Responding to Digital Leads – Part II of IV: Where Do We Fall Short?

Responding to Digital Leads

Part 2: Where do we fall short?

In part 1 of this series, I discussed a recent 20-Group exercise where I submitted online inquiries to dealers in two different industries and reviewed the quality of the responses received. If you haven’t read part 1 then click here to view it on LinkedIn.  In this second article, I will discuss some of the major problems that were uncovered during this process. Sit down, strap in, and hold on!

Failure to follow up

The biggest problem uncovered during this project related to the ~25% of dealers who didn’t respond to the initial inquiry, especially as each dealer was given four days to respond. By “no response,” I mean no auto-responder message or any other acknowledgement of the request.

When approached about this lack of response, some of the dealers were surprised while others were not. In following up with the dealers that failed to respond, I identified the following reasons:

  • No defined process in place for following up on internet leads
  • Email accounts not being monitored
  • Bad email addresses (the request was not received)
  • Employees who monitored the internet leads were on vacation
  • Leads were distributed to a group of employee addresses and then everyone assumed someone else had followed up on the lead
  • Not enough staff to follow up on the leads
  • Aggressive spam filters that weren’t being audited, blocking outside inquiries
  • Sales staff who have never been trained to follow up on internet leads

A dealership up north actually had the most painful response (you know who you are). The Sales Manager followed up on my lead within 10 minutes (the second-best response time of any inquiry I submitted) to let me know that his top salesperson would get right back to me with more information about the vehicle that I was interested in. Why was it painful?  After four months I’m still waiting to hear back from that “top salesperson.”


With a limited number of primary website providers in the industries that Spader works with, I learned relatively quickly that the basic auto-response formats provided by each company are very similar. In the responses I received, it was evident that very few dealers have taken the time to customize the content in those emails. For a consumer who is shopping multiple dealers, it’s easy to confuse the responses from different dealerships, because most of them look alike.

The auto-response is the first chance to let a customer know the basics about your dealership (who you are, what you are about, where the dealership is located, and why the customer should do business with you). For some dealers in this study, the auto-response also became my last contact with the dealership. If you aren’t going to follow up on customer emails, then at least make your first/last impression a good one.

I was pleasantly surprised with a powersports dealership in the south who is in a very competitive market. The GM had configured the auto-reply message to let the consumer know why the dealership was different from the competition and provided proof (including a link to their Google reviews and a customer quote) of that difference.

As to problems with the auto-responses, there were a variety:

  • “Canned” responses provided by the website provider, plain and boring, with some not even mentioning the name of the dealership.
  • Jumbled and/or hard to read responses They may have provided a link back to the vehicle I was looking at, but those hyperlinks were lengthy and made the response look like an afterthought.
  • Most said that the dealer “should” respond within a window of time. I guess “should respond” is a better term for some of the dealers than “would respond” because some “never responded.”
  • A few responses included pictures or company logos, but not all the pictures displayed properly (some were just placeholders where the picture would have normally been) and a couple of the logos were so large that they dominated the screen.
  • Most of the auto-responses failed to include other important information about the dealership, such as the address and key contact information, just in case the customer was “hot to trot.”
  • Again, for some dealers, this was the last time I heard from them.

Would you believe two members of a 20-group wanted to challenge the quality of the lead that I had submitted? They thought the lead was too good to be true, and thus there was no way I would have been a buyer. It actually happened! Does this mean that we don’t want those “A” buyers? Would we prefer to only communicate with customers in 140 characters (or less)?

Finally! Contact with a human being

Some dealers consider the auto-responder to be the first contact, but for me the real first response is when I receive an email from a living, breathing human being. This is the chance for each dealer to begin building a relationship with the customer, the foundation of the sale. Skip this step, and you have dramatically reduced the chance of earning another customer.

As a former General Manager of a large powersports dealership, I’m fully aware of every excuse the sales teams and sales manager can and will use. I’ve heard them all:

  • “That guy’s not a buyer.” Yet if we make a good impression with the person who sent the email, he/she is more likely to come in.
  • “He shot that lead to every dealership within 500 miles.” Yet if we stand out from the crowd with our response, we might be the one he chooses to purchase from.
  • “Internet leads never turn into sales.” Tell that to the auto industry; according to a 2015 IHS Automotive Survey1 the average consumer spent 8 hours and 42 minutes of time on the internet researching the vehicle that he/she intends to purchase.
  • “Even if we gave it to him, he’d complain about having to fill out the paperwork.” Everyone complains about paperwork.  What’s new? Do a better job of setting expectations.
  • “The area code isn’t local, we’ll never see her.” Today’s cell phone user can keep a number from one area code to the next. Are you willing to gamble on losing a sale over the customer not being local?

The team over at the RV Trader conducted a survey of customers on customers, and they were nice enough to share some of that research with me. I can tell you most customers don’t shotgun leads, many digital inquiries are from serious buyers, and for most consumers price isn’t the key factor in the purchasing decision. I know that you will never hear excuses like those listed above from the best members of your sales team. Top sales staff treat every lead/customer as a buyer until the vehicle is sold, or the customer moves to a new country, cuts off their phone and quits forwarding their mail to the new address. The best sales men and women don’t look for reasons why the customer won’t buy a new vehicle, they look for reasons why the customer hasn’t yet purchased and then work to overcome those obstacles.

Sorry for running of the rails there, let’s get back to the “first contact.” The initial email from the sales team is that first opportunity to build the relationship with the customer, but many dealers fall short. The most common errors:

  • Failing to answer all the customer questions
  • Skipping the step in the sales process where you begin building a relationship with the customer
  • Employees asking questions that were included/answered in the initial customer inquiry
  • Typos and grammatical errors in the responses (come on, a spell checker is FREE)
  • Using personal email addresses instead of the company’s address ( probably has a poor closing ratio)
  • Including links to the OEM’s website instead of to the dealer’s website
  • Not including contact information for the person who responded to the lead (name, phone number, address, and email)
  • Failing to include a reason to buy/asking for the business (widely skipped in my study)

OK, I’ve now exceeded my word count for this article. In part 3 of this series I’ll dig in to the components of an effective lead response. There might even be a part 4 with some bonus content based on the responses I’ve received from part 1, and what I expect to hear back on part 2. And, if you are interested in some real time discussion on these topics then be sure to follow these articles on Spader’s LinkedIn site, where I’ll respond to some of your questions.

Thanks for your time,

Mark J. Sheffield