Taking advantage of new consumers trends requires both experience and vision – experience to understand what’s worked in the past and vision to take the first step forward, even when others sit back.
Few have done this better than Vince Downing, General Manager of the Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships in Lima, Ohio. After attending the NADA Convention and Expo nearly two years ago, Downing and his team had a watershed moment that prompted them to shift their dealership’s entire focus toward digital marketing and online reviews.
“Every training workshop at NADA showed us that our business was going digital, including our reputation,” says Downing. “It was everywhere we went, and that’s when we knew we needed to make a fundamental change.”
With more than 25 years of dealership experience, including roles in both sales and fixed-ops, Downing led his team as they realigned tactics, moving 70-80% of their marketing budget online and implementing new processes to promote their online reputation.
As a result, the store amassed more than 5,000 dealer reviews on Cars.com and maintains a stellar 4.9 (out of 5) star rating. But it wasn’t always easy.
Overcoming A Rocky Start
“When we first started, it was really tough,” says Downing. “Everybody had their own way of doing things. At the end of the month, we looked at the progress we’d made and it was terrible.”
Knowing he needed a tangible benchmark to hold his team accountable, Downing implemented a new element into every salesperson’s pay plan: to be eligible for monthly bonuses, sales consultants had to get a minimum of 20% of their customers to write an online review about their experience at Tom Ahl.
While some pushed back, over time the team embraced the new policy and quickly saw dividends. Shortly after, Downing increased the standard to 30% without issue.
“My top sales guys are the ones who bucked at the beginning,” Downing says. “Now they go out of their way to ask for reviews because they feel like they’ve earned it. For them, it’s like a report card, and they know advice from customers can only help them improve.”
Staffing for Success
With a core strategy in place, the dealership looked for additional ways to support reviews-focused processes.
Working in tandem with Downing, Internet Marketing Coordinator Jennifer Griffith took charge as the central point of contact for all inbound reviews.
“Every day we’ll go in and catch up on our new reviews,” says Griffith. “I’ll respond to our positive reviews and loop our General Managers in on any negative feedback so we can address it right way.”
An effective practice, the dealership responds to 100% of all the reviews it receives.
Promoting Reviews Inside and Out
Though the dealership provides reviews-related resources to both its customers and staff, the store has been most effective promoting reviews by empowering individual sales consultants.
“We’ve got a link to our Cars.com dealer reviews page on our website,” says Downing. “But that’s only a small part of it. Each sales rep is responsible for asking their customers for reviews directly, and that’s what drives our success. Sometimes it’s during the down time when they’re wrapping up a deal, other times it’s in a follow up phone call or email.”
Internally, promoting reviews is equally important, with Downing taking time out of every sales meeting to call out individuals who’ve recently received a glowing review by name.
“It’s a real morale booster for us,” says Downing. “Since most of our reviews directly reference our sales team, it’s a great opportunity to showcase everybody’s contributions and acknowledge outstanding work.”
In just a short time, the Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships started seeing customers arrive from near and far, all because of what they’d read in the store’s online reviews. This early success served as a top selling point.
“Most of the people who come in have read our reviews, especially shoppers from out of town,” says Downing. “But we know even our local customers are online. Everybody has cars, sales and prices, but not everybody has my staff, and that’s why we stand out.”
Taking The First Step
For dealerships that haven’t implemented online reputation management processes, Downing and Griffith suggest getting started is as simple as having a conversation with customers.
“You can’t just expect your customers to write reviews for you,” says Griffith. “You have to ask.”
By taking the first step, they believe there’s no telling how great of an impact only reviews can have.
“We’ve had customers drive more than 600 miles to see us,” shares Downing. “One woman from Atlanta told us there was no doubt in her mind we were the store to do business with solely because of our online reviews. She came up to buy a pre-owned Cadillac, a car she could have gotten at a hundred dealerships along the way, and our staff took care of her like family. Stories like that go through the showroom like water and make our whole team want to keep improving.”
For more reputation management best practices, download our ebook, Scheduled Maintenance.