Mark Andrews, director of marketing for Walser Automotive Group, which owns 23 stores in Minnesota and Kansas, says his philosophy is “digital first” when it comes to marketing spend. More specifically, Andrews said, “We let the competition outspend us, and then we win with our database.” Under Andrews’ direction, the company has moved most of its marketing to digital channels, and its data-driven approach has led to a consistent annual increase in sales, despite industry trends.
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Walser Automotive Group is focused on providing the very best customer experience and, to that end, has designed its sales process to be customer centric:
• The company pioneered upfront pricing in the early 2000s, reducing customer anxiety about negotiating
the best deal.
• Walser pays its salespeople (whom it calls “customer specialists”) by the hour rather than on commission,
incentivizing them based on customer satisfaction.
• Walser eliminated the finance manager position at its stores and created a model in which customers work
with the same customer specialist for their entire purchase journey.
• The company created proprietary software that allows it to speed up the process: The average time from
when a customer says, “This is the vehicle I want” to driving off the lot is just around 40 minutes — well
below industry averages.
“The combination of these factors creates a unique customer experience and a different way to buy a car,” Andrews said. “It’s a faster but also a better experience.”
With that said, it’s no secret that automotive sales has changed drastically in the past five years. Where dealers once could depend on customers coming into the store to explore, now the bulk of consumer research takes place online, and they rely heavily on advice from strangers — including Google and Facebook reviews and from third-party sites such as Cars.com. A 2015 Crowdtap study found that 87 percent of auto buyers research potential car purchases on social media prior to making a decision1 .
As a result, Andrews and his team of 10 focus their efforts primarily on targeted email marketing, paid search, display, retargeting and social media advertising. He relies on several key vendor-partners, including Outsell and C-4 Analytics, who are subject-matter experts in their areas.
“We Win with Our Database”
The key to success, Andrews said, is to leverage data to the fullest extent possible. That typically starts with email. Walser utilizes a marketing automation platform designed for automotive dealers for the majority of its stores. The platform draws data from Walser’s CRM and allows Andrews’ team to send dynamic individualized emails to all the customers in its database. Each message contains content and offers based on the customer’s unique buying stage and interests and incorporates OEM content and offers as well. Subsequent messages are triggered based on click-through activity.
This program replaced the generic email blasts the Walser marketing team used to send each month, and is mostly automated, meaning they only need to spend a few hours a month to keep the campaigns running across all stores.
While most dealers use a “shotgun” approach of getting generic info out to as many people as possible, Andrews pointed out that Walser focuses on targeted messages that are relevant to the customer within their purchase lifecycle (not just their vehicle’s lifecycle) and based on their online behavior.
One recurring campaign, called “Shoppers,” consistently results in high engagement in terms of opens and clicks. This campaign is designed to go to consumers who are showing mid-funnel activity, and allows Walser to push them further through the purchasing funnel by adding dynamic, targeted content down to the year, make and model of specific vehicles these consumers are engaging with across the Web.
Walser Honda, for example, has seen open rates above 30 percent and click-through rates above 20 percent for this campaign alone over the past nine months. Walser sees optout rates of less than one percent month after month because of the high relevancy and timeliness of its content.
Walser also has the ability to identify the most likely buyers and proactively reach out to them to touch base. One data point that goes into this analysis is the customer’s equity position — so Walser knows that the customer not only has interest but also the ability to buy.
This buyer detection approach has been proven to help dealers achieve a 400 percent increase in conversion rates for leads more than 90 days old — meaning dealers can revive dead leads with little or no effort. According to Andrews, one Walser dealership reported that in recent weeks it had sold 16 vehicles from a specific buyer detection campaign from dead leads alone. “Because those leads were considered dead, those customers would not have been our radar at all if it were not for buyer detection,” Andrews said. “The value is enormous.”
Walser also has campaigns focused on customer retention. While many dealers assume customers will return for their next car, in reality the average dealership’s retention rate is only 49 percent. Research shows it costs five to 25 times more to obtain new customers than to retain existing ones2 , so it makes sense for dealers to create dedicated retention campaigns.
Evaluating New Technologies:
KPIs are King
Andrews is constantly evaluating new marketing technologies and encourages Walser dealerships to bring him ideas. “We found our marketing automation platform through our Subaru dealership, which was using it as part of an OEM program,” Andrews said. “We were really impressed by the results they were achieving — very high-quality traffic being driven to the Website, high engagement and high attributable sales.”
It was intriguing, Andrews said, because at the time Walser was handling email marketing completely in house. “Outsell provided a tool that enabled us to work our database in a way that I didn’t think was possible. It was the way I would handle email in an ideal world,” he said.
As a result, Andrews decided to pilot the technology in several more stores, ultimately implementing it across 16 dealerships when the KPIs were high.
“We are big on KPIs and analytics — we measure everything,” Andrews said. “We want to ensure that our dealers are getting the very best services out there and the biggest bang for our buck.”
At the end of the day, Andrews and his team want tools that help them sell cars effectively. “We don’t want to spend the most on marketing,” he said. “We want to get the greatest return on our marketing investment.”