Driving Online Success

As a trainer for Cars.com, I am privileged to work with some of the best dealerships in the car business. Through the hundreds of free, local training sessions we offer to help dealerships improve their online marketing results, I constantly get to hear the latest and greatest online strategies directly from the front lines – internet sales managers, general managers and dealer principals – all coming to our sessions to share ideas, learn what’s working and find out what they can do to drive better sales results through their online marketing campaigns. In wrapping up each session, these participants tell us what they have taken away from our time together and what they are going to do differently when they head back to their dealerships.

Given the prevalence of online shopping, Cars.com’s online internet workshops aim to help attendees improve their online merchandising and in-store processes to ensure they are able to close their share of internet buyers. We focus on the importance of multiple photographs, descriptive seller’s notes, competitive pricing and special offers and incentives to effectively merchandise each listing, drive more traffic and desk more deals. We also discuss proven techniques for getting email and telephone prospects into your store, increasing your appointment-kept rates and Cars.com reporting tools that can help you profitably stock and price your inventory.

While our training sessions earn high marks from attendees, the highlight for me and the other trainers on the Cars.com team is always the opportunity to hear from attendees about what they have learned by attending a session. It’s great to see participants walking away with ideas they can immediately put into action when they get back to their store. Here’s what we most frequently hear from dealers about changes they plan to make to improve their internet merchandising and sales processes. What attendees say just may jog an idea or two that can benefit you and your dealership.

Ralph Ebersole – Training director, Cars.com

  • I’ll improve my store’s telephone sales process: Internet buyers visiting internet shopping sites such as Cars.com are nearly three times more likely to call about a used-car listing than to send an email, so solid phone skills are critical when it comes to closing internet leads. After hearing tapes of actual phone conversations between buyers and sales personnel, attendees see there is an opportunity to revisit phone skills and internet phone processes in their dealership. We talk a lot about the strategies successful dealerships are using to close phone-ups, and many attendees tell me this is the No. 1 thing they’ll try to improve when they get back to their stores.
  • I’m going to provide more staff training: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and let our busy schedules chain us to our desks and the tasks at hand. But when dealers do take time away to attend a training session, they realize it was time well spent away from the store. Not only does it fill their heads with new ideas, it re-engages them in their online strategy. We often hear from participants that attending a training event can get them out of a rut or break a developing cycle of bad habits. They realize the value of continually revisiting their approach, hearing from others in the industry and exploring new ideas. They tell us they’ll make more of an effort to engage their entire staff in training exercises.
  • I need to include more pictures with each listing: Dealers not using photos in their online listings or those only using one picture to show a vehicle universally tell us that as soon as they leave the training session they are heading back to their store to add more photos to their listings. They can clearly see that not using photos puts them at a significant disadvantage with online buyers. It’s just tough to get attention without a picture. Online buyers expect to find photos and have a tendency to ignore ads that don’t provide the images they want.

Kathy Anne Kimmel – Training manager, Cars.com

  • I need to include my store name in each photo: With a near laser focus on selling a car, attendees consistently admit that they forget to sell their store in their online listings. After talking with others in our sessions, many attendees come to realize that branding the store is an equally important part of the online equation. An easy way to start is to add the dealership name to pictures of the car. It can simply include a logo on the picture, or you can actually take the photo in front of a store sign. This helps buyers remember where they saw the car. Many also leave training vowing to take better advantage of our batch tagline functionality, which can be used for every listing to sell the value of buying from their store.
  • I’m going to spell-check my listings: It sounds basic, but the smallest details can make a difference with online buyers. When we ask attendees to visit their listings, many are surprised to see sell copy filled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. After it’s pointed out, several attendees are committed to turning on spell check when they return to their stores.
  • I’m going to extend the length of time for which we follow up with online prospects: Knowing that many online shoppers can take as long as 90 days to close, we always recommend a ‘buy-or-die’ follow-up process. The most successful dealers continue to work each and every lead long after the initial point of contact. When discussing this in training, some attendees realized they are leaving business on the table by not working leads for a longer period of time and agree that they need to make adjustments to their follow-up process.

Fred Haney – National training manager, Cars.com

  • I’ll use higher-quality pictures: We go online during our training sessions and look at live examples of the photos used in actual online listings. We see it all � the good, the bad and the ugly. You’d be amazed by the poor-quality photos used in many ads. It’s an eye-opening exercise for many dealerships � so much so, the No. 1 improvement dealers tell me they’ll make when they go back to their stores is to upgrade their photos.
  • I’ll add unique information about each vehicle to the seller’s notes: While nearly every dealer that walks into my training class could tell you what sets a car apart if he or she were interacting with a customer on the lot, many admit to negligence in this area when it comes to their online listings. Though it can take a bit more time, adding sell copy about each vehicle to help shoppers understand the car’s special features really pays off.
  • I’ll include a picture of the internet sales staff: Many attendees to our training sessions are so focused on merchandising the car at-hand that they forget to showcase their dealership’s personality and highlight their sales staff. At the end of the day, a successful car sale comes down to a positive interaction between buyer and seller. Why not start building that rapport online? Online buyers want to see the person with whom they will be doing business. Adding a picture of the internet sales manager to each listing allows you to establish a more personal relationship with potential customers before they even step foot into the dealership. Attendees get so excited about this idea, I’ve even heard participants call back to their stores during a break to suggest that their staff immediately start this process.
  • I’m going to make sure our listings are always up to date: Many dealers at training tell us that they’ll leave listings up long after the vehicle has sold. They think they can continue to attract leads on a hot vehicle and then have the opportunity to discuss other available options with the shopper once they are in touch. Unfortunately, we just as frequently hear from shoppers that this is a frustrating practice that leads them to lose faith in the credibility of the dealership engaging in the practice. Once we discuss the consumer perspective, most attendees realize that while it may drive a few extra leads, their chance of closing a shopper who feels as though they have been deceived is slim.
  • I’ll ask for the sale: In the world of quick quotes and emails, it’s easy to get caught up in the details, quickly firing off responses to leads and answering prospective buyers’ inventory or pricing questions. When we talk about lead response and the follow-up sales process in our training sessions, a light goes off for many attendees. They realize that they have been forgetting the basics of a good sale. Just because the process begins online doesn’t mean you can’t ask for the sale.

Want to build an action plan to jumpstart your dealership’s online sales? Join us for a local training event provided without cost by Cars.com to all interested dealers, where you can learn proven strategies for online success and gain knowledge you can take back to your store to help drive sales. (We also serve breakfast!) For more information about our training program and when we plan to be in your market, contact your Cars.com sales representative or visit our events calendar to see a complete schedule of upcoming sessions.

Additional Resources

Too busy to join us for one of our training sessions? Visit the Resources and Training section of Cars.com’s DealerCenter for industry-leading advice from our monthly DealerADvantage e-newsletter and DealerADvantage LIVE webinar.

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