Alex Jefferson
Alex Jefferson
The Proctor Dealerships
Ecommerce Director

At the Proctor Dealerships in Tallahassee, Fla., Alex Jefferson says he has something of a golden rule for internet sales. “Be nice,” he says. “Be nice, be nice, be nice.

“Sometimes internet customers aren’t nice, but the reason why is not their fault. Some have had bad car experiences in the past. People wouldn’t answer their questions, people misled them, so they’re on guard,” says Jefferson, the Acura/Honda dealer group’s ecommerce director. “We try to give our customers opportunities to save face. If a customer tells you he or she can get the car somewhere else for $5,000 cheaper, be nice. If you’re not nice, when they find out that other dealer was using misleading tactics, they’re still not going to come back to you. You still lost a sale.”

DealerADvantage recently spoke with Jefferson to learn more about Proctor’s online initiatives and how those strategies help to drive business. The dealer group attributes upward of 30 percent of monthly sales to the internet.

DealerADvantage: How is your internet department structured?

Jefferson: We have a hybrid setup right now at our Honda store with two full-time internet salespeople and four salespeople who work internet deals and also work on the floor. We are moving in the direction of having all the people in the internet department work full-time internet. It’s just been a process of integration. At our Acura store, we have one full-time internet salesperson that handles all leads.

DealerADvantage: What is your email process?

Jefferson: When an internet lead comes in, it will round-robin between our people. Normally, our full-time people are always available, so they’ll respond at night, on Sunday. They even respond on their days off, so they get plenty of leads.

When the lead comes in, we have a general autoresponse that goes out. Our main goal is to try to get back with our clients within 15 minutes with a customized response. That’s one thing that we’ve really been trying to focus on, customizing a response to exactly what the customer asks for. I do some secret shopping from time to time, and the thing I hate more than anything else is to send in an inquiry and ask a question about something specific and then get back an answer that is generic. You know that they did not try to answer your question or even read your email, for that matter. Our goal is to get appointments, but we still want to try to show customers that we’re doing all we can so that they can have the best user experience. If a prospect says, “Give me a price on a 2009 Honda Accord EXL,” the email back is not going to just say, “What time can you come in tomorrow?”

We have a 90-day template schedule, and I encourage the salespeople to insert their own personality into the templates or, in certain cases, to use their own customized response, based on how they’re relating to each individual customer. The templates are really designed for the clients who are not responding. It becomes a how-do-you-use-your-time-type thing. You’ve got one customer that hasn’t responded to you, and you sent out four emails – you’ve got your templates for that. Then you have a guy that’s going back and forth with you; it doesn’t make sense to send out templates in this situation because you will not sound genuine. We’re basically projecting what we would want to project if the customer were sitting right in front of us.

DealerADvantage: What is your frequency during the first 90 days?

Jefferson: It’s a little bit more in the first 10 days – I’d say five to six contacts. After that, it drops off to about once per week until 30 days and once every two weeks until 90 days. After 90 days, we have different email campaigns that go out with special offers and things of that nature.

DealerADvantage: How are you using email to get the customer on the phone?

Jefferson: One thing that we have focused on getting better at is removing the fear of going to the next step. In the past we would have a whole lot of emails going back and forth but really no attempt to try to take that next step with the customer. No attempt to set an appointment, no attempt to ask for the phone number. I think the biggest thing is to actually ask for the phone number – and there are always reasons to ask.

When you start talking about the trade-in, I think customers are more apt to get on the phone. They want to prove to you how good their car is, but most don’t really want to type out everything about their car. I think the trade is a big way to say, “Hey, we can talk for five minutes. I’ll get all the information on your car, talk with my used-car manager and figure out an estimated value for your trade.” It’s also a great way to get them in the door. We soften them up by letting them know that we’re not going to be a hard sell. In my opinion, sometimes people are reluctant to give you their phone number because they think you’re going to be a pest and push them in a direction that they’re not ready to go. We do it in more of an informational way. We let them know that there’s so much information that we can give them that it would be a lot easier if we were to conduct this by phone. We show this by sending out many different options to spark questions. The customer starts to think, “Shoot, I think this would be easier by phone or if I just came in.” I have to credit Grant Cardone for this method.

DealerADvantage: How do you manage outbound calls?

Jefferson: Everybody is setup to receive a notification on their phone, so a lot of times we call people so quickly that they’re wowed by the fact we’ve called in less than five or 10 minutes. I think that gives them a sense that you know what you’re doing, right off the bat. When we call customers, the first thing that we try to do is address the issues that they emailed in about – they could have sent an email for a price quote or it could have been a general inquiry. They could have watched a video on our website or sent in a credit app. There are a lot of different things that they could have sent in a specific inquiry on. Whatever it is will always be addressed first because that’s the easiest way to open up the conversation and build common ground.

With the phone process, just like the email process, the first thing that we’re trying to do is give information, other options and alternatives. Once you give options and alternatives, that creates the opportunity for you to get the customer in the door. So the shopper clicks the “make an offer” for a used 2009 Honda Accord on our website. The opening might start like this:

Alex: I see you made an offer on one of our pre-owned Honda Accords. Would you mind if I asked you a couple questions?

Shopper: Sure.

Alex: I see you clicked on a used 2009 Accord. Would you also be interested in a new one?

Shopper: Maybe. What kind of specials and incentives are you offering?

Then we give a little bit more information – about the finance rates and special lease packages and other used-car choices. Then the customer is going to give you some feedback; you have the opportunity to feel the customer out and see if they’re 100 percent stuck on that car. Most of the time, most customers are going to say, “Tell me a little bit more about this and such and such.” We’ll give the customer more information. At that point, rapport starts to develop because customers feel like you’re not trying to hard-sell them. Then we have the opportunity to say, “Based on the things you said were important to you, I believe we have quite a few vehicles that may fit into the scope of what you are looking for. To find out the best fit I think it would be a good idea for us to get together. Would today or tomorrow be good for you to come out and take a look?” Again, our process is focused on trying to get the customer information and trying to go for an appointment.

DealerADvantage: How do you handle requests for price?

Jefferson: While people a lot of times will email or click the “get-a-quote” link, it’s not in our best interest to just throw out a price the first time – although we will if customers give specifics about what they want. In this situation, we will email a price. I don’t want to give out our exact prices, but we have aggressive pricing that all of our internet people have access to. It kind of depends on the time of the year, how many of that model that we have in stock in our store, how many may be available in our particular region. At the end of the email we’ll let customers know, “Don’t forget about our unbeatable price guarantee,” with a link to our low-price assurance video that talks about our low-price guarantee.

Another example would be customers who click on a generic quote button on our website. When shoppers say, “I want a quote on a 2009 Honda Accord,” we acknowledge the request and try to get more information about what exactly they want. “What trim level are you interested in? Are you looking for this or…?” We let them know that we’re more than happy to give them information, but we need a little bit more information first. Sometimes this turns into an appointment before we even get into a pricing situation. We still end that email with, “Don’t forget about our unbeatable price guarantee.”

DealerADvantage: Do you feel that internet shoppers simply want the lowest price? Or are you making good grosses with them?

Jefferson: I think customers are on the internet because they want a good price – but they also want a good experience. A good price is what you think is a good price, so a lot of things go into having someone believe that that price is good. We gain their trust by bringing customized service. The customer sent in an inquiry about a specific vehicle, so we respond exactly to what the shopper wants. Then we back ourselves up with our low-price assurance. We can send out a price and not be $500 behind invoice because we’ve got our unbeatable price guarantee to back it up.

Below that, we’ll send out a DealerRater.com link. We say, “See what others have to say about our dealership. We’re a top-rated dealer on DealerRater.com.” Customers can go there and see hundreds of customers that say buying a car from us was awesome. That means a whole lot more than just us saying it. We also have customer testimonial videos that show actual customers talking about what a great experience they had here at Proctor Honda.

I would say the internet customers are price conscious. Again, a good price is what they believe is a good price. If they believe in you, they’ll believe that they got a good price.