F&I: So, is auto finance finally on the mend?

Parker: We’re seeing some positive signs. Lenders are looking at things a little differently. They’re certainly not looking at things the way they did two years ago, but they are open to certain situations.

F&I: What are the more resilient dealers doing differently these days?

Parker: They’re paying attention to lender requirements. I’ve actually heard stories in which banks have come in and essentially terminated a dealership because it was sending deals that were outside their acceptable look-to-book numbers. What dealers need to understand is that it costs the lender the same amount of money to process an application whether or not they do the deal.


F&I: Seeing as you operate more than 500 Websites, can you offer some Web advice?

Parker: Don’t get too focused on making your site pretty. As you said, we own more than 500 consumer sites and we don’t use Flash on any of them. The key is to make sure people find you. That means the site has to be structured right and it has to have content that’s readable by the search engines.

Dealers should also consider creating a separate page that focuses on people who need credit assistance. When you have a unique page like this, you can optimize it with search terms this customer segment will most likely use when shopping for an auto loan. And a dealer will have a better chance of those customers finding this unique page rather than having them go through the home page. Most companies providing Web services tend to focus on the home page rather than the internal pages, but it doesn’t really matter which page the visitor lands on.

And when you create those unique pages, it’s a good idea to use the main key words when naming the page. So, if the dealership’s name is Greg Motors, you might want to name the page “gregmotors.com/auto-loan-financing.html.” The search engines will recognize the title of the page and automatically assume the page contains information being searched. Having a good description and title for the page is also critical.

F&I: Now let’s talk about your Trigger Complete program, which your Website, dealerlink.us, equates to a turnkey business development center.

Parker: There are a lot of dealers who have tried running an internal BDC, but had to get out of it because of the economy. So, we saw an opportunity to get into that business with our new program. The product sources its leads from credit bureaus we’ve partnered with, which allows us to access every customer in every ZIP code in the United States who is trying to by a car right at that moment. And the bureaus give us the ability to be granular credit-wise, so if a dealer only wants people with scores between 583 and 692, we can do that.

F&I: How does that qualify the BDC as a turnkey operation?

Parker: As you said, this is a program in which we initiate the phone calls to the customer. Not only do we set up the appointments, but we’ll also follow up with the customer if he or she doesn’t show up. We’ll even tell the customer who to ask for when they visit the dealership, and we’ll set appointments based on the dealer’s preferences. So, if the dealership prefers to have appointments scheduled between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, we’ll do that.

We also record every phone call we make, and the transcript of that recording is included in the appointment notice we send to our dealer customers. It’s just a nice thing for salespeople to have so they know what was talked about during the initial call.

F&I: So, when is the best time to follow up on a lead?

Parker: We found that we were wasting our time from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m., local dealer time. As the day grew on, we started getting better responses between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Now, we do try to schedule two rounds of calls for every number we have for the consumer. What we found was that we were able to get people between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., but the most opportune time seems to be between 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. One thing to note, our call center is open from 9 a.m. to midnight, Eastern time. We do that because we’re also fielding inbound calls related to the direct-mail pieces we send out as part of the program.

F&I: You mentioned that dealers can select a credit score range. Is there an optimal range?

Parker: What we found to be most effective is a range between 550 and 720. Our dealers are selling just as many cars on the better credit as they are on the high 500s and low 600s. It could be that those customers weren’t treated properly at another dealership, or maybe there was some delay in getting them approved. Whatever the reason, that seems to be the optimal range.