I won’t lie: I feel threatened by the Internet. Customers no longer need me to educate them about their purchase options or credit rating. And if the geeks get their way, buyers will attain their own financing without ever setting foot in the dealership. But, like you, I’m learning to live with the Internet.
We already know what the Internet has done to front-end profits, with customers shopping scores of dealerships before they select a store from which to buy. F&I product providers have also taken to the Internet, and they’re aggressively promoting their products at cut-rate pricing. So forgive me if I’m not a raving fan of the Internet.
Nor was I a raving fan of my store’s decision to create a dedicated Internet sales position years back. I just don’t like dealing with customers over the phone. But a funny thing happened: My Internet manager, Fred Dixon, became the sales manager with the highest “turnover” percentage.
See, he realized that we have a much better shot at controlling the deal if we can control the financing. Whenever a customer is resistant, he’ll get me involved right away. And when I get on the phone with the customer, I supply them with as much information as possible to help them make a reasonable decision to attain financing through us.
George Angus, a veteran trainer and regular contributor to the magazine, calls for immediate contact between the producer and the customer. He advises F&I managers to capture the customer’s information and process the deal immediately. “Don’t rely on the sales or Internet departments to do this,” he wrote in a recent Saturday Morning Message. “Take control of the deal immediately. Enter the information into the system, then fill out the base payment form to disclose the base payment and menu like you would a normal delivery.”
Getting involved early is how Steve Sipes does it at his Florida dealership. The F&I manager said his main goal is to verify the customer’s information and capture the financing. “During the ‘welcome call,’ I let the customer know that we have options to help protect their investment and that I’d be happy to go through them when they arrive at the dealership,” he says, adding that he never talks product over the phone.
My good friend Shane Seys from Kansas City, Mo., doesn’t talk product with phone-in or Internet customers, either. He said he’s had great success increasing finance penetration and converting cash customers by simply having his Internet staffers ask customers where they do their banking. Knowing the answer to that question allows him to be competitive if there is an outside lien. The strategy does require that he have agreements in place with finance sources touting super-low rates, by which Seys means anything below 2 percent.
Matt Lee from Watertown, N.Y., adds, “We try as hard as we can to turn the Internet customer into a showroom customer. Rarely do we have to finalize things before the customer visits the dealership.”
And that’s how I approach the Internet customer. I limit the quote I provide to the base payment and will not make a full product presentation until I have them in my office. In my experience, customers just don’t buy products over the phone. I realize there are those rare occasions that require us to sell that way. Luckily, there are companies rolling out menus that you can send to your customers via e-mail, so check them out and see if they’ll work for you.
Look, everyone is trying to figure out the Internet customer, but the truth is they’re not any different from you and me. They’re just looking for a cheaper, more efficient way to buy what they want or need. Yes, dealing with customers over the phone puts us at a disadvantage: We can’t read their body language, and they don’t feel the pressure of having to make a purchase decision before they leave our offices. But that doesn’t mean we should give up.
I’ll admit that my blood boils when I hear about how we need to change to cater to the Internet customer. But the worst thing we can do is allow our pride to dictate our behavior. My ego is just as big as the next guy’s, but fighting the Internet is a losing battle. I’ve done it and it’s costly. Your better bet is to find ways to use it to your advantage.
Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected]