It’s always a pleasure for me to sit down with a dealer and talk about the unique things they are doing to help capture additional sales during what we all know have been some very difficult times. It’s even more exciting when that person is a real “car guy” — a true student of the business. Johnny Stivers of the Stivers Automotive Group is not only a car guy, but a third-generation car guy.

I met with Stivers at his Lincoln-Mercury-Subaru store in Columbia, S.C. They also have Suzuki and Mitsubishi stores located there, and a large Ford-Lincoln-Mercury store in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s a family affair at Stivers, as Johnny, his brother, and his father are all equal partners. Their employees are considered part of the family and have embraced the use of technology. Many of them told me that they love the organization it brings to their jobs. I could immediately tell when I arrived at the store that the employees were organized, neat, and well trained.

The Stivers’ stores have held their own during the down market and Johnny credits much of that to the use of technology. The Stivers run their stores based on a specific set of metrics. For every 100 customers that walk through the door, they expect 80 to take a test drive, 60 writeups, 40 purchases, and 35 actual deliveries. With the help of technology, they are able to constantly track and analyze results to make sure they stay the course. Here’s how the sales process works:

1. Once the salesperson greets the customer, their goal is to find out what type of vehicle they desire.

2. The salesperson offers a test drive early in the process.

3. As with most stores, Stivers is required to have a copy of the customer’s driver’s license in order to allow them to test drive a vehicle. At Stivers’ stores, they don’t just make a photo copy, which can be lost or stolen, they use a driver’s license scanner that makes an electronic copy. Doing this helps to ease a customer’s fear of his or her printed information ending up in the wrong hands. Stivers employs four of these scanners so one is always available.

4. The use of the scanner works two-fold. Aside from providing an electronic copy of a license, the scanner, using Optical Character Recognition to read the customer’s name and address, places that information into the dealership’s CRM and desking tool (they use ProMax Online).

The Stivers have taken this process a step further, as they also employ my company’s recently released Instant Screen solution. It can pre-qualify the customer based on set credit criteria, which gives Stivers more information to help customers make smart purchase decisions. And while this information can be gathered through a typical credit interview, Johnny said he likes the Instant Screen approach because it’s less intrusive.

5. While the customer and the salesperson are out on the test drive, the desk manager reviews the customer and Instance Screen data. This helps the desk manager decide on what path to lead the customer down once he or she returns from his or her test drive.

6. Once the customer returns from the test drive, the salesperson goes straight to the desk manager. If the pre-qualification came back at a normal or high tier, the rest of the sales process for good credit customers is followed. If the customer pre-qualified at a lower tier or did not get pre-qualified at all, the special finance sales process is followed. Either way, with the information they gained, they already have a pretty good idea of what lender to use for the customer.

7. As mentioned earlier, all of the data captured so far also ties directly into the dealership’s desking system. This makes it easy to desk the deal and create meaningful proposals. See, you need to have an effective system when you’re writing up 60 percent of the people that walk through the door.

The data the dealership’s process collects also helps Stivers make smarter decisions on effective marketing programs. Remember, more information equals more profit, and the information the dealership collects has led to some of the most effective marketing programs I’ve seen in a long time. As a matter of fact, one of their programs generates an average of 1,600 leads per month for less than $1 per lead. Now, that’s cost-effective marketing.

Now, I promised Johnny that I wouldn’t share all of his secrets (he doesn’t want local competitors to steal his idea), but I think you get my point: With the right technology, you can be like Johnny. Not only does it help you capture more information from every customer and prospect, but it also leads to higher sales, higher gross profit and more effective marketing. It’s an investment that pays big dividends at Stivers Automotive, and it can work for you, too. Good luck and good selling!

Denny Long is senior vice president of Dealer Marketing Services. E-mail him at [email protected].