Responding to Digital Leads – Part IV of IV: Meat and Potatoes?

Responding to Digital Leads

Part IV: Meat and Potatoes?

In Part I 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.  Part II of the series detailed some of the major problems that were uncovered during this process. Part III discussed autoresponders and the first portion of an email response. Here in Part IV, we’ll outline the remainder of what should go in that first email to the customer.

In this final article, I’ll cover a multitude of components that can be included in the first email to the customer. Some I consider to be critical and should be a part of every response, while others should just be a part of your arsenal. If there was one response that worked for every lead, then that would make this process a lot easier. However, there isn’t, so that’s why we have the list.

Response Time

It’s hard to overstate how important a prompt response is. The most progressive dealers I know will respond to the customer within minutes, before he/she has even left the keyboard. The data I’ve seen from the auto industry shows that minutes count. Every minute you wait to respond to the digital lead will result in a small reduction of your closing ratio. Wait 24 hours to respond to the customer and not only have half of those customers moved on to another dealership, but the closing ratio on the ones you do contact will be significantly lower than the dealer who responds in 5 minutes.

Larger dealerships have an advantage because in most cases they have a larger number of incoming leads and they can devote specific employees to follow up on those emails. With repetition and solid leadership, they also learn by analyzing what works and what does not work (which customers purchase) while continuing to improve their process. I’m not saying that smaller dealers can’t win at this game, but it takes commitment from management and ownership.

Critical Components of the Response

Part III covered the introductory component of the initial response to the customer. Here are some of the other pieces of the first email that should be included in every first contact.

  • Etiquette – While it often feels like we no longer live in the age of civility, when a customer reaches out to us, we are still the professional (the expert) and the customer is still the customer. Until we build a relationship with a customer, until they ask us to stop, we should refer to him/her as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Sir, Doctor, etc. This small item reinforces that we are the professionals and that our parents raised us right.
  • Grammar and spelling – If we have an employee who doesn’t understand the difference between “there” and “they’re,” “your” and “you’re,” “it’s” and “its,” doesn’t know when to use “me” or “I,” or who struggles to build complete sentences, they probably shouldn’t be emailing your customers. I’ve shopped more than 100 dealers over the last year and more than 50% of the responses I received had at least one typo in them. Attention to detail should be a part of every employee’s job description. Spell checkers are free, use them.
  • Answering all the customers’ questions – Many incoming leads are short and often lack all of the details we’d like to see. If a customer takes the time to ask a series of questions, then make sure he/she receives an answer to every one of them. If a question can’t be answered, then at least let the customer know why and what additional information you will need to provide the answer that he/she is looking for.
  • Creating a sense of urgency – Ask a customer on the showroom if they need help and most will respond with an “I’m just looking.” What’s missing from that sentence is the last part. What the customer means to say is “I’m just looking… for a reason to buy.” Let’s give the customer that reason. There’s always a great reason to buy, let’s just make sure the customer knows what it is. Here are some examples:
    • “This is the last one of that model left and they are going to be way more expensive next year.”
    • “Our 0% financing expires at the end of this month.”
    • “These are the largest rebates I have ever seen and they are only good for another week.”
    • “This is the cleanest used one we’ve ever had. It only has 487 miles on it, and another customer is also interested in purchasing it.”
  • Contact information – We should all see our businesses as a brand and we should always work to expand our profile. I like when I see a dealership where every employee uses a standard signature block, it just looks professional. If you can’t get everyone on board with that program, then at least make sure your sales staff have something that not only makes your company stand out, but that is also a resource for the customer. At a minimum, the signature block should include:
    • Employee Name and Job Title
    • Company Name
    • Contact Phone Numbers
    • Dealership Address
  • Get on the customer’s calendar – There are many ways to accomplish this item, but you just want to give the customer a reason to get back in contact with you. While we focus on the outliers, I feel most customers who are treated with respect will act in kind, especially if you have already worked to build a relationship with them. Getting on the customer’s calendar is just another way of saying that you need to give the customer a reason to contact you and a specific date and time for that interaction. Here are some examples (notice they are all questions):
    • “When can you come in to take a test ride?”
    • “Saturdays are busy days for us and I’d like to make sure that I have the time to answer all of your questions. Can you come in on Friday at 4:00 PM?”
    • “Can you have that credit application filled out by the end of the day?”
    • “By Thursday, can you send me some pictures of your trade in?”
  • Thank the customer – It might seem like common sense, but we are often rushing to get the response out and then forget this critical step. Every customer has choices on where to spend his/her money, thank him or her (or the family) for choosing to give you an opportunity.

Optional Components of the Response

These pieces don’t need to be in every response, but they should be part of every salesperson’s tool kit and should be utilized as they are needed.

  • Repetition of the customer needs – I like to say that “customers often know what they want, but they don’t know what they need”. The internet provides customers a wealth of information, but not all that information is correct (and much of it is just plain wrong). There are times where it’s good to take what the customer has said and then repeat it back to him/her.


Your response could include something such as, “I understand that you are looking for vehicle X. So you are aware, that vehicle is designed to do A, B, and C. If that’s what you are planning to use it for then great, but if not then let me know what you are planning to use it for and I’ll make sure to point you in the right direction”. There’s almost nothing worse than a customer who has purchased the wrong vehicle, as he/she will make the Salesperson’s and the Service Department’s lives miserable. It’s an easy situation to avoid and we build credibility with the customer during the process.

  • Follow the customer’s instructions – If a customer asks you to do something, and it’s legal and ethical, do it.
  • Pictures – 10,000 words still fails to describe how beautiful it is to watch a sunset while you are on the beach in Key Largo. If you are talking to the customer about a specific vehicle, then include a picture of it. Every vehicle is unique and while most every OEM provides stock photos of the vehicles they sell, there is something about a fresh photo that can touch a customer on an emotional level.
  • Brochures – Attach a PDF that includes specs and highlights of the vehicle the customer is looking at. Better yet, include one that is customized with your dealership name and logo (that way if the customer shares it, everyone knows where it came from).
  • Links – Make it easy for the customer. If you have an alternative in stock that might be a better choice for the customer, then provide him/her with a link to that vehicle’s listing on your website. Don’t just tell the customer to go to your website to search for stock # XXX, provide the link. If the customer asked about financing, provide the link to your online finance application. If the customer asks about customer service, provide a link to your Google page that highlights all your 5-Star reviews.
  • Options – As I said before, customers know what they want, not what they need. When a customer requests information on a vehicle, provide him or her with options. This could be other vehicles you have in stock that meet the needs of the customer, a clean used model you have in stock, or something on closeout that you’d love to sell.
  • Resources – There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” as long as you follow it up with “but I can find out for you.” If a customer asks a question about maintenance and you aren’t sure, then email the question to your Service Manager and copy the customer. If a customer wants a particular accessory, then email your favorite Parts Associate the customer’s question and copy the customer. Not only can you provide resources to the customer, but you can become a resource.

Other Things to Consider

These items don’t fall into the other categories, but they are important.

  • Honesty – Never lie to a customer. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. Triple-stacked lies easily topple over.
  • OEM websites – Never point the customer back to the OEM’s website. Once the customer is there, that site might end up pointing the customer to one of your competitors. If your own website doesn’t provide the information the customer needs, then find that information and send it to the customer. Never relinquish control.
  • Map – If the customer isn’t local, or has not yet been to your dealership, then send the customer a link to a map with directions to your dealership.
  • Hours of operation – Let the customer know when you open and when you close (especially if you have odd hours or a holiday is involved).
  • Timing and control – Most dealerships have one or two days a week when they are extremely busy. Ask the customer to come in during the slower times and give them a reason to do so (shorter wait times, more time to demo vehicles, etc.). Additionally, if you have a day off when the rest of the dealership is open, make sure the customer knows when you work.
  • Event – Inform the customer if there is something special going on at the dealership (BBQ, party, prizes, live music, etc.).
  • CRM – Every dealership spends a significant amount of time and money to generate leads. A “looker” today might be a “buyer” tomorrow. By adding the customer to the CRM, we can continue to foster our relationship with him/her.
  • Referrals – In this day and age, excellent customer service is hard to find. Take care of your customers and they will send you referrals. It doesn’t matter what product you sell; your customers hang out with other people who have similar tastes. Boat people have boating friends, people who like to camp have camping buddies, motorcyclists hang out with other bikers. If you take care of your customers, they’ll send you more.
  • Following up – I can’t even emphasize how important this step is. If you haven’t heard back from the customer in a reasonable amount of time, then reach out with a new message. Once again, attempt to get on the customer’s calendar.

This concludes the series. I hope that each of you got something out of what I had to say. If you would like a checklist that your staff can use to help in constructing effective emails to customers, then register here with your name and email address and we will send you a copy. It’s free and there are no hidden strings (other than we might send you the occasional email with more interesting sales tips). Who doesn’t want to make more money?

Have a great summer.

Mark J. Sheffield