Secret Shop: Do You Deliver On Your Online Promise?

Nine Dealers, Eight Quote Requests, One Week, One Clear Winner

When I talk to dealers about the goals of their digital marketing initiatives, lead generation is almost universally a top priority. Who wouldn’t want more leads? But dealers rarely ask for help getting the most out of their current pipeline of leads. While I’d love to believe this is because you’re all following up with every lead, every time, I wasn’t so sure. 


A week ago, I decided to do exactly what 80% of shoppers do when researching a major purchase like a motorcycle: I went online. 


Eight of the nine dealer websites I visited gave me the option to request a quote, so I clicked through on each site, filled out my contact information and began my secret-shopping waiting game. (Note: With no online inventory or request a quote option, that ninth dealer had zero hope of scoring my business.)


The following chart shows what communications I’ve received in the past week. 


The verdict: With no follow up process in place, Dealers 2, 4 and 6 were automatically eliminated from contention. Dealer 5 didn’t fare much better, delivering a single auto-response, and there’s still room for improvement in the follow up processes of dealers 1, 3 and 7. 


When I started receiving text messages with bike pics within 24 hours, Dealer 8 absolutely won this secret shopping experiment. I reached out to let the cat out of the bag that I was doing a little under-cover investigation and to learn a little bit more on their lead follow up philosophy. 


“Our processes here are no secret. We would like every single customer to be treated equally, yet with a customized experience based on their needs,” said the dealership’s Internet department manager. “We strive for a first response (salesperson to consumer) contact to be made within 15 minutes of the inquiry. If we don’t prompt a response from the customer then we have developed a follow up schedule that starts the very next day and continues on a specific cycle until a response is gathered,” he explained.


“Once we get a response, and you’d like to come into the dealership for a test ride, etc., then based on your needs and interests, the process becomes tailored to you as an individual.”


While not every dealership has an established Internet department, you can establish an online lead follow up plan that makes your online customers feel as valued as every customer who walks in your door. 


My colleague Bob McCann, ARI’s director of education, has helped countless dealers refine their lead generation efforts. I asked Bob to take a look at the results of my secret shopping exercise and offer some guidance for powersports dealers to help you develop your own written lead management process. 


Email Auto-Response: An immediate email auto-response is not optional. All of the leading website vendors allow you to setup an email that gets sent to a prospect within minutes of their quote request. This email can quickly and easily achieve three objectives:


1) It confirms that you’re received the request.


2) It can set expectations as to when your prospect can expect to hear from you. 


3) It reminds prospects who you are. 


Just like me, your customers are likely sending inquiries to multiple dealers, so you need to help them remember you.


One caveat, an auto-responder email does not replace a personal follow-up process. A quote request form is a promise to your website visitors that you will follow up with more information. Stay true to your word, and implement a personal lead follow up process. 


Phone Call: A follow up phone call within 24 hours might work, but a phone call within 30 minutes is sure to capture your prospect while they’re hot. 


When you get the prospect on the phone, you want to accomplish three things:


1) Build rapport: Thank them for their inquiry and learn a little bit about their riding history and their stage in the buying cycle. 


2) Learn more about their wants and needs: Are they interested in other models? What about apparel and accessories?


3) Schedule an appointment: Capture their excitement by scheduling a time to come in for a test ride! 


The dealers who called me weren’t lucky enough to catch me on the phone. The most effective voicemails built my excitement and suggested specific times for me to come in for a test ride. Leave a message within 30 minutes, another with 24 hours, a third a week later and a fourth four weeks out. On average, it takes a shopper 79 days to research a product, don’t be discouraged if you don’t connect on the phone immediately – persistence pays off. 


Email: While Bob recommends that dealers always attempt to contact customers via the phone first, the reality is that some people just prefer email. Dealers 1, 3 and 7 gave up on me because I didn’t call them back. They had my email address on hand, but didn’t take the effort to drop me a line to schedule that appointment. If you get a prospect’s voicemail, immediately draft a personal email. 


While it is more difficult to build rapport via email, you can achieve all three of your phone goals via an email conversation. Once you’ve set a specific time, be sure to send your email savvy prospect a calendar invite for their appointment time, so they receive a timely reminder from their favorite calendar app. 


Text Message: When Dealer 8 sent me those personal text messages with photos of new units from the floor inviting me to come and test ride today, they absolutely won me over. While email inboxes can be crowded with spam, the ping of a text message still rings personal. Be sure your online form asks for a cell phone number as an optional field. If your customers fill it out, take advantage of this personal form of communication.   


Chat: One thing that struck me as I conducted my secret shopping experiment was that none of the dealers offered me the opportunity to engage in an online chat. If you want to capture an online shopper’s immediate attention, a chat window is an excellent opportunity to say, “How can I help?” You don’t need to staff a 24/7 chat room, by using a service like LiveChat, you can offer your customers chat that toggles on and off depending on your availability. If no one is available, your chat button simply disappears from your website. 


Bottom line, take advantage of all of the lines of communication your prospects provide you. Every person shops differently, and the key is to persistently follow up on each and every Internet lead. 


Heather Blessington is a nationally-renowned speaker on social media strategy and a digital marketing veteran with more than 20 years experience. As MPN columnist for Web Savvy and CMO at ARI Network Services, Blessington is dedicated to educating powersports dealers digital marketing best practices. 


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