While using the Internet as part of the automotive buying process is at an all-time high, the percentage of new car shoppers who send an electronic lead remains low. In fact, two out of three online shoppers will never submit a quote request.1 Instead, most people will call or walk into the dealership to continue their shopping process. So what distinguishes a lead sender from the majority of online shoppers? What motivated them to send a lead? Knowing the answer to these questions will give you a better understanding of the customer behind the electronic-up, and may just be the information you need to close more business.

You’ve all been there. You get the email ding that lets you know you have a live one. A potential buyer is on the hook and has raised a hand to give your dealership the chance to sell a car. Like many salespeople, your natural inclination may be to assume the lead sender is ready to sign on the dotted line. You simply need to get them into your dealership, and you will be able to make the sale. You give them a quote and press hard for an appointment.

Here is where the sales process falls out of step with the experience the consumer expects. And when the process falls out of step, sales are left unclosed. In fact, nearly one in two car buyers who submit an Internet lead ultimately buy from a dealer other than those to which they submitted the lead.2

Having a better understanding of lead senders will help you to align your sales process and approach business on their terms. Knowing the prospect’s name, contact information and desired vehicle amounts to only part of the story. Understanding what customers expect after they submit a lead and incorporating this insight into your follow-up procedures will help you close the sales you may be inadvertently driving to competitors.

Winning over lead senders

A disproportionately high percentage of lead senders are
time-intensive shoppers:

Automotive Internet Users (AIU) who submit a lead spend an average of 6.2 hours3 researching the vehicles they are considering vs. 4.4 hours4 for those AIUs who do not submit a lead. They also reach out earlier in the buying cycle with a simple goal: to eliminate options. Many of these shoppers are still doing their research and do not want to be rushed into an appointment; however, they are going to buy from someone once their information needs are met.

Winning strategy:

The most successful dealers begin their outreach within 30 minutes of receiving the lead, either online or, if possible, on the telephone. In working with the customer, they follow the three-step process that car shoppers experienced while submitting the lead. The Web “listens” to their needs, match-makes with appropriate services/products and offers a demonstration. By contrast, dealers often skip ahead to the final step. They ask the customer to visit the dealership to road test the vehicle and discuss purchase details without first establishing the comfort level car shoppers want. Handling this correctly from the start improves the odds you are the dealer they’ll sign with when they are ready.

Because 90 percent of AIUs go online before visiting any seller, and those same shoppers go online on average two months before visiting a seller5, dealer conversations with customers must be meaningful and ongoing. Just like the old joke about Chicago elections, you should follow-up early and follow-up often.

Lead senders are somewhat more likely to be dealerphobes
(i.e., they are afraid of dealers.):

While they are your hottest prospects, in many cases lead senders are also the shoppers most resistant to doing business with a dealership. One in three lead senders are self-described “dealerphobes,”6 compared to nearly one in four non-lead senders. In these cases, softly probing to determine and enhance the shopper’s comfort level makes more sense than insisting they come to the store for answers.

Winning strategy:

Building trust upfront is key to winning over the dealerphobe. In your first response, take time to get to know customers, understand their needs and help them to learn more about your dealership. Take a few steps back to the beginning of the sales process. After first addressing the obvious questions (i.e., Do you have the vehicle? What is your best price?), the salesperson then offers information about the dealership (e.g., location and reputation) and asks softly probing questions about the shopper’s requirements.

Dealerships that follow this approach develop a level of trust with their customers and bring the desired transparency to the transaction. In turn, they can win the sale and, many times, the service, parts and accessories business as well. Such franchises, in effect, have customers who are afraid of every other dealership but them.

Believe it or not, price is not every shopper’s most important consideration:

Many dealers perceive price as a car shopper’s primary concern, but only 28 percent of lead senders consider themselves “highly price sensitive” in a J.D. Power and Associates survey.7 This is only slightly higher than the 22 percent of AIU non-submitters who are highly price sensitive. The bottom line is that even among shoppers with similar shopping behavior, they all have information needs that are a bit unique. Although the Internet is helping meet more information needs for more shoppers than ever before, listening rather than profiling is the best tactic a salesperson can take.

Winning strategy:

With the average MSRP for a new vehicle topping $25,000,8 car shoppers, in particular the AIUs who submit leads, are looking for the dealer who can deliver the most value (i.e., service, information and price) in the least amount of time.

Trainer Tip

By Ralph Ebersole of Cars.com

What to say in your initial contact with a lead submitter

Hello, [Customer Name]. My name is [Salesperson Name,] and I am the [Job Title] at [Dealership Name,] which has served [Community Name] for more than [Number] years. I’ve worked here for [Number] years as the [Job Title], and we pride ourselves on [Attribute 1, 2 and 3]. We have the white, 2006 Honda Accord LX you requested in stock, with an MSRP of [price]. I wonder, though, if you could tell me more about how you plan to use the vehicle. For example, we also have in stock a white, 2006 Honda Accord EX with a fuel-efficient V-6 engine that may be more to your liking. I look forward to discussing this vehicle with you soon. Again, my name is [Name] and I can be reached at [Phone Number] or [Email Address].
Or, if the vehicle is not in stock:
Hello, [Customer Name]. My name is [Salesperson Name,] and I am the [Job Title] at [Dealership Name,] which has served [Community Name] for more than [Number] years. I’ve worked here for [Number] years as the [Job Title], and we pride ourselves on [Attribute 1, 2 and 3]. Unfortunately, we do not have the white, 2006 Honda Accord LX you requested in stock, but we can arrange for you to see and road test a 2006 model in another color that is now on our lot with an MSRP of [price]. Should you be interested in purchasing the vehicle, we would be able to obtain the white Accord you want within a day or two at the most, unless you find that you like one that is available for immediate delivery. I look forward to discussing this vehicle with you soon. Again, my name is [Name] and I can be reached at [Phone Number] or [Email Address].

1 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

2 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

3 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

4 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

5 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

6 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

7 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study

8 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study