Ben Garton was the leading voice during a roundtable on key performance indicators in marketing at the 2018 Dealership Minds Summit in Iowa City, Iowa. He contributed to what evolved into a fascinating conversation about his leads and what he does with them to ensure they are attended to. Garton is the chief marketing officer for Garton Tractor, a 10-store New Holland and Kubota dealership in California.

When doing a digital marketing push, the only metric Garton tends to focus on is the percentage of new customers gained. “It’s nice having the repeat clients but new clients is really where you can get a good ROI.” Garton reports getting between five and a dozen online inquiries a day and he personally ensures their follow-up.

At Garton Tractor, all online inquiries go to Garton’s cell phone and he personally doles them out from there. The choice to answer inquiries himself left others in the roundtable questioning if he had looked into an automated system. Garton shook his head. For Garton, the answer was simple: messaging the customer personally makes them feel important. The customer doesn’t always engage with the automated responses, but Garton finds the ability to contact and know the owner is meaningful to the prospect.

When someone leaves an online message on the site, Garton types up a short email on his phone to the customer and before sending it to them, forwards it to one of the three proven salespeople. That leaves the lead with the salesperson most likely to act immediately. The customer is made aware of who has their information. Garton knows who is responding by whether or not a customer contacts him again.

“It’s nice having the repeat clients but new clients is really where you can get a good ROI…”

Garton admits the process isn’t about making employees happy. In fact, he and a store manager have disagreed over the practice. Garton assured the manager that he had previously shared leads but the manager never responded, and then Garton heard about it from the customer. Garton has found that having the customers aware that their inquiry was specifically assigned works well because they are more likely to get back to Garton if there is an issue once that communication is open.

Garton has around 40 salespeople on his staff but only three of them are the highest performers in handling online inquiries. These three are all consistently in the top five for sales and the ones who work on online sales leads the most. They respond quickly and keep Garton in the loop. With the online leads, these salespeople have their own process and have proven to always follow up on their leads.

These top three salespeople get the majority of the leads and that occasionally results in Garton being accused of favoritism. “I say, ‘Hey look, I gave you a lead, and you never responded back, buddy. You lost your shot. You can do better, so get your sales numbers up, and maybe I'll give you some more.’”

The salespeople typically “cc” him on emails back to the customer, which can occur at all hours of the night (one salesperson is checking emails while caring for his baby). Garton doesn’t need to be on the emails past that until the sale is closed. For him, it’s about making sure the leads are followed and a sale is made.

Don’t Judge the Lead

“Unqualified leads” are a common complaint or reason some salespeople dismiss leads. Again, Garton has found that the best way of handling these is to send it to the same three. “They don’t place judgment on the lead. It’s always the guys who are judging who are my bottom performers.”

“You never know who is coming through on those leads; judging them too quickly can lose you a valuable sale or connection…”

Garton got the group intrigued by stories of how many times a salesperson can dismiss a lead as unqualified or judging an online inquiry like “judging a book by its cover.” A non-disclosure agreement prohibits him from sharing the names, but he says even the most casual of leads can result in million-dollar type opportunities. You never know who is coming through on those leads; judging them too quickly can lose you a valuable sale or connection.

Dealing with customer complaints has helped in pushing Garton to maintain the personal responses rather than automated ones. Once, when he had only one guy working the parts counter of a store due to other employees having personal issues, a customer could not get through to purchase something. This resulted in a complaint email from the customer but Garton’s quick email response back helped to appease the customer, which the dealership then closed with a new tractor sale.