Mitch Golub, president of Cars.com, recently spoke with the editors of Dealer Marketing Magazine for an article on how technology supports online advertising and sales initiatives.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: What are the most important new tools and technologies to help dealers market vehicles on the Internet?
Golub: We increasingly see dealers add online chat, mobile capabilities and video to their Internet media mix – both on their store’s own website and with automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com. These tools allow them to connect with shoppers they might not have otherwise reached and more fully merchandise their inventory.
Chat, for example, is proving particularly popular and effective. We routinely hear from dealers who close a deal within a few hours of activating chat and who enjoy great appointments-kept and appointments-sold percentage. Chat works because it allows car buyers to get the information they want in real-time, right from the listing without having to make a phone call or send an email and then wait for a response.
Mobile technology allows dealers to literally put their inventory in the hands of on-the-go buyers. As portable Internet devices become more common, shoppers are researching their next purchase when and where it’s most convenient to them – whether on the morning commute, during their lunch break or on the dealer’s lot. At Cars.com, we launched a well-received mobile version of our site in 2007 and a very popular iPhone app earlier this year. Mobile visitors now constitute 10 percent of our total traffic.
With video, dealers tell us they’re able to build excitement around the vehicle by showing its condition and highlighting interesting features. For stores with large inventories or limited resources, video “stitched” from still photos with a voiceover may be the way to go. Other dealerships develop full motion videos that provide a virtual test drive as the salesperson gives a full, walkaround demonstration.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: What is the best way for dealers to take advantage of the advent of online chat technologies?
Golub: When shopping online for their next vehicle, car buyers typically contacted the dealer with an email, phone call or walk-in visit – or by clicking over to the store’s website. More recently, we’re seeing online chat emerge as a popular contact channel. Shoppers tell us they appreciate the ability to quickly confirm the vehicle’s availability or get additional information – whether about the car itself, financing options or the dealership’s location.
To take advantage of chat, we recommend that dealers develop a sales process and train their people on it. They also need to monitor chat sessions – just as they do with email and phone calls – to ensure the process is followed and that opportunities for improvement are not overlooked. What does that process look like? Similar to a good phone call, an effective chat session focuses on answering the shopper’s questions and opening the store’s inventory to find the ideal match. From there, salespeople should work to build rapport and set a firm appointment to visit the store, where they can most appropriately ask for the sale.
Finally — and perhaps most importantly – dealers should only begin using chat if they and the people assigned to it are committed. If customers can’t access someone via chat or have a bad experience, they’re likely to form a bad impression of the dealership and take their business elsewhere.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: How can dealers best take advantage of social media?
Golub: The first rule of social media is simple: Listen! Successful dealers tell us they’re most effective in these communities when they participate in conversations rather than try to selfishly focus discussion around their business initiatives. Car buyers understand dealers want to sell cars, but that’s not the only reason they choose to “like” or “follow” the store. Rather, they’re looking for a wide range of information – from maintenance tips for a car they own to news about upcoming model introductions and community projects the dealership supports. While it’s OK to occasionally promote truly unique or special vehicles from your inventory, your social media strategy must look beyond the traditional marketing push to foster relationships with and between community members.
A couple of ideas to consider, include:
- Share photos. Did your dealership help sponsor a walk to raise money and donations for the local food bank? Take pictures of the event and post them to your Facebook page or tweet a link to them from your Twitter account. Customers and prospects in the photos will likely pass them along to their friends and family, helping to promote your store and create a favorable impression of the dealership.
- Be creative. Do your Facebook friends include their birthday on their page? We’ve heard from dealers who check their CRM system to see if they have their address as a former customer or current prospect. If so, they send an “old-school” birthday card in the mail.
Another important point to remember: online forums. While social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube command the headlines, enthusiast sites serve large communities of car buyers. If you have sales and service employees who have a passion for off-roading or sports cars, for example, and can share their expertise, encouraging them to participate can drive additional sales – in the showroom, the service department and at the parts and accessories counter.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: What has been the effect of user-generated content and review sites on dealership Internet marketing?
Golub: For dealerships that understand – and know how to harness – the power of Internet marketing, the effect has been profound. They’ve assigned people at their stores to monitor and respond to these comments, using the information as an objective indication of business processes that are working or that need to be improved. Particularly with negative reviews, they’ve learned to recognize the feedback as an opportunity – both to resolve the issue and re-establish good will with those customers and to demonstrate their commitment to excellent service.
Consumer surveys show that car buyers understand problems can arise in any sales or service transaction. In fact, they often report more confidence in dealerships that have less-than-perfect ratings – as long as there’s a demonstrated record of professionally resolving complaints and not simply ignoring or brushing them aside.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: Name the top three “must haves” for any dealer website
Golub: First and foremost: Inventory. These days the website represents more than an extension of the physical showroom. For many car buyers today, it is their first point of contact with your dealership. Every car on your lot should be easily located on your website and fully merchandised with descriptive sell copy, multiple pictures and/or video and a competitive price.
Next, an “About Us” section. Just because car buyers have arrived at the dealership’s website, that doesn’t mean they know the store. In many cases, they’ve been directed there from an automotive shopping site where they were viewing new- and/or used-car inventory. An effective “About Us” section tells the dealership story – its business history, community reputation and industry recognition. An automobile represents a significant purchase for most people, and they want to be sure they’ll be treated professionally and get a fair deal.
Finally, up-to-date contact information. Car buyers can only connect with your sales and service staff if you provide the correct names, phone numbers and email addresses. Similarly, for walk-in visitors, you may want to include directions and a map to your store.