Automotive Digital Marketing

7 Online Marketing Ideas Car Dealers Won’t Try

Car Dealer’s frequently ask where I came from, and what do I know of their business. I thought it was about time to document my history in the form of a blog post. I know most vendors calling on this vertical have never actually worked at a dealership and no very little of the dynamics associated with modern day auto dealerships. I say that tongue-in-cheek given the fact that many car dealers have not deleted the newspaper advertising budget. Hell, who knows, maybe the owners nephew owns the newspaper and it’s a family thing. To do things because that’s the way it’s was done the past 40-years has never registered with me.

Most recently, I worked for HomeNet Automotive, a wholly owned subsidiary of AutoTrader.com from 2008 until late 2011. That’s when I started calling on car dealers as a independent marketing consultant. HomeNet Automotive is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company offering a variety of software tools and the famous IOL, Inventory Online Vehicle Marketing Suite. This product helps car dealers take over “lot services” and strive to photograph and get their cars online the day they hit the lot. When I started in 2008, Lot Service providers were calling on smaller dealers just 1-time per week. It was my job to educate the dealership marketing staff, GSM, GM, even an occasional Dealer Principal as to why this was important. The managers were typically against and reluctant to consider an “In-House” process. I would explain over and over to the “old school car guys” that more people would visit the dealerships website in 1-day, than would physically appear as “lot ups” in 1-week.

7 Online Marketing Ideas Car Dealers Won’t Try:

  • Managing New and Used Inventory “In-House” (shooting photos, syndication across the web)
  • Owning the rights to unique websites. (dealers still “lease” web property)
  • Investing in solid SEO (search-engine-optimization) strategies with sustainable traffic.
  • Utilizing consultants outside the Automotive Industry with viable software tools.
  • Building dedicated Landing Pages for used inventory and drive PPC traffic to them.
  • Stop using major classified vendors and cut expensive, poor performing ads.
  • Embrace all appropriate social media channels to engage and delight local consumers.

Used Car Sales

So, for the past 13-years I have worked in and around car dealerships and as a automotive vendor in Oregon. I also covered Washington, Idaho, NorCal, and SoCal for a short time. I started my auto career like most others, training to take “floor ups” and watching for “Lot Ups” At one dealership we were required to cold call residential listings out of the phone book. Yes, you heard that right, we made calls to complete strangers who had zero interest in hearing from the local car dealership. These are tactics that have ruined the industry. The local appliance store and the local restaurants were not calling from the phone book to prospect for buyers, so why was this car dealer doing it? That’s the age old question in this industry, “Why do car dealers do what they do?”

I was a Service Writer many, many years ago while attending college in Minnesota, so pretty familiar with Fixed Operations and back-end also. I do prefer the front-end, especially as it relates to digital marketing. That all comes later after several years of juggling “lot ups”

Paying my dues looking out the showroom window was difficult. I could not stand the boredom and pain associated with the watching for lot ups. The visual is always the same. A helpless shopper pulls onto the lot, the sales team who is standing outside on point smashes out their cigarette butts and someone begins following the lot up. They are sometimes approached before stopping the car. Buyers are so afraid you can see it in their eyes. They are obviously there because they need to physically see and drive a car. Many have to buy a car because theirs is either wrecked or broken. It is sad that this wonderful experience is ruined by a poorly trained staff member or even worse, a poorly developed dealership that will not change to meet a consumer driven buying cycle that begins and ends with whatever the hell the customer wants. When you get right down to it, today’s auto sales people are mere “Auto Tour Guides” tasked with showing the consumer what’s in stock today, what is in-bound, and completing a test drive. (maybe)

The consumer typically knows all specs and rarely asks any real difficult questions regarding competitive models. The manufacturers all spend too much time training sales staff on how to knock out the competition when this part has already taken place long before the prospect entered the dealership. In other words, the fact that they arrived, means a hand was raised and your brand was chosen for consideration. Buyers do not visit very many dealerships any more. The number stated by DME Automotive is 2.1 stores for NEW car buyers on average. Buyers are essentially done shopping when they arrive at your dealership. They are looking for fair trade values, a good price, and a dealership who will treat them with respect.

Dealership Visits
Car Dealer average visit prior to purchase

In 2004 I took my first job in the Internet Department. I thought this was heaven. Working leads from “inbound” prospects online, how easy could this be. No more looking out the window for “ups” when my desktop was chocked full of fresh leads every day. We typically worked 100-leads each per month. We were trained by some the industries best Internet Sales Trainers and finished our year as a WARD’s Top 100 Auto Dealer! I loved selling cars online and grew fond of digital marketing. I was becoming intrigued by the inner workings of lead generation, what makes buyers click on things, how best to convert “Internet Ups” into an appointment and close them down. We all worked our deals from initial meet and greet to finance introduction. Our stores had formal Finance Departments, Used Car Managers for assessing trade-ins, GSM, and GM. Our Desking average was typically equal to or higher than the Floor support Desk Managers. There is something about the 1-person format. You meet and greet, go for test drive, sit at a PC and desk the deal with no “hidden” agenda. The old school formats still exist with a “Closer” and “Towers” where Desk guys and girls remain anonymous and hidden from the consumer interaction. This process always has it’s downfall and was never designed for the consumer. It’s an intimidating environment and difficult for consumers to get comfortable in.

Over the past 12-years, I was certified to sell (12) different brands. Audi, Porsche, BMW, VW’s, Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Subaru, and Honda.