Welcome mat for the Internet customer, part 3

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Part 3: Follow up is critical

Allan Coates
Columnist

Last month I explored the price quote and how to present the information in a timely and organized way. Now it is time for one of the most critical aspects of the entire online selling system: the follow up.

The follow up to the price quote should be focused on a credit card deposit (totally refundable for any reason prior to delivery) if the customer is ready to buy. Otherwise, use e-mail and telephone contact to arrange an appointment for a test drive or trade in appraisal. 

Don’t press the trade-in angle because Internet customers usually avoid that topic until the end. Be subtle and mention you will gladly appraise any trade-in if applicable.

Some Internet sales consultants use too much caution in contacting the Internet customer and assume anything outside an e-mail will blow the deal. If a phone number is provided, by all means use it. 
Start with permission-based marketing by asking “Have I got you at a good time?” and then continue the conversation with “Did you receive my e-mail price quote?” 

If no telephone number is initially provided, don’t worry because many customers tend to offer a telephone number later once the online relationship grows.

No matter how great your think your price e-mail is, you gain nothing if the customer does not receive or read your wonderful prose. You’ve sent out the “no hassle, no haggle, no surprises” e-mail but nothing happens. No reply, however, does not necessarily mean no deal.  

There may be technical reasons why the e-mail was not received, maybe it’s lost in e-mail filters or was deleted because the subject title didn’t look like a car dealer e-mail. 

Perhaps the customer was busy or away or suffered from sticker shock, had to check with a spouse or was still early in the buying cycle, etc; whatever the case may be, don’t assume the deal is off.

Contact them again after a reasonable amount of time (3-5 days). Keep trying by e-mail and by phone but don’t bombard the customer with excessive follow ups. Maintain respectful contact - i.e. keep asking politely until you are told “No thanks” or “I’ve bought elsewhere” or “I’ve changed my mind.”

Some will never reply – but that’s life.

There are no hard and fast rules but I found an Internet customer is more likely to be near the decision stage when lengthy comments are made in the comment box. Furthermore, an online customer with pre-approved credit from the manufacturer’s website is a good bet to buy.

There are three types of purchase time frames: 

Some customers will decide relatively quickly, especially if the manufacturer is offering a rebate or there is the possibility of winning some sort of prize. These customers expect and require a fast reply. 

Others are just beginning their car shopping and may not have even decided on make, model, trim line, options, etc. These customers need periodic contact to try and narrow their choices to a specific vehicle. 

The last group usually delays making a decision and tends to gravitate towards a used vehicle rather than the new one initially requested. With these customers, I would suggest a demo, a cheaper new vehicle or offer several used vehicles as alternatives similar to what was originally requested. In the case of used vehicles, this customer likes to see more than one choice or they feel that the car dealer is making the choice for them.

When sending an Internet price quote on a used vehicle, try to tell a short, interesting story about the used vehicle. Don’t use abbreviations in describing features as writing out air conditioning instead of jotting off A/C shows a little more value in the car.

Whether the purchase is made, delayed or it just isn’t there, thank every customer at the end of the process for using your dealership’s “no hassle, no haggle, no surprises” Internet car buying service to shop. Encourage the customer to use your parts and service department too. Finally, ask for a referral and offer a reward (say $50) to any customer that refers a friend who eventually buys.

We live in a digital world and it is now secret that most customers will do some form of research online before buying a car. And a growing segment of the savy online shoppers are now buying cars online as well. While it may be a smaller portion of your overall business, it can be dangerous to disregard online leads.

Having a dedicated system in place for engaging online customers just makes sense. Don’t place rigid definitions on who is an Internet customer and don’t stereotype a customer by the way he or she initially expressed interest in your dealership. Any sale is a good sale, especially in this market, so expand your doors and set aside quality sales times for generating leads online.

Allan Coates is the sole proprietor of the business consulting firm I Write the Words. He works on connecting car dealers with customers through advertorials, e-mail templates, marketing materials and newsletters. He can be reached at arthurallan@cogeco.ca or 905-483-9935.