While doing some research for a project about how dealers respond to telephone and internet sales inquiries recently, I came across an interesting report entitled, Online Automotive Leads: How Well Do Dealers Respond?

If you’re thinking we haven’t got enough sales leads in the past 3 years to worry about it, let me point out that in this business environment every sales lead is worth following up (and you probably have more time to do it now than you did when things were booming).

At the heart of the report was, as the authors maintained, “Dealership personnel (even today) seem ill-equipped to answer phones or respond to e-leads in a manner that is both satisfying for the consumer and drives incremental business for the dealer.”

Regarding telephone inquiries, the report says, after listening in on more than 1,000 calls in 2014 between customers and dealership salespeople, the authors say, how the inquiries were handled generally fell into 3 categories:

1. The salesperson provided so much information that the consumer never needed to visit the dealership.
2. The salesperson was so evasive and (often) unfriendly that the consumer never wanted to visit the dealership.
3. The salesperson asked the prospect so many questions that the call felt more like an interrogation than an attempt to purchase.

The report goes on to discuss many of the shortcomings of dealerships in responding to inquiries as well as best practices. But it offers some important advice about working with consultants, CRM companies and industry “experts,” who can overwhelm you with their digital speak and so-called facts and figures when trying to sell their services. “Dealers still sell cars (in our case wholegoods, parts and service) — not impressions, not engagement and not page views.”

The 17-page report goes on to list several best practices for responding to voicemail and email inquiries and a reminder that the goal of the process is to “drive a reconnection, preferably by phone. Your chances of closing the sale increase three to fourfold when you set an appointment that shows vs. having an internet prospect arrive unannounced. In nearly all cases, you cannot set a firm appointment that shows without first getting the prospect to speak with you on the phone.”

A few of the best practices for voicemail:

  • Always leave a message. Always.
  • Highlight your persistence in each message. (“… and, if you can’t reach me right away, don’t worry, I’ll try you again later.”)
  • Keep voicemails short and to the point. Preferably around 15 seconds, but never more than 30 seconds. If you leave the prospect just one voicemail longer than a minute, they’ll likely delete future voicemails without listening.

For emails:

  • Always send an auto-response. Always.
  • Use pictures (especially email headers) sparingly. Beyond the potential for causing an email to be considered SPAM, email headers and other images often distract from the primary goal of the email.
  • Use links (especially those to your inventory and specials pages) sparingly. Your goal is to drive a phone call, not to send the internet prospect into your website to further confuse them.

You can read the entire report by clicking on the link shown above.

For those of you who say, “All most of them are looking for is pricing information,” I say, “So what!”

As one very good dealer explained to me several years ago the reason he carried shortline equipment was to get people in the door who wouldn’t normally walk into his dealership.

“Once they walk in the door (or call me), I can develop a rapport. If that goes well, I can develop a relationship. Once I establish a relationship … you just never know!”

While there’s some science to following up on sales leads, much of it is an art, but all of it is a professional courtesy (and good manners).