For years, Frank Clinton had a simple message when it came to getting customers into the auto dealership he worked at.
“I used to have a saying in advertising to make the phone ring and the door swing,” Clinton said.
Clinton, now the general manager at Lee’s Summit Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, knows what it takes these days to get foot traffic inside his dealership.
Over the last decade, the Internet has bolstered the way auto dealerships market their cars.
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Most successful auto dealerships have a website that not only shows their inventory, but has a popup online chat box.
“We have actual people answering,” said Angie Chamberlain, IT and marketing manager at Lee’s Summit Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. “Some are on site and some are off site, just depending if you have the space at the store to do it. It is live people with access to the inventory, the specials and answering all the questions.”
Clinton, who has been in the car business for 20 years, initially resisted the Internet.
Before the Internet, buying a car meant going to a dealership, being greeted by a sales person and spending a certain amount of time going over car models, pricing and other things.
Many times, the car buyer came with a limited amount of information and relied on the sales person to guide them through the process.
Because of the amount of information provided on the Internet, those days are over.
“In the last couple of years, if you don’t embrace it and make it a part of your life, the business will pass you by,” Clinton said.
So now, Clinton has added to his catch phrase.
“Make the phone ring, the door swing and the inbox ding,” Clinton said.
Simply put, if a dealership doesn’t embrace the Internet and have a strong website, “they would be out of business,” Clinton said.
“Last month, 50-plus percent of our sales were Internet driven. It is between 50 and 60 percent every month.”
Lee’s Summit Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram is like most dealerships in the Kansas City area. It has an Internet department with a manager overseeing that department.
Chamberlain is in charge of that department at Lee’s Summit Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Ram, and has six sales people involved in Internet sales.
Chamberlain has been at Lee’s Summit for 3½ years. She started in the car business in 2004.
In those 10 years, Chamberlain has seen the change the Internet has made in the car buying process.
“I’d say back in 2004 people were just starting to realize the amount of information you can find on the Internet and how much more useful it can make your life,” Chamberlain said.
“And now that is where everybody goes to begin to shop. In 2004, people came to the dealership first. They would leave and go home and look online. Now people start their shopping online and get all the information they can on the types of car they are looking for, the price, the places they can go to compare these cars. They can compare them online and then they will bring in those sheets.”
The Internet has put pressure on sales people at dealerships to know everything about the car because so many customers are coming to the dealership with ample information.
“Yes, there are times the person knows more than the sales person just from all the research,” Chamberlain said. “And the sales person is learning to stay one step ahead of the customer, just on the product knowledge, the pricing, the competitors’ pricing.”
The Internet has also increased the area in which dealerships sell a vehicle. No longer is a dealership only concerned with cornering the market in their community or metropolitan area. The Internet brings in customers across the country, especially for premium and specialty cars.
“Each store only gets so many specialty cars so they will come from anywhere and everywhere to get that one car,” Chamberlain said. “It is fun, especially for me. I like meeting people from different places.
“We had a guy come down from Wisconsin, and he brought some cheese. It is a story for the customer to tell their journey to get the car they wanted.”
The high-performance 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is a car that every Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership would like to have a few more of.
“If I had one of those in stock, my inbox would be dinging all day long,” Clinton said. “It is a hard car to get.”
We have several sold orders in the system.”
Selling a car to a customer two or three states away is a exciting for the sales people.
“It is a blast,” Clinton said. “It is bragging rights for the sales people, knowing they have been able to sell a car to someone out of state, several states away.
“It is a feeling we are doing something right out there.”