As J.D. Power and Associates’ Dennis Galbraith discussed in last month’s DealerADvantage,“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,” Galbraith continued, “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 process correctly from the start improves the odds you are the dealer they’ll sign with when they are ready.”

“When they are ready” stands out as a key point to consider. Numerous consumer studies conclude that new car sales can take longer to close than used vehicle transactions. And when asked how they ultimately decided which dealership earned their business, car buyers frequently cite dealer follow-up and attention to their needs. Whether you respond via telephone or email, four simple steps will help you cut through the clutter and make a good impression.

1. Sell yourself and the dealership.
Begin your outreach to the customer with an introduction. Many car buyers who submit online leads want to be treated professionally and to receive a fair price. Addressing this concern now by discussing your sales experience and your dealership’s reputation (e.g., largest selection, service after the sale or volume leader) will go a long way toward building the credibility and trust you want with the customer.

2. Answer the question.
When car buyers submit a lead over the Internet, one question is implicit: What is your best price? The answer isn’t as complex as it might seem. Rather than beginning a negotiation via email or over the telephone, you’ll want to simply state the MSRP and indicate that you can work out the specifics once the customer has completed a test drive. Most car buyers don’t understand the rationale behind consumer price guides and a dealer’s inventory strategy. Providing a “best price” at this point, particularly in writing, only gives the shopper a license to price hunt with other dealerships. What you want to communicate at this point is a willingness to negotiate a fair price for the vehicle vs. creating a customer for another dealership.

3. Communicate next steps.
Let the customer know that you’ll be calling to discuss the vehicle in detail. Once you’re speaking with the car buyer on the telephone, it’s okay to have a conversation about price. 

4. Ask questions.
Concluding your answer with questions, particularly in an email, provides the best way to get a response from the car buyer and to keep the conversation going. At this point, you need to learn as much about the customer and his or her requirements for the vehicle.

Typical queries to raise include:

  • Are there other color choices you’d consider if it would save you money?
  • Would you consider other equipment packages or options?
  • You’ve probably heard quite a bit about certified preowned (CPO) vehicles. Is a used vehicle something you would consider, if you could get more features, along with an extended warranty, and save money?

Following this process allows you to compete on more than price. You’ll have the customer’s trust, and you can sell the full value of the vehicle and your dealership. Now it’s time to take the next logical steps in the sales cycle: closing the deal. Tune in next month for more tips on how to win business from the lead sender.