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Is poor enquiry management losing car you sales?

By Chris Phillips

Manufacturers and dealers spend millions on marketing campaigns to sell new and used cars, but how effective are they in converting customer enquiries into sales?

CRM agency Marketing Delivery examined a sample of 63,000 enquiries and found that, on average, 64% are identified as ‘lost’ – typically because it has not been possible for the salesperson to make contact or because a vehicle is not immediately available in stock.

Categorising the lead as ‘lost’ normally means the dealership’s contact with the potential customer is terminated.

However, when the agency contacted those prospects by email, an average of 40% said they were still ready and able to buy a car from the same dealership.

“It’s clear that dealerships are losing significant volumes of business as a result of deficiencies in the performance of sales staff or shortfalls in sales processes, or both,” said managing director Jeremy Evans.

Nick Reisinger, managing director of Call It Automotive, shares that view. “Our focus is always on supporting dealers, because that is where the problem lies,” he said. Manufacturers have resources, funding, the time to do things well, but dealer resources can be stretched to the point where the customer experience might suffer.”

From experience, Reisinger said, web visitors still seek  reassurance about whether a car is still available, its key features, and what finance they could get. A challenge for dealers trying to do everything themselves is that their showroom staff may be otherwise occupied, whereas dedicated outsourced staff will respond quickly.

Training provider Symco believes the typical response from initial enquiry through email is six hours on average, contrasting with the 60 minutes that a prospect is prepared to wait before going to another website.

“It’s not just a case of responding quickly, but also what is said to engage the customer,” said the company’s founder and managing director, Simon Bowkett.

He thinks part of the problem lies with recruitment and its traditional emphasis on face-to-face skills in the days when “showroom walk-ins” were the norm for initial customer contact.

“Now, of course, it’s how you deal with that contact by phone, email, live chat, and a key part of our training programmes is to set targets not just for results, but also activities.”

For this, Symco provides a video featuring the sales “funnel” process, where a nominal price is attached to the components of a deal – e.g. business lead £15, qualifying £30, demo £60.

“Salespeople should sign agreed goals, not just on units sold, but activities to get there, including email and telephone enquiries. As well as unit conversion, there should be bolt-on sales like paint and fabric protection,” said Bowkett.

Part of Marketing Delivery’s work through its eCRM services is to help dealers track leads and evaluate performance by sales staff.

“With increasing movement of customers between communication channels – phone, email, text, social media – dealers need a presence on each with relevant and up-to-date data.“

In an ‘ideal world’, there would be one-to-one contact between customer and salesperson from the initial enquiry, but in reality the salesperson could be dealing with five to seven new enquiries, “a time-consuming process that quickly builds into a backlog of 60 to 70 outstanding enquiries”, said Evans.

“Dealerships are losing significant volumes of business as a result of deficiencies in the performance of sales staff or shortfalls in sales processes, or both” Jeremy Evans, Marketing Delivery

Automated acknowledgement emails sent in response to enquiries were of limited use and depended on a prompt follow-up – out of working hours, if necessary, preferably with a salesperson’s name.

“The whole exercise should be designed to stop a customer falling off the (enquiry) list,” said Evans.

Email lists also needed periodic updating, especially with impending EU regulations requiring “permission to reply” as part of data protection.

“Some dealers already have this as standard procedure, but with others it can be as low as 20%,” said Evans.

Further evidence of how technology is driving customer expectations comes from Dealerweb, whose clients include Jardine, Ford Retail, Volvo and Infiniti. Earlier this year, results of its survey of 1,000 motorists showed:

■ 49% expect a response to an online enquiry from a dealer within one hour

■ 25% expect a response in under 30 minutes

■ 34% would take their enquiry elsewhere if the dealer didn’t respond in less than four hours

■ 56% of men and 44% of women would be more likely to commit to a purchase if responded to in less than one hour.

Although a sample of 200 dealers reported a 21% year-on-year rise in enquiries in quarter three of this year, when the increase is broken down it perfectly illustrates the decline in walk-in enquiries – while web-generated leads increased by 62%, the increase from walk-ins was a mere 0.6%.

Sales operations director James Hill said the majority of initial online enquiries tend to come through manufacturer or motor classified websites, with social media used more for comment. Like Evans, he said an automatic reply “only fulfils part of the response expectation and there’s nothing worse than a customer thinking ‘what’s happening?’.”

Much depended on sales management leadership, and response standards ranged from poor to very good “with the majority somewhere in between”.

The IT and digital marketing group, CDK Global, believes qualification plays a critical part in the enquiry chain, with contact centres providing the first link.

“These act as a screening process, identifying calls that are unlikely to result in a sales conversion,” said Wallis Lavery, senior product manager – marketing and product management. “It could be an individual, or an organisation, browsing for research purposes or just out of general interest. The screening frees up the salesperson to focus on genuine leads.”

Part of the company’s DMS function is to provide key performance indicators for marketing campaigns, with monitoring from showroom enquiry to test drive and sale.

Lavery points to the cost of generating leads and said that if subsequent sales are not up to par, manufacturers and dealers may be better off focusing on conversions rather than spending more money on another marketing campaign.

Sytner is using technology from video chat provider Vee24 to provide online prospects with a similar customer experience to that they would receive in the dealership.

Visitors to the dealer group’s website are routed to Vee24’s Live Help customer service centre, with options that include ‘live text chat’, ‘live video chat’, or email. It’s available seven days a week between 8am and 10pm, with Sytner reporting that 44% of all enquiries come between 6pm and 10pm.

With live video chat, the service centre agent appears in a window on the website, with co-browsing facilities to enable the agent or the customer to produce information pages in answer to queries. The agent then passes the qualified information to a local dealership within 15 minutes and the dealership is expected to respond within 45 minutes.

Rob Lewis, managing director of Contact Advantage, said it is not that long since manufacturers were “more than happy” if enquiry responses took up to two days and contrasted that with today’s “golden hour”, with contact centres operating seven days a week from 8am to 10pm.

‘Lost’ leads could be attributed to a variety of reasons, but in Contact Advantage’s case it was not unreasonable to reactivate about 30% of them, he said.

However, Lewis sided with the view of those manufacturers who believed efforts were better spent on “refining the customer experience process and learning more about expectations and interactivity”.

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  • Jon Robbins - 17/01/2017 21:58

    When responding within 4 mins with a detailed and professional response, your Enquiry received between 6pm and 10pm will convert within 4.5 days vs 11.5 days over an hour. I created a gestation report with James Hill in DealerWeb and have evidence of this in the Out of Hours role I designed and created. I had 3 sales in one week by taking calls between 7-10pm convert by 11:30am next day. Go fishing where the fishes are!