Here's a jam many auto dealerships face: slews of Internet leads, fewer workers to field them.
That's because online leads are up but staff levels down, after dealer downsizing during recent hard times.
“A lot of dealerships are running leaner,” notes Jody Stidham, global practice director for Urban Science, an automotive consultancy.
Yet, Internet leads have increased 50% to 532%, depending on auto brand, Urban Science reports.
That's a lot of extra leads for smaller staffs. It may explain why some leads don't get the proper follow up from dealership personnel who sometimes are rapped for slow responses or even no responses.
But it's unfair to think those employees are slacking off in the lunchroom playing cards rather than working digital leads. Often, they fail to jump on those because of heavier workloads that payroll cuts can bring.
In a perfect dealership world, every Internet lead deserves some sort of follow up because “those people have raised their hands,” Stidham says.
However, some consumers poke their hands higher than others. Some eager-to-buy types wave both hands. But many just-lookers put their hands at half-mast.
Still others look for something all right. They seek pricing information from one dealer so they can use it to aid negotiations with another dealer. They pose as prospects to get those numbers.
Urban Science says its research shows many consumers are using the Internet to expand their automotive shopping, yet when it comes to buying, they head for the local dealer.
To me, that shows they reach out to a dealer that's out of their market in an attempt to get pricing ammo to fire at a dealer that's close to home.
I offer my thesis to Stidham. She declines to say that is indeed what's going on. But dealers tell me they know some so-called prospects do just that.
If you know that's the case, would you really want to instantly reply to such an Internet “lead” and quickly provide all the information that's requested? Of course not. Trouble is, it's tough to spot the posers.
Stidham touts lead scoring as a way for dealerships with limited employee resources to systematically determine which leads are hot and which are not.
In scoring leads for 10 auto brands, Urban Science has developed three categories:
Urgent. This person appears ready, willing and able to buy.
Priority. In the market but may need full sales consultation or an incentive.
Standard. Further away from the purchase horizon, but worthy of follow up.
Information used to score Internet automotive leads comes from various sources, such auto makers' data indicating the buying histories of the current prospects. Past behavior predicts future performance.
Other buying predictors include people with vehicles coming off lease, auto-show attendees and zip codes of shoppers submitting leads.
Another indication of buyer seriousness is how much someone writes in the “comments” field of a Web page for lead submissions. The longer the comment, the more serious the shopper.
Lead scoring has its critics. “The verdict still is out on lead scoring,” Mike McFall, president of Black Book Online, tells me. “Some people feel it aggravates things.”
But it lets dealer personnel prioritize their work, because not all leads are created equal. It's misguided to respond only to hot leads. You respond to the tepid ones, but with less urgency and gusto.
Some digital marketing experts say no lead should go on answered. To an extent, I agree.
But if I were a dealer in Maine, and in January an email lead comes in from, say, CaliforniaDreaming@aol.com who asks for an immediate price quote on a convertible, I'd use another tool of the computer age: the delete button.
Disagreeing with me on that point is dealership Internet expert Dennis Galbraith, founder of RevenueGuru.com and author of “Sales Integration.”
“You could be missing out on a Maine resident looking to move to California in a new convertible,” he tells me.
The chances of that are low, Galbraith acknowledges.
Still, he adds, “it's a better chance at winning a sale than I had during the time I read the sports section this morning.”