Competition in the auto retail world has always been fierce, and as the industry moves toward more digital-centric sales processes, car dealerships have to get creative to score new leads.
While the dealership itself still represents an essential part of the modern car-buying journey, consumers are dedicating more time shopping independently - research from Cox Automotive found that today’s car buyers spend roughly 14 hours researching online before ever stepping foot on a showroom floor.
The internet provides car dealers with a proactive means of attracting potential buyers, generating new business and enhancing customer loyalty. Of course, leveraging digital marketing channels and new lead generation techniques comes with a bit of a learning curve, especially for small brick-and-mortar dealerships that are just now breaking into the online marketplace.
To stay adaptable, you must think creatively to answer some difficult questions, like: How can our dealership and salespeople attract higher-quality car sales leads? Which marketing strategies deliver the best ROI??
Here are five ways to grow a customer base that will last:
1. Focus on personalization
Today’s car buyers are constantly flooded with advertising campaigns that are carefully designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. While this approach may help attract new customers in the short-term, it doesn’t do much to build lasting brand loyalty your dealership relies on. In fact, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase goods and services from companies that provide personalized experiences, according to a 2018 study from Epsilon. But what, exactly, is personalization in the context of auto sales?
For your salespeople, personalization is all about meeting the needs of individual customers by approaching each lead on a case-by-case basis. This, in turn, helps streamline sales conversations and improve customer satisfaction by building strong, long-lasting human relationships.
While this strategy is often more about maintaining current customers than attracting new ones, it can also bridge the gap between online and offline sales channels. Keep in mind, new car buyers visit just 2.5 dealerships (on average) before making a purchase, according to Cox Automotive. The more you can do to create a seamless web-to-dealership pipeline, the more likely online shoppers will choose your dealership over the competitor down the street.
2. Support car buyers’ independent research
Consumers are taking the lead on collecting information, so lead generation must transition from the traditional outbound to a modern, personalized inbound model. To score more high-quality car sales leads, you must be able to get your brand in front of online shoppers without relying on pushy marketing tactics. This is where optimized web content and thought leadership can really shine. Your website should be an integral part of this strategy. If consumers can find what they’re looking for on your website, you have a better chance of seeing them in your showroom.
Currently, third-party websites are used by 80% of all car buyers during the early stages of their journey, according to Cox Automotive, while 47% rely on dealership websites. Rather than treating your dealership websites as a static marketing tool, you should focus on filling your web pages with useful information your potential customers will actually be searching for. Around 90% of web pages get zero traffic from Google (and 5% get 10 visitors or less per month), according to research from Ahrefs. While that sounds scary - it means it’s crucial to understand how search engines index results.
Leveraging search engine optimization (SEO) tools and a dash of creativity, you can craft engaging content that will help distinguish your dealership from the competition.
3. Turn your dealership website into a conversion powerhouse
While the searchability of dealership websites is a top concern, turning potential customers into ready-to-buy shoppers requires more than a favorable Google ranking.
Car buyers browsing dealership websites and engaging with online content is crucial for generating actionable car sales leads.
By placing a clear call to action on the homepage (and every other web page, for that matter), car dealers may be able to nudge visitors into starting the sales process online.
You can also attract new leads by using digital channels - whether through live chat functions, contact forms or personalized accounts. Your website is a source of customer insight. Even if a potential customer abandons their submission form, your dealership can still collect valuable consumer data that can feed into your wider lead generation strategy. For example, a car salesperson could use this information to follow up with consumers by phone or send targeted emails.
Of course, website optimization also plays a key role in online conversions - according to CBT, a website that takes longer than 10 seconds to load will see its bounce rate increase by roughly 123%.
4.Capitalize on word-of-mouth marketing
Happy customers are often the best marketing resources for any retail business, as a single positive experience can lead to dozens of potential sales leads. According to research from Neilsen, around 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over other types of advertising. This not only demonstrates the value of responsive customer service, it also gives car salespeople a simple way to grow their clientele organically.
The rise of social media has only accelerated the need for online relationship building, and it has also made customer outreach that much easier. Auto dealers can (and should) capitalize on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to spread the word about their vehicle inventory, ongoing promotions and events. You should also encourage car buyers to share their experiences online, as this can help build trust and credibility with potential customers.
5. Engage past customers with targeted promotions
Buying a car is a major investment, so it’s not surprising that many consumers only visit dealerships when they're in the market for a new vehicle. That said, past customers can be an invaluable source of new business opportunities - from ongoing vehicle maintenance to car care service plans, there are plenty of offerings that may appeal to inactive clientele. More importantly, these customers may have a particular need salespeople are unaware of. For example, a previous customer could be looking to trade in an old vehicle or buy a new car for their teenager.
While traditional cold calls can help reconnect with customers, dealerships should take advantage of online channels whenever possible. For example, sending out targeted email promotions can help car salespeople stimulate repeat business or showcase certain F&I products. According to research from the Direct Marketing Association, every $1 a company spends on email marketing translates into a return of $42, on average. Dealerships looking for the best digital marketing ROI should consider building multi-channel campaigns that include email, social media and other forms of online communication.