Over the years, I have fielded a number of questions about special finance. One that comes up often is: “Where should I be advertising for SF customers?” This is not an easy question to answer because there are probably as many opinions as there are dealers and vendors combined.
First, a few ground rules and disclaimers: Before making any changes whatsoever, it is paramount to know the specific results of your existing marketing efforts. You need to know how many total leads you are currently receiving and working. You also need to know total opportunities you are receiving (leads plus total walk-ins, repeat/referrals and buy-backs). Once you measure what you are currently achieving with your advertising dollar, you can determine its ROI and the impact of a change or increase in spending.
See, if you pull the trigger on something new before you measure your existing business, you may never know the real value of the change.
I also recommend that you don’t change everything at once. There is a long-used (and likely overused) adage in advertising: “Half of your advertising works, you just never know which half it is.” So even if you are already measuring your results, making mass changes in advertising all at once doesn’t guarantee the desired results. At best, you’ll see great results in one area but horrible returns in another. In the end, your shift in strategy will have been a wash.
Budget is another major consideration. I’d be prepared to spend about 11 percent of gross profit on advertising. Based on my gross profit expectations, that would equate to $385 per car. But that’s my money. You are obviously welcome to spend more.
Now I’d like to tell you what I would do if I was running the store. For this exercise, let’s assume that all the critical components are in place — the staff is trained properly to handle the traffic and the BDC is ready to handle the increase in leads. Anything short of that would be a waste of efforts and advertising dollars.
References From Credit Applications
Those references you collect on each credit application are a great place to start. My operation used to collect 10 references on each application, which included addresses and phone numbers. All you have to do is dump them in a database, create a letter that introduces you and your dealership and invites them to come in for the same experience as their friend or family member.
Make sure to run these prospects through the Do Not Call list. Individuals who don’t appear on the list should be called within 48 hours of receiving the letter. I challenge you to find a more cost-effective way to generate traffic.
Quality leads are the first thing I would want. The reason is simple: If you have a machine that can turn opportunities into sales, then all you need are more opportunities. And you can buy third-party leads and start generating traffic within 24 hours.
Now, to get those leads, I would seek providers with real-time and legitimate leads. The average cost per lead from these companies is higher than leads from others, but so is the quality. I would rather have my BDC work fewer quality leads than have them call a bunch of junk leads that equate to dialing a telephone book. And I would expect a 12 to 13 percent delivery rate on what I buy.
Next, I would start two special finance-only sites. The first would be branded with my store’s name. So, if my dealership was Greg Goebel Chevrolet or Greg Goebel Ford, I would call the site GregGoebelAutoCredit.com to take advantage of my dealership’s well-respected and recognizable name.
The site would need to be “sticky.” Even with friendly and inviting copy, people get cold feet. I would include incentives such as a game or gift card to increase the unique visitors-to-conversion ratio to a minimum of 5 percent. The industry average is 2 percent.
Additionally, the site would not have a “talking head.” The majority of your subprime customers are applying from work, so as soon as an “instant on” voice starts talking, the applicant is likely to click out.
The URL for my site would be included in absolutely every other type of advertising I did, whether traditional broadcast or print, along with a simple tagline such as “Financing for Everyone.” If I were a Credit Acceptance dealer, my tagline would be “Guaranteed Credit Approval.”
The second site would not be branded. It would be a clone of the first site, but it would not include my name. Instead, the URL would be something like FloridaAutoCredit.com or TampaBayAutoCredit.com.
Why would I do that? Let’s go back to my days as a Hyundai dealer in the Midwest. It was primarily a truck market back then, which meant you needed to have a GM, Ford or Dodge franchise. I, however, didn’t. As a result, my ads directed to WhataDealer.com rather than to a Hyundai-branded URL. Truck buyers couldn’t spell “Hyundai” back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and they certainly wouldn’t visit a Hyundai store to buy a truck.
The same goes if you are a Chevy dealer talking to a Toyota loyalist. These leads will be slightly harder to appoint and get into the store if you use a branded site, but they still are very valuable leads.
Keep in mind that not all website providers are created equal. This is especially true when it comes to organic SEO and delivery times. Expect to pay $500 to $800 a month for each site. You can get them done for less, but make sure the provider is actually delivering good results for other dealers before you sign.
The expected result is a minimum 15 percent delivery rate for leads. At $385 per car sold, that would mean a $1,500 spend would need to deliver 26 leads to provide four sales to cover the expense. I know dealers who are receiving 600 or more leads from their credit microsites.
Pay Per Click
To create unique visitors, your site needs to be easy to find. Even with great SEO, one of the Top 3 positions in search is likely to come up as a competitor thanks to pay-per-click advertising. Yes, PPC does increase your site’s ability to generate leads. And the stickier your sites are, the more traffic and the more leads you can funnel through them. The only problem with PPC is special finance terms can be costly. But if your site converts, then it becomes a matter of math.
Let’s say it costs $20 to create a unique visitor. At a 6 percent click-to-lead conversion ratio, as well as a 15 percent closing ratio, you would need to average about $3.50 per click to make it cost effective.
Direct mail might be a dinosaur of a medium, but it still works. Are there a bunch of “pretenders” in this space? Yep, you better believe it. But if you can sort through the pretenders, there are some very good companies still providing very strong results.
There are two types of direct mail campaigns an SF department can run. First, you have what I call “credit mail.” It could be a mailing directed at a niche market like open Chapter 7 or discharged bankruptcies. This type can be generated weekly in your office on dealership letterhead. It can be mail sourced through some reliable credit mail houses that will allow you to select your parameters, which can include credit score range, equity in vehicle, prior interest rates, etc. It could even be sourced through one of the finance companies like Capital One Auto Finance or Consumer Portfolio Services (CPS), where the recipient is pre-approved. Bottom line, it is helping you fire a laser at your target as opposed to blasting away with a shotgun.
The second type is “saturation mail.” You are mailing to basically every address in a particular area or market. As opposed to a laser or even a shotgun, this is more like an atomic bomb; everyone in its path is going to feel it. The best promotions involve games or gifts, but the dealership must be adept at handling a high amount of traffic over a few days, as well as converting those gift grabbers into buyers.
Direct mail, along with some other types of advertising, can be like trying to drink water out of a fire hose. Credit mail can be done on a controlled (dealership) or small volume basis. With saturation mail, that’s not the case. Credit mail involves people coming in because they are looking to get financed, whereas saturation mail targets people looking for a gift. Both can be very effective, but is your team ready to handle a day with 400 or 500 leads? My store would be.
My budget would be somewhere around 75 cents apiece, depending on the type.
Alert the Media
If I could handle even more traffic, I would consider broadcast media. Remember, I was the second guy to ever shoot an SF infomercial. Whether television or radio, I would be there depending on the market — but I would already be there for the traditional/prime marketing. If I needed more leads, broadcast would certainly deliver — just as long as it was cost effective.
So there you have it. There are obviously more ways to market and advertise, but as I said, this is my list of the things I would do if I were running the dealership. Is this guaranteed to work for you? No, that was one of my ground rules. But if you have any specific questions, contact me.
Thanks, and remember to circle Sept. 16 to 18 on your calendar. That’s when my team hosts our Special Finance Conference at Paris Las Vegas. Until next month, great selling!