There’s a lot more involved in securing a finance approval than a credit score, so why aren’t we making sure today’s digital car buyer understands the factors that put deals over the curb?

By Gregory Arroyo

During my magazine days, one of my go-to contributors was an F&I trainer who, for a few years, landed speaking opportunities based on the following session title: “A Credit Score Isn’t F&I.” It remains his matra even today.

Now, the trainer’s message targeted F&I producers and sales managers who didn’t understand deal structure and wrongly believed a 740 credit score guaranteed an approval. Not even an 800 score is an automatic approval if the customer doesn’t have money down and didn’t land on the right car.

That trainer and his session came to mind during a recent conversation about digital retailing with Winston Harrell, a more than 30-year industry veteran who serves as one of DealerSocket’s Strategic Growth Managers. He believes digital retailing is a good additional step in the process and one that consistently delivers high-quality leads.

“What I like about digital retail, especially right now [during COVID-19], is it affords an opportunity for customers to have a better experience in their information-gathering phases,” he says.

However, Harrell wondered if we’re setting up today’s digital car buyers for failure by allowing them to think a credit score is all that’s involved in securing a finance approval. Sure, a credit score can help determine rate and term, but a credit score isn’t what finance sources use to determine the single greatest factor involved in an approval: Ability to pay.

“That’s why I believe SocketCredit is a far more important tool right now,” he says. “It tells me right from the beginning where I’m going to be with that customer that just came through our PrecisePrice tool.”

Harrell’s point is that since today’s digital retail tools allow customers to work deals backward, dealers need the CRM to be able to do the same. In DealerSocket’s case, SocketCredit enables dealers to manage the credit application process within the CRM — from receipt of the online credit application and completion of the required compliance checks to submission for finance approval and receipt of the finance source’s decision.

So, no, this isn’t a plug for DealerSocket’s platform, because what Harrell observed is a crucial entry point for the showroom process — the hand-off, if you will. Here’s a scenario of how that might work:

Let’s say a customer engages your digital retail tool. She sets the sliders to her current credit score, desired down payment, and term length. Unsatisfied with the monthly payment, the customer enters an APR for which she thinks she qualifies. Satisfied, the customer submits her customized deal to the dealership.

Once the deal appears in the CRM, Harrell says the customer should be entered into a campaign that calls for a sales staffer to reach out immediately. Now, there are two questions Harrell says the salesperson needs to pose once connected: Where did you get your credit score? And where did you get the rate you plugged into the tool?

If the answer is, “My credit union,” the response should be, “Fantastic!” Next, the salesperson needs to ask if the customer completed a credit application with the credit union. If the rate and score were based on a simple phone call, here’s what you want to say:

“Great! A credit score does matter, but there’s so much more that comes into play. I work with 28 finance sources that may be able to do better than what you saw on PrecisePrice (managing expectations). Would you like me to review those for you? I’ll shoot you a text/email with a link authorizing a credit inquiry. Fill it out, and I can see which one of those programs works best for you. Is that OK?

Yep, with a few trial closes, you just might capture the most critical element to putting a car deal over the curb: the customer’s financing.

And here’s the beauty of Harrell’s scenario: All that data you collected on the customer — vehicles of interest, compliance checks, credit app, authorization to pull credit, and lender decisions — are accessible through the CRM.

That means the next time a regulator questions a Red Flag verification or a customer wants proof your dealership had authorization to pull credit, “you don’t have to go into multiple pieces of software to dig it up.”

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 garroyo@dealersocket.com.

DealerSocket’s Over the Curb blog visits with a longtime industry veteran who had a lot to say about digital retailing and what’s holding it up.

By Gregory Arroyo

Judy Greeby spent more than two decades working retail before making the jump to the provider side in 2006. Asked for her take on digital retailing, she says, “I would absolutely love to have Judy Greeby, Strategic Growth ManagerDealerSocket’s PrecisePrice in my store. It would be all over my site: ‘Getting your best price and creating your own deal is as easy as 1-2-3.’”

For the last 13 years, Greeby has served as a Strategic Growth Manager for DealerSocket. During a recent chat about how dealerships are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, she shared a few thoughts on digital retailing and how dealers can shorten the learning curve for consumers, who she believes are still intimidated by the tool.

She likens the problem to a dealership she worked for when she first entered the business. Located in a tough neighborhood, the dealership was secured by a black, wrought-iron fence that wrapped the facility.

“I used to tell that dealer, ‘You shouldn’t paint the wrought iron black if you want people to see through it,’” she says. “And when people pulled in, they felt trapped. Same thing with the website.”

The problem is car buyers are trained not to hit those call-to-action buttons unless committed to a purchase, she says, as they know most CTAs lead to a lead form. “We need to help customers understand how simple and how non-obligating it would be to use these digital retailing tools,” she says, adding that dealers need to be careful about gating their digital retail experience too soon.

“Let the customer get through parts of the process or the entire process,” she says. “At some point, they’ll say, ‘Here’s a payment I can afford. Let’s move forward and click.'”

Thinking out loud, Greeby also wonders if those digital retail CTA buttons need to be replaced by pop-ups that encourage customers to try the tool. “I was just talking to a GM about this the other day,” she says. “He clicked on one of his store’s websites and said, ‘Look at this. It asks the customer to click here for the best price, then below that is their PrecisePrice digital retail button.”

We agreed that if anything is redeeming about COVID-19, it’s that the period has helped move the digital retail conversation beyond whether it’s a good idea to move parts of the finance process upstream. And I have a feeling those learnings will be on display during our industry’s recovery, which, according to several market watchers, is officially underway.

Greeby did share one recommendation outside of the digital retailing discussion, and it’s one I’d like to close this blog entry with because it speaks to the current environment. She suggests that dealers have their detail teams certify when a vehicle is cleaned by placing hangtags inside that read: “Sanitized on May 5, 2020.” That single step, Greeby believes, will go a long way with today’s skittish consumer.

“The physical inventory on your lot needs to be your No. 1 priority right now and making sure your virtual showroom is up to snuff,” she advises. “That means getting cars cleaned up, and doing all I can in terms of merchandising.”

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 garroyo@dealersocket.com.

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
sejal@dealersocket.com

 

Details regarding our COVID-19 relief package:

We’re excited to announce that Steve Zadoorian and Dave Druzynski have both taken on new, expanded roles at DealerSocket! In their new positions, Steve and Dave will ensure that DealerSocket and Auto/Mate customers and employees continue to benefit from an emphasis on customer support and company culture.

Steve Zadoorian

Steve Zadoorian has been named Senior VP Operations and Customer Care at DealerSocket. In his new role, Steve will lead the Installations and Customer Support teams for both DealerSocket and Auto/Mate. Under Steve’s leadership, Auto/Mate achieved a customer retention rate above 95 percent and has received multiple consecutive DrivingSales Dealer Satisfaction awards. Steve’s commitment to customer satisfaction has also helped to build Auto/Mate’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) to +59, a score that’s nearly double the software industry average of +31.

“My first goal is to integrate the support service teams so we have a common process; and also make sure we have a well-integrated and cohesive implementation process for new clients,” said Steve. “I look forward to bringing our teams and best practices together and ensuring that our customers remain highly satisfied.

Dave Druzynski has been named Vice President, People and Culture at DealerSocket.

Dave Druzynski

In his new role, Dave will oversee the development of company culture and employee satisfaction. Under Dave’s leadership, Auto/Mate has received ten consecutive “Best Place to Work” awards by the Albany Business Review, and nine consecutive “Top Workplaces” awards by The Times Union.

“Employee happiness has always been a high priority at Auto/Mate and I am thrilled to work with the DealerSocket team who shares that same belief. Rather than just have one company’s culture consume the other, we plan to identify the best aspects of both cultures and merge them together as one team,” said Dave.

Dave and Steve will continue to operate from DealerSocket’s Albany, NY office.

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 garroyo@dealersocket.com.

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 garroyo@dealersocket.com.

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 pmendoza@dealersocket.com.

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.”

 

Honda of Cleveland is coming off a 20-unit weekend with hope and a plan to keep leads flowing and the service drive humming during these uncertain times. DealerSocket gets the scoop from BDC Manager Stephen Hailey.

By Gregory Arroyo

Pictured is the DealerFire-created landing page housing Honda of Cleveland’s message to its customers.

It’s March 17 and Honda of Cleveland has only had one Coronavirus-related cancelation since Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency on March 12. Fear of the virus wasn’t the reason, however.

Stephen Hailey, BDC director for Honda of Cleveland, says the customer canceled because of last week’s steep slide in the stock market. Overall, he adds, cancelations are about the same as the two first months of the year. Leads are still flowing in, online scheduling is keeping the service drive humming, and the 190-unit-per-month dealership is coming off a 20-car weekend.

“That’s pretty strong for the middle of the month,” Hailey says, noting that eight of those sales were the result of the dealership’s March Mania Event. “We walked in here on Monday to 16 leads. We also got seven calls.

“One BDC agent had three appointments, and all three showed,” he adds. “I think what we’re going to see is less showroom traffic and more internet and phone.”

Prevention Marketing

The dealership implemented several preventative measures to ease employee and customer fears and is using several channels to communicate its response to the market. There are the Facebook videos showing gloved employees wiping down entranceways and other contact points. There’s also the landing page DealerFire, the dealership’s website provider, created to house a message from the Honda outlet’s general manager.

Honda of Cleveland posted photos like this to its DealerFire website and Facebook page.

The landing page, which also lists several convenience services the dealership offers, recorded 14,000 views as of Tuesday, March 17. Hailey credits the email blast the dealership sent to a customer list of 52,000 people for much of those hits. He says the dealership will soon email another list of 13,000 Honda owners registered with the DMV.

The BDC manager is quick to credit DealerFire for its swift response. “When I called [DealerFire], they told me not to hang up — ‘Don’t go anywhere. Let me get the answer,'” he says. “It wasn’t, ‘I’ll call you back.’ It was, ‘Stay right there until we get this answered.’ And they came up with a solution.”

As for the build time, DealerFire promised a 24-hour turn but got it done in less time. “All of sudden, it was up,” Hailey says. “Whenever I contact DealerFire with something I need, it’s always extremely easy. And I never have to worry. It always gets done.”

Honda of Cleveland finished the week 11 units short of where it was last year through the middle of March, which Hailey took as a good sign heading into the weekend. “I think the biggest key to this is we have good leadership at the corporate level. They did a tremendous job of leading the general managers.”

 

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 garroyo@dealersocket.com.

I hope you, your family, and your dealership teams are healthy during this unprecedented time.

I wanted to send an update regarding the steps we have taken to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among our team members, our dealership customers, and our communities.

We have asked our team members not to travel during this period. Please know that our team members are fully available to you and will proactively communicate by phone, video call, chat, email, and text as you need us. Our team will continue to deliver DealerSocket’s trusted, mission-critical software and services for you.

In addition, our team members have been working from home this week. We have a robust and tested business continuity plan in place, and as such, we continue to operate at full capacity for our software, our business, and our support.

We are here for you. We will get through this, and we will get through it together.

Thank you for your loyalty and your business. We value and appreciate you. Please know that you can always rely on DealerSocket for our software, support, and our dealer-first focus. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at sejal@dealersocket.com.

Please stay healthy and safe.

 

Sejal Pietrzak
President & CEO
DealerSocket