“When I started working in auto sales in 2008,” said Chip Alvey, eCommerce director at Oxmoor Auto Group, “we used to get our leads via fax. Can you believe that? A fax.”
My, how things have changed. Ten years later, Oxmoor has retired the fax and now equips its staff with cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence to ensure they acquire the best leads and are presenting their consumers with timely and relevant information.
Oxmoor Auto Group owns and operates five rooftops in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. For years, the company relied on newspaper and TV ads. Now, Alvey said, “That kind of marketing is just like standing on the street yelling really loud and hoping that someone going by is looking for a car.”
The old marketing model was newspaper and TV ads all month and, if by the third week you hadn’t sold enough cars, you did a mailer to try to get people into the showroom. “We still see dealers working under that model,” Alvey said, “and they will be out of business because of it. The customer journey is changing. We can be part of that new journey with the customer and help them along the path, or we can get left behind.”
Alvey cites Uber in New York City as an example. “Politicians and the taxi companies were against Uber and fought vigorously against it,” he said, “but consumers really wanted it. They helped drive Uber right into New York, over the objections of all the politicians and lobbyists. In the same way, consumers are driving dealers to do a better job marketing.”
Alvey believes that time is the most critical factor in car sales today. “They want a fast, easy process,” he said. “When you look at consumer surveys on car purchases, often the difference between good and bad experiences is time.”
He estimates that 95 percent of people are online before they ever walk in the store. By the time they walk in, he said, they’ve already done 16 to 18 hours of research. They may know more about the car they’re interested in than your own salespeople. “We used to describe customers as either ‘Internet customers’ or ‘walk-ins,’” Alvey said. “Now they are all Internet customers. There’s no distinction anymore.”
That’s why Alvey’s focus is to make the customer journey more efficient, less time consuming and less aggravating. “My main objective with digital marketing is to get people to the website,” he said, “and the main objective of the website is to get them to come into the store.”
Approximately 55 to 60 percent of that website traffic is mobile, so Oxmoor has designed its websites to be “mobile first” to ensure a great customer experience. Its email templates are also designed with that approach. The templates contain OEM info, but also have localized content and, importantly, videos.
Oxmoor uses the Outsell AI-driven marketing automation platform for digital marketing, which automates most of its individualized communications and leverages artificial intelligence to detect when a buyer is in market. It then notifies Oxmoor BDC reps, giving them an opportunity to softly reach out to the customer to see how they can help.
Alvey reports, “for all stores within the last six months, we can attribute to our Outsell partnership 61 linked vehicle sales and 152 ROs from unsold leads. The Outsell platform also identifies on average, 150 in-market consumers per store that I in turn target via social ad campaigns monthly. In addition to that, Outsell consistently ranks in the top two in terms of non-search (paid and organic) of our website traffic.”
Alvey also says one of the main benefits of this AI-driven communications is its ability to mine Oxmoor’s existing customer database. “The customer database is one of the most overlooked resources that a dealership has,” Alvey said. “The database contains details not just on people who have purchased cars, but also people who have done test drives, or come in for service, or came in and looked but didn’t buy.” All of those people should be considered prospects, Alvey said. Outsell can detect when they are back in market. “Those buyer detection reports are one of the best tools we have for our BDCs,” he said. “Our team knows those will be good leads.”
Oxmoor enables customers to purchase a car completely online if they wish, without ever visiting the showroom. Alvey reports that, each month, the number of customers who buy this way grows. “People are getting more comfortable with the idea,” he said.
One thing Alvey finds surprising in a world where most people seem to prefer texting and email is that, when Oxmoor reaches out to a customer or prospect via any channel, the most common way they respond is by calling the dealership. “We email them, we chat with them, we text them — and 40 to 45 percent of the time, they pick up the phone and call us,” Alvey said. “Email is the least frequent way they respond. I think it’s because they read our messages on their phones, and just hit the ‘call’ button to speed up the process.” About 20 percent respond via chat or text, and only 10 percent email back for more info.
As a result of all his success with digital marketing, about six years ago Alvey significantly reduced their newspaper advertising and then, in 2017, significantly cut TV. Instead, Oxmoor is moving its money into email, chat, social media and video creation. The company shoots about two videos per week, per store, and shares them via email and the website along with Facebook and Instagram. “Facebook allows us to really measure our engagement — something we never got with TV,” Alvey said. “We get about 50,000 views a month for our videos — very high engagement — and the Facebook and Instagram videos drive a high volume of traffic to our website.”
What has Alvey learned on his journey from the fax machine to artificial intelligence?
“Giving your BDCs great tools makes a huge difference in terms of recruiting and keeping the best people,” Alvey said. He’s also set up their compensation plans so they are incentivized to get people to the store, rather than on actual sales of automobiles — something that is out of their control. He recommends having the BDCs sit within the store, rather than in a central location (for companies with multiple rooftops). “They need to be close to the sales floor,” he said.
Alvey also recommends that dealers give a new marketing technique six months before giving up. “I see a lot of dealers give up on something new after a month,” he said. “We commit to at least six months. Right from the get go, we’re measuring results and tweaking things to get better at it. It took us about six months to refine our video strategy, and now our videos drive significant traffic to our website and stores. If we had given up one month in, we would have really missed out on a great tool.”
Alvey said the No. 1 mistake he sees dealers make when it comes to marketing is to rely solely on the OEM to give them guidance. “The OEM has a different goal than you,” he said. “They want the consumer to go to the closest dealer; you want consumers to go to you.” In that same vein, he says dealers should not blindly use the tools that their OEM recommends. “Use the tools that work,” he said. “Try them for yourself.”
He also believes dealers don’t measure their marketing well enough. “At Oxmoor, we track every lead through every journey,” he said. “That’s what allows us to change things quickly when they aren’t working.” Years ago, he recalls, if a store hadn’t made its monthly quota, the general managers would quickly blame marketing. Now, Alvey has the data to prove that the leads are there. He can also identify trends early on in the month and change course as needed to ensure each store reaches their goal each month, so there are no end-of-month surprises.
“I like to experiment and try new things, but I’m also wary of fads,” Alvey said. “Creating dealer apps — that was a fad, and one I’m glad we skipped. I’ve learned that it’s often the small startups who are doing something really interesting and innovative, and now I gravitate to those vendors. I’ve given up on finding one tool that can do everything; it doesn’t exist. Now, I look for specialized tools that are really strong in a particular area. The little companies that are finding a source of friction in the sales process and removing it.”