Nancy Stracione
Nancy Stracione

Fred Beans Family of Dealerships
Internet Sales Director

When Nancy Stracione met with Fred Beans in 1996 to discuss heading up his internet department, she recalls being “far, far out of my comfort zone. I was scared to death to come on to a car lot, let alone work there.” Twelve years later, she’s master of her domain, having led the charge to get Fred Beans Family of Dealerships online. From developing websites to advertising on automotive shopping sites, implementing customer relationship and lead-management systems to buying third-party leads, she’s been steering the course for the 19-store Pennsylvania group’s internet sales structure and processes.

“I’ve kind of been an entrepreneur with this whole internet thing,” Stracione says. “I brought it from nothing. I used to literally beg salespeople to respond to internet leads. They said they did, but I knew they threw them in the trash. That’s the way it was then: ‘The internet, there aren’t real people behind those computers.’ Now, there’s been a whole paradigm shift.”

A vice president of advertising for a semi-professional ballet company at the time she joined Fred Beans, Stracione attributes her success to old-fashioned moxie and determination to rise to the challenge placed before her. As would any good pioneer, she learned the ropes through trial and error, reading, attending workshops presented by industry experts and hard work.

“It was blood, sweat and tears over the years,” Stracione says. “Some days, it still is.”

What is the secret to her success? Stracione stresses the combination of defining sales processes with allowing individual stores the flexibility to decide the optimal sales structure. She’s currently working on a web-based process manual to ensure the 50 people assigned to internet operations are current with the latest guidelines and can readily access them.

“There are three important things: Good people, good process and good technology,” Stracione says. “If one of those three is broken, you won’t be successful.”

DealerADvantage sat down with Stracione to learn more about Beans’ internet strategy and her thoughts on online advertising.

DealerADvantage: Where does the internet fit into your overall media mix?

Stracione: With more than 80 percent of consumers doing their vehicle research online, the internet has become a larger portion of our media mix within the last few years. Our dealership websites are more important than ever because they sometimes represent our dealership’s first “meet and greet.” Our mix is moving away from traditional advertising and focusing more on online; however, we have blended our online and offline advertising efforts. As more consumers use the internet, we find that it’s where we have to focus our advertising dollars. From what we know they are spending at least 14 hours per week online. They are shopping multiple brands and multiple dealerships at the same time.

DealerADvantage: How do you see it changing in the next five years?

Stracione: Social media will be the way consumers will deselect a dealership. We need to have prominence in those spaces as well and monitor what is being said by consumers. I also feel that we need to be driving traffic to our service and parts departments. Those seem to be the forgotten segment of the internet business, but we are seeing more and more of our customers actually frequenting those sections of our sites.

DealerADvantage: What percentage of sales is attributed to the internet?

Stracione: In some stores our internet sales are 30 percent of our overall dealership sales. We define an internet sale as a sale generated from an email we receive from a customer into our lead management and sold. We remove all duplicate inquiries. We use the same CRM system for showroom ups, phone ups and internet ups, so it’s easy to see who actually is an internet customer. All stores measure their internet traffic the same way, so we have accurate statistics on internet sales across the group. Because the majority of consumers use the internet to research their next purchase, virtually everyone would be considered an internet customer.

DealerADvantage: How does the Fred Beans group manage internet sales?

Stracione: We have a few models that work across our group depending on the size of the store and how the general managers feel their internet departments should be structured. Some use appointment setters or a BDC format, and some have dedicated internet sales teams that only handle internet leads from inquiry to delivery. Some managers prefer to have their entire sales floor handle internet inquiries.

DealerADvantage: How do you train within your internet department?

Stracione: Our internet sales and management teams meet collectively on a quarterly basis. We conduct monthly conference calls with our management teams. I personally meet with our management team monthly to discuss strategies and any changes we need to make in our departments while reviewing their internet department’s return on investment. We mystery shop our internet sales departments on a monthly basis as well.

DealerADvantage: How do you measure the success of your internet program and your return on investment?

Stracione: The beauty of the internet is that we can measure it. No other form of advertising is this measurable. We track our statistics daily. We put together a monthly financial statement for all of our stores. It tracks all costs associated with our internet departments. We then know the profitability of each internet department.

DealerADvantage: Can you share with us your per-sale costs?

Stracione: Our benchmark is $200 or less per internet sale. In those cases where we are under $200, we will add additional online partners or sources to drive up our internet lead traffic.

DealerADvantage: What do you look for in a partner when purchasing online advertising?

Stracione: We want true relationships that go both ways. We work hard to establish the relationships and value their input toward our internet success. Our organization is always looking for new ideas and ways to market to our internet consumers.

DealerADvantage: How do you measure your online advertising partners?

Stracione: We put together an internet financial statement for each of our stores. We review it monthly with the management team. We examine both the quantity and quality of all the leads we receive. We closely examine the leads received, sales, closing ratios, average grosses, cost/lead and cost/sale. We benchmark our online partners and rank them against each other in each category.

DealerADvantage: What matters most when evaluating their performance?

Stracione: Quality of leads and sales generated from our online partners along with cost per lead and cost per sale are the key factors in our evaluation. When we sign on a new provider, we evaluate the provider after 90 days or so. We want to be sure that we give each online partner a fair assessment and feel that fewer than 90 days is not long enough to make a decision on how it is performing.

DealerADvantage: What is your process to manage a lead from the time it is received until a vehicle is sold?

Stracione: Our organization is process-oriented. We have a very well-defined process and strive to provide the same customer experience both in the short and long term. We focus on the first phone call. We tweak it all the time. We use a combination of templates and customize and personalize letters along with phone scripts for our staff to use. Our goal is be the first responder, whether on the phone or via email; at the same time, we need to make sure that we have answered all of the consumers’ questions with a quality response. We emphasize our branding. On the phone, we work to establish and build rapport. We want to make customers feel comfortable, and we let them know we’re there for them both day and night. All leads are desked with a manager as if the customer were in the showroom. We follow up for the next two weeks. If there is no appointment or sale, we begin using automated marketing tools to stay in contact with the customer.

DealerADvantage: How quickly do you respond to internet inquiries?

Stracione: A timely response will stop the customer’s shopping cycle. We strive to respond within 30 minutes or less, but, more importantly, our goal is to respond to the consumer’s specific questions and needs. In many cases, they are still on the computer if we contact them within 30 minutes.

DealerADvantage: How long do you promote working a lead?

Stracione: Until the customer purchases or asks us to stop contacting them. The beauty of our CRM tool is that it inserts a reminder on the salesperson’s daily activities list so they don’t have to remember to contact the prospect.

DealerADvantage: How have your internet strategy and tactics evolved over the years?

Stracione: When a consumer submits an internet lead, we had better exceed their expectations because we may not get a second chance to make a first impression. Our strategy now involves all levels of our management staff.

DealerADvantage: To what extent are you managing your online reputation?

Stracione: Our organization has been in business for more than 30 years and has thrived on our solid reputation. We’re building the business by satisfying our customers one at a time. Fred Beans is a brand in itself. We have been focusing our efforts on managing our online reputation by going to review sites and seeing what our customers are saying about us. In more cases than not, our customers write positive comments about their experiences and compliment our employees and our departments. We want to encourage that with our customers and want them to create brand advocates for our dealerships. That is an area that we are asking our managers to focus on by asking our customers to write a review. We encourage our managers to respond to any negative comments by writing a response. In many cases, a customer has a misperception of what actually transpired. However, I like to think that a complaint is a gift because it gives us a chance to improve our processes. We’ve added video testimonials to our websites and have a place on our websites for our customers to actually write reviews that get posted.

DealerADvantage: How are you leveraging social media sites?

Stracione: We want to be innovative, and we want to attract the younger audiences. We are using MySpace for some of our younger salespeople who have an interest, and we use chat in almost all of our stores. We are on many forums as well. We are working to have a presence on YouTube.

DealerADvantage: What are you begging your salespeople to do today?

Stracione: Dealer reviews: Encouraging their customers to write reviews. They are headstrong about that; it’s just something I have to keep breaking down the barrier on.

DealerADvantage: What advice would you give an incoming internet sales manager in your operation?

Stracione: This is an exciting time in the automotive business. The internet salesperson is truly the entrepreneur of the dealership. I am thrilled to work with so many of them. I advise an internet salesperson that the internet consumer is looking to build rapport with genuine caring and personalized responses. They need to follow the process carefully, respond quickly but respond well, treat the customer as they would like to be treated. They also need to have great phone skills.