Stroke of Genius

by: Joe Webb

I often write of the importance for Internet sales managers to separate themselves from the common salespeople on the dealer floor. To focus on professionalism, profit, and process opposed to the bad habits and behavior of the old school veterans hanging around the showroom griping. If you want your Internet department to flourish, you must become what your sales staff hates most. You must become a shopper.

Mystery shopping yourself and other dealers keeps you abreast of market trends and local pricing strategies. It helps evaluate personnel and better your own department. It shouldn’t be considered a dirty tactic or carry with it a negative connotation. Notice that management embraces mystery shopping yet the sales staff abhors it. Realize who’s under the microscope, for good reason. Far too often, sales managers hear lame excuses from their staff on why their customers didn’t buy or generalizations and shameful stereotypes of a customer’s buying motives.

They label their customers with words like “tire kicker, “ “mooch,” “Larry Doyle (lay down),” and the most overused moniker, “stroke.” If you haven’t worked in a dealer, these quick judgments must seem reprehensible and you would be right. However, I believe an occasional mystery shopper (read: stroke) can be a benefit to a dealer and its staff. Essentially, it’s practice. It keeps them on their toes and stresses accountability.

There is a reason companies hold trainings offering the best practices in our industry. What works for some others might work for you as well. The only way to know what works is to shop your competitors. See what they are doing different from you and what practices of theirs you can adopt. Now shop yourself. Who is better? What can be improved? Mystery shopping can be extremely informative and profitable if done consistently.

First call into both your store and neighboring dealers. Who is handling the calls? Is it a salesperson or maybe a manager? Does a cashier answer first or a BDC call center? If you reach a strong BDC rep, you probably cannot tell the difference. (That is good.) Check to see:

Did you get all of your questions answered?
Did they set the appointment?
Did they gather all of your contact info?

There is a reason dealerships mystery shop themselves in the 20 group meetings. It is their report card.

Next, e-mail. Go to Yahoo or Hotmail and set up a fake account. Use a different name. (This part is fun.) How creative can you be when making up the name? It should sound real, but not perfect. John Smith or Jim Johnson is not interesting or creative or any fun to invent. Hold yourself to a higher standard. I have a few favorites over the years, but I love creating a new one each time I mystery shop.

Don’t go to a dealer’s web site. Some dealers, unfortunately, only answer those leads coming in organically through their own web site. Instead, use a source that allows you to pick a few dealers to request quotes from. Please don’t choose a site like Edmunds or KBB where a dealer will get dinged $20 for the worthless lead. Use the sites that already charge their dealers a monthly fee. This way it only has the most minimal effect on one’s closing ratio, but no effect on their ROI. After all, no one likes being “stroked,” but it is necessary to see where you stand in your market and how you can improve your processes for the good of the store.

Find out:
Who responds the quickest?
Are they simply auto responders or a personalized message?
Did they offer pricing immediately and where does it stand in relation to your price points?
Did you receive a call? Even if you asked for “e-mail only”?
What type of information did they provide?
What word tracks are more likely to elicit a favorable response from you?

Once you have done this, you will learn:
How you feel inbound calls should be answered and by whom.
What follow up efforts are being made?
Whether the dealers were accommodating to your desired method of vehicle shopping, or if you were simply added onto a process.
Most importantly, who you would buy from.

If you do not have the time to do this yourself or do not feel you can be unbiased, there are even companies that provide this service for dealers such as Evaluation Inc. and Shoppers Critique. Lisa Keller, managing partner for Evaluation Inc., says through mystery shopping, her company “…provides actionable information that gives dealers a competitive advantage by continuously monitoring and holding accountable the processes, people, and, more importantly, technology each dealer uses.”

Now take this newfound knowledge and implement it. Put the right people in charge. If someone shouldn’t be handling the phones, don’t let them. If they make an uproar or a mutiny on the floor develops, provide/demand training before they have the privilege of handling inbound phone calls. The same should hold true for Internet personnel. Detail what changes must be made, demand improvement, and hold them accountable.

Last week, I interviewed a candidate for sales who stated, while filling out the application, that he didn’t want to deal with Internet customers. He didn’t like the way they came in with information and, in some cases, pricing. Our sales manager, Art Blaese, found it only fitting that I, the business development/Internet sales manager, interview him first. Sadly, the candidate was not the right fit at our dealership. However, he had just come from a competitor who put him through a 30-day training course that included the mystery e-shopping of other local dealers (including myself). Apparently, all trainees were told to gather pricing information and present their findings to the general sales manager. They would then take the lowest price received on each model, turn around, and begin offering pricing $200 better than their lowest competitor. While I don’t agree with their pricing strategy, I do see the value of a sales staff that understands the Internet shoppers’ process.

You see, I have been mystery shopped 100 times over and have shopped my competition even more. It is a necessity to stay ahead of your competitors; not by way of price, but by way of practice. It will keep you sharp and help you set internal goals for your staff. Continuous study of you, your practices, and processes can be a successful way to capture a larger share of the market.

Don’t take it too personally. It is a game. And every game has winners and losers. Winners see profit. Losers see personnel change. Or, to quote Dale Pollak, founder of vAuto, during his speech at NADA, “Winners don’t win at the expense of their customers. They win at the expense of other dealers.” I understand no one likes seeing his or her time wasted. Not sales staff and certainly not management. Sometimes, though, being a stroke is genius.

Joe Webb is the Internet sales manager of Arlington Toyota Scion in Buffalo Grove, IL, as well as a charter member of AAISP.


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