Special Report

logoWard’s
e-Dealer 100

Is your dealership paying for Internet leads, but not getting them? It happens more than people realize, says Lisa Keller, founder of eValuation Inc., a consulting firm that mystery shops dealerships' Internet departments.

Usually lost leads happen when a shopper sends an e-mail from the dealer's web site but the e-mail disappears into cyber space, never making it into the dealer's Internet lead-management system. Usually, it is a technical snafu.

If a dealer is spending money on search-engine optimization or buying key words on the search engines and advertising to drive traffic to its web site, not getting those leads is wasted money.

“We call it lead evaporation,” Keller says. In February, 11 of her dealership clients experienced some sort of technical problem in which leads disappeared.

A couple of months ago one of her dealer's web site provider's server crashed. When it came back online hours later, it restored an old e-mail address that been used by the dealership's lead-management software years ago.

The result? For days, the dealership was not seeing any leads from its web site. They were being dumped into the defunct e-mail address. Leads from third-party sites were reaching the right address, so nobody noticed the missing web site leads. They still might be missing today if Keller had not been mystery shopping.

Keller mystery shops her clients — many of whom are on the Ward's e-Dealer 100 ranking — four times a month by sending e-mails lead through the dealership's web site. At the end of the month, the dealer principal or general manager gets a report detailing response time and quality of the responses.

Keller discovered the disappearing-lead problem by accident. One report she sent to a dealer last year graded the response time as a zero, meaning she received no response. After investigating, the dealership realized it was not getting any leads from its web site and quickly fixed the problem.

The real value of mystery shopping may be in determining the effectiveness of a dealership's Internet sales people. The measurement is simple. It evaluates timeliness and quality of the response.

“Both are equally important,” Keller says. The longer it takes a dealership to respond to a lead, the lower the score. After six hours, the score goes to zero.

“We see that top performers strive to respond within six minutes,” Keller says. “And auto responders do not count.”

Keller says the reports she provides dealers are simple and lets them see specific areas the Internet sales people need to improve. Besides, just the knowledge they are being mystery shopped and held accountable should be an incentive for most sales people to make sure they are doing it the right way every time.

The quality of the response is where many dealerships falter. Keller says good e-mail responses from dealerships should include the following six things:

  1. Greeting. Thank the customer for the opportunity and introduce yourself and the store. Pretend the customer is in front of you.
  2. Provide at least one alternative vehicle; two or three are better. Always include a certified pre-owned alternative. A pricing range also should be included. Studies show most customers have not decided on what they want when they contact the store. More information may help in scheduling appointment and closing the sale.
  3. Give the customer a reason to buy from you. It's called a value proposition statement. According to a Cobalt Group study last year, more than 90% of online automotive shoppers buy from a dealership other than the first one they contacted.
  4. Ask two qualifying questions and then explain why you're asking. For example, determine the trim level of the vehicle they are interested in. Why? Different trim levels can change a vehicle's price by as much as $10,000.
  5. Be direct and ask for the appointment. This is important. “We see many responses in which the salesperson says, ‘Let me know if there is anything else I can do,’ and leaves it that,” Keller says. “That's like nails on a chalkboard.”
  6. Finally, the signature. Provide your name, e-mail address and phone number along with the web site address and the street address of the dealership.