While the technology boom has changed many aspects of running a successful dealership, two factors remain constant:

  1. The telephone continues to be the dealership's greatest source of prospect leads.

  2. Dollars available to spend on advertising and marketing remain limited.

There's a direct correlation between the two: advertising and marketing dollars are spent to generate leads, and a majority of these leads arrive via the phone.

The Internet serves as a great research tool for individuals looking to purchase a vehicle, but the phone remains the primary source of first contact with a dealership. Since you've paid to generate these leads, maximizing the potential inherent in each and every phone-up should be a top priority.

Initial testing of more than 40 dealers nationwide has revealed that the average store receives 290 phone calls per month representing new sales opportunities, but misses an additional 38 calls that don't connect because they ring busy or occur after hours.

Approximately half of the new sales calls don't result in an appointment being set. All of these calls — whether missed or not resulting in appointments — represent lost sales opportunities and wasted advertising dollars.

Every dealer should be looking for ways to recapture these lost leads or “invisible ups.”

A dealership using a call measurement and monitoring service will be ahead of competitors in identifying and capitalizing on these hidden ups.

The call “M & M” service collects data from and records every inbound toll-free call the dealership receives, delivering concise reports that show not only which calls weren't returned, but also busy-no-answer and after-hours calls.

The best of these services provide this information in real time, enabling the dealer to monitor call handling on a minute-by-minute basis, if necessary, and act quickly if a lead appears to be slipping away.

Some dealers struggle to find the time to interpret and act upon the wealth of data collected by such a monitoring service. There are several ways to manage this task.

One is to dedicate a set time each day (or every other day, or once a week) to review call reports and determine necessary action. A good service provider will allow the dealer to schedule when and how reports are automatically delivered.

Another option is to assign phone-up follow-up to the dealership's business development center staff. These folks, presumably well trained in customer communication and problem solving, could handle the process of identifying missed phone-up opportunities, and follow up appropriately.

Also, take advantage of services available through your provider. These call services utilize the expertise and professionalism of the provider's staff to first identify phone ups that represent true lost sales opportunities. In other words, callers who ask about specific vehicle availability or in some way indicated their purchase intent, yet for some reason did not schedule an appointment to visit the dealership.

The provider identifies these opportunities (daily, weekly, or as specified by the dealer) and places return calls to each prospect. After first inquiring about the caller's satisfaction with the dealership, the provider determines if the caller would like to set an appointment.

Preliminary testing of this kind of consistent lead follow-up shows that about 50% of the callbacks result in an appointment, and more than half of these appointments actually occur.

If we apply these findings just to the earlier estimate of 38 missed calls, we discover that the dealer can expect more than nine additional appointments each month. For a dealership with a 50% closing ratio, this translates to about five extra vehicles sold each month

Ian Steyn is president of Who's Calling, Inc., a provider of call measurement and monitoring services. He's at 1-866-281-1000 and isteyn@whoscalling.com.