person on price. I’m actually a guy that the customer’s already met twice.

DealerADvantage: You’ve taken the handoff and made it a part of the sales process so that it’s seamless – and useful — to the car buyer. How has this approach affected your sales?

Monteiro: We can honestly say that our sales have stayed pretty consistent. We just had our quarterly meeting, and every single franchise that nationally and regionally, where their numbers were down in the market or overall nationwide, our dealerships have stayed relatively flat. Or, maybe instead of declining 12 points like one of our brands has, we’ve only suffered a three- or four-point loss, year over year.

DealerADvantage: How do you hire for your BDC? What types of people do you like to bring in?

Monteiro: People ask me that a lot, especially when I travel and speak at seminars. It’s like you hire for anything. Referrals are a great way. If you’ve got good people working for you, typically their friends and people they know will be similar to them. We advertise in the conventional places like Career Builder and Monster. If we meet somebody in our daily lives who is courteous and has a decent sales approach to them — maybe at Best Buy or in a restaurant or just people that we meet, we try to recruit them to come work for us.

DealerADvantage: Do you prefer people with sales experience?

Monteiro: We have a mix; you can train people that don’t have that. But we find that if people do have sales experience, they kind of get the concept of what the whole end game is — bring somebody in to get them to buy the product and pay a certain amount of money for it. We have four people in our BDC, out of 12, that have sold cars before, and then we have another five that have sold something before.

DealerADvantage: Do you want your people discussing price?

Monteiro: Yes. We typically give a price on the first response for every customer. We train our BDC people as extensively as we train the salesperson. As a matter of fact, some of them are more knowledgeable about products than some of the newer salespeople because they interact with more people. They get more objections. They get more feedback about what our competitors are doing.

DealerADvantage: How do you measure the success of your internet program and your return on investment?

Monteiro: We just use the straight line cost to sale to gross on the sale. How much did I spend, and how much did I make by selling cars via this source? We go backward, and we track the sale to the source. How many leads did we get from AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, our site — whatever it is? How many of those leads became appointments? How many of those appointments showed up? How many shoppers just walked in? And then, ultimately, how many of them did we sell?

DealerADvantage: What do you look for when choosing advertising partners?

Monteiro: Three things matter. One: Are we getting the exposure? Two: Do we get the quality leads that obviously turn into sales? The third component is service: What kind of service do we get? Do they offer training? Do they come in and help our dealers? Do they help us when we have turnover? Do they supply enough information for us to make their product worthwhile?

DealerADvantage: How has your internet strategy evolved in the time that you’ve been at Prime?

Monteiro: It hasn’t changed drastically. I think that pretty much everybody knows that the quicker you respond with personalized, relevant information, the better chance you have to get customers engaged. And once you have them engaged, the better chance you have to get them down to your dealership and buy cars from you. We have added some technology to make our process smoother. We added a series of email templates that make it easier and faster for our agents to deliver that personalized, relevant information. For example, we have templates for every make, model and trim level so that we can deliver media-rich content specific to the vehicle the customer’s inquired on — all the way down to imbedded walk-around videos of used cars.

DealerADvantage: How are you using search at Prime?

Monteiro: We do all of our SEM in-house. We have been for the past four years, and we have a pretty good database and understanding of the key search phrases in our market. We’ve been able to build some pretty nice campaigns, and they drive some excellent traffic that converts at a decent rate. We have a dedicated person, who also builds microsites, including parts sites, and does a lot of other work at the same time.

DealerADvantage: Are you doing anything with online reputation management?

Monteiro: Yes. We partner with DealerRater.com. The general sales managers and the corporate trainer are responsible to make sure that the salespeople, when they have customers who are satisfied, they ask them to go to DealerRater.com and write a review. We also have some point-of-sale collateral and thank-you-for-purchasing email templates. There’s a link right to DealerRater.com, and we ask the customer to visit the site and write a review about their experience.

DealerADvantage: How do you manage criticisms or complaints?

Monteiro: We just go on and say, “You’re right, we were wrong, and we’ll do whatever we can to rectify the situation.” It doesn’t really matter what you say; he says, she says — we’re always going to be wrong in the eyes of consumers because we’re a dealer and it’s another customer that they’ll empathize with. We feel if we just go on and say, “Hey, you know what? That’s not how we do it. We understand. We’re going to do everything we can to make it better.” That typically lends some weight.

DealerADvantage: How are you using social media?

Monteiro: We have a presence on YouTube. We publish all of our TV commercials and now we have our used car videos published directly to YouTube every night. We are looking at a process now to take a 30-second video of customers taking delivery of their car and publish it on YouTube, with their permission. We’ll then send them the link to the video in an email thanking them for the purchase. When they get it, they can send it to their friends and family: “Hey, look at the new car I just bought.” People tend to want to share that news, so we thought this would be an interesting way for them to do that.