Most would agree that Paul Simon is a real genius when it comes to music.  His “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a huge hit despite the fact that it doesn’t actually list 50 ways. Of course, the real point is that once you start thinking of getaway plans, you can get to 50 pretty easily. Well, if there are 50 ways to leave your lover, how many ways are there to keep in contact with your customers and prospects?

I met the man with the answer at the Orlando, Fla., airport while returning from the F&I Conference and Expo. He and his family have been operating a chain of four buy-here, pay-here stores in Ohio for many years. They’re always looking for new ideas, and they’re always thinking big. He told me he had come up with a list of at least 50 reasons to contact your customers and prospects by e-mail. He said he’d written most of the e-mails, but he had one problem: How do you send out so many different e-mails using an automated, methodical system? More on that later. First, let’s start looking at his 50 ways.

Just like Paul Simon didn’t list all “50 Ways,” space restricts us from doing the same. The goal here is to get you started on your own follow-up plan and figuring out exactly how it can help your business.

Turning Leads Into Customers

It all starts with leads. Every customer you have started out as a lead at some point. It only makes sense that if you convert more leads, you’ll get more customers. Experts agree that the problem with most lead programs is the lack of a complete follow-up plan. I attended a seminar recently about lead follow-up and some of the statistics were exciting. They ran a test that proved you can actually double sales from your leads if you have a follow-up program that stretches out 18 months. That may sound like a long time, but remember this: Just about everyone will purchase a vehicle at some point; some are just quicker at pulling the trigger.

My friend at the airport says it all starts with an auto responder that goes out as soon as the lead arrives. This is the beginning of a long series of e-mails that will go out one day later, three days later, seven days later, two weeks later, and then every 30 days. Bottom line: You don’t stop until the lead becomes a sale. The dealer I spoke with also has a series of follow-up letters for customers who were approved but didn’t buy. As you can see, there could easily be 20 or 30 different messages. Now that’s a follow-up plan!

Planting a Tree of Sales

With proper follow-up, customers can become like a tree of sales. First, you retain the customer and remind him or her to spread the good word about you. Just be sure to thank the customer for the purchase before you ask for the referral.

My dealer friend’s plan uses constant correspondence, including online surveys, referral requests, special offers to forward to friends, anniversary of purchase, and special events at his dealerships, such as customer appreciation days and special sales. For a BHPH dealer, one of the most important follow-ups is the low-balance version. When your customer’s original vehicle is almost paid off, get them thinking about his or her next purchase.

Doing It All and Making It Easy

Following through on these plans should be the easy part. With the right CRM software, you should be able to set up automated follow-up, also known as triggered events. If a certain event happens, a specific follow-up e-mail is triggered. So first, you need the right system, and then you need to have procedures in place to make sure that events are recorded.

Let’s not forget that not everyone uses e-mail, so consider having the same type of automated follow-up using post cards, letters and phone calls. A complete follow-up plan  — properly executed — is the best and least expensive method to increase sales. As you can see, there are easily 50 ways to sell more vehicles! Good luck and good selling!

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