Ever wondered why those carefully crafted emails sit unanswered in prospects’ inboxes? So has Joe Webb, and he has a theory. 

“Customers over-educate themselves and start going crazy,” says Webb, president and consultant for DealerKnows LLC. “I’ve had a customer break into tears because he had contacted and received quotes from 83 Toyota dealerships. It was the worst car-buying experience he ever had.” 

Although sympathetic, Webb recognized the shopper’s plight as an opportunity to help the dealership where he worked at the time. He knew he couldn’t buck the trend of car buyers researching online; he needed to set his store apart, in consumers’ minds, from any competitor. 

“You have to contact them at the right time, quickly, with the right information in a conversational-style format,” Webb says. To shed some light on the process he developed, Webb shared three tips to help your email cut through the clutter and get the response you want. 

1. Ask questions. “Many salespeople do most things right,” Webb says. “What they don’t do is try to build rapport with the customers anymore. They try to answer their questions like a clerk as opposed to trying to build up rapport and strike up some kind of conversation.” 

An effective response to shoppers’ inquiries does that, he explains, through a needs assessment. The questions can lead to yes-or-no answers, so long as they keep you in communication with the buyer. For example, you might ask: 

  • Who’s going to be using the car?
  • Have you had an opportunity to have your trade appraised?
  • Since there are new incentives available from the manufacturer, would you like any information regarding lease or finance rates? 

In a given market, Webb estimates this strategy is overlooked by most sales professionals – even the top performers. “Maybe one out of 10 will ask questions that a customer will want to give information back for,” he says. “Any question that a customer wants to answer can help you get a dialogue going. They want to hear that you are trying to, through asking questions, offer them even more information. As soon as a person thinks that you’re going above and beyond for them, you’ve usually built a relationship.”

2. Do what you say you’ll do. With your initial email, Webb recommends laying out for the customer your sales process – and then following it to a “T.” He suggests including an offer – one you intend to keep – to call shoppers in a half hour so you can review their request and answer any questions. 

“A lot of people will email back or call you just to prevent that call from happening,” Webb says. 

3. Be creative. Rather than simply adopting other dealers’ proven tactics, Webb recommends adding something new that makes it your own. Among the techniques he developed:

  • Be the last autoresponse. While competing stores focused on an instant response, Webb realized a fast one would be more effective. Knowing that most people read their email from the top down (i.e., they begin with the most recently received), he configured his replies to go out five minutes after his nearest competitors.
  • Craft a clever autoresponse. For business hours, Webb wrote messages that began with a casual hello, included a commitment to provide the requested information and closed with questions (e.g., What color would you not consider? Is a test drive important to you?). The clincher? He appended “Sent Via Blackberry by AT&T” to each of his replies, five words that drove his response rates to upward of 50 percent. 

“I want somebody to think that I’m busy enough, walking the lot,” Webb says, “but that I care enough to get right back with them.  It isn’t framed as an autoresponse, but a personal contact.”

  • Recruit the car. Looking for help from your satisfied customers to help drive referral business? Instead of directly asking them to connect you with their friends, family and colleagues, Webb suggests a more subtle approach. On the first anniversary of a sale, he sent buyers a thank you email from the vehicle they purchased, as if their vehicle was the thankful party. Very often, the messages were forwarded to the desired audience because the recipient thought they were cute. 

“Since I don’t have hands, just tires, I needed the nice internet guy down at Arlington Toyota Scion to help type this,” the message concluded. “He told me if you are thinking of getting me any brothers or sisters to spend time with in the garage or outside in the driveway, you can rescue them right from his lot.” 

Are you following this advice and still coming up empty-handed? Kathy Kimmel, a Cars.com manager of automotive consulting and dealer training, recommends that you mystery-shop your store. You may be surprised to learn the problem stems from how a message is delivered to shopper’s inbox. If your lead management and customer relationship management systems aren’t communicating, even your best efforts will fail to impress. 

“‘Dear [Customer Name]’ may seem like a simple problem of a template field not being populated, but it tells prospects to stop reading and move on to the next dealer’s response,” Kimmel says. “Although we often rely on these automated tools to do our jobs, we must stay in control of the sales process. Shoppers buy from people they recognize as professional and believe have a personal interest in helping them.” 

Additional Resources 

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.