April 23, 2007 – Converting virtual leads into actual sales

Four years ago, Terry Adams, owner of Adam’s Motorsports in Montgomery, Ala., placed Jody Whisenant, the dealership’s finance coordinator, in charge of monitoring their Web site full-time and pursuing any and all sales leads. But Adams’ set up is rare.
A majority of powersports dealers with Web sites don’t have an employee specializing in online sales. Instead it’s part of the regular sales staff’s duties to handle leads generated from the Internet, according to a recent survey conducted for Powersports Business.
That might be why dealers convert only around 22 percent of new unit sales leads generated from the Internet into actual sales.
“I think a lot of dealers have the mindset that it’s a necessary evil to have a Web site and they’re not working it,” Adams said. “Web sites are one of the best sales tools you can have, but you’ve got to work it. It requires someone’s full attention” to be successful.
Dealers in the marine industry appear to have the same difficulty converting Internet leads into sales. Bob McCann, director of customer service for Channel Blade Technologies, which provides tools and training to marine businesses, says when his company conducts mystery-shopping studies on behalf of its manufacturer partners, it doesn’t hear back from the majority of marine dealers it contacts.
“We send the leads out to different dealers from their manufacturers or from their own Web sites, and we can say with authority that with 60 percent of the leads, you never hear from the dealers,” McCann recently told PSB’s sister publication Boating Industry.
He said of the 40 percent of dealers who do respond, roughly half don’t supply the correct information.

Handle With Care
According to the PSB survey, at S&S Powersports in Clarksville, Ind., of the 300 Internet new unit leads generated from their Web site in a month, only 5 percent resulted in sales.
“I think a lot of it has to do with how we handle the leads. And I will fess up that I’m not at all satisfied with the way that my staff handles the leads,” said S&S owner Chris McCarty. “I’d rather funnel leads to one person to track and manage as opposed to the system we have now, where the sales manager hands them off to different sales people. It just makes sense to have one person in charge.”
According to the PSB survey, out of 159 dealers with Web sites, 44 reported they do have an online specialist. But in most cases that person is also the owner, the general manager or the sales manager.
Having at least one employee focused on the Internet could be key for dealers in turning more virtual leads into real sales, even if that person does have other responsibilities.
At Storm Lake Honda in Stormlake, Iowa, their Web site generates around 500 solid leads per month from people interested in buying a new unit. Of those leads, around 50 percent are eventually converted into actual sales. Larry Schultz, president, credits the high percentage to having a dedicated online sales specialist, who happens to be his son Jeff Schultz.
“I think having someone in that position who answers all queries makes a difference, because I know when he’s gone they pile up on my desk. I don’t get to them. I don’t have time,” Larry Schultz said.
While Jeff Schultz has a myriad of other responsibilities at his father’s dealership, he sets aside a portion of the day to concentrate solely on the Internet. He says it’s a vital time commitment someone needs to make to turn Internet leads in to sales.
“Whether it’s in the morning, at lunchtime or at the end of the day, take the time to respond to e-mail queries daily,” Jeff Schultz said. “It’s just the way things are now. You’ve got to treat an e-mail message like a phone call.”

Resource limitations
Harla Pace, owner of Alaska Cycle Center in Anchorage, Ala., says she’d love to have a sales position focused solely on the Internet, but right now resources limit her ability to hire someone. The way she handles Internet leads now is for the promotions manager to monitor the Web site, gather up all of the leads and pass them on to regular sales staff for follow up.
It’s a method Pace readily admits isn’t the most effective.
“I think it would be better if I had two or three people who only handled the Internet, because I think leads would get responded to more quickly and result in more sales,” Pace said. “When you pass them off to normal sales people who also have to answer telephone inquiries — 60 percent of our business is actually done using the telephone — and the person walking in the door is important, the queries that are being handed off are to people who have other obligations.
“It just seems common sense to me if you have someone who can deal with it right away. That’s what people on the Internet want. They don’t want to wait two hours. They want it now.”
Pace says she struggles being personable over the Internet.
“You have to realize that they’re a different type of customer, that they’re incredibly different than the guy who walks through the door or uses the telephone.”
Todd Loomis, owner of Yellowstone Polaris in Billings, Mont., handles all online inquiries. He says he still hears more from potential customers via telephone than e-mails, and he isn’t sure how many of the customers coming through the door are a result of his Web site or e-mail replies.
“When customers come in we really don’t ask how they got information,” Loomis said. “We should, but we’re typically so busy making the sale, loading it up and handling the paperwork. It’s just a question we really don’t ask.”

Expectations For Online Sales
Adams, the Alabama dealer, says he doesn’t have specific sales goals for Whisenant, his online specialist. His only expectation is for Whisenant to entice as many customers in to the store as possible.
“I’d say if we can get them in the door,
70 percent of the time it’s a sale,” Adams said.
Adams says Whisenant’s duties include checking e-mail generated from the dealership’s Web site five or six times a day, pulling financial applications and looking at sales leads. The only requirement Adams says he has of Whisenant is to respond to every e-mail query he gets.
Adams says Whisenant pursues Internet-generated leads the way any salesperson would if a customer walks through the door — ask what he or she is riding now, get a feel for what they’re interested in and then ask how they plan to pay for it.
Whisenant then directs the customer back to the Web site where they can then fill out a finance application.
“Before we get to talking price, before we get into this negotiating game, we tell them, ‘Let’s get you approved and see what we’re dealing with.’ And that works well,” Adams said.
When a customer makes a purchase as a result of a lead generated from the Web site, the commission from that sale goes to Whisenant.

The Future Is Now
Loomis, owner of Yellowstone Polaris in Billings, Mont., says the power of the Internet isn’t something dealers can afford to ignore. Like many others, he’s discovering it can be a strong and extensive marketplace not only for selling new units, but also for selling used inventory, parts and accessories.
“Not too long ago we got a sizeable parts order from someone in Iraq. Exactly how he got our site, I don’t know,” Loomis said. “Who knows what the future will be, but I think you definitely have to have an Internet site.”
According to the PSB survey, 152 dealers say they specifically use their Web site to market their products and services. Adams says doing that effectively requires dealers to consistently update the information on their sites and pursue all sales leads.
“The payoff is worth it. It’s hard work, it does take time,” he said, “but you’re crazy not to use it.”

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