In the instantaneous industry of equipment sales, the mindset of “I’ll just respond to that tractor inquiry after lunch” lies in the same outdated realm as phonebooks and Blockbuster video stores. Yet with so many online inventories, websites and campaigns to keep track of, dealers are often left chasing their tails on how to reel in — and retain — online leads. 

In an expert dealer panel presentation featuring Scott McCrea, president of E-Tech Innovation Group based in Winnipeg, Man., and Nadine Swee, marketing automation specialist with Titan Machinery, a full-service agriculture and construction dealer group with locations across the U.S., attendees of the Dealership Mind Summit received a series of proven methods for internet lead responsiveness, along with a blueprint on lead generation through a successful Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software campaign. 

Refining Lead Responsiveness 

E-Tech Innovation Group, a company designed to help dealers improve responsiveness to online leads, conducted a “Mystery Shop” review to sample how a wide variety of farm equipment dealerships responded to inquiries. Tapping into a mix of online mediums, the study sent out a total of 600 inquiries through store websites, OEM sites and distribution channels like Fastline and Iron Search, McCrea says.

“The leads we submitted were typically on equipment priced at $50,000 and above if possible,” McCrea says. “That way, a sales rep wouldn’t be able to say ‘It was only a $4,000 rusted rake, so of course I didn’t reply right away.’”

Of those 600 inquiries, 61% were responded to at any time, with an average wait of 8.7 hours. That average, McCrea adds, is reflective of three particular timespans that most responses fell into: within 30 minutes, within 2-4 hours or between 20-30 hours. Aside from 39% of sales reps not responding to the inquiry at all, the most alarming revelation McCrea discovered in the findings was the quality of responses. Within the response group, only 7% used a formal introduction thanking the customer for the inquiry, only 59% supplied additional contact information beyond the e-mail address and 29% had spelling errors in the reply. 

 

The CRM-Powered ‘Red 175’ Campaign

In April 2017, Titan Machinery implemented the Oracle Eloqua CRM system across all locations to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their lead generation. In doing so, Titan segments customers to build profiles based on landing page engagement, open rates or specific equipment searches and purchases. Over time, additional information can be introduced from acreage totals and crop types.

Through those increasingly accurate profiles, sales reps can send timely messages throughout a customer’s buying cycle, Swee says. The data enables Titan to expand beyond its original approach of untargeted, broad brand awareness messages.

“We know if a customer prefers a specific store or if they’ve purchased something in the past 6 months, so we have the capabilities to say ‘you bought your combine, we’ll do that math,’” Swee says. “We can send a targeted message to say, ‘Hey, you’re getting close to your next oil change. Here’s some filters to consider and when you should come in.’”

In coordination with Case IH’s 175th anniversary, Titan put a large investment into skid steers, with the intention of selling them behind an automated marketing campaign titled “Red 175.” A predetermined e-mail system served as the core distribution strategy for contacting leads, starting with a general message detailing the celebration of Case IH’s milestone, an announcement of the skid steer availability and a link for interested buyers on the purchasing process. 

From there, three more emails were sent at different intervals depending on how recipients responded to the original message, Swee explains. The wording and descriptiveness of each message varied on how far a particular lead went in the process, ranging from those who opened the first e-mail and the subsequent link for more information to those who ignored the first e-mail altogether. 

“If they looked at it and clicked on it, then they got the ‘you look like you’re interested’ kind of an email,” Swee says. “If they went the other direction and didn’t do anything, we sent them anther email in a week, vs. waiting 2 or 3 weeks to get back to them.”

Those who opened the original e-mail and clicked on the additional link were directed to a standalone landing page, where an in-depth description on the campaign’s offerings is displayed alongside a form to enter their contact information. 

At this stage, Swee suggests keeping the required information at a minimum to ensure the lead is generated. If need be, supplementary details can be gathered later in the process. 

“It could be as simple as first name, last name and email,” Swee says. “It could have a phone number, but for qualification forms, shorter is better. If you require more information, they’re not going to take the time to fill it in. We did, however, ask for a location because if we’re selling a brand new skid steer in our area of responsibility, we had to know where to send that lead.”

Once the form is complete, the CRM will automatically send out a confirmation email with two options: reserving their skid steer immediately or to contact them at a preferred time. For the immediate reserve option, Swee stresses the need for a salesperson to address the action within 30 seconds, noting the volatile nature of customers.

Print was another distribution channel for the campaign, which Swee says came in the form easy-to-produce, easy-to-mail postcards. In order to track print-based leads, Titan used a custom domain titled under ‘Red 175’ so the CRM system could file the source accordingly. The strategy expanded, using different tags, to any social media advertising done for the campaign, again allowing the Oracle system to automatically determine which specific social media channel generated the lead for a skid steer.

“Leads are your digital currency. When allocating a budget and resources, all of the money you spend boils down into actually having a lead,” McCrea says. 

Common examples of “below-average” responses included response rates above 4 hours, a non-descriptive answer to the lead’s question and an absence of follow up questions from the sales rep. McCrea also came across examples of one-word responses, followed by an unorganized, clearly copied-and pasted 400-word paragraph dump detailing the machine’s history.

The lack of personal touch is something McCrea laments to being very familiar with and extends beyond the ag equipment industry.

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Sales reps should react within 30 seconds to qualified leads interested in an online reservation, as closing odds drop significantly when delaying the initial interest, says automated marketing specialist Nadine Swee of Titan Machinery.

“I’ve taught internet lead response management courses in four different industries. The second you take your best salesperson and put a keyboard in their hands, you can make him into your most underperforming. It just sucks the sales skills right out of them. I don’t know what it is.”

On the contrary, higher quality responses McCrea received included:

  • Response times under one hour
  • A modified subject line in the reply e-mail with the model of equipment noted (changing the subject line also lowers the chances of a reply accidentally getting marked as spam)
  • A detailed description with notes on the equipment’s previous ownership history, field conditions for which the machine is best suited and a list of attachments commonly purchased with the particular model. 
  • A specified location of the machine if a dealership has multiple stores
  • Follow-up questions about the customer’s scope of operations to continue the conversation further
  • A formal signature with multiple forms of contact information. Many dealerships send out a template signature for all employees to keep a consistent style for customers and solidify the brand. 

McCrea promotes the template theme as a significant timesaver as well. By sending out a scripted introduction and conclusion to each lead representative, employees are able to provide a detailed response while only needing to type one or two lines of customized information per request. Many of these templates include follow-up questions that can be inserted to gauge the customer further. 

“I recommend a ‘two-question’ rule for each response,” McCrea says. “Start with, ‘Are you looking for any other equipment right now?’ Then an easy follow up is, ‘What are you pulling it with?’ It helps you understand if they are looking to buy within one day or one month, or maybe they only submitted a lead on a tractor, but their baler broke down at the same time?”

Mediocrity Manifestation

In discussing lead responsiveness with several dealerships, McCrea noticed many stores with below-average response quality tended to have a blanket approach to all requests and questioned exactly how important the process was to generating sales or expanding the customer base. 

“Dealers either have a poor process or they’re putting in a poor effort, so of course, they’re getting a poor response from the lead,” McCrea says. “All of that just perpetuates the perception that internet leads aren’t really all that good. You get into this vicious cycle and you’ve got to do something to break it. It can be as little as having a discussion at the next sales meeting, or as far reaching as installing a new CRM.”

Taking Inventory … of Your Inventory 

A conventional strategy for tracking leads from different sources to your dealership is assigning sales reps to specific channels, McCrea says. Often one representative will track leads from the dealership website, another will monitor leads from marketing campaigns, while another one or two will track any inquiries from top inventory listing sites such as Machinery Pete or Tractor House.

Yet where dealerships may run into trouble, McCrea adds, are instances where those channel representatives either change jobs or responsibilities and no one takes the deficiency into account.

“Half the time when I talk to a dealer about their leads not being replied to, they’ve got an old email address from someone who hasn’t been at the dealership for six months,” McCrea. That can account to the 39% of total leads missing.”

Even with airtight accountability, very few dealerships have a confident grasp on the lead response process, as exemplified by only 15% of the Dealership Minds Summit crowd indicating knowledge of how many leads they received in the past month. Part of the reason leads are so hard to track is a lack of tools on the current market for dealerships to utilize, McCrea notes. 

While CRMs can track many important aspects of businesses, McCrea says very few are capable of anything beyond email alerts for leads and do very little to actually help with responsiveness. 

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Dealerships receiving low marks on the quality and promptness of lead responses tend to question the value of the process and perpetuate a cycle of poor communication, says E-Tech Innovation president Scott McCrea.

“Sales reps are not supposed to be sitting at the dealership, they’re supposed to be out talking to customers,” McCrea says. “Yet mobile devices aren’t really optimizing in any way to help respond to internet leads. When looking at the top dealerships, they succeed by understanding the scale of their organization and establishing some type of lead consolidation system.” 

Effective lead consolidation, McCrea explains, starts with getting each lead channel representative together and looking at each individual report at the same time. By doing so, the team can establish a standard of accountability if certain members aren’t pulling their weight, as well as shine light on any mediums that aren’t being monitored. Having one report on-hand with every lead source and average response time is the easiest way to distribute coverage appropriately, McCrea adds. 

Complementing a consolidated report should be a system for automated lead routing, McCrea says. Otherwise, he notes how dealers can run the risk of sales reps receiving expired leads by the time they are noticed. Centralized distribution systems where all leads come to one person can be functional at smaller dealerships, but for larger operations with higher volume of leads and sources to account for, McCrea says a distributed system (where an equipment rep handles equipment-based inquiries, a precision rep handles precision-based inquiries, etc.) is likely the simplest scenario to help employees hit their benchmark response times. 

Yet the final decision, McCrea notes, still comes down to individual businesses assessing their ability to route and track leads.

“Quite often, leads will be sitting in the general manager or receptionist’s inbox without automated distribution,” McCrea says. If we’re trying to do anything with it in under 30 minutes, any lead that comes in over lunch is already close to a 45-minute delay.”

 

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