When you receive a customer inquiry, are you prepared to respond effectively? Let’s look at seven proven steps that will help you convert shoppers into buyers:

  • Generate good leads. The first step in lead conversion is making sure the leads are good ones. “A good lead by definition is one that is inventory-specific and has good contact information, including a working phone number and a deliverable email address,” says David Kain, president of Kain Automotive, a dealer consulting and training firm. “The more you know about the customers’ wants and needs going into it, the better you’re going to be able to serve them and the more likely you are to close the sale.”
  • Respond quickly. The mantra often quoted at Cars.com — “Click and call in 10” — underscores the need to immediately respond to an inquiry and then follow up by phone in 10 minutes. “A fast response is imperative,” says Ralph Ebersole, Cars.com’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training. “Customers who send inquiries are in a frame of mind to talk about vehicles. If you get back to them right away, you stand a much better chance of engaging them in a conversation.” Kain also believes a quick response is critical. “It’s likely that shoppers are contacting more than one store at a time by email, so it’s important to get back to them first,” he says. “If you can get there first, you’ll have more opportunity to work with those prospects and retain their attention if you do a good job.”
  • Have a process in place. This step is particularly important if there is not a specific person responsible for following up on internet leads. Having a process assures the quality and consistency of the customer experience. Also be sure you have great email templates and that salespeople know how and when to deviate from them. Have scripts and/or talking points ready for when salespeople are on the phone. Establish standards and procedures (e.g., checking the CRM system to see if the person making the inquiry is already a loyal customer) and make sure the entire staff is up to speed on them.
  • Train, train, train. Once the process is set, it’s important to continuously train salespeople on how to use it, according to Ebersole. “Salespeople need to know how to use the tools and how to get the most out of them,” he says. “Even more important, though, is training on the phone skills they’ll need to bring a lead into the store. Role-playing is very valuable; so is recording and playing back the phone sessions so salespeople can hear how they sound from the customer’s point of view. They have to learn how to overcome objections, and many have to learn how to be more forthcoming with information. They don’t want to come off like the old-line car salesmen everyone thinks of.”
  • Ask questions. Selling a vehicle through an online lead is no different at its core than selling one to a customer in the store, says Ebersole. “As salespeople, when customers walk into the showroom, we are trained to ask questions,” he says. “The internet customer is the same. If we don’t take the time for gathering information, the only thing customers will give us permission to do is provide a price.” He also says it’s important to ask for the appointment. “Many salespeople are afraid to ask customers for an appointment over the phone. If you’ve done a good job of building trust, an appointment is a natural next step.”
  • Be a real person. Sometimes salespeople rely too much on the technology and not enough on their own personalities, according to Kain. “If you’re using an autoresponder, customize it so that it sounds handwritten,” he says. “Don’t use templates word-for-word, either. The more you can sound like a real person who has genuine interest in helping customers, the more likely those customers are to engage with you.”
  • Be persistent. Both Ebersole and Kain agree that persistence is critical when working with internet leads. “The closing cycles are very different on the internet versus live store traffic,” Ebersole says. “Salespeople used to the floor, where an unclosed lead expires after 72 hours, are shocked by the lead times for online leads. One study from Experian Automotive showed that 60 percent of consumers who contacted a dealer by phone or email through Cars.com bought a car. Of those shoppers, 70 percent bought within 90 days, and some bought even after that. It’s definitely worthwhile to keep after those customers.”

 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.