E-commerce Best Practices Series (Part III): Capturing and managing all your online leads

Accurate data, quick response are keys

Third of a five-part E-commerce Best Practices Series:

By Brad Smith

In parts one and two of this e-commerce series, we discussed how you can attract more customers to your Web site and make them more interested in buying.

The next question is: How do you follow through and make the sale? First, you need to manage your online leads more efficiently and effectively.

In this article, we’ll explore the best ways to do just that.

Why is it important to manage leads?

For dealers who aggressively market their dealerships, leads are the critical first step to business growth. Leads indicate interest in your business, products and services, as well as offer potential for a lasting relationship with a new customer. Managing the lead process is important to getting maximum value from minimal effort.

When people visit your Web site, you gather a lot of information from them. You know their search terms, what they look at, how much time they spend, and where they came from. What you don’t necessarily learn is their name and contact information. And many outdoor power equipment dealers have not been very good at capturing this data on their own.

Instead, some dealers spend a great deal of money purchasing targeted mailing lists. That can cost you anywhere from $.60 to $1.20 per name to purchase a target market list, and those fees add up fast.

You can save a lot of money while adding a great deal of value to your customers by doing a better job of capturing leads in the form of people who visit your Web site — leads that are often more promising because these prospects have already shown an interest in your dealership and the products you carry.

How can I capture more customer data?

An easy way to capture more customer information is to provide visitors with every opportunity to respond to a call to action. Pages throughout your site should include buttons to:

Add me to your mail list
Send me information on promotions
Request a quote
Estimate trade-in value
And so on

A good Web services provider will be able to set up a simple form that, when a customer clicks on one of these buttons, gathers data, including name, e-mail and an optional phone number field. Using such a form is better than setting the lead-capturing mechanism up through an “e-mail-to” link because you have a consistent format for all data and you don’t have a problem with e-mail clients and free e-mail accounts such as gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc.

The reason you have a Web site is to interact with and gather information from as many prospects in as many ways as possible. So in addition to the call-to-action pages, your dealership’s phone number should be prominently displayed throughout your site.

What do I do with this data?

In the OPE business, the intent should always be to move the customer to a live conversation.

Send an e-mail back immediately.
Answer any initial questions they may have.
Set the stage for a phone conversation.

Lead management software can help you integrate this process into your own workflow. Managers can assign leads, while monitoring the staff’s lead management practices to find out what is and isn’t being responded to. You can set up the software with your internal rules, such as a lead must be e-mailed a response within 30 minutes or a phone call placed within an hour.

The software can be set up to send reminders until the task is complete. If the salesperson is not reaching these metrics, then that person may need additional training about the benefits of quick lead response. Education about the importance of prompt and proactive lead management, in conjunction with the right technology, is vital to successfully converting leads to sales at a high rate.

How often should leads be contacted?

We recommend that dealers on average e-mail these prospects around 16 times a year. If you do more than that, you may end up in the spam folder — less than that and you may be forgotten.

There’s a fine line. You can be in a prospect’s in-box every day if you’re consistently adding value. It really comes down to content.

For example, in the spring you might send an e-mail suggesting a seasonal tune-up, and you wouldn’t want to do that too many times. However, if instead you provided customers with a checklist of important things to do to prepare for spring cleanups, then you’ve added value and your customers will probably be more accepting of more frequent communications that offer all the things your dealership can do for them.

How is the industry faring in terms of lead management?

There’s plenty of room for improvement.

We’ve learned a great deal about lead management practices by deploying mystery shoppers, who pose as prospects and enter contact data to see how long it takes to receive a response. It turns out that OPE dealers respond to only about 50 percent of leads. That means that almost half of all leads are going unanswered.

Of those dealers, only 24 percent pick up the phone and follow up with the prospect. And the average elapsed time before a response is sent is more than 30 hours. That’s too long because studies have shown that the conversion rate drops significantly after just two hours.

Our mystery shoppers have also found that not only are dealers responding slowly or not at all, but those who are responding are doing so ineffectively. Some send e-mails without any contact information, answer questions abruptly, or not at all, or just tell customers to come to the store if they have a question.

Overall, the OPE industry is behind other markets, such as the marine industry, which shows a response rate of up to 77 percent. The upshot is that there’s an opportunity for your dealership to get ahead by managing leads better. And fortunately, there are lead management tools available that allow you to respond easily, using templates that require minimal input. 

What about conversion rates?

For every 1,000 visitors to your Web site, you should bring in 20 leads, for a 2-percent conversion rate. From those leads, you should close 10 percent. When dealers are really good at lead management, they close more like 20 percent of their leads.

If you want your dealership to be among those top performers, know that response time is the key. At 30 minutes and less, the conversion rate can be as high as 20 percent. After 120 minutes, the conversion rate drops to single digits.

So if you respond within 30 minutes of receiving a lead, you’ll usually be able to contact the prospect with one call. If you wait hours or days, you’ll never reach those people because they have already gotten their answers from someone else.

Using a proven lead management software solution, which is configured for your dealership and your processes, will help you achieve the results you need. But in the end, keep in mind that there’s no substitute for promptly picking up the phone. Customers value their time as much as you value yours, and they’re always impressed and appreciative when they get a call immediately after expressing interest in your products or services.

 Brad Smith is product manager of web services including WebsiteSmart Pro, PartStream and PartSmartWeb for ARI, which provides technology-enabled services to dealers, distributors and manufacturers. From electronic parts catalogs to dealer e-commerce solutions to search-engine and direct marketing and more, ARI helps increase sales and productivity for companies in several industries, including outdoor power equipment, powersports, motorcycles, marine, recreation vehicles, appliances, agricultural equipment, floor maintenance, and construction. ARI currently serves more than 20,000 dealers, 100 manufacturers and 150 distributors in more than 100 countries worldwide. For more information on ARI, visit www.YourEveryAdvantage.com.

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