Rob Fontano
Rob Fontano
John Marazzi Nissan
Internet Sales Director

When Rob Fontano signed on last September as the internet sales director for John Marazzi Nissan, he knew right away what needed to change in the department. “Everything,” he says. “There wasn’t anything going on that I thought was exceptional. I didn’t see a lot of bright spots in it, so I just kind of dismantled it.

“I took the people that were here and said, ‘Listen, this is what we’re going to do. You’re going to talk to customers on the phone and respond to their emails. You’re going to greet the customers, and you’re going to sell the cars. You are going to be their connection.'”

Fontano said he decided to replace the BDC with a soup-to-nuts internet department after seeing online shoppers’ frustration when they arrived at the store and were handed off to another team member. “If you could read their minds, they’re thinking, ‘Great, I’ve got to start all over again. I don’t know this person, and I’m going to have to explain myself.'”

Although Fontano was new to both the Naples, Fla., market and the dealership, he knew the strategy would work. At the Fort Myers, Fla., Toyota store where he developed it, Fontano said monthly new- and used-car sales for the internet department quadrupled to more than 130.

DealerADvantage recently spoke with Fontano to learn more about Marazzi Nissan’s online initiatives and how those strategies help to drive business. He said the single-point store records average monthly sales of more than 200 vehicles, with upward of 40 percent attributed to the internet department.

“As the store has grown,” Fontano says, “the internet has grown exponentially.”

DealerADvantage: How do you operate your internet department?

Fontano: It’s set up like a BDC. We’ve got a four-person internet sales team and three coordinators that take care of following up with the customers, setting appointments and handing the deals to salespeople for further follow-up and closing the deal. It’s not a traditional BDC where we call every service customer and handle customer relations issues.

DealerADvantage: I understand your email follow-up process extends out for 90 days. What happens during that period?

Fontano: We’re going to try to contact shoppers as often as we have to. In the beginning, we’ll try to contact them every day for 30 days, via phone if there’s a phone number. We’ll send them emails to share our unique selling propositions and give them information about vehicle options that they may be considering. If they’re looking at a new Altima, for example, we’ll give them new, used and certified options, along with lease and finance options and rebate information.  We’re basically trying to keep top-of-mind awareness with customers and give them options that may cause them to say, “You know what? I need to find out a little bit more about this,” and pick up the phone. You’ve just got to keep poking until you find the hot button.

If there is no telephone number available, the salesperson will send an introductory email that contains a video clip of the salesperson, basically introducing themselves. It’s a quick 30-second video: “Hi, my name is _____, and I’m the person on the other side of the keyboard that will be helping you with this purchase request.” What we’re trying to do is get the customer on the phone and start a dialog. That’s when things start to happen – with a dialog.

DealerADvantage: What happens after 30 days with your email?

Fontano: We’ll slow down a little bit to every three or four days. The emails will gradually slow down and then, in the last 30 days, we might hit them every 10 days with something, just to make sure that if they haven’t made a decision yet, they know we’re here to help. They’re never really out of the loop unless they unsubscribe because we’ll do a monthly email promotion as well.

DealerADvantage: How do you manage phone leads?

Fontano: They’re entered into the CRM either automatically through a tracking number, or we manually enter them. We get as much information as we possibly can from the customers, and it all boils down to really solid phone skills. Our coordinators sell the unique selling propositions of our store; for example, our lifetime warranty, and work to gain a quick rapport with the customer. They ask customers what they’re looking for, identify their needs and wants and determine if a trade-in is involved. If so, the coordinator’s job is to explain to the customer that their vehicle is in high demand and that we would very much like to see it. We try to set an appointment for a no-obligation appraisal. Coordinators don’t discuss any pricing other than specials that are posted on the website.

DealerADvantage: How do you train in your department?

Fontano: We predominantly train phone skills. We don’t read a script, but there are points within a phone conversation that the salespeople and coordinators need to hit to guide the customer through our process. I listen all day long to my coordinators. When I hear something that isn’t going right, I wave to them to send the call to me. After the call, we can talk. Everything is real time. The days of sitting down and trying to listen to 50 phone calls at the end of the day and trying to figure out what went right and what went wrong just doesn’t work. Phone calls are too valuable. So when I listen to phone calls taking place, we coach as we go along. The same goes with the salespeople. We just constantly coach, constantly enforce the basics and try to keep them on a path that works.

DealerADvantage: Are you using secure credit applications?

Fontano: They’re one of the main things we focus on with the customer when setting an appointment. We say, “OK, we’re going to try to save you as much time as possible and make this as smooth a process as possible. We’d like to get you prequalified before you come in.”

Secure credit applications save us a lot of time, too, and I’m a strong believer of quality over quantity. It’s easy to set appointments with people that don’t have good credit. You can fill your day with people that can’t buy, and you don’t need salespeople guessing and spending a lot of time with someone that may not be able to buy a car. So we focus on doing that over the internet. We explain the secure credit app to our customers; once we have their information, we know if we can help them and how we’ll need to structure the deal.

DealerADvantage: You’ve said that blogs, social media and video factor heavily in your search engine optimization efforts. How do you optimize your videos to appear in search results?

Fontano: You just have to title, tag and describe the video correctly. What I’m looking for are shoppers who type in competing makes and models in nearby communities – “Toyota Corolla Fort Myers” or “Toyota Camry Fort Myers.” Somewhere on the search engine results page, shoppers are going to see one of my comparisons. If they’re looking for a Camry and one of the options is a video that says “Toyota Camry versus Altima,” they’re likely to click on it. People like videos; therefore Google and the other search engines like video. I think it’s pretty powerful, and our videos have done pretty well.

DealerADvantage: What is your experience with internet shoppers and holding gross?

Fontano: Last month, two of my guys had the highest gross in the store. I’d say we average $2,000 a car, though some guys do a little better. So, yes, you can make gross on the internet. You can’t make gross on the internet if all you do is blast invoice prices. If you’re going to shoot out $500 below invoice on everything without trying to brand yourself and give shoppers a reason to do business with you, then I don’t think you’re going to be able to make gross. But if you do brand yourself and give the customers a reason to do business with you, you can bring them in the store and get a shot at doing it right.