Are your online sales achieved through a strong foundation of advertising and customer follow-up processes, or are you flying blind when it comes to turning internet customers into ups? Long-term success hinges on your store’s ability to implement sales processes that are consistently acted upon, communicated, refined and enforced. If you can’t define your process, don’t know who is managing it or don’t think it is being consistently followed, read more to learn how you can make process work for you.

An increasing share of a dealership’s sales are driven through the internet, using established and emerging tactics to build rapport with shoppers, get them into the store and send them home in a new or used car. Yet all too often, dealerships are foregoing an internet sales process and leaving their online success to chance, according to Kathy Kimmel, Cars.com manager of dealer training and automotive consulting.

“As I travel across the country working with dealerships, one of the most common problems I see is lack of a well-developed and defined internet sales process,” Kimmel said. “It is usually the culprit in stores that are struggling to make their internet investment pay dividends. But it is also an issue in many stores that are seemingly successful.”

Kimmel notes that many dealerships have achieved internet success based on the success of an all-star internet sales manager instead of through process. “I see many cases where internet sales far exceed the store’s expectations due to the stand-out performance of one individual, but that is not a sustainable strategy. When that employee moves on to another dealership or a different role, it’s unlikely the store will replicate that success unless steps are taken to understand and document the process.”

Instead of loosely balancing your success on the shoulders of an employee, Kimmel recommends that dealerships instill processes for every aspect of their internet operation. “To truly have a stand-out internet sales department, you need more than an all-star ISM. It takes an all-star process. That foundation ensures your long-term internet success and allows you to achieve peak performance from all employees,” she said.

Why Should I Bother?

For many dealerships, the idea of taking time out to put process in place and train employees to act upon it may seem like a futile exercise, but the benefits of doing so are clear and proven time and again.

“Process is what sets great dealerships apart from good dealerships,” Kimmel said. “I’ve been in hundreds of dealerships all across the country, talked to countless general managers and ISMs, and I see one common thread: Those stores that have clearly defined processes and operations in place outperform those that do not.”

The advantages of process extend far beyond the bottom line. Kimmel encourages dealerships that struggle to put process in place to consider the following benefits:

  • Tackle turnover: With high turnover rates, a well-defined process ensures continued program success for your dealership, even if your internet sales manager leaves or moves on to another role.
  • Defend your position: If you’re an ISM, a well-defined process can help to protect you against market volatility and dealership changes. It can become your basis for defending results and highlighting your program impact.
  • Maximize your leads: A well-defined process will keep leads from falling through the cracks. Many dealerships don’t effectively handle the traffic they are getting because they don’t have a process in place to manage it and follow up on it.
  • Provide consistent customer service: Process ensures customers get consistent treatment from your store because everyone will be taking the same approach to service.
  • Evaluate staff performance: One of the most critical reasons for having process is that it sets a standard for your staff and serves as an accurate measurement for employee performance evaluation.
  • Hold your vendors accountable: The same holds true for vendors. Having a well-defined process allows you to accurately measure vendor performance. You can’t effectively evaluate quality if you’re not consistently applying a process.
  • Replicate results: With process in place, you have a greater ability to understand results and to replicate them or improve them, if necessary. For example, you’ll better understand when new tactics work because all else remains equal.

Where Do I Start?

Many dealerships know that process is essential, but they just don’t know where to start. “It can be a daunting task for a store that traditionally is not process-driven to establish systems,” Kimmel said. “Lack of knowing where to begin and finding the time to get it done are two of the most common obstacles I see that keep dealerships from implementing process.

“When you set out to establish a formal process or to refine your existing process, there are several approaches you can take.”

  • Gather existing best practices within your operation and make them standard procedure: There is no better place to start than with what is already working. Outline tactics in place today that are driving results.
  • Have your ISM lead the charge: One way to start is for the internet sales manager to take the lead and outline processes for success. If you’re an ISM in a dealership without formal process, this is a great way to take a leadership role and establish a foundation for your store. It gives you the opportunity to highlight what is working, areas requiring improvement and much more. It’s a great way to gain visibility for your program and to ensure your general manager and dealer principal are engaged in the internet operation and the practices you’ve put into place.
  • Get advice from a twenty group: Forums such as dealership twenty groups can be a great resource for best practices and process that work. Leverage the advice of noncompeting peers to develop procedures for your store.
  • Leverage a consultant: If you are in need of a complete process overhaul, or if you are struggling to develop process that works for your store, engage a consultant who is well-versed in internet operations that can guide you and work with your team to build a custom process for your store.

Whichever path a dealership takes to establish process, how it’s put into play will be the key factor in its success.

Making Your Process a Way of Life

Process is only as good as its implementation. It needs to be ingrained within your way of doing business, understood by all employees and consistently operated against.

“Dealers need to be cautious that they don’t invest time and energy in a process and then not see it through on the implementation side,” Kimmel warns. “I’ve seen cases where management will invest heavily at the outset but then not see it through in practice.”

To be sure your process is effectively implemented and that it becomes the way of life for your dealership, Kimmel recommends the following five steps:

  1. Document: It is imperative to document online sales processes in some way. Documentation provides a road map for all employees and can be used as a reference point for new personnel. Everyone involved in the process, no matter how minimal their role, should have access to the documented process and be trained on it as well. Having your internet process well documented helps ensure it will be followed consistently.
  2. Communicate: Just as important as documentation is communication. You want to be sure your process is rolled out to your entire staff, not just your internet operation. From reception to floor sales, make sure your entire team is familiar with your procedure. Take every potential opportunity to communicate the process from staff meetings to one-on-one coaching opportunities. Also, the entire dealership needs to know of any changes you have made to the process and the results being driven by the process.
  3. Train: To make your process a success, comprehensive and ongoing training is essential. Training should be used to introduce new processes, reinforce existing processes, improve performance and overcome weaknesses. Whether you manage training internally or turn it over to an outside consultant, be sure that what your employees are being trained to do is in sync with your process.
  4. Reinforce: Without reinforcement, process can fall to the wayside. Take time to reinforce process on an ongoing basis to keep it and its impact top of mind with your team. Monitoring your staff’s performance and recognizing their success in using a process are great ways to ensure process is not forgotten.
  5. Refine: You should expect to make improvements in your process over time. To keep your process alive, you’ll want to refine it on a regular basis. Continually evaluating your results will allow you to adjust processes accordingly. For example, if a practice is not working, take the opportunity to fix it – don’t stick with it just for the sake of process. You’ll also want to adjust your process for new ideas that come from your staff or others in the industry.

Getting Staff on Board With the System

You can have a flawless process and an ideal implementation, but if dealership staff is not bought into the system, it’s all for not.

“When the team does not believe in the process or embrace it as its own, it has little chance of success,” Kimmel said. “And when it is not accepted as the way of doing business, you might as well not have a process at all.”

She recommends the following to make sure your process gets the buy-in it deserves:

  • Let everyone contribute ideas: A process everyone agrees to will be one everyone has helped to build. As you go about developing your store’s process, let everyone have a voice. Understand current systems being used, take stock of employee challenges and ask for input.
  • Ensure processes are in line with your culture: It’s essential that process be in line with your store’s culture for it to work and to be adopted.
  • Do a reality check: When implementing your new process, it’s essential to do a reality check. Will it be feasible for your team to consistently implement the process? Do you have enough resources to make it work? If it requires more effort than your staff has time and resources to give, it will quickly fall to the wayside.
  • Allow for flexibility where appropriate: You also must allow employees to use their judgment when implementing and following process. If process is too rigid, it won’t be accepted and can actually be counterproductive.
  • Reward process performance: One of the best ways to get buy-in for the process is to offer incentives. Be sure your process is aligned with pay plans and use special rewards and recognition as a way to encourage adoption.
  • Communicate results: If people don’t see the impact of following the process, they may not continue to put it into practice. By showcasing positive results of your process, it reinforces the importance of the process for your team.

Stay tuned for next month’s issue for part two of our series on process. We’ll look at the areas of your internet operation that should be guided by process and offer tips to help you put best practices in place in each respective area.

For More Information:

Want to learn how you can establish a top-notch process for your internet sales operation? Join Cars.com for a special DealerADvantage LIVE webinar on Thursday, May 8, at noon EDT. Cars.com manager of dealer training and automotive consulting Kathy Kimmel will present “It’s All About Process: How to Take Your Internet Sales Operation From Good to Great.” To register, click here.