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We’ve been talking a lot about the modern car buyer and how his or her journey is different than it was in the pre-internet era. What does that mean for car dealership lead generation and lead management? 

To answer this, let’s identify what the dealership’s central role was back in the good old days. From there, let’s talk about how auto shoppers use the dealership now. We’ll see that the right CRM lead management solution keeps the dealership front and center as a resource and, better still, how it lets you call, email, and otherwise engage leads in a more personalized way. 


Lead management in the traditional car buyer’s journey. 

Think back to 1986. If you were just a kid then, think back to 1996 or any year before the internet took off. If you still don’t have a frame of reference, go stream a few good eighties movies on Netflix. Think about how a typical car buyer would learn about cars and car dealerships. He or she might turn to: 

  • Consumer Reports or similar third-party publications. 

  • TV and radio spots produced by the OEM or local dealership—when they happen to catch them. 

  • Billboards, newspaper ads, and related forms of broad reach advertising. 

  • Fliers and direct mail. 

  • Word-of-mouth, either on the suitability/reliability of a vehicle or the trustworthiness of the dealership. 

  • Basic opinion on the brand, which could vary considerably between consumer groups (some may put a lot of stock in “German engineering” while others would consider “American made” a prime selling point). 

  • First-hand experience with a make/model of vehicle. 

  • Promotional information on pricing, deals, discounts, etc. 

What these sources have in common is that, in most cases, none of them could sell a car on their own. Take Consumer Reports, for instance. This magazine could be the most accurate source of information about cars that a buyer could get his hands on, but the magazine format limits Consumer Reports to offering detailed overviews of makes and models. It can’t guide the car buyer through every specific ownership scenario out there (e.g. what it’s like to use vehicle X to tow very large boats back and forth between Miami and Key West); and the magazine’s glossy photos and table of vehicle specs don’t give you a good sense of what day-to-day life with the car would be like. Even something as reliable as rock-bottom pricing can rarely sell a car on its own. A lot of consumers would consider an unbelievably low price a red flag and would want to investigate the car thoroughly before taking it into rush-hour traffic. 

This is why the dealership is so important to the traditional car buying process. The customer shows up with limited information and needs to see the vehicle, take it for a test drive, that sort of thing. The customer also needs a salesperson to talk him or her through the purchase. Car salespeople catch a lot of flak from the general public sometimes, but without them the traditional car buying process would be a nightmare. You’d have to go to a lot, trusted car review magazine in your back pocket, and make a major financial and lifestyle purchase in the same way you buy toothpaste. 

Back then, lead management was not just a matter of keeping in touch with Mrs. Jones or Mr. Patel. It was a that a dealership made it clear to the consumer that it was the best general resource for his or her car buying needs.  

Now the auto shopper has access to high-quality car videos, a mountain of online articles and reviews, and access to millions of fellow car shoppers via social media sites. The number of dealership visits and the average time spent there is shrinking, which suggests that the dealership does not hold the same central position in the car buying journey. 

This creates a new set of opportunities for CRM lead management. 


Lead management today. 

In 2016, Google did a study of the typical car buyer’s journey. They focused on a thirty-two year old mom named Stacy who wanted to lease either a minivan or an SUV. Google found that Stacy had over nine hundred digital interactions. These ranged from searching the internet for family friendly cars to exploring ways to avoid car dealerships altogether. 

Stacy had sixty-nine digital interactions with the dealership. The study doesn’t tell us what all sixty-nine interactions were, but it gives us a general sense as to what she needed the local dealership for. 

  • Stacy visited a dealer site once while she was trying to figure out whether a certain make and model had all the features she needed. 

  • Stacy visited dealer sites four times when she was exploring pricing and payment options. 

  • Stacy visited dealer sites twelve times when she was trying to find places to buy her car of choice from. 

The dealership helped this prototypical modern auto buyer work through practical questions like “is this car available,” “can I afford it,” and “where can I lease it.” We can also assume that Stacy spoke with a salesperson, went for a test drive, and did a lot of the stuff that car buyers have always done. 

If Stacy was buying a car in 1986, she would probably lean on the local dealership a lot more. Still, her interactions are all excellent opportunities for internet lead engagement. Keeping Stacy updated on inventory and pricing, as well as setting the dealership up as a place that she’ll want to do business with for years to come, would all be valid for this particular customer journey.  

There are also auto shoppers in Stacy’s local market who would like to do as much as possible through the dealership. Maybe these individuals trust the brand, have a longstanding relationship with the dealership, and would rather skip Stacy’s 139 Google searches in favor of showing up on the lot and buying something. There are customers out there who only care about your current inventory and pricing, customers who are going to be regulars in your service center for the next twenty years, and customers who will show up whenever you’re offering a deal. While the auto buyer customer journey has a few general patterns, there are a lot of individual paths that specific auto shoppers take. 

The right lead management solution keeps you engaged with car buyers of every type. It lets you tailor the interaction to fit the customer in question by tracking the ways he or she has engaged your dealership in the past. Data is a two-way street – the customer has access to more information on cars than ever before, and the dealership has access to data points on how the customer engages the dealership. Technology like email, live chat, and call tracking makes record-keeping a lot easier, and it gives you the means to engage customers quickly, profitably, and in a focused way. It also helps you identify the ways that your customers, both individually and as a whole, are responding to your marketing efforts. 

An effective lead management solution also does something that a traditional lead management strategy did – it sets the dealership up as a valuable car buyer’s resource. While car buyers have a world of information at their fingertips, this information can be fragmented, hard to find, unreliable, and short on reality checks. The dealership still has an opportunity to centralize the process, but it now has the power to do it in a more customer-focused way. 


Contact us to find out more about our complete automotive marketing solutions. 


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