Alan Bird serves as President and Chief Executive Leader at SCI MarketView, an automotive focused digital marketing and technology organization based out of Markham, Ontario. Through their customizable lead management solutions, winning customer engagement platforms and world class digital sales training, they help thousands of dealers turn virtual leads into showroom appointments.
Andrew Assad from Google Canada, who also sits on CMA's customer experience council, was fortunate enough to sit down for a quick Q&A with Alan, to discuss their award winning whitepaper "The Relationship of Sales to Initial Quality of Response".
- From what I understand, SCI MarketView manages digital lead generation for several OEMs across North America. What is a digital lead? And roughly how many leads would you say you’ve facilitated over the years?
A digital lead is simply any lead – a request for “something” – that is generated through the web. These could originate from multiple different touch points ranging from a response to an e-mail marketing campaign, to web forms, to even website chats. In the automotive industry the “request a quote” form is probably the most familiar to people when thinking about a digital lead. If I’m looking to buy a vehicle, typically my first question would surround price. And to get this I’d go online and fill out a “request a quote” form detailing my vehicle of choice and shoot it off. This is an example of a digital lead.
Our insights come from having processed over 130 million digital leads that have originated from different touch points and varying in nature. And this means we are privy to some pretty insightful data – more so than a dealer or even an individual OEM. We see patterns and trends; we see the minute details, the pixels that make up the larger picture from the dealer level to the OEM level.
- So when you are talking about leads, it’s about connecting an online car buyer with a dealer. Now, I've heard from more dealers than I'd like that the digital lead "or the person reaching out from their laptop or smartphone" is far less valuable than the person standing in a dealership. Where do you stand on this debate?
Well, of course someone standing in the dealership represents an immediate opportunity, but that doesn’t mean there is any less value in digital leads. It’s not a matter of one or the other or one versus the other. There is a difference in the two, yes, but the difference doesn’t pit the two against each other. Imagine the act of purchasing as a process, which, of course, it is. Online research (including quote requests) falls in the beginning stages of this process while a showroom visit is typically a step that takes place towards the end of the buying cycle.
So we can all agree that a client in your showroom is likely much closer to actually completing the transaction and you would naturally want to take advantage of your window of opportunity here. But how do you think this potential client showed up to your dealership in the first place? Sure, there are some who still shop around and visit multiple dealerships before they make their purchase, but that is often not the case. With the development of online shopping tools and the amount of data available online today, customers visit an average of only 1.4 dealerships before they buy a vehicle, a number that has dropped from about 5.4 in 2005. This is a significant drop and with such a low number, the competition is fierce. So, in order to make it to the 1.4 dealerships visited you would want to make sure you treat your digital leads as showroom visits and cultivate your e-relationship with the customer inside what we refer to as your “digital showroom”.
- In your recent whitepaper you talk about the impact of the quality and timeliness of response on dealer sales. Can you explain what led you to focus on these two aspects of a response?
Well, not everyone may recall but there was a time when the world of digital leads was a new and unfamiliar terrain and we had to convince dealers that online leads mattered and that this was the future. When that was accomplished we had to convince them that responding in a timely manner was important – in fact the data showed that responding within one hour could double their close rate as compared to responding in 2 hours. Of course since then the emphasis has always been on speed. You had to respond quickly to remain a candidate in the purchase game from the customer’s viewpoint.
But what if speed was not the only factor? There must be some explanation for why a large group of leads that were responded to within a matter of minutes still failed to close, while another batch nearing the hour mark succeeded, right? So we analyzed over 5,300 initial responses from about 1,400 dealers across North America. And just as we had theorized, what we found was consistent across the board: speed accompanied by quality correlated to a higher close rate. They really do go hand in hand.
- I think we all understand what you mean by a timely response, but what does a quality response actually entail?
That’s a good question. Quality is a rather vague term, but here is where we did something progressive. We understand it’s easy to throw around words like “quality” but hard to grasp what these words actually mean. So in analyzing thousands of responses we noticed that there were five key elements which repeatedly surfaced when determining the likelihood of a sale. These key elements, as outlined in our whitepaper, together embody quality. We assigned different values to each element to quantify that “quality”.
Our goal was to simplify the abstract idea of quality to a concrete, quantifiable piece. We did this not just to help us read our data, but also so that dealers could actually measure quality; so that they would be provided with actionable information, not just information.
- Clearly the big takeaway from the paper is that a dealer that provides a quality initial response is 5X more likely to close the sale. Imagine this little interview went to all dealerships in Canada. What 3 things would you want them to start doing to benefit from this 5X impact?
Answer quickly, answer well and answer all the customer’s questions, both explicit and implied questions. The prime example for this last item would be request a quote. If you’re getting a request a quote, provide a price in your response. It is called a “request a quote” for a reason and avoiding the answer has proven to be more harmful than not responding at all. You don’t want to damage your chance of a sale with an inadequate reply and when you’re only focusing on speed, it’s easy to lose sight of that.
Additionally, and just as important, ask a question back to the consumer that is relevant to the request but hadn’t been asked in the initial request. Try and get them to engage with you. It really is just Sales .
- If that's all it takes, then why aren't dealers paying attention to their data and making these improvements? What makes it so hard to action and put these improvements into action?
I’m glad you asked this. It all boils down to the lack of a process. Sales consultants are great at doing what they do in the showroom, but what happens when the environment changes? What happens when you don’t have the customer physically there, standing in your dealership, to ask you questions, answer your questions and for you to get a feel for what they’re looking for? It’s always easier to build a relationship with someone face to face and when you take that face to face component out of the equation, it becomes a struggle. Dealers need a process for engaging with their customers in their digital showroom and transferring their showroom skills to their e-relationships with online customers.
But even once this is accomplished, how do you measure and monitor the quality of your online interaction? Well, that’s where our scoring system, founded on in-depth research and analysis, comes to play. We’ve developed an algorithm that can measure the quality of an initial response which allows dealers to easily monitor quality numerically. At SCI, we’ve been helping dealers manage and improve their interaction with digital leads for over a decade and having particular experience in the world of internet leads, we know how to identify problem areas and help dealers treat digital leads like showroom visits.
It’s important to recognize change. Let’s not lose out by getting left behind in thinking that the digital world somehow has less value than what some of us stubbornly call the “real world”. Digital leads are just as real and hold just as much value as showroom leads and as such you should treat your internet leads with the same importance you do your showroom customers. In the digital world your initial response is your opportunity to make a good first impression – it’s your digital handshake – and first impressions determine whether you’ll continue to be a player in the purchase process, so make it count and be a part of that 1.4.