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IT in focus: Effective marketing online

The dealer management system is out of the box and hooked up to the internet. The website is up and running. So how do you transform internet advertising investment into vehicle sales?

The demographic profile of customers looking for new and used cars online, either as part of the research process or to buy, is widening. And with the advent of broadband, the speed of the internet has accelerated, which means buyers can do more research in less time.

Research in America found that almost half of internet shoppers were aged over 60 in 2004, while around 35% of shoppers were female. Some 80% of car buyers were influenced in their choice of make and model by information they found online, while 22% were influenced in their selection of dealer. The UK is following that trend.

Most consumers’ first port of call is a third party website, such as Auto Trader or eBay, while a large proportion head for the manufacturer site. Less than 10% go to the dealer website first, but nearly all buyers will take a look during the research process. The majority of consumers will visit the dealership or buy a car immediately after using the internet.

With online advertising, the more you tell, the more you sell. To attract customers to the showroom, dealers must ensure their website includes pricing, branding, multiple photos, descriptions and a full, up-to-date inventory. The ability to compare two or more models is also a benefit.

To hook the right customer, price all vehicles that are listed online and make sure they are competitive. Regularly check the accuracy of the pricing – it needs to agree with the prices in the showroom. And remember that adverts with prices generate up to one-third more enquiries than those without.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Images are crucial, both interior and exterior photos. Tell the whole story by including dents and scratches and the quality and volume of traffic will increase. Good pictures show clean vehicles, several angles, close ups and are taken in good weather – take a look at how estate agents present photos on their websites.

Descriptions should be thorough, highlighting special features, included options, extended warranties, key selling points such as low mileage and maintenance records. Customers need a reason to visit the dealership, so include internet offers and incentives to get them through the doors. Almost half of consumers buy a different car to the one they were researching online.

According to Ralph Ebersole, director of training at the American-based Cars.com, it’s not just about the cars – you want customers to remember your dealership.

“Bringing the brand alive involves using the logo at every opportunity, promoting opening hours and staff, highlighting your success and the value you bring to customers,” he says. “And don’t forget to include your address and location map.”

Although an effective market tool, online advertising does not replace the sales process and it is vital to implement showroom processes to close the sale. The dealer management system can help to measure the success of these processes, in particular tracking telephone leads.

“Having a formal response process to support phone leads is one of the most important strategies a dealership can have. Consumers who make contact by phone are twice as likely to purchase a car as their next step than those who use email,” says Ebersole.

It is possible to track the volume of leads via the internet by putting a unique number on the website.

The internet is not just about car sales. Over the past year, the number of service bookings made by company car drivers online has increased tenfold, but it still only accounts for 5% of aftersales business. Technology specialist Epyx claims more drivers want to book service and repairs into the dealer’s diary online, but that many dealers do not offer the facility.

“We believe this will change over the next few years as dealers and manufacturers recognize the benefits in terms of reduced administration and higher standards of customer service,” says Epyx head of business development Ken Trinder.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Portfolio increases Gordon Lamb’s success

Gordon Lamb is changing the way it looks at creating sales leads following the success of its internet marketing, which now accounts for 40% of sales.

Paul Garfoot, sales manager at the group’s Toyota site in Sheffield, was the spark behind the scheme. He brought in retail marketing specialist Portfolio Europe’s E-Business Centre in January, which changed the way vehicles were marketed online.

“Before Portfolio, we were a young site with a constant level of website sales enquiries that we perceived to be good rather than outstanding,” says Garfoot.

Many retailers underestimate the amount of time that website customers spend researching their potential purchase over the internet, comparing stock across a large number of competing retailers, according to Jon Parrott, Portfolio’s account director for Toyota.

“This consumer, armed with the knowledge of what car he wants and what he’s prepared to pay, will be much further along the decision making process. We not only needed to pursue showroom and internet enquiries with equal vigour, but also look at how we presented our stock online to ensure our virtual forecourt was comparable to the one right outside the showroom,” says Parrott.

Portfolio’s E-Business Centre system ensures the dealership has a back office platform to coordinate its vehicle management and sales operations. The E-Business Centre facilitates a number of key functions including: five point vehicle ‘history’ check, uploading of vehicle data and images, a stock locator and management reports.

“In January and February this year, almost half our sales were converted directly from web enquiries, which is testimony to Portfolio’s E-Business Centre and its ability to market our stock accurately and quickly,” says Garfoot.

Email best practise

  • Respond to every lead within 10-15 minutes
  • Use a proactive close to your message and let the customer know you will be following up with them, including how you will follow up
  • Follow up with a phone call within one hour of your first email response
  • Proof read – ensure no errors or misspellings in email messages
  • Use a signature file and include name, title, dealership, phone number and email

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