When you receive a new-car inquiry from an online prospect, do you provide a quick, quality response that addresses the customer’s request? Terrific. The problem for car buyers — and the opportunity for you — is that many of your competitors do not. A high percentage of new-car lead senders participating in a recent Cars.com survey reported dissatisfaction with dealer follow-through. In many cases, these consumers say they received no answer or a reply that contained inaccurate or incomplete information. As a result, these ready-to-buy shoppers tell us that they took their business elsewhere, rewarding it to dealers who invested the time to provide a quote and help them find the right car. We know that the majority of quote requestors will buy a vehicle from someone; that someone could be you.

Consider Customers’ Concerns
No response. No price. No follow-up. And, ultimately, no sale.

Time and again, we heard these complaints from car buyers about their experience submitting a new-car quote request online. Although they spent a fair amount of time configuring the car they wanted, the responding dealers often sent little more than an automated email with a phone number for the customer to call. In essence, the study revealed that while the process worked smoothly for many shoppers, a significant amount of business was being left on the table.

Representative comments include:

“I never was contacted by a sales rep. Incredible.”

Dealers with the highest close rates tell us that they respond to internet inquiries within an hour of receiving them. This initial email typically acknowledges receipt of the shopper’s request, provides information about the relevant car and commits to a telephone follow-up within the next several minutes. The purpose of the call is to confirm the customer received the email and to quickly review the details of the vehicle in which the shopper is interested. Unless the prospect wants to proceed with a purchase at this point, the best approach is to focus on answering any questions the person has rather than attempting to move the merchandise.

That isn’t to say you can’t sell the appointment or promote the dealership. In fact, this initial conversation is an ideal time to ease the buyer’s transition from the internet to your store. Begin by explaining how your sales process works and outline the next logical steps — which ultimately should include a test drive. Conclude with an agreement on how you will communicate going forward.

Do not underestimate the importance of this outreach. Among car buyers, more than one-fourth* cited a timely response as a motivating factor in contacting the dealer in the first place.

“They tried to sell me a car that did not meet what I asked for.”

This approach, as you might imagine, falls flat with customers. Among car buyers, 27 percent* say the availability of the “exact vehicle that I want” led them to submit a lead through an online configurator or price request form.

That isn’t to say you can’t be creative in merchandising your inventory. To increase the likelihood of a sale, successful dealers tell us they offer information on three cars: the new car in which the prospect is interested and a similar certified used and a used vehicle if they are available. Suggesting these alternatives establishes a basis for a conversation going forward and provides the customer with options should payments or financing unexpectedly become an issue. Presenting these choices also demonstrates to prospects that you are interested in helping them find the right car rather than landing a quick sale.

“Several dealerships … refused to give quotes over the phone/online and will only give price information once you are in the store. This defeats the purpose of the online quote request process.”

Some dealers prefer not to include pricing in this email; others include MSRP or a price range for the model selected. Some dealers offer their bottom-line, out-the-door price to encourage prospects to buy now. While each tactic has its merits, you must provide a price if the customer doesn’t answer your response within 24 hours. Rather than preventing the prospect from shopping the competition, failing to provide a price often backfires and motivates the customer to find out what other dealers have to offer.

Dealers who utilize these strategies recognize that the sales process begins when a car buyer takes an interest in their listings. The customer has identified a vehicle he or she believes to be appropriate and is looking for professional guidance. By using online configuration and quote request tools, they’re signaling to you a fear of the process that you can easily address and then use to your advantage. While many dealers perceive that these shoppers are only looking for the lowest price, the shoppers themselves say they are simply looking for a dealer they can trust and who will offer them a fair price.

In other words, the dealer who appropriately responds to the inquiry and works with shoppers will likely land the sale. Not only do you establish the level of credibility against which your competitors are now judged, but the value you add to the process and the vehicle often translates into higher gross and a favorable consumer experience that opens the door to repeat and referral business.

* JupiterResearch, U.S. Automotive Consumer Survey, 2007