By Scott Pechstein, VP of National Sales for Autobytel Inc
I started my career in car sales working for a busy Southern California dealership. I learned plenty during my time on the lot, but one thing that stands out above all others is just how important relationship building is in our industry. Buying a car is the second-largest purchase consumers make next to buying a house, and with that comes a deep level of engagement required to move a person from consideration to sale.
Even though the Internet has transformed our business in a variety of positive ways, building personal relationships has never been more difficult. The average number of showroom visits are down while the total number of Websites consumers visit during the automotive research process — and the time they spend online — continues to grow.
Probably the biggest impetus to building relationships today is a general hesitancy for consumers to submit their personal information. Through the years, abandonment has been a common problem for dealers trying to generate leads, and probably the biggest misunderstanding when it comes to lead abandonment is that the customer simply isn’t ready to buy.
However, when you consider the fact that consumers now spend an average of 17 hours online visiting dozens of Websites to research their next vehicle purchase, chances are if they begin to submit their lead, they’re serious about finding the right vehicle and they’re ready to buy — they just haven’t finished shopping yet.
Lead abandonment isn’t a roadblock; it’s a fork in the road. Your job is to guide consumers in the right direction — which is straight to your showroom.
But how do you build personal connections when the online research and shopping process has become generally impersonal? How do you mirror the consultative showroom experience online? And what can you do to deepen engagements, to get more people onto your lots and into your cars? Technology, which has enabled consumers to do much of their shopping online and less shopping in your store, is actually the key to solving the problem.
Start by implementing paid search technology that engages consumers in the midst of lead form abandonment to drive make, model and geo-specific traffic straight to your Website. Even though the customer hasn’t entered her contact information, knowing exactly which make and model she has indicated she wants — backed by data about her geographic location — is exactly the quality traffic you need at your Website.
Next, turn your Website into a highly converting virtual showroom. Beyond the basics (showcasing your inventory in the best light, offering compelling content, and even more compelling reasons why your dealership is the only dealership they need), be sure to provide shopping tools that turn Website visits into showroom visits.
Texting is a preferred method of communication, so feature text calls-to-action at your site and in your marketing materials, backed by a text lead management system that monitors conversations, tracks leads and assists with legal compliance. You can even text-enable your existing landline phone numbers.
Implement next-generation video chat so you can co-browse your Website with your visitors, which is about the closest you can get to digitally replicating the walk-on-the-lot experience.
Be sure to offer services for those personal info-wary consumers, such as a shop-by-payment tool that does not require a social security number or date of birth. Qualifying consumers for cars in your inventory, with a mere soft credit pull, is one heck of a conversion tool.
And, like a safety on the football field, use instant retargeting technology featuring compelling offers to capture consumer interest once again, in the off chance that they leave your site or your lead form, to engage them back into the lead submission process and ultimately, into your store.
Finally, studies show that about 61 percent of buyers today make their very first contact with your dealership when they walk on your lot. Approximately 39 percent pick up the phone, start a chat, send a text or submit a lead before they buy a vehicle from you. You may never get a lead form, but the tools and information you provide on your Website can lead to that first contact in the form of a dealership visit.
The bottom line? Use technology to optimize your Website and convert consumers into walk-in buyers.