Sure, you'd rather be able to feed your sales team hot leads of ready-to-buy consumers; people who want appointments for that very afternoon. That's an understandable, even good, strategy. But what about online window shoppers? How do you make the most of "lukewarm" online leads to seed future sales?
The immediacy of the internet means it's easier than ever to find people close to a purchase, since consumers often have similar goals: find what they want and buy right away. Or, in the case of shopping for cars, get as close to the actual transaction as possible while online.
Of course, there are some buyers who know what they want and if you don't have it, they won't be back. That's fine; that's out of your hands. But many names that end up in your email inbox are attached to consumers who are still undecided, or have only fuzzy ideas of what they want. Others simply care more about the quality of the buying experience and the relationship with the dealer than they do about specific options. These are the people I would put into the "lukewarm" category. Don't fret. A little patience, consistency and common sense can help you dial up the heat and turn those leads into sales… even if it's down the road a bit.
Take advantage of your website to establish trust from the first visit. Include a tool that enables consumers to compare your makes and models with those of your competitors. Think Progressive Auto Insurance. Its entire brand is positioned around creating trust with consumers by offering side-by-side comparisons with the company's own competitors.
Along the same lines, include some comparison pricing. List the MSRP, the invoice and prices from other third-party sources -- like the Kelley Blue Book's New Car Blue Book values -- to make the buyer's research a little easier, and to showcase your deals without screaming your deals.
Take it one step further by eliminating rebates and other incentive offers; instead, simply present your best price up front. A new AlixPartners survey reveals that auto buyers are no longer willing to settle for anything less than honest and consistent pricing, and that they're losing patience with sorting through rebates and other offers to decipher the actual price of a vehicle. The easier and more straightforward you make the process, the more trust you'll earn.
Every dealer knows how important email has become. When you're trying to woo lukewarm buyers, there's probably nothing more effective than an email campaign that keeps people excited about your product and engaged with your dealership.
There are plenty of email marketing experts who can tell you how to design an effective campaign, and I'm not one of them. But while I haven't studied how to write a winning subject line or how to stay within CAN-SPAM regulations, I do know a few things about buyers that translate into some helpful hints.
- They want information and education. They don't want to know about every sale and incentive your dealership is promoting. This is not a place for general messages; target your information to the makes and models in which each particular buyer has explicitly expressed interest.
- They'll remember something out of the ordinary. While your email schedule should be consistent -- every other Friday, as one example -- your content can catch them off guard. Send a piece of industry news: a new survey on buying trends, perhaps, or send helpful hints on increasing gas mileage. If the majority of communication from your dealership is educational, helpful and interesting, you'll become a trusted resource.
- They want control. Ask buyers to opt-in to receive regular email contact, instead of automatically including them and then giving them a chance to opt-out. Don't assume that when buyers submit email addresses for price quotes that they want anything other than the price quote. But also don't assume that they don't. If the buyer is unresponsive to your follow-up emails and / or phone calls, offer your thanks for the inquiry, and offer to stay in periodic contact. Give a brief description of the type of content you would provide, and invite the potential customer to opt-in. Anyone who does so becomes a valuable prospect: this person has proactively invited you into his email inbox, and you've already scored some points by not assuming that he wants you there.
The car has become a commodity. And there's plenty of product data available online to satisfy even the most particular of shoppers. But buyers still conduct their transactions with dealers, and the dealerships that go beyond product to establish trust and build relationships will turn those lukewarm leads into loyal customers.
Scott Painter is CEO of Zag, Inc. .