Feb. 8, 2010: Gauging follow up frequency

By Karin Gelschus
Associate Editor
To keep customers coming back, conversations with them need to continue after a purchase is made, and timing is of the essence.
“Follow-up with your sold customers needs to happen within one business day,” said Tory Hornsby, executive vice president of Dealership University, a dealer consultant firm based in Jonesboro, Ga.
To a great degree, follow ups are now standard in the powersports industry, according to the 2009 J.D. Power and Associates’ new bike buyer survey. However, how often they occur after the sale, not to mention before the purchase, appears to radically differ between dealerships.
In addition to frequency, Hornsby says follow-up content and timing is crucial because it can entice consumers to return to the store, or annoy and drive them away.
Ride West BMW of Seattle uses e-newsletters to keep existing customers and prospects informed of the happenings at the dealership. Bill Niwa, the store’s apparel/aftersale manager, notes they’re careful about how many times they contact consumers.
“We really feel we should never bombard our customers, unless they want that,” he noted.
“I think most customers don’t want an e-mail more than twice a month, maybe three times a month if you’re pushing it.”
Ride West typically sends out an e-mail at the beginning of the month and one later in the month as a reminder, adds Niwa. “We really don’t like to hit any customer more than one other time in any given month,” he noted.
So how much is too much?
Dealers differ considerably on the answer. A recent Powersports Business survey of about
140 dealers revealed a variety of responses when asked how many times they follow up with customers after a vehicle purchase.
About 40 percent of respondents said they follow up one time or less, and another 40 percent said they follow up two-three times after a sale. A much smaller percentage of dealers, 10 percent, said they follow-up as many as six times or more.

Prospect follow ups
Before a customer makes a purchase, Tod Kilgore, director of Traffic Log Pro, says dealers should determine the customer’s level of interest and figure out if there are any objections that need to be addressed in order to get them to buy.
“All customers must be taken to a conclusion,” he said. “They purchase a unit from you now or get set in your CRM (customer relationship management system) for future follow up to encourage an opportunity to purchase later.”
Few customers come into the dealership to buy right then and there, says Kilgore.
“Automated e-mails sent to the casual looker keep the dealership in the mind of the customer and entice them to visit again,” he said. “Total communication with every lead is necessary in today’s market.”
There’s no one correct way to follow up since every customer is best reached through different modes of communication, says Hornsby.
“E-newsletters should not be your exclusive way to follow up,” he said. “You need to call them personally if it’s a prospect. If you’re talking about sold customers, e-mail is another great way to communicate. Direct mailing a postcard to your customers is a winning recipe to promote events.”
Regardless of the way dealers decide to conduct their follow ups, Craig Brown, vice president of business development at V-SEPT, a CRM?provider, says they have to be done in a timely matter. “Potential customers like to see a dealership that cares enough to re-connect after a visit to the dealership,” he said. “The idea is to stay in touch and stimulate some interest in the dealership’s products. Sooner or later, a high percentage of a dealership’s prospects will be turned into customers if (the staff) demonstrates the hustle required to achieve that result.”
Timing is critical when following up with customers, says Kilgore. “In most cases the first dealership to contact the customer gains the sale,”?he said.

Follow-up content
The most important thing to remember with follow ups, regardless of what form they take, is they need to have new information, says Hornsby.
“‘Hey, this is Tory down at the dealership, are you still thinking on that bike?’” he said, imitating a follow-up call. “The salesperson basically said, ‘Hey, this is Tory down at the dealership. I have no new information, and I called to waste both your time and mine.’
“How long does a 5-minute phone call take? Five minutes. As far as doing it, it’s not hard,” Hornsby continued. “The problem is what new information do you have to provide? Our rule at the dealership became we don’t call a customer unless we have something new to say.”
The new information could be a sale or discount, he notes. It also could be the salesperson wants to take a look at the customer’s preowned vehicle.
“‘The sales manager really wants your Vulcan 800 Classic,” Hornsby said as an example. “‘We’re looking for clean used bikes, and he wants to take a look at it one more time. I think we’re going to be able to give you some more money for it, can you bring it on down later this afternoon or tomorrow morning?’ This is new information.”
Most dealerships follow up, but marketing frequencies are nowhere near adequate, adds Hornsby. “When new information isn’t provided or there’s not a good reason for the contact,” he continued, “customers will begin feeling like it’s happening too much.”
In order to ensure follow ups are made in an efficient, timely fashion, Kilgore says it must be made a part of the sales process.
“Utilize an organized and thorough sales process from start to finish,” he noted. “The most important aspect of a CRM as a sales tool is to navigate the customer through the buying process efficiently and effectively. Be accountable for every lead that is presented to your dealership, encompassing the total buying process.”

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