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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Comic Relief from Working in the Auto Industry

I typically try to post informative information for car dealers here, but our days are all filled with people telling us how to do things, how to do things better, and so on. That can get old after a while and we all need the occasional break from the norm. Here is that break for you...

I enjoy looking for the worst-ever car dealer commercials. It's always tough to pick the worst, because once you get below a certain level of professionalism, they're all pretty close. Here are a few links to the worst of the worst:

Big Bob's Used Cars

Eagle Insurance

And a local commercial for me (Auto Connection) that is best summed up by a comment someone posted on YouTube: "I have seen only one car commercial worse than that. This is more low budget than the other one I've seen, but this one lacks the ability to make you want to murder people." The sad thing is that this dealer has upped the ante even more with their most recent commercials.

Sometimes when you wonder if you're doing a good job on marketing, you just have to sit back and be thankful you don't work for another dealership!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Getting the Best Customer Service from Auto Dealer Website Vendors

Jeff Kershner at Dealer Refresh recently authored a post on his blog about customer service in the auto industry. For some reason many of the auto industry vendors seem to have substandard customer service once the contract has been signed and the customer has made their payment. Jeff makes some great points about what constitutes good service in our world of auto dealer products/services. I'm proud to say Higher Turnover passes the test on all 5.

1. Don't over promise and under deliver: It's important to be straight forward with customers. If you aren't able to do something, don't promise you can do it. Personally I feel it's better to be up front in the beginning. If you over promise certain things it's starting off a business relationship on the wrong foot when the customer sees it's not what they had in mind.

2. Answer your phone: We get calls at all hours of the day, and most of the time I answer the calls personally. If I'm in the middle of 3 different projects I'll still drop what I'm doing to answer the phone, because when I'm the one calling some customer service department, I don't want to leave a message. That increases frustration, and I may be busy when they call back. If we are on the other lines when a customer calls, they will receive a call back immediately when we're available. Our customers tell us on a regular basis how much it means to them that someone always answers the phone when they call. During off-hours I have support calls forwarded to my personal phone. This past weekend I took a call at 11pm Friday night, two on Saturday, and two on Sunday. Car dealers have hectic schedules and we try to accommodate that as much as possible. Other companies should do the same.

3. Have skilled tech support highly trained and familiar with your product: Nobody is more familiar with our product than myself, which is why I prefer to field support calls instead of using a customer service department. It's not easy to hire the right people for support who can learn the ins and outs of a product.

4. Call Me Back: Nothing is more frustrating than sitting around with a product that isn't working properly and not being able to talk with support right then and there. Sometimes it does happen unfortunately. We view our current customers as the most important asset of our company, therefore any support calls which we can't answer immediately are returned promptly, generally within 5 minutes or less. I don't see any legitimate reason why other companies can't do the same, but I've had support calls go for days without a return call.

5. Check in and see how I'm coming along: This is one that we are careful on. We do make it a point to check in on customers regularly, but this has to be done according to the customer needs. Some customers want check-up calls every couple of weeks, while others don't want to be bothered by phone unless you're buying a car. Our practice is to check in more frequently in the beginning as the dealers are learning our products. While we do this we try to get a feel for that particular dealer as far as how often they want us to check in. We have some customers who we speak with several times a week and we have others who we speak with once every 10-12 months. The important thing is that we're available as much as needed.

All of these items above may not be possible for the typical bigger company. No matter how big of a company we are or how much bigger we get, we have made it our mission to maintain our small-company style of customer service. Maybe it stems from my own need to have everything done "right now", but from what our dealers tell us, other companies aren't able to provide the same level of service. For now I guess that's just one more thing to elevate us above the other website providers in the auto industry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cost vs. Value in Auto Dealer Websites

I've tried to post a couple of comments on a blog recently that were not approved/posted by the moderator. Perhaps they don't approve of my comments, or perhaps their blog is only being used to help with driving traffic to their business website and they aren't concerned with generating a dialogue. Since there are no comments from anyone on the entire blog I'd have to assume the latter, so I thought I'd speak my opinions here.

The blog I'm referring to may be authored by a competitor of ours on some level, but I'll be the first to admit, they do offer decent web solutions. The latest blog post that caught my eye was about car dealers in the Midwest not wanting to spend money on internet marketing. It's a good topic because it's typical of the dealerships we work with on the independent level. I happen to disagree with certain portions of the post however.

The author equates a website cost with the number of leads received. According to him, the more money a car dealer spends on a website the more leads they will receive.

I have to say I disagree most with their comment that "If you are not spending a minimum of $700 per month on your website, your website is probably not attracting the leads necessary to really be effective". They're assuming cost is correlated directly with value, which if you've taken a look at some of the other providers out there, is clearly not the case. Sure there are some companies that develop great sites for $700/month, and the author's company may be one of them, but there are others that are capable of generating the same amount of leads for the end user at a fraction of that cost. A website should match the dealers needs, and if they don't need a $700/month site, there are other options that may be equally as effective.

Unfortunately a lot of consumers (including car dealers) fall for the trick that more expensive means better product. A friend of mine just bought a brand new car. The identical car was at two dealerships, and they really were the same, even down to the colors/options. One dealer had the car listed higher than the other dealer. If you were buying a car that two dealers each had on the lot, and each one was identical, would you buy the higher priced car? Is it a better car somehow?

The point I want to make is that cost is not the same as value. Our company offers some of the cheapest rates available for car dealer websites. I feel our products are far better than any other company that charges similar rates, meaning we have a similar cost but a better value. As a dealer your focus should be on value. Without it, cost is nothing more than an arbitrary number.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Some Selling Problems Seem Worse on eBay Motors

A while back I did an experiment on Craigs List vs. Autotrader.com to see which fared better when selling economy vehicles. The experiment dragged on for about 6 months, so the vehicle was finally listed on eBay Motors to "wholesale" it. Six months of traditional online advertising with no sale, and then 7 days on eBay and it's gone. All good, right? Not necessarily.

The first problem with selling cars on eBay is that you shouldn't expect to get a high sale price unless it's a unique vehicle (classic, exotic, etc.). eBay says it themselves that their marketplace is intended to be a wholesale arena where dealers can sell cars that they would normally run back over the auction block. A dumping ground. That's what I used it for in my experiment so I didn't expect to make a lot of money on the sale. I say this is a problem because a lot of dealers expect to get retail price for their eBay units and it doesn't happen all the time. As long as you go into it knowing what to expect, it's really not a "problem" per se.

The main problem I've had on eBay is the buying customers. It's not too far off from the average customers walking onto a lot, but I do think it's a little worse. The vehicle I sold went for over $1000 below book price. I still made a little money on the deal, the buyer got a good price on the car, everyone was happy. Everyone was happy until a couple of days later, that is. The buyer of my vehicle flew in from about 5 hours away. I picked him up at the airport and drove him to where the car was located. He spent about an hour going over the vehicle inside and out and then was ready to make the deal. We took care of the paperwork, I got my money, and he drove the car 5 hours to his home.

A day or two later I received an email from the gentleman saying he wanted his money back plus travel/hotel expenses he paid to pick up the car. He said the car had been in an accident at some point even though the Carfax did not indicate this. Of course the Carfax does not guarantee that all accidents with a vehicle are reported and included on their reports. He said he bought the car for a 16-year-old nephew and the nephew didn't want a car that's been in an accident. The description I used when I listed the car on eBay Motors specifically said that according to carfax it had never been in an accident. I also made it clear that I was not the original owner of the car, so even though I did my best to accurately describe it, it was a used car and was being sold as-is.

It wasn't my fault for selling a car that has supposedly been in an accident. There are a lot of cars out there that have been, but it was never reported to anyone. Unless I took a much closer look at a few parts I wouldn't have been able to tell. It wasn't the buyer's fault for coming 5 hours to pick up a car that he thought was never in an accident. He did however purchase a vehicle "as-is" after inspecting it himself in person.

I got to thinking...would this situation be as bad if it wasn't an eBay buyer? The bottom line is that the buyer got a decent looking and running car for well below book value. He had the opportunity to check it out thoroughly (which he did) prior to purchase, and nobody forced him to purchase the vehicle. Would this same thing have happened on a walk-up customer? Personally I don't think so. I think a lot of shoppers on eBay are more picky than the average shopper. Part of it probably has to do with the reach of eBay. A lot of people aren't going to see a car in person because they shop outside their local area. Good for sellers, bad for buyers. No matter what you tell them, send them the photos of, etc., they still expect a new car when they arrive. I had the same thing happen years ago when I sold a '69 Mustang Mach 1. The buyer picked it up in person then called very upset the next day because he got it home and realized it didn't have disc brakes which he assumed it did. I don't know that there's anything that can be done in situations like these, but it's still one thing that I see selling cars on eBay more than on the other classified sites.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can your SEO company answer these 10 questions?

SEO companies along with other Search Engine Marketing companies are becoming large in number. We recently spoke with one such company that had been trying to get one of our dealers to sign up with their company for SEO services. What we found out was that the company really didn't understand a lot of Search Engine Optimization.

SEOmoz.org just posted a good set of questions to understand if you really know how search engines work. If the people performing your SEO cannot answer these questions, you need to think about possibly changing companies. Most of these questions are pretty basic and any SEO person should be able to answer 90% of these questions off the top of their head. The Bonus question does require some thought.

Answer these Ten Questions Before You Charge for SEO Services from SEOmoz.org
What four search engines comprise 90%+ of all general (non site-specific) web search traffic?
Explain the concept - "the long tail of search."
Name the three most important elements in the head section of an HTML document that are employed by search engines.
How do search engines treat content inside an IFrame?
What resource and query can you use to determine which pages link to any page on SEOmoz.org and contain the words "monkey" and "turnip"?
What action does Google threaten against websites that sell links without the use of "nofollow"?
What is the difference between local link popularity and global link popularity?
Why is Alexa an inaccurate way to estimate the traffic to a given website?
Name four types of queries for which Google provides "instant answers" or "onebox results" ahead of the standard web results.
Describe why a flat site architecture is typically more advantageous for search engine rankings than a deep site architecture.
BONUS (Answer this one and I'll be very impressed): Name twelve unique metrics search engines are suspected to consider when weighting links and how each affects rankings positively or negatively.

I would suggest visiting SEOmoz.org and reading up on what the whole SEO and SEM game is about. The more knowledge you have as a customer will filter out the suspected 70% of bad companies out there. It seems like there are many folks out there trying to basically rip people off.

It looks like we will get the answers to the questions tomorrow.

Be sure to check out Search Marketing Education Has a Long Way to Go - 5 Examples from the Field on SEOmoz also. This is a great entry on how many of these SEO companies are not acting in the best interest of their clients. SEO is not some "trick" or black magic to fool the Search Engines. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google, Yahoo, MSN or Ask. If a company gives you any guarantee, run to the next company, because the one making the guarantee is not going to be worth your time.