It happens every day. An online inquiry that looked so promising when it arrived seems to have gone colder than a penguin’s feet. And before you can say “lost commission,” the prospect is moved into the inactive system. That is often a mistake, according to Ralph Ebersole, Cars.com’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training. “The only good reason to move prospects into the inactive system is because they asked you to,” he says. Otherwise, you should adopt a strategy to keep prospects alive longer – particularly in an economic downturn that makes every sale mission-critical. Let’s look at some suggestions on how to make that happen.

  • Be patient. “Dealers are often too quick to file prospects as inactive,” says Cory Mosley, principal at Mosley Automotive. “Most of the time, it’s a reaction to a lack of response. Salespeople say, ‘I called three times and emailed three times and didn’t get a response; must not be anything there.’ But what they forget is that the sales cycle for internet inquiries is 30 to 90 days, not 48 hours like in a store.” Keep in mind that internet customers who don’t respond right away haven’t necessarily said, “No.” More than likely, they’ve just said, “Not yet.”
  • Be careful about who makes the decision. Salespeople can become easily frustrated by a lack of response and will want to move prospects into the inactive file quickly to get them off their plates. “Often salespeople will look to make prospects inactive within five to 10 days of the original inquiry. That’s absolutely crazy,” says Ebersole.

    Mosley believes it’s important to take the decision to make a prospect inactive out of the hands of the salespeople. “It can be very dangerous to leave that decision at the front-line salesperson level,” he says. “Sometimes a prospect can wind up in the inactive system as a result of a hotter lead coming in or as a result of the salesperson’s overall workload. If there are too many leads, the salesperson will probably go after the low-hanging fruit and try to make the others inactive. That’s why it’s a decision that’s better suited to management. Otherwise, you could wind up with a group of 90-day buyers being placed in the inactive system when they should be cultivated instead.”

  • Re-evaluate your process. Most dealerships have a process for prospect management, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one. With the current climate being what it is, it’s a good time to determine if you’re on the right path. Mosley recommends that stores start with a clean slate and create a playbook based on best practices in the industry. “Management should be examining who has the authority to make a customer inactive,” he says. Factors to look at when creating the playbook include the brand, resources in the store and normal volume of leads per salesperson.
  • Avoid an all-or-nothing approach. Rather than having just two options – active follow-up or inactive – Ebersole recommends a third approach. “Customers who are not responding should still receive newsletters, emails about specials and other correspondence,” he says. “Use your CRM program to keep the store in front of those prospects. If you have a rebate program, let them know. If you’re closing out a model or have a tough-to-find model coming in, let them know. It just takes a few seconds. They should keep receiving email from you until they opt out.”
  • Make sure you’re not the cause. “You have to make sure you’re doing the best job you can with the opportunities you get,” says Mosley. “If you have bad follow-up, you won’t get a response. Then that customer becomes inactive in your store but buys elsewhere. From time to time, you need to look at what you’re doing now, why you do it that way and if there is a better way to do it. Don’t give prospects a reason to go inactive.”

Just as the pop song says, there’s no “good” in “goodbye” when it comes to prospects. If the time isn’t right for active and aggressive follow-up, don’t be so quick to put them in the inactive system. Instead, find a way to keep a connection so you’re at the top of the list when the shopper decides to become actively engaged in the selling process. You spend a lot of time and money finding those prospects. It’s worth a little more to help them turn into customers.