Reduced Sales in the Auto Industry Requires New Responsibilities For Automotive Advertising Agencies

The role of the automotive advertising agency in today’s consolidating auto industry must change to accommodate the needs of the auto dealers that they serve. Reduced sales volume and profits have forced auto dealers to reduce their automotive advertising budgets and sales staff. As a direct result, automotive advertising agencies are being challenged to deliver more for less and reduced budgets and floor traffic suggest that they must increase their areas of responsibility to justify their agency fees or risk losing accounts. More importantly, they must learn the auto industry from the auto dealer’s perspective if they expect to be able to contribute in any meaningful manner.

Assuming that we all work our pay plans to maximize our own ROI in our chosen careers in the automotive advertising industry, I thought I would share some best practices regarding an auto dealership’s Internet sales processes with my fellow automotive advertising professionals to help them better serve their auto dealer clients. Not all of the situations I discuss will apply to every auto dealership so take note of ones that do and save the others for future reference in case they surface in some other form. I will cover common issues that are part of human nature. After all, the key to success in the car business is in the people – not in the franchise or facility – so most problems start and finish with people.

The Internet Department — From The Dealer’s Perspective

As a former new car dealer and current consultant on dealer operations and marketing I am constantly amazed by the disconnect between dealers and their key personnel. I liken the miscommunication of their common goals — to sell more cars/service and make more money — to that of a long marriage. Courting equates to the interview and the first few months are like an extended honeymoon. Once the excitement wears off it is a lot of work to remember why you got married in the first place; but worth the effort!

Dealers are people too! They often indulge their emotions in the hiring process based on the fact that they need help more than the applicants need the job! Great interviews get an applicant the job with the dealer’s hope and desire to solve a problem – not make a friend. Their business needs eventually outweigh their emotions and words like bottom line profits, accountability and the latest buzz words — verifiable R.O.I. — take over. Dealers should always have job descriptions and areas of responsibility along with supported compensation plans based on individual and department guidelines and objectives. Unfortunately, not many auto dealers have those today and few automotive advertising agencies are prepared to provide them.

Today’s market losses have forced dealers to make difficult decisions that should have been made before a position was even considered. The survival of the fittest must apply! It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it and the Dealer must base his decisions on performance and individually contributed profits or we will all suffer the consequences! That observed deficiency is a perfect opportunity for a forward thinking and prepared automotive advertising agency to earn their fees when direct sales won’t support them by passing on the observed need to their auto dealer clients while providing them proven processes to satisfy them.

Re-defining the role of the Internet Sales Manager, (ISM), at the Dealership – Customer Communication Center, (C.C.C.) vs. Business Development Center, (B.D.C.)

The A, B, C’s of the car business — Always Be Closing — go beyond the showroom floor and apply to the ISM as well as their staff. The key to the close, however, is to know the answer before you ask the question, or at least provide a limited response that you can control!

Based on your new found knowledge and understanding of the dealer’s requirements of their ISM, I suggest that you ask the hard questions before your dealer client does! The more you and the ISM are involved in the selling process in both vehicle sales and fixed operations the more productive and profitable you will be. The more accountable and verifiable your R.O.I. to the dealer the more secure your income and the account. Sell yourself and the added value that you bring to his Internet department to your dealer with the leverage of verifiable performance in a clearly defined position on the team beyond what most dealers envisioned from their automotive advertising agency and be paid accordingly.

I propose that you literally have the tail wag the dog, so to speak, by suggesting that the Internet Department become more than a lead generator with limited selling responsibilities. All communications, before, during and after the sale can, should and soon will be handled over the internet and/or on the dealership’s website which should now be part of your shared area of responsibility with the ISM.

Currently, Business Development Centers, or B.D.C’s., coordinate selling opportunities developed on the telephone, showroom floor, service drive, data base marketing and in many cases the Internet. They rely on linked technology like telephony systems, vendors, such as Whos Calling, and onsite data base management systems, (DMS), such as ADP or Reynolds and Reynolds and customer retention management systems, (CRM), like Higher Gear or DealerUps, that are all now available on the internet.

Who is better prepared to coordinate communications and even transactions on the Internet than the Internet Manager supported by an involved and educated advertising agency? Who has the best understanding of computers, software and integrated links to access and apply information directed to the contacts sourced from the auto dealer’s automotive advertising investments? It better be you!

Customer Communication Centers, or C.C.C’s. provide a more integrated and accessible central point of contact at the dealership for their customers in both their brick and mortar dealership and their online virtual showroom. All customer contacts for sales, service/parts and office should be channeled to one location from all sources including telephone, email, mail, internal DMS and CRM, Internet — you name it! The cross-sell opportunities between sales and service/parts by having one contact person suggesting shared opportunities is obvious but unlikely if they are handled by two different people or departments! Less obvious opportunities like customer complaints and key vendor communications provide the ability to turn a problem into a solution but only if channeled properly.

The Internet is hosting telephone, DMS and communications through webinars and emails so take charge and credit with the dealer. Re-define your role at the dealership by increasing your areas of responsibility!

Integrating the Internet into the selling process — Sales and Fixed Operations

Most dealers have been traumatized by software solutions they are still paying for and never used. Usually they require secondary input, are redundant with other more integrated systems to the selling process or just lack real world applications to their deal flow — which is driven by human nature on all levels. Inspect what you expect coupled with standards like you can’t manage what you can’t measure can be applied to support your close for enhanced opportunities for you, his staff and your dealer.

Place the Internet C.C.C. squarely in the middle of all selling processes. Of course be careful what you ask for since an astute dealer will, and should, hold you accountable. No pain, no gain — so go for it!

As admitted, the devil is in the details, and there is no standard application to apply to all situations. Deciding what to do and what to delegate, and how to best integrate with the auto dealer’s current systems to minimize disruption, is the key. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water but expecting different results from the same action is a good definition of insanity.

The auto dealer’s sales staff and service writers hate you — join the team!

The automotive advertising agency has always been perceived by the auto dealer’s staff as an outsider and the ISM has only recently earned the respect that he deserves by the old car guys who may still be fighting the shift to the World Wide Web. The Internet Geek of the old days has matured into a key manager in most dealerships and the trend is growing! You can’t possibly expect to cross train on all aspects of operations — but you should try! Evaluate the current communications, customer and deal flow and create a business pro forma in concert with the ISM and the other department managers to develop a profit and increased R.O.I. for all involved and you will earn your position on the team.

Inter-department squabbles in the car business will always exist but your new position on the team — if introduced correctly — will transcend individual motives to resist your efforts to improve everyone’s bottom line. Taking on the burden of helping the ISM and his team to make appointments and providing centralized communications — both internally and externally to the dealership — will free everyone else up to sell more cars, service and parts!

Real time paperless reports available online — or in the DMS/CRM — will provide the department managers with the information and tools they need to do their jobs. Your complimentary secretarial services, automated and managed follow up systems to recapture lost sales opportunities coupled with your shared goal to increase appointments, sales and customer satisfaction is not a threat but a blessing!

Establishing goals, accountability — getting paid on the bottom line

Most automotive advertising agencies and ISMs are involved in search engine optimization plans, (S.E.O.), and search engine marketing plans, (SEM), with applications on their website that track leads, conversions and R.O.I. — or they should be! Your goal should start with continuing your efforts to increase traffic to your auto dealer’s website rather than the telephone. It represents the most sophisticated tracking software available; now and for the foreseeable future. Your ability to track results is where your accountability part gets covered!

Sales goals theoretically start with the dealer’s market share responsibility for the manufacturer, (M.S.R.), but fixed and semi-variable expenses quickly establish more pressing goals. Covering the Nut is a street level goal which must be met or none of the others matter. Have the dealer provide you with what he expects — or needs — and that should become your common goal!

An example of a realistic goal for an auto dealership should be 4-5 generated appointments per day per person; selling one. This represents 120 + appointments each month, 80 +/- that show up and an additional 20 units per person per month based on a 25% closing ratio.

Include areas that you and the ISM can directly impact and monitor like new and used vehicle sales — units and gross profit, sales and service appointments, customer satisfaction scores and all monthly sales or performance goals. Define the areas of responsibility that you will handle and decide on which ones you will delegate. Compute the budget, staff and facility you will need, online and in concert with your conventional advertising and community networking proposals, to develop the traffic required to achieve the sales and performance goals the dealer has established.

Use industry guidelines as far as closing ratios and conversion ratios specific to the auto dealer’s franchise, size of market, staff, inventory and facility to “back into” your sales vs. traffic needs. Resource local media statistics, like cost per point, C.P.P., to determine the most cost effective media to dominate within your budget focused on the Internet customer and then dominate it.

On broadcast, for example, a 5 plus frequency and a 50% reach coupled with consistent and coordinated dealer specific brand-tail messages, (branding and retail), over a ninety day period with creative directed to your dealer’s web site as well as a monitored 800 number will absolutely drive traffic.

Of course expenses must be considered based on line item percentage guidelines vs. other expenses to preserve profits. Another common budget tool is to establish a per unit cap based on experienced expenses per unit which range from $250-$500 per car but it can double in certain markets. Pick a basis for your budget, any basis, and stick with it!

Monitor shifts within budget based on results and R.O.I. per investment but never increase the budget without a proper risk to reward consideration and an acceptable projected R.O.I. The days of guessing are over; so be right!

Do all of the above, design an agency fee tied to specific performance under your control and you will have deserved a bonus tied to the total dealership bottom line because you have contributed to it. More importantly, as a valued member of the team your agency relationship with your auto dealer clients and their staff will survive today’s downturn in the economy and the auto industry with its reduced conventional advertising budgets.

Automotive Scan Tools and the Modern Car

Thanks to the increasing complexity of modern automobiles over the past few years, most professional auto shops and garages now require a selection of automotive scan tools with which to carry out day to day diagnostic work in order to pinpoint any problems with an engine or engine management system in order to discover what action is needed in order to effect a repair with the minimum of error and maximum efficiency.

There are a variety of different tools available to carry out diagnostics and scans on different types of car and to prepare to repair as effectively as possible. Knowing in detail what issues are causing a car engine to behave in a particular manner is the key to being able to correct the fault in a timely and effective manner.

Perhaps the best known manufacturer of automotive scan tools is OTC, who make a range of tools designed for the highest quality and best price. A comprehensive range is available to enable mechanics to be able to tackle any job they come across, and the range of OTC automotive scan tools is recognized as one of the top choices for the professional, as well as being affordable enough for domestic use under certain circumstances.

Different jobs require different tools, and some are more complex than others. Typically, any job to repair a modern car begins with plugging the scanner into the engine management computer and downloading a log of current performance date. This will include fuel consumption, and time since the last service. It will give the mechanic a complete overview of how the engine is operating, and where there might be errors occurring. The scan will show the mechanic examining the engine whether there are any problems with the fuel supply, the electronics, the air filters, and the running temperature, it will also provide plenty of insight into whether any problems are related to an issue within the engine itself, or indeed within the way the management system has been set up.

A complete diagnostic of a car’s engine management computer system will typically offer an almost immediate list of the performance details for the vehicle, and a good automotive scan tool will shave hours off an otherwise lengthy repair task, as the mechanic will be able to tell almost immediately what is wrong, and what needs to be done in order to repair the damage.

Of course, technology only works well in the hands of those who understand it, and are able to sift through the data provided through a scan and interpret it correctly. However, the latest OTC automotive scan tools have been designed to be almost fool proof, and are able to draw on the experience and insight of hundreds of different programmers and mechanic’s personal records in order to provide a more accurate overview of the data and even present possible solutions to many of the most common problems that a mechanic might encounter.

While some manufacturers release their own range of tools, that are aimed at main dealers, a commercial mechanic may deal with many different models and manufacturers in their day to day role, and this is why it is often an idea to purchase OTC automotive scan tools, as they will be compatible with a range of different vehicles from different international makers, and therefore offer greater flexibility without having to compromise on quality or pay repeatedly for scanners for every single car that is on the market.

While commercial level automotive scan tools are expensive to install and themselves require regular system updates that carry the latest settings for every new vehicle released, they pay for themselves almost immediately thanks to the time that they are able to save, and the fact that without them, even the most experienced mechanic would struggle to discover the inner workings of the latest car engines, which have been designed to be efficient, and robust, but are increasingly too complex for anyone but the experts to consider carrying out any work on.

Essential Internet Marketing Tools for Automotive Businesses

Marketing goods and services on Internet can be one of the cheapest and efficient ways to promote businesses. Hence, it can be the best medium for local businesses such as auto dealerships to market their business. Traditional marketing methods (like TV’s, Radio’s and papers), make it difficult for automotive dealers to tell each and every individual about their existence, and then educate them about the various models, designs, brands and services they offer. Internet on the other hand helps auto dealers to share information about their products and services.

Essential Internet marketing services
Knowing that Internet is one of the popular marketing tools available for auto dealers, many of them think that visitors or potential consumers will simply come once they put up a website. But the truth is that you need to use proper marketing services to make your website effective to bring in quality leads which eventually turn into sales.

Let us know in detail about the various Internet marketing methods, which are found to be beneficial for automotive dealers.

Interactive web design: One of the important things you need to have as part of successful Internet marketing strategy is an interactive website. It means that your website should be appealing, eye-catching, fast loading and user-friendly, which makes it easy for the customer to navigate through your website. An automotive business website should specifically concentrate on providing interesting product catalog features with required amount of graphics to highlight the various unique features of different models of automobiles. Besides this, make sure that your website also offers easy to use e-commerce tools such as shopping carts, which enables customers to pay for products and services easily.

Site submission: After your website is fully loaded with all the required promotional features, you need to submit your website to the major search engines. Site submission helps your website to come up whenever a potential customer searches for the products or services you offer. Right submission tools will enable your website appear in the search engines, Internet directories etc.

SEO: It is not enough to have an online presence; the target customers should feel your online presence. You need to optimize your website in such a way that it gets listed in the first few results whenever the customer is looking for particular model, brand or unique feature that you offer. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a vital tool that makes it possible. When your website comes first in the results page, it will influence the customer look in to your website for the product he wants.

LSS
Local Search Submissions (LSS) are very helpful for local auto business as they precisely target the local and search terms. Major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing are displaying them as part of their organic search results. In recent times, Google especially is giving more preference to local listings. The conversion rate using this tool is often higher than others as the potential customer will be more interested in the auto dealer in his area.

PPC: Pay per click feature is very useful in increasing the traffic for your website. This method enables you to place your website in the ‘sponsored listings’ of search results on Internet. If any of the reader watches your ad, finds it interesting and clicks on it, then he/she will be diverted to your website. For this, you need to pay some amount for every click.

Display advertising: Display advertising is a major tool which helps in increasing the visibility of your dealership online. This method, your ads appear on various web pages and browsers to reach the relevant audience. Your ads may be in the form of web banners and posters which may contain static or animated images of vehicles, along with audio or visual elements. This is an attractive and efficient way of catching the attention of customers.

Advantages
Unlike traditional media, Internet marketing is always on. Shoppers can visit your website anytime and from anywhere to check what you have to offer. It’s like 24 hours-a-day and 7 days-a-week marketing.

Cost effective: Huge amount of information about all the varieties of automobiles and their particular features, along with the services you provide to the customers can be made available on the Internet using above tools at a very cheaper price.

Better ROI: Probably, this is the only marketing strategy which makes use of limited investment, but offers quick and better return on investment. It is also a best strategy which is highly predictable, which enables you to assess the success of your strategy in the initial stages only and then modify it accordingly to avoid losses.

As the Internet user population is growing day by day, it is very wise for automobile business owners to opt for Internet marketing strategies. These are cost effective and they also minimize the effort and time required to generate sales.