Selling vehicles isn’t like it used to be. In the past, you could depend on a steady flow of potential car buyers after placing a few ads on the radio or in print. Today, customers take a more active role in the buying process. Instead of visiting the dealership, they’re doing online research. That’s why it’s imperative to have a marketing strategy—especially a digital marketing one—to guide potential consumers to your car dealership.

In this guide, we’ll explain what digital marketing is, discuss why it’s important, and provide several digital marketing strategies to help you reach more customers and boost your sales.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is a multifaceted approach to promote services, goods, and brands using the internet and electronic media. It relies on various channels, such as mobile apps, websites, social media platforms, and instant messaging, to improve customer engagement.

Essentially, if a marketing campaign involves online or electronic communication, it’s digital marketing.

Why is digital marketing important for car dealerships?

There are many benefits to implementing a digital marketing strategy for your car dealership. Here are some of the advantages:

Increase online visibility

The first organic (unpaid) search result in Google Search has an average click-through rate (CTR) of about 28%. This means that if your website link is in this top spot, you are likely attracting more potential customers.

If your car dealership relies only on conventional marketing strategies, it’s time to make changes. While radio, TV, and billboards play an important role in marketing and sales, their impact has lessened in today’s environment. Consumers now spend most of their time online, so engaging with them there will boost your sales.

Personalize the experience

Digital marketing allows you to market the right products to the right customers. And tailor your actions to provide better value to your audience. For instance, when a potential car buyer visits your site, allowing them to personalize their experience will help you better meet their needs. This may be through a chatbot feature, newsletter subscription sign-up, or by publishing relevant and browsable content so viewers can find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems on their own.

Engage with customers directly

Social media is a great platform to ensure engagement with your potential buyers or target audience. Social media platforms can help you engage potential buyers and create a community where they can ask questions, voice their concerns, and be part of a conversation.

By responding to specific questions, your car dealership can be seen as a knowledgeable and trustworthy market leader. This can lead to potential customers being more likely to buy a car from you, as a bond of trust has been established—a bond that may be lacking between your competitors and potential buyers.

The fact that you can immediately and directly engage with your target audience allows for valuable feedback opportunities from prospective buyers. This allows you to continuously improve your digital marketing strategies as your target audience evolves.

5 Digital Marketing Strategies Your Car Dealership Should Consider

Here are some of the best digital marketing strategies to help you attract and retain today’s connected car buyers:

1. Email marketing

Email marketing continues to be one of the most effective digital marketing strategies. In fact, it has the highest return on investment of all kinds of marketing, averaging about $42 in return for every $1 spent.

And personalized emails convert better. Research conducted by G/O Digital revealed that about 35% of car buyers prefer emails based on their interests. Further, 28% said they would click on a car dealership email if it includes a model, color, or style they’re interested in.

With today’s sophisticated data sets, you can segment prospective customer audiences based on a wide range of selects, including their current car’s make, model, and Black Book value, those most likely “in the market” for a new car, and other demographics, such as hobbies, income, and more.

2. Social media marketing

A study conducted by the CMO council revealed that 23% of buyers talk about purchasing a new car on social media and about 38% say they’ll consult social sites prior to purchasing. So, if you’re not posting and advertising on social media platforms, like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you’re likely missing out on opportunities.

An effective social media marketing strategy includes sharing useful, relevant, and interesting content on various social channels several times a week. It also includes engaging in conversations on your pages, posting inventory and happy customer photos, responding to reviews, and making your dealership contact details easily accessible.

3. Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process used to improve the viability and visibility of your website through online searches. Implementing good SEO strategies will, in time, increase the likelihood of your website being served to people searching for car dealerships. According to Google, 95% of car buyers use digital research as a source of information. In fact, twice as many begin their search online than by visiting a dealership. So if your website isn’t performing well and isn’t one of the top displayed sites on search engines, you’re losing 95% of potential opportunities.

Perhaps the two most important tactics of a strong SEO strategy are high-quality, keyword-focused content publication and link building. While it may take time for search engines to recommend your website over others, you will no doubt improve the quality and quantity of your site traffic, thereby increasing the likelihood of your website getting discovered by people looking for a new car.

To create relevant content using the right keywords, you must understand your target audience. For example, if you want to attract potential buyers searching for California car dealerships, consider including terms like “automotive car dealers in California, “auto car dealership in California”, or “car dealerships near me” within blog posts or on your website pages. But to really improve the quality and relevancy of your content planning, use a keyword research tool to best identify and discover new industry-related keywords. Many free and easy tools exist, including Spyfu and WordStream, and help you identify the right keywords.

4. Mobile optimization

Mobile devices changed how buyers research cars they want, as well as how they discover new or different vehicles. A study commissioned by Facebook revealed that 71% of consumers use their phones during the vehicle purchasing process, and about 58% said that in the future they only intend to use their smartphones for all their vehicle research.

A mobile-first and responsive dealer website is more crucial than ever. Google and other search engines rank websites on the overall page experience. This includes, among many other factors, the usability of a website on a cellphone and the page load time. Ensuring your website is optimized for mobile devices increases your SEO rankings and chances of gaining new customers.

Here are a few tips to implement yourself or pass to your web developer:

5. Video marketing

Video marketing refers to the strategic use of videos to promote and inform about services or product inventory and to boost engagement on digital and social channels.

About 66% of marketers say they’ll either increase or maintain their spending on video this year. By its very nature, video marketing better captures viewers’ attention. It’s also more engaging than other mediums, such as imagery and text. In fact, according to a study by Google, 64% of people who used YouTube while purchasing a car were influenced by it. That’s more than magazines and newspapers.

Here are a few tips on creating effective video marketing at your car dealership:

Accelerate your car dealership’s operations now

Understanding your buyers is the first and most important step in developing successful digital marketing strategies. Through a combination of social media, email, website, and video marketing tactics, you will improve your car dealership’s online visibility and reach a more engaged, interested audience.

If you want to improve your digital marketing strategy, consider using AutoPoint marketing. This robust suite of solutions connects all the dots of the customers’ vehicle lifecycle. It offers every tool you need to promote sales, launch effective digital marketing campaigns, supply proper documentation, provide maintenance support, and improve customer retention. Let us work with you to create a digital marketing strategy so you can rise above the competition.

A successful marketing plan is critical for the growth of your dealership. Coming up with a successful marketing campaign for the dealership website can be tricky. The automotive industry is highly competitive, and its trends constantly shift.

To that end, here are some of the best actionable tips to make your car dealership marketing campaign more advantageous.

1. Optimize Your Efforts at SEO

In today’s market, many car buyers begin their journey online. Increasing your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can increase the traffic you get to your dealership website, and this can gain you new customers. You need to ensure that your dealership makes the first page of results on both Google and Bing. Choosing your keywords carefully, ones that have a rather high volume of searches with low competition is one method of doing this.

Another method of increasing your SEO rankings is to list yourself in a variety of qualified directories. This can increase your chances of being located when customers search for local dealerships.

You might also begin a blog for the website or add a few new pages that will provide your customers with useful information. Including content helpful to car shoppers will drive even more traffic to your site while also increasing online leads. Some topics you might cover include:

Focused content that adds value to your customers or intended customers can help drive traffic to your dealership page.

2. Blog for a Successful Marketing Campaign

Publishing content that’s educational on your blog is a great form of digital marketing that can help you ensure that you remain relevant to your customers while also boosting engagement on your website. You might utilize a blog in a variety of ways, but one of the best ways is to build trust with prospective car buyers.

A blog post can assist you with streamlining the process of buying a car as readers seek out the various car dealerships in their area. Knowing this, you can use your blog to build a relationship with them.

When they learn how you care for your community as well as that you’re an industry expert, your audience can gain confidence in knowing that they’ll get excellent customer service from you, both before and after the sale.

3. Emails to Your Target Audience

Email marketing continues to be a great marketing strategy for car dealerships that want to remain in touch with their clients. Consider this — how long have you had the same address for email? Your target audience tends to keep their email addresses for quite a few years too. Customize your strategy for email marketing based on services you offer, the seasons, or other helpful information necessary to car buyers. This can even include service reminders and blog posts, like:

Emails like the ones above will remind customers to have their service work done, or come see the new models — either one of which will bring them into the dealership, giving you an opportunity to make a sale.

4. YouTube

Have you ever found yourself searching for a video about something you were thinking about buying? Your customers do this too. Before they visit your lot, clients might be searching for videos about a vehicle they’re interested in or even your dealership itself. YouTube is quite an influential tool for shoppers. The number of views for those videos that show features, test drives, and walkthroughs is quite high. Because viewers tend to use mobile devices for this as opposed to computers, your videos also need to be mobile-friendly.

5. Social Media

This can be a massive influencer when it comes to millennials and purchase decisions. Having an active feed means that you can notify your followers when you get new stock, which can be an incentive for them to visit, and it can help your business seem active and busy. It’s also a fantastic way to form relationships with both current and potential customers.

Facebook, often the top choice for many companies looking to utilize social media, is a spectacular place to begin. It offers the most adult users, and they tend to be the target audience for car dealers. Be sure you’re posting a variety of content, including testimonials, articles, videos, and more.

Twitter utilizes short posts that consist of only 380 characters or less. This is the ideal platform to advertise any current offers or update customers when you get new inventory. Make sure you include engaging photos to draw a bit more attention to what you’re posting.

6. Referral Program

You may be tempted to focus entirely on the vehicle side of your dealership, but you have to keep in mind that the customer service side of things can also help you when it comes to driving sales.

You might consider a referral program in order to encourage your customers to share their experience with your dealership among their family and friends. This can help you grow your lead database and your business overall.

One great way to do this is by using a loyalty program. This will reward customers for telling their family and friends about your business. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to get even more qualified leads in to talk with your salespeople about purchasing a new vehicle, all while helping those same salespeople earn more money.

Put Your New Successful Marketing Campaign to Work

An effective marketing strategy for car dealerships will increase sales with the generation of leads. It will engage with your existing customers in a way that’s meaningful and solidify the brand in the minds of the target audience.

Coming up with an actionable marketing strategy for your automotive dealership will take quite a bit of research and time.

Optimizing your efforts at SEO, creating a successful email marketing campaign, posting informational videos on YouTube, blogging about your business, being active and engaging on social media, and using a referral program can all help you grow your business.

Use these tips to add more sources for new leads and customers, encourage repeat business, and most of all, grow your dealership.

The customer experience (CX) is the driving force of any successful business. More than ever, providing customers with seamless service and access to information is vital to attracting and retaining valuable consumers. For that reason, franchise and independent dealership websites must focus on the customer experience by reflecting this cultural shift and offering auto buyers a variety of ways to find the information they seek.

 

Customer Experience is King

According to recent data from Qualtrix, 8 out of 10 people feel customer experience should be improved across products, prices and fees, customer service, and ease of use. Brands risk losing9.5% of their revenue on average due to poor customer experience. And more than 50%of customers say they are likely to leave a brand after a bad customer experience.

 

How Dealer Website CX Helps Customers

You will lose potential and existing customers if your website is clunky, outdated, or hard to navigate. People have many choices, so optimizing your website experience, for both the car buyer and service client, is key to generating new revenue and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Here’s what to look for:

 

Make Website Easy to Use

The first –and most important– element of a successful dealer website is that it’s responsive, meaning it works the same on any device. Most consumers initially research purchases from smartphones, so your branding must be consistent across platforms. Ensure it’s easy to search, provide chat options and use eye-catching elements that are visually exciting. You are selling your products and services here, and this is your first chance to make an impression before a client ever steps through your doors.

 

Offer a Variety of Resources

Giving your customers many ways to learn about your products and automotive services on their own can only benefit you. A rich and compelling content offering will allow potential and current customers to explore and find answers to their questions on their own before they meet with you in person. Giving them the information they are looking for helps establish you as a valuable resource, even if they don’t buy anything this time. You can offer this by creating an extensive knowledgebase on your dealership website with testimonials, product videos, and articles on trends or new releases. Customers will check your social media for reviews, so stay on top of those channels. And offering a “Get a Quote”/”Build Your Vehicle” page allows the consumer to envision how the vehicle will work with their lifestyle.

 

Drill Down on Data & Information

Offering a vibrant car search inventory is another way to elevate the customer experience. Consumers like to do their research, so provide different ways to imagine themselves in one of your vehicles. Here are a few suggestions:

 

Take Advantage of Insights to Improve the Customer Experience

Finally, identify the most utilized features customers visit and mine them for data and insights. And don’t fall back on updates. Continue to innovate and improve your site based on what you see customers engaging with and visiting the most.  Crafting a rich and engaging dealer website will elevate your customer experience and set you apart from your competition. Find out more about how to create a new or optimize your current independent or franchise website today!

 

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CRM: Critical Dealer Tool

Why is CRM not included in the digital retailing discussion?

While there is plenty of attention on digital retailing during the pandemic, there has been little attention paid to how CRM help dealers navigate this period of social distancing. But it’s understandable. The CRM isn’t the new shiny object like digital retailing, and COVID-19 certainly reignited the digital-retail discussion. However, there’s no doubt of the importance of appointment-setting during COVID-19, especially for dealerships located in markets where sales were limited to appointment-only. It’s an art that predates the CRM, but, thanks to that important front-end tool, appointment-setting has become a science for some operations.

 

 

What often gets overlooked is just how often CRM providers update this critical tool. In DealerSocket’s case, the cadence is every two weeks. And the focus of late for DealerSocket is appointment-setting, with texting now a key component, thanks to dealer feedback.

 

Auto Buyers Prefer Texting

Recently, a California dealership customer began sending every internet lead received an initial opt-in text. If there was no response within a few minutes, the following text message — one that garners a response 70% of the time — was sent, “We just received your internet request, and we have a few questions. Do you prefer a call or a text?”

That dealership sent and delivered 26,617 texts.

Then there’s Rashad Tillman, who manages a centralized BDC for a two-rooftop independent group in Southern California. With a keep-it-simple approach, he operates under the belief that a successful road to the sale requires five yeses from a customer. The use of DealerSocket’s SocketTalk texting tool usually accounts for two of those yeses, starting with the opt-in text.

“All we’re looking for is a reply. Once we get one, we’re in control,” Tillman says. And once a customer opts in, the following text is sent, “’We received your lead for the [make and model], which we have available. Do you have time today to test-drive the vehicle?’”

“That usually results in a reply,” Tillman says. “I’ve been working with DealerSocket’s CRM for seven years now, and I figured out real early that texting is now the primary form of communication. So, we try to eliminate as much conversation as possible.”

In one month, Tillman’s 20-member team sent and received 59,402 text messages through the CRM’s SocketTalk texting tool, with two members logging 2,900 sent and received texts for the month. Tillman notes that texting accounts for 80% of his department’s activity when working a lead, which is he says knowing how to configure DealerSocket’s CRM dashboard correctly is critical to making sure no opportunity falls through the cracks.

 

Better Manage Leads and Opportunities

With DealerSocket’s CRM, managers don’t have to dig into the solution’s reporting tools to keep tabs on their team’s lead-handling activities. Merely creating a dashboard widget for web leads allows managers like Tillman to keep tabs on every opportunity and every text or email exchange. That’s where he says most managers go wrong. They have the talent and skills, but they resist to allow technology to augment their abilities.

In fact, the use of technology is how managers like Tillman are keeping their dealerships in the game when today’s car buyers are shopping more brands, more vehicles, and more dealerships than those car-buyer studies predicted they would four to five years ago. The latest data on that front comes from a study commissioned by Urban Science, which showed that the average car shopper is considering 2.6 brands, visits 2.5 dealerships, and submits, on average, three lead forms.

Regardless of whether your BDC staffers or sales teams are selling appointments or demonstrating to customers a willingness to be shopped to win their business, converting a lead into an appointment requires a CRM-driven process that doesn’t end once the customer says, “yes.”

The best part of a CRM-driven appointment-setting process is that it can be automated every step of the way. In the case of DealerSocket, our CRM’s Campaign Manager allows you to assign your operation’s best word-tracks to a BDC staffer’s scheduled response to an inquiry. It can also automate appointment reminders, confirmation communications, and follow-ups. Then there’s the CRM’s Business Rules automation tool. This allows managers to initiate activities such as vehicle prep and enrollment of customers into appropriate campaigns.

With this, CRM should be included in the digital retailing discussion. When a customer structures a deal through your website’s digital retail tool and submits their information, the question dealers need to answer is, “what does the experience look like when it does?”

A new study reveals a potential starting point for dealers who are just now dipping their toes in the digital waters.

By Gregory Arroyo

I recall a conversation I had with an industry attorney during the early days of digital retailing. Technology vendors believed the Digital Age had arrived, while dealers were saying, “Not so fast.” My question to my attorney friend was, “What’s the holdup?”

He said the problem is dealers aren’t treating digital retailing as an experience — that customers should be rewarded for taking that path to purchase. He suggested that dealerships with separate facilities for fleet sales should consider directing digital buyers there vs. the showroom.

He then relayed his recent experience purchasing his second vehicle from the same dealership. He called the store, explained that he was a willing buyer who simply wanted to update to a newer model, and negotiated the deal over the phone. Expecting the red-carpet treatment for essentially being a rollover, he felt disappointed when he discovered he’d have to wait like the other customers in front of him.

That conversation came to mind when I came across Urban Science’s “Around the Bend: How COVID-19 Impacts the Next Normal for Dealers,” a report based on an online poll of 1,506 adult consumers. It serves as an update to the firm’s August 2019 report, which served as a reality check for digital retailing.

The 2019 study, which included responses from 2,001 consumers, concluded that car buyers weren’t ready to ditch the dealership experience because they still want to kick the tires and take a test-drive. Respondents also said they still needed someone at the dealership to guide them through the process.

I wrote about why I think that represents an opportunity for digital retailing in an April 2020 blog entry, “Digital Retailing’s True Test.” However, I’d like to share an even greater opportunity revealed in this year’s updated study.

See, while the report did show that a majority of consumers still believe buying a car is too big of an investment not to see (81%) or test-drive (79%), it did show that 67% would be more open to buying online if it was a brand or dealership with which they were already familiar.

Again, my convo with my attorney friend came to mind, but so did a discussion I had with a DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager. He said the main reason some dealers fail to realize the full potential of data mining is because they don’t have a dedicated process. Well, based on that stat from Urban Science, maybe digital retailing represents a missing link.

Take those data-mining campaigns targeting customers approaching the end of their lease or who qualify for smart payment offers. The emails could contain links to a landing page that explains your offer and a link to a streamlined buying process powered by your digital retail tool.

Back in April, another DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager told me about a Pennsylvania-based dealer group that was rewarded for having a service-drive sales process when the pandemic forced local officials to limit dealers there to appointment-only sales that concluded with service-drive deliveries.

Before the pandemic, the process delivered 100 units a month behind two dedicated salespeople, a sales manager, and an F&I manager, who actually has a dedicated desk (with enough privacy) in the service area. The reason for that is the group wanted that buying experience to feel different and free of pressure.

The group equips the sales team with its inventory management tool’s mobile app (Inventory+) to feed appraisers with scanned VINs and photos of every car that comes into service. The appraisers then prepare a package that includes a vehicle history report, documentation on the vehicle’s going price in the local market, its fair Kelley Blue Book value, a check voucher for an amount over that value, and the salesperson’s business card.

Signage in the service drive lets customers know they can get a free vehicle evaluation by texting a specific number or talking to their service advisor. All customers get an appraisal, but the hand-raisers represent high-value targets the sales team engages.

However, even customers who don’t bite get the appraisal package. They also get enrolled into a CRM-powered campaign that includes email and a phone call — the latter scheduled for the day after the customer’s service visit to ensure satisfaction and to revisit the offer sheet.

I can see three potential opportunities in that process for digital retailing to have an impact. Maybe it’s a kiosk in the service area loaded with a digital retail tool like DealerSocket’s PrecisePrice; perhaps it’s tablets. Whatever the case, digital retail should be a part of those follow-up efforts, whether it’s a link in an email or guiding customers through the process over the phone and emailing a link to their PrecisePrice deal.

And just maybe that buyer’s journey you create in the service drive serves as the entrance for sales opportunities your data-mining efforts generate.

While 93% of respondents to the Urban Science study expressed some concern with an entirely online purchase process, more than two-thirds said they were comfortable shopping online, signing paperwork digitally, and negotiating price and terms via email, chat, or phone.

Recently, the individual leading the digital drive for one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the United States addressed DealerSocket employees over a Zoom call. He talked about COVID-19’s impact, inventory shortages, the group’s efforts to build that clicks-to-bricks experience, and how consumers still need to be educated on what digital retailing is. What caught my attention was his response to whether he believed consumers still want the showroom experience.

“Absolutely … Only a small group of individuals want the Carvana model, and we’re going to be there,” he said. “But most customers want to step foot in a brick-and-mortar shop. If they want to get their payment, we’ll do that and meet them in the showroom.

“So, we believe a critical point in that process is that showroom experience,” he added. “You shouldn’t lose a customer who completed things online because you told them it would take 45 minutes, but it takes us three hours.”

We continue to think about all of you, our customers and partners, during this difficult time. This pandemic has caused deep challenges across our industry and for all of us, and I hope you know that DealerSocket continues to be here for our dealers. Our goal has been to strike the right balance between being prepared for our dealers and the market when our industry recovers and offering discounts to help our dealers as much as possible during this difficult time. 

We will get through this, and we will get through this together. We are committed to fighting through this with you. We are beginning to see the first signs of positive trends as we climb out of the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has us all hopeful for the future.

In April, we heavily discounted our software for our dealers. In addition to our discounts in April, we have decided to offer the following DealerSocket billing reductions for May for all of our dealers:

We have already sent out our May invoices, so next week you will receive a credit memo for the above discounts. With that said, similar to our discount package last month, there are some basic qualifying terms listed below.

In addition to these discounts in April and May, DealerSocket continues to offer our customers several promotions and free months of certain software products to help you navigate this crisis. Our offers include promotions for:

Since we are adding promotions and various resources for dealers often, please view DealerSocket’s latest information by clicking here, and, as always, please feel free to reach out to your Customer Success Manager with any questions or if we can help in any way:

If you are not yet an Auto/Mate DMS customer, I hope you know that we can reduce your DMS bill significantly during these challenging times as well as into the future by switching to Auto/Mate DMS. We have several bundled packages that include our Auto/Mate DMS product combined with other DealerSocket products to support you.

Thank you for partnering with DealerSocket. I hope you know how much we value and appreciate your loyalty, partnership, and your business.

I wish you, your families, and your team members health in these unprecedented times.

Sejal Pietrzak
CEO and President
DealerSocket
[email protected]

 

Details regarding our COVID-19 relief package:

The car business isn’t the only industry operating outside its comfort zone. That’s why it’s OK that the industry’s at test-drive deliveries and service pickups and drop-offs.

By Gregory Arroyo

Over a two-and-a-half-day period to open the last week of March, the percentage of consumers who said they shopped and purchased online increased from 30% to 47%. However, “things haven’t been easy breezy” for those digital consumers.

According to the article I came across, more than 30% of those shoppers reported an issue with their purchase. They either couldn’t place an order (16%) or had to wait days for their order to be ready (17%).

The data, sourced from CivicScience and its survey-reporting platform, was published in Food Logistics, a magazine for the global food and beverage industries.

Yeah, we’re not the only retail segment operating outside of our comfort zone due to COVID-19. For supermarkets and their customers, that means a few speedbumps on that road to the sale.

For example, what if the brand of product a customer ordered is out of stock? Do you notify the customer of your dilemma, or do you make an executive decision and grab the more expensive brand and eliminate a few items from the customer’s order to make up the difference?

I’m guessing those were the questions swimming through the mind of my in-store shopper during my wife and I’s first online grocery-ordering experience. And he made an executive decision on at least two occasions.

Instead of the two gallons of milk we ordered (Hey, I have a growing boy), we got a gallon of the more expensive brand.

We also didn’t get the 16-pack of fruit roll-ups I wanted. Instead, we got a box of six.

And instead of the two packets of Tollhouse cookie dough I wanted, we got one pack of Simple Truth’s plant-based product.

Understanding the moment, we didn’t get mad, but we did have questions. Unfortunately, our shopper appeared, loaded our groceries, handed us our receipt, and disappeared without saying a word.

That’s the real reason the Food Logistics article caught my eye. The stats it contained reflected my experience. My order took a few days longer to get than initially promised, and the online experience was problematic.

So, yeah, I think a lot of industries are figuring it out, discovering potential speedbumps, and making adjustments along the way. That’s why it’s OK that, when it comes to digital retailing, we’re still at at-home test-drives, and service pickups and drop-offs.

But let’s not be in this situation again.

That was my takeaway after a recent discussion with Darren Militscher, a Dealersocket Strategic Growth Manager operating in the Northeast. He believes COVID-19 moved up our digital timeline by 18 to 24 months.

I believe there are two things in play right now — learning to operate outside of our comfort zone being one of them. The other is equally important to our digital future. And it has to do with the research I wrote about last November in “Why Digital Retail Is Like the Autonomous Vehicle.”

The inspiration for that blog entry was a poll of 2,001 U.S. consumers The Harris Poll conducted in February 2019 on behalf of Urban Science. Seven out of 10 respondents said they would never buy a vehicle without a dealership, which led Urban Science’s analysts to conclude that younger car buyers still desire the knowledge of a well-trained F&I professional.

The reason is finding the lowest price on some third-party lead site is one thing, but how does that price translate into a monthly finance or lease payment? An F&I manager can definitely help, but so can a digital retailing tool.

Folks, that’s what’s in play right now. There are customers right now wondering how General Motors’ recent financing offer — interest-free financing for 84 months and up to 120 days of deferred payments — means to their payments. I’d bet that’s even true in states where showrooms were forced to close.

Like my wife and I during our first online grocery-shopping experience, car buyers need to learn the process. By the way, that plant-based cookie dough wasn’t half bad.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at [email protected].

With threat actors working overtime, DealerSocket’s head of information security offers three tips to keep your dealership’s and your customers’ data protected.

By Gregory Arroyo

Greg Tatum has a warning for dealerships everywhere: Cyber threat actors are working overtime. Noting a definite uptick in suspicious activity since COVID-19 hit Europe in late February, he adds:

“Threat actors are actively searching for new targets through a number of different mediums. Things like social media platforms are a very popular target for information gathering that can be used in an attack.”

Tatum serves as DealerSocket’s head of information security. He joined DealerSocket nearly four years ago from a security services firm that works with companies in much more sensitive environments than automotive. I’m talking about healthcare and government contractors, sectors that see billions of attacks each year. So, yeah, we have the right guy on the job.

“DealerSocket spends a considerable amount of effort protecting our customers’ data,” he notes. “It’s part of what we do just to make sure our customers’ customers’ data is protected.”

Tatum isn’t the only one sounding the alarm. The FBI issued its own warning on March 20, noting that scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money, personal information, or both.

 

 

Just last week, the National Automobile Dealers Association reported that attackers are now putting up COVID-19-related websites that prompt visitors to download an application to receive COVID-19 updates. But you don’t need to download the app, as the site installs a malicious binary file as you contemplate whether you should.

The attack method uses AZORult, software that originated in Russia approximately four years ago to steal data and infect the breached computer with malware.

Tatum also alerted me to a new phishing campaign that pretends to be from a local hospital notifying recipients that they have been exposed to the Coronavirus and they need to be tested.

But it’s not just phishing and ransomware attacks. Business email compromise, or BEC, is also on the rise. That’s when a cyberthief breaks into a legitimate corporate email account and impersonates an employee to get the business, its partners, or other employees to send money or sensitive data to the attacker.

“In this climate we live in today, this is part of business,” Tatum says. “This is part of what we have to deal with as consumers of technology.”

Tatum, by the way, is available to help. He advises DealerSocket customers to contact their Customer Success Managers to get connected. In the meantime, he offers the following four tips to safeguard your organization and your customers’ data:

1. Stay Committed to General Security Awareness

The following is general security etiquette your teams should employ:

2. Separate Work and Personal Data

Use company-issued computers and mobile devices for work purposes only. If you don’t have a company-issued device, be sure to check your company’s policies about using personal devices to access your organization’s data or networks.

Additionally, consider creating separate user accounts. Never use your work email for personal reasons or vice-versa. This segregation helps the company maintain the confidentiality of the data it collects and helps you maintain your privacy.

3. Secure Your Home Network

Update your router’s username and password immediately and use a strong, unique password. And never use the same password for your network and your router. Note that most routers ship with default login credentials that are public knowledge.

4. Don’t Forget About Physical Security

The comfort of your own home is no reason to forget about physical security. Simple acts like keeping doors locked and not leaving mobile devices unattended in a vehicle are non-technical ways to improve security.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at [email protected].

In all great moments of history when everything seemed bleak and that the bad times would never end, they did. The question is, will you be prepared?

By Patrick Mendoza

I’m not going to sugarcoat this: The current situation is bad, and it’s going to get worse.

You’ve heard this a hundred times the past couple of weeks, but these truly are unprecedented times. I’ve never seen such a drop in both the stock market and consumer purchasing, and such a rise in unemployment and concern.

The fall due to the pandemic all happened very quickly. Just one month ago, the stock market was at record levels, and analysts were predicting new auto sales to remain around the 17 million mark as it has been for the past several years.

Now, dealerships are closed due to government mandates and have had to furlough large swaths of their sales teams. Sales have fallen off a cliff, and now JP Morgan Chase is predicting auto sales to only reach 10.3 million units this year…10.3 million.

That’s bad. But you know what, this won’t last forever.

In all great moments of history when everything seemed bleak and that the bad times would never end, they did. The title of this post is “Hard Times Come Again No More,” which is the name of a sad song the soldiers used to march to in the Civil War. Think about how bad everything seemed then: brother vs. brother, the United States ripped apart with no hope of reconciliation. But guess what, we did, and we were stronger than ever.

It’s dark now, and, as King George VI said on the eve of World War II, “There may be dark days ahead,” but the industry will be back, and I think it will be back quickly.

Before long, customers will be back. Showrooms will turn their lights on again, and sales will rise.

The question is, will you be ready?

The downtime is your time to make sure you have everything in place for when the good times return. Do you have all of your customers and prospects in your CRM? Are you using a useful data mining tool to help you attract your customers back to your store? After all, it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than attract a new one. What about your inventory? Are you stocking the most profitable vehicles for your lot?

Now, more than ever, it is your opportunity to be ready for when the people come back.

If you haven’t, or if you’re not sure, operators are standing by. It never hurts to call us and see if you’re ready. We’d love to help you.

Patrick Mendoza serves as director of corp. communications for DealerSocket, Inc. Email him at [email protected]

In uncharted waters, the Indiana dealership is leaning heavily on its virtual presence to navigate it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Gregory Arroyo

Emily Spellman serves as director of digital marketing for Circle Buick GMC and has been a driving force in the dealership’s digital push.

This March marked Emily Spellman’s first year as director of digital marketing for Highland, Ind.-based Circle Buick GMC. She’s been a driving force in the 39-year-old dealership’s digital push, but she admits that nothing in her more than 10 years as a marketing professional prepared her for COVID-19.

“We’re all learning as we go,” she says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to focus on what I can control and zeroing in on what really matters, which is taking care of the community and our employees and translating that in our messaging in a way that connects with people.”

Deemed an essential business, Circle Buick GMC’s showroom and service department remain open.

Circle Buick GMC’s showroom and service department remain open despite Gov. Eric Holcomb’s March 23 executive order directing all Hoosiers to stay home. Thanks to local officials, who personally requested that Circle remain open, dealerships operating in its Lake County market were deemed essential. Spellman’s challenge is to strike the right balance when it comes to the dealership’s messaging.

“You don’t want to encourage people to leave their home, but, at the same time, you need to show you’re available to people who need us,” she says. “People are still buying and servicing their cars.”

Digital Readiness

Spellman feels fortunate to work for a dealership that has taken several forward-thinking steps that are helping during this uncertain time, such as adopting DealerSocket’s full platform of solutions. They include the software provider’s CRM, RevenueRadar data-mining tool, and the company’s DealerFire website and PrecisePrice digital retail platforms.

For the three months ending on Jan. 16, RevenueRadar generated 33 store visits, 23 open appointments, and 21 sold units, while PrecisePrice created 40 new leads, 33 store visits, and 16 sold vehicles. Total gross on PrecisePrice deals was $684 higher than units sold via internet leads.

Emily Spellman says DealerSocket’s PrecisePrice digital retail tool is generating a lot of engagement. She notes the dealership is currently working on new F&I product descriptions, videos, and infographics for the tool’s F&I presentation page, as well as F&I-related SEO content for the website.

Spellman calls that snapshot conservative in terms of PrecisePrice’s true impact, noting a definite uptick in customer interactions with the tool. “People are sending us that info, which comes to the CRM. And we’re pretty proactive about setting those appointments,” she says.

“But really, it’s been a mixed bag in terms of the traffic we’re getting,” she adds. “I was looking over some of the data today, and we’re getting walk-ins, return customers … So, digital retailing is one piece of it. The big difference I’ve noticed is between our current DealerFire website and our previous site. We’re getting more leads overall.”

Stay the Course

Sales for the 130-unit-a-month dealership remained on pace with last year through the first two days of April, but Spellman predicts a slowdown for the month. For now, General Motors’ interest-free financing for 84 months with deferred payments for up to 120 days is what’s influencing buyers, who she believes are taking advantage in case their job situation changes.

Circle Buick GMC is using its Facebook page to collect supplies and donations in support of first responders and the local St. Jude House.

“It’s definitely influencing people,” she says.

It’s why the dealership has adjusted a couple of in-house sales procedures to keep customers and employees safe and to abide by the state’s social distancing mandates. The dealership is also using the moment to collect supplies for first responders and the local St. Jude House domestic violence shelter.

“We’re trying to take advantage of the captive audience we have by sending a positive community message,” Spellman says. “People always remember the businesses that stood up to help, were positive and didn’t feed into the crisis mentality.”

As for the road ahead, Spellman’s advice is don’t panic. “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate,” she says. “The dealerships that will survive are the ones that have a cool head and a long-term strategy.”

The Kansas City dealer group is hoping the digital steps it’s taken through the years will sustain demand through the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Gregory Arroyo

Pictured is the showroom of Soave Automotive Group’s Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City, Mo.

Soave Automotive Group, a multi-rooftop operation serving the greater Kansas City area, was off to a solid year, with sales and service profitability outpacing 2019 through February and no sign of that momentum wavering. That was before local health officials delivered two COVID-19-related orders within a period of six days.

The first, which ordered the closure of all social venues like bars and restaurants on March 17, left Kristopher Nielsen unfazed. As Soave’s eCommerce and customer experience manager, he was on the line that day with DealerFire’s design team to get the group’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic online and out to its markets.

“We have no plans to scale back our ad budget,” Nielsen said. “We’re not going to have a knee-jerk reaction. I think there are real opportunities to gain market share in this difficult situation.”

Ready for Anything

The forward-thinking steps the group has taken over the years to button up its operations and virtual presence was the reason for Nielsen’s optimism. He felt especially positive about the integration between the group’s DealerFire websites and DealerSocket’s CRM.

The connection allows him to see how many website visitors a campaign generates, which vehicles they look at, time on site, and then alerts his teams when those customers return — critical capabilities in the weeks ahead.

Nielsen also feels good about the group’s online service scheduling and fully online purchase process, which had generated robust engagement in the 90 days prior to his call with DealerFire. The newest addition to Soave’s websites is DealerFire’s test-drive delivery scheduler, which Nielsen added as part of the provider’s 100-day free use offer.

All three shopper experiences would get calls to action on the landing pages he wanted DealerFire to build to house the group’s COVID-19 response. The main message was that Soave Automotive’s dealerships were open and ready to help.

Promoting those landing pages would be an email campaign, press release, announcement bars on the group’s homepages, and the same SEO content strategy Soave had perfected since partnering with DealerFire in 2010. “The biggest thing for us is checking in on customers and orders coming in,” Nielsen said. “We’re contacting customers reaching the end of their leases. They’re going to need a car regardless of what’s going on in the world.”

Stay the Course

Soave was closing out a lighter than usual but still productive weekend when the second health order was issued. This time, all non-essential businesses were ordered to close on March 24 to stem the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 700 people in the Kansas City area. Dealership service departments could remain open, but sales were limited to appointment-only.

Nielsen said the shoppers who visited his group’s showroom that weekend were especially motivated to buy. Online traffic remained relatively stable, but lead and contact volume declined. Service capacity also declined, as customers opted against non-critical repairs.

Pictured is one of the COVID-19 landing pages DealerFire created for Soave Automotive.

“We’re actually still on track with last year, but January and February were very strong,” Nielsen said. “We’re now going to give back some of those gains.”

As for inventory, Nielsen said the group is keeping in touch with manufacturers as production shuts down. The group wasn’t concerned about being oversupplied, Nielsen noting that Soave has enough vehicles on the ground to get through April.

“A rising tide lifts all boats. Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” Nielsen said. “We recognize that all we can control is how we react. So we’re trying to stay positive and plan as best as we can for where things may go.”

 

DealerSocket’s First Pencil blog offers a peek into discussions taking place in dealer showrooms everywhere. At-home test drives are top of mind, as is digital retailing.

By Gregory Arroyo

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I drove to my son’s school this morning to pick up his tablet for virtual learning. I was excited to get out of the house, but the reality of today’s situation hit me when I saw masked and gloved teachers approach my vehicle to hand me his tablet.

Great leaders always seem to rise to the occasion, and those teachers were doing just that.

I’ve also witnessed great leaders emerging in dealer showrooms. We’ll be featuring them in our new “Inside the Dealership” series, but I’d like to share some tidbits from those interviews as well as notes I’ve jotted down from the social media groups to which I belong.

No Plans to Scale Back

You got to love car people. No matter the situation, you’ll never hear fear in their voice. I say that after listening in to a call between DealerFire’s design and content team and Kristopher Nielsen, who serves as eCommerce and guest experience manager for Kansas City’s Aristocrat Motors.

“We have no plans to scale back our ad budget,” he said firmly. “A rising tide lifts all boats. Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

“We’re not going to have any knee-jerk reactions,” he continued, “because I think there are real opportunities to gain market share in a difficult situation.”

What he was referring to is the shopper conveniences his group offers, including the group’s fully online purchase process, online service scheduling, and at-home test-drives. All three of those offerings got calls to action in the group’s email, landing page, and other marketing pieces detailing the operation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Top-Down Leadership

Then there’s Honda of Cleveland, Tenn., which had an action plan in place the day before Tennessee Gov. Brad Lee declared a state of emergency. That plan was delivered by Brad Cobb, president of Bowers Automotive and owner of Honda of Cleveland. He first shared it with the dealership’s general manager, who shared it with his managers, who shared it with their teams.

“The key has been the communication from the top,” Hailey says. “We’re respecting what’s going on, but we’re not fearing it. We just want to keep things positive.”

Mixed Reports

Overall, it seems at-home test-drives are top of mind, at least on social media. While I try not to plug my company’s products, I feel compelled to share that DealerFire will offer free use of its test-driver delivery scheduler for 100 days to owners of a DealerFire website who also use DealerSocket’s CRM. Click here for details.

News regarding showroom traffic seemed mixed. Some car people reported a business-as-usual sales weekend, while others reported cancellations and empty showrooms. Things seemed to turn a bit as the week progressed, as I began seeing posts about dealers adjusting employee schedules. One post indicated that the dealer was letting employees walk with the promise that the dealership would hire them back once the crisis subsides.

It’s only been Week One of this social distancing, and I can’t fathom what’s to come. My heart and thoughts go out to my commission-based friends manning showrooms and F&I offices. Hey, we got this.

As my friend “Mad” Marv Eleazer likes to say, good luck and keep closing.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at [email protected].