Steven Golding
Steven Golding
Bay Family of Fine Cars
Ecommerce Director

As the ecommerce director for Bay Family of Fine Cars in the Florida panhandle, Steven Golding is the first to tell you how much he loves his job.

“It’s always different; it’s always changing,” he says. “The car business gets in your blood, under your skin.”

Bay’s owner and management team likely counted on that enthusiasm when they recruited Golding last November from a neighboring Honda store. At the time, far too many internet inquiries went unanswered, incorrect inventory feed settings caused havoc with online listings, and several vendors failed to deliver promised results. Sales processes varied with the customer.

“When I first got here, we were almost literally going backward,” Golding says.

Golding, who began his professional career in satellite operations with the U.S. Air Force, wasn’t afraid of the challenge. The New York native started selling cars in 1999 at a mom-and-pop used-car lot, following jobs in consumer goods retail, investment management and TV ad sales. He credits these assignments, along with his out-of-the-box thinking and willingness to work hard, as the training ground for his present success.

“No matter what I did,” Golding says, “I was always trying to push the envelope of what was just accepted and standard.”

DealerADvantage recently spoke with Golding to learn more about Bay’s internet initiatives and how those strategies are helping to drive sales. The Panama City, Fla.-based dealer group operates seven rooftops representing six brands and records monthly sales of approximately 200 to 300 vehicles.

DealerADvantage: You’ve said that you essentially had to rebuild your internet operations from scratch. Coming from outside the organization, how did you begin?

Golding: I spent the first two months fixing things, putting processes in place, defining roles and deleting programs. There was no CRM system in place, and a bunch of leads that had been sent in had never been touched – I’d say close to a thousand. I called all of them, apologized for the lack of contact, and I sold a few cars – kind of got the ball rolling. It was like when you wake up from a bad dream and you suddenly realize that the dream is real. But knowing that you have control over how it’s going to be put together was reassuring. It took me a good, solid month and a half to at least get to a point where we were actually turning the ship around.

I had to first figure out where the biggest problems were. The nice thing was the GM knew some of the problems that had been driving him crazy. So I made a list of the things that concerned him the most, tried to tidy the things up that were easiest right away, just so there was some progress.

DealerADvantage: When were you able to start putting in place the sales process changes that you wanted?

Golding: I actually did it immediately, because that was one thing that I thought was imperative to make a difference right away. The errors that were made in the past should not affect at all the process you have today.

DealerADvantage: Were you surprised that you were beginning this job at such a fundamental level? What kind of timeline were you given to begin showing results?

Golding: I think there are a lot more dealers that are at that point than people realize. Because there was no internet process, I was asked, “What do you think you can accomplish?” I said I would consider myself a failure if, after my process was a month or so in, I couldn’t double where we were out the gate. We’ll probably exceed that goal by four times.

That’s another danger for some of the dealerships that are embarking on this journey: How do you count internet deals? Do you count them based on what the salespeople said (“Yeah, this guy came in because he saw the car on”), or do you count it because, start to finish, the internet department worked the lead and closed the deal? By that definition, we sold 30 to 35 cars in our first month counting, up from the five to eight verifiable-through-the-internet, start-to-finish-type sales.

Now, a lot of people are looking at huge sales decreases. We’re not down at all. As a matter of fact, we’re slightly up, so I set expectations with the owner. In these declining times, if we can manage to stay flat or even increase slightly, then you will know that’s because the internet is working and that the internet process I’m putting in place is working – and so are the resources we’re dedicating, fixing and tweaking.

DealerADvantage: How did you identify the top performers for your initial go-to people?

Golding: It was pretty obvious from the first week, but I also went to the sales managers. I said, “Who are your people that, no matter what, will constantly stay in touch with their customers? Who will take a list of customers with lease expirations or prospects for finance deals that are about to end? Who are the ones that you’ll give them a list and they’ll call it all?” I admire that mentality of always wanting to be busy. I don’t want to sit here and wait for the next shopper to drive up – which right now is a scary thing. Those were my starting points with the people.

DealerADvantage: How do you identify people in the dealership to expand the internet team?

Golding: The stellar guys come to me and tell me the status of customers. They’re so excited and so focused on getting the job done and being successful that their peers want to get involved. They’ll go to that salesperson and say, “You’re doing really well with the internet stuff.” And they’ll start asking them questions. This is the process I used at my previous store, and it’s what I do here. I let them come to me. I look for the person that says, “Dude, I want to be part of this.” I say, “OK, what do you think it is? What do you understand it to be?” I want them to tell me what it is they do and what they’re willing to do. If it fits, I say, “OK, this is what the other people are doing, this is how they work. Do you see yourself as being a fit?” This is their business; they’re not just an employee. If they don’t have that level of commitment to doing the job, learning the job and making themselves proficient, then they’re not going to be part of the internet team. I’m not a baby-sitter. You’re either going to do the job or you’re not.

DealerADvantage: How do you train within the internet group?

Golding: My coaching is very positive; I try to find a positive point. I make the assumption that the dealership has already provided them at least the product knowledge tools to be successful at explaining the features and benefits of the car. Even sales training: I don’t do sales training; that’s not my job. My job is to sell cars on the internet. The desk managers and the GM, that’s their job to train a sales process from the start to finish of a deal, how to handle objections, things like that. That’s why a green pea – my rule is six months to a year of car experience before you touch the internet – has no business being on the internet, ever. The only difference is that internet objections can be a tad unique, so I will definitely empower the salespeople and educate them on some of the things I do. But, for the most part, those objections that people have on the internet are the same as the regular sales objections.

DealerADvantage: Can you walk me through your internet sales process?

Golding: If I make contact with the customer, I set the expectation that a salesperson will make contact right away. I always ask permission for a brief phone call. I believe very strongly in the telephone. I came from the investment world, so I still press for a phone number even if the customer is reluctant. “I understand, and I will respectfully use your phone number. I think it will serve you better to clear the air of any uncertainty because you can’t hear us, and we can’t hear you over the internet when we send you something. It may be taken the wrong way; it may be not taken.” So I try to set the expectations right away that the customer is not going to get five different people calling five times a day.

Once it’s handed to the salesperson, I expect the salesperson to make phone calls every single day. I don’t believe in a lot of voicemail messages. If you leave a voicemail on someone’s phone every three to five days, that’s enough. If you leave a voicemail every day, you’re going to lose customers. They’re going to get mad. I have automated emails that go out that are very polished and professional. I wrote them myself, and I put them in place myself. I tell the salespeople not to bother with long, drawn-out emails. If you want to say hello, introduce yourself or tell a little bit about yourself, I suggest that.

The primary thing is, every day, you need to try to make some sort of progress with that customer.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who said his store is bringing in a new GM. The guy said that after one week – this was crazy – if they have not made any progress with a customer, they should take the customer off the active list. There’s no follow-up at all, and I thought that was nuts. Most people don’t buy within three days of deciding, “Hey, I might start looking for a car.” They buy a car when they’re ready, and that might be a month later.

So I tell the people: First week, you’ve got to call every day. Maybe the second week, too, but then use your best judgment on the time period. After a month, once a week is all you need. And once a week, you leave a message. If you don’t want to leave a message, then call the next day until you can either make contact or you leave a message. Then wait a week. That’s really not set in stone, though, because each customer is different. As a salesperson, ask yourself every day, “Do I want to sell a car today?” Then ask yourself if you’re doing what it takes to sell a car to that person. What is missing? What’s lacking? Maybe two weeks ago, the customer said he was getting money from an insurance settlement six months from now. OK, so the next contact is three months from now and you ask, “Are you still on track for your insurance?”

DealerADvantage: Do you manually assign leads or is that being automatically done?

Golding: I do not believe in round-robin lead systems – ever. I think they’re a mistake. Because if you’ve got a guy who is extremely good on the phone and you’ve got another guy who is really good at email contact, and your customer may be a phone guy, or may be out of town so it’s going to require a lot of phoning, listening, negotiations and you have it on round-robin, you’re pot-lucking the whole thing.

I’m absolutely against that. If I get a customer, for example, who is a 75-year-old, very nice, very soft-spoken lady, I’m going to find either the “soft-spoken grandson” type so that she thinks, “Gee, I like this person. He reminds me of my grandson,” and this real nice warm relationship happens. Or perhaps she’ll respond better to someone similar to her age who’s very mature and professional and listens well. You’re better to match those people up, at least as best you can. You’re not going to get it every time, but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made a sale by convincing two salespeople to switch leads that are the exact opposite of what they should have. I think an internet director should be like a matchmaker.

DealerADvantage: I understand you’re seeing good results since you began using online chat. What’s driving your success?

Golding: You’ve got to treat that customer just like you would if you were talking to them on the phone or face to face. Why is it any different? You can’t use tone and inflection, but you can ask the same questions. Just be conscious of the fact that they’re using chat for a reason, whether because they’re at work and can’t make a phone call or they’re not ready to talk to somebody face to face or on the phone.

I had a guy contact me today from Arkansas who wants a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee. There’s got to be a million 2000, 2001, 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokees between here and Arkansas, so I took a stab and said, “Wow! Are you coming to Florida for spring break, or do you know somebody here?” It turns out that, in a week, he’s coming down here for vacation. I said, “The only worry is I may not have that 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee when you get here. Is there another vehicle that you might also be considering?” At this point, I don’t have his phone number, and I don’t have his email because I didn’t want to just, boom, ask, so I got the preliminary information first. Once I told him the salesperson I’d assign to work him, I requested his phone number and email address – both of which he provided. When people want a vehicle, most of the time they’re going to be forward with it – especially as long as you say, “You don’t need 50 phone calls from me in the next day or two. We’ll respect your time.”

DealerADvantage: We frequently talk with internet directors after they’ve addressed the issues you’ve described. What advice do you have for people coming into the situation you faced?

Golding: Criticize everything, though not to your people, your leadership, your salespeople or your receptionist. Criticize everything to yourself. Examine it. Find out: Is it helping you sell cars or is it hurting? Because there’s only one or the other; it’s not both. There’s no gray area. If it’s helping, then make it better. If it’s hurting, kill it or change it to where it will help. Most people try and make it too complicated. It’s not. It’s very, very, very simple. Go back to the basics. The steps to the sale don’t change and have never changed since the dawn of time in the car business. If you use those same tenets of selling cars and apply them to the internet customer or the phone customer or the walk-up customer – whoever it is – they are the backbone of a successful team.