Commentary

Have you ever seen the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where an entire tree is sent to the sawmill and eventually whittled into a toothpick?

It’s a spoof about waste. But dealership waste of our own just to produce the measly “sale” is no joke for us.

We’ve wasted opportunities in our marketing and sales for years. We kind of knew that all along, although we surely didn’t really realize how bad it was. Now we know, thanks to modern metrics and Internet marketing and sales.

The Internet – or, really, the laser-like focus it brings – has exposed many flawed practices, processes and issues that have long prevented many us from making the most of vehicle sales.

So what do we know from it all?

We know from call-tracking services that we don’t get the calls we want and a lot of the calls we do want get fumbled.

Our Internet lead-management software tells us we don’t answer our leads fast enough, effectively enough, or, worst, sometimes not at all.

Our customer-relationship management software tells us our customers don’t get properly handled on the floor or in the finance office, and our sales people often fail to follow up with prospects or be-backs.

Our analytics tell us that people don’t find our website often and easily enough, or stay long enough.

Our third-party online listing services tell us that we don’t show up in enough vehicle searches.

It goes on and on. We measure ourselves well enough now to know how badly we are doing. But at least that’s a start. You can’t solve a problem until you know what it is.

Most of this measurement effort came along with the rise of the Internet as a sales lead generator.

Proper use and operation of the Internet is now the strongest future path for any real success in the automotive-sales industry.

We cannot win that success by simply improving our customers’ experience on our website. Or just by training our Internet sales people. Or by making everybody an Internet salesperson.

Or by merely signing up for the latest search-engine marketing tactic, social networking effort or CRM initiative.

We need to succeed by improving all of the above and more. It’s like a chain connecting us to customers. Every link is as important as the next. A disconnect occurs if one link breaks.

The challenge for us, then, is to use the Internet and all the tools in that big box to forge a marketing and sales chain with strong links. Those include a superior website, search-engine efforts, phone skills, follow-ups, appointment scheduling, closed sales, financing, delivery and post-sale contact.

The Internet is not a department. It is a measurable lead generator. If the Internet reveals shortcomings, at least we know what needs fixing.

A well-run Internet operation is vital to today’s dealerships. But it’s not a solo act. Success comes to dealerships that handle floor, phone and Internet leads seamlessly and equally well.

Keith Shetterly directs Internet sales and business development for DeMontrond Dealership Group in Houston.