The success of a company’s sales organization to convert prospects into customers greatly depends on how well they follow up with their inbound leads.
According to an annual Sales Effectiveness Report commissioned by Conversica and conducted by an independent research firm, sales organizations are their own worst enemies when it comes to converting leads.
Success, according to the report, is largely determined using four key elements of lead engagement:
• Promptness – how fast was the response to the sales request?
• Persistence – how many follow-up attempts were made?
• Personalization – how was the conversation personalized and advanced?
• Performance – did the message reach the requestor’s email inbox, or did it land in the promotions or spam folder?
The independent study, tracking inbound lead engagement efforts by more than 1,200 companies across nine major industries, revealed the automotive sales industry performed the highest across two of the 4Ps, with 37% achieving an overall “A.” On the contrary, automotive service was among those that performed poorly across all 4Ps. A full 53% of automotive service companies did not respond at all.
These findings don’t bode well for dealerships looking to expand or hoping to keep pace with new purchasing models.
Allen Samuels Chevrolet Buick GMC, a full-service dealership located in Hearne, TX, which offers both new and used vehicles, trucks and SUVs as well as financing and parts, has a mission to create a lifelong relationship with its customers and their families. However, after the dealership acquired Derek Scott Auto Park, scaling its sales and service business became problematic in delivering and maintaining a stellar customer experience.
The company that prided itself on taking customers not just through the sale but also through the entire ownership of their vehicles now needed to keep up with a new customer base and ensure the Derek Scott customers were as satisfied as the Allen Samuel customers — and received the attention they deserved.
One of the first steps the dealership took was to add a Conversica Automotive Service Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assistant to its team to help service advisors focus on daily appointments and ensure customers were satisfied with their experience.
“Before we integrated Conversica into our service department at our Hearne store, customers were receiving robotic, generic, automated reply emails from within the CRM stating that we had ‘received their request,’” Spring Anderson, BDC manager and internet sales director at the Hearne location as well as the Allen Samuels Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Fiat in Waco, TX, said. “Customers don’t care that we ‘received their request.’ They want answers to their requests. Other times, a generic sales-type reply was sent to a service lead, which was confusing and frustrating to the customers.”
Now, their virtual AI Assistant “Emma” engages website service leads in real time and encourages new car buyers to make their first service appointment. Emma also assesses customer satisfaction and identifies areas for improvement after service appointments. Any lapsed service customers from the Derek Scott dealership are being re-engaged with through the AI Assistant as well.
“When we added Conversica, it created the ‘live person’ element to leads in real time,” Anderson continued. “Leads went from not being answered for hours to having a very specific, personalized message sent to them within minutes. I forward all Conversica notifications we receive to the correct BDC staff to engage in the conversation immediately as we receive replies from the customers to the AI Assistant. When that happens, we know that the customer is actively speaking to “Emma” and is more likely to answer a call or text from us if we act as soon as we receive that notification.
“I’ve instructed my staff at both locations to refer to ‘Emma, Nicki or Becca’ as a real person and to never inform a customer that she is in fact artificial intelligence. We had this issue when I first came on at our Waco store.” Anderson said. “The customers’ faces would drop when a salesman or receptionist told them ‘Nicki isn’t real.’ Until that point, they had believed she was real, and we only made them feel foolish for speaking to a virtual persona. To overcome that, I’ve coached sales staff and reception staff at both locations to always refer to her as our assistant. We also instructed the staff to route those calls to the BDC. If a customer calls us and asks for the AI Assistant by name we simply reply, ‘She is actually my assistant, I can help you!’ It’s been most successful.”
The Need for Lead Engagement
By prioritizing responsiveness and persistence, along with embracing tools that help with lead management and engagement, companies can significantly improve success for inbound lead follow-up.
Streamlining and automating lead responses rapidly increases a sales advantage. Even dealerships with an established and successful track record may still have challenges maintaining a high level of sales against inventory month over month. They find it a challenge to keep up with the volume of potential buyers responding to ads and marketing campaigns week over week before the next batch of potential buyers would stream into the showroom or online.
“In regard to Conversica for sales, I’ve created and implemented through collaboration with Elise Brown at Conversica, lead-specific messaging to more successfully respond to and prospect customers,” Anderson said. “For example, the ‘Buy Back’ messaging I implemented. On an average month at our Waco store, we initiate approximately 800-1000 new buy-back campaigns into our CRM, in addition to our regular online hot leads.
“The BDC staff begins by entering an opportunity, properly coded into the CRM, and attempts contact via phone and then sends a personalized video message. Conversica then takes over the messaging for a period of about two weeks. This program is referenced in one to two short sentence messages and provides our BDC cell phone number so they can call or text for more information. The BDC staff then calls or sends personalized videos intermittently sprinkled over the next five to six months. As we get responses that they are either interested or not interested, we then reply and schedule appraisal appointments, and/or purify our database based on the customers’ answers. On average, we see approximately 30% of these customers buying within three to five months of initiating the campaign.
“We also set up lead-specific messaging through Conversica for our finance application and CarGurus leads,” Anderson said. “The more specific I can drill each lead source down for Conversica, the more helpful we are to the customer and the more successful we are. If we make it easier, they will buy from us and they will buy from us more often. This certainly has been the case for my BDCs at both locations following this process.”
By leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence, dealerships are able to implement the 4P’s and ensure no lead goes untouched and every person was quickly engaged in a highly personalized way while advancing the conversation.