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Ian McLean

STARTLING research by Op2ma, an automotive consulting company, has revealed that sales staff in dealerships continue to squander online leads in spite of the increasing role these leads play in meeting sales targets for sales staff and for the dealership.

A recent survey of dealer performance by Op2ma, which is an Australian-based global leader in automotive digital and software solutions, advisory services and professional development, found poor practices persist in relation to the quality of responses to online sales enquiries.

Dealers in all states were surveyed across brands that include Holden, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Jeep and Ford.

It showed that, in spite of nearly three in four buyers commencing their search for a new car online, sales staff remain remarkably ambivalent to the initial online contacts received by the dealership.

Op2ma Performance Consulting general manager Ian McLean said that for most customers, using an online approach as their starting point “is immediately leaving a bad impression”.

The Op2ma research revealed that:

  • Only 52 per cent of dealerships respond to an online enquiry inside one hour.
  • Only 24 per cent ask customers open questions to find out more information.
  • Only 32 per cent mention a test drive or an appointment.
  • Only 16 per cent follow up after the customer’s initial reply.
  • Only 12 per cent ask for the customer’s phone number.
  • Only four per cent suggest the customer comes into the store.

The survey also showed that more than 80 per cent of customers do not have all their questions satisfactorily answered when they go a step further and directly contact a dealer online “and a staggering 36 per cent do not even receive a response at all”.

“Automotive customers are increasingly turning to online communication methods when enquiring about a vehicle and whilst this is not a new or even surprising trend, it is one Australian dealers are neglecting,” Mr McLean said.

“Given the competitiveness of the automotive sales market, having four in every five customers feel dissatisfied so early in the sales process is surprising but it almost beggars belief that as many as a third of all online enquiries go totally unresponded to.

“In a market where so much is being done to harness the revenue potential of every possible lead, having a structure in place to ensure no online enquiries are missed is not just an obvious first step, it’s a fundamental requirement.

“It is not enough, however, to just respond to an online enquiry. The ‘quality’ of a dealer’s response, as proven by the high level of customer dissatisfaction, is also more crucial than ever in the modern vehicle sales process.”

Mr McLean said that a “quality” response comprises three key attributes: timeliness, relevance and action.

“Much like a walk-in enquiry, the timeliness or speed in which a dealer acknowledges a customer is key to making a good first impression,” he said.

“In the showroom, the acceptable time in which to acknowledge a customer is inside two minutes; online, it should also be the same.

“Setting an auto-response email confirming receipt of a customer’s enquiry is the digital equivalent of acknowledging a customer when they enter the dealership and whilst this is common dealer practice for walk-in enquiries, only half of Australian dealers are extending the same courtesy to online enquiries,” he said.

Op2ma said that not only was the relevance of the average dealer’s initial response sub-par, “so too is the collective effort to overcome this”.

“Just 24 per cent of customers are asked further clarifying questions about their wants or requirements, effectively eliminating any chance of getting these customers onside,” Mr McLean said.

“Australian consumers still overwhelmingly prefer to make vehicle purchases in-store but only 32 per cent of dealers are attempting to transition customers to the dealership by offering an appointment or test drive. Compounding this lack of conversion is the fact just 16 per cent of online enquiries are ever followed up.

“The numbers are concerning and suggest dealers are squandering valuable sales opportunities through poor online processes and practices.

“The former may be contributing to the latter to compound the issue but one thing is for sure, if both are not satisfactorily attended to, Australian dealers will continue to make an already challenging sales environment all that more difficult.”

Note: All research and statistics in this article were sourced by Op2ma from Australian automotive dealers and customers.

By John Mellor

Dealer Solutions