Who should handle your dealership’s e-leads and live chat?

There are pros and cons to different approaches, and it all depends on your people.

During a recent assignment at a Toronto Cadillac dealership, I asked the Dealer Principal how many walk-in customers they had the previous month. He told me 60. 

He had 12 Sales Consultants. I then asked how many digital customers they had the previous month: 400. When I then asked who served them, he replied, “two ladies upstairs.” 

So, we have 12 starving Sales Consultants on the showroom floor and two overwhelmed, frustrated “ladies upstairs.” What an opportunity!

There is no “one size fits all” solution with respect to who should look after e-leads and live chat. Factors such as size of dealership, age and experience of the Sales Consultants are all key factors. 

Below, I will identify the pros and cons of the three prevalent approaches. 

Business Development Centre and BDC Specialists: Pros

BDC Specialists are often young, energetic, positive and tech savvy. They prefer to communicate by e-mail, text and live chat and this resonates with the customer. 

BDC Specialists respond to e-leads and live chat with speed, and once they connect with customers, they tend to demonstrate a great deal of patience with respect to gathering and providing information. 

BDC Specialists also take the time to provide more detailed information as well as pertinent attachments and website or video links. 

Many customers also suggest that BDC Specialists are personable, extremely customer-focused, efficient, intelligent and fun. 

Business Development Centre and BDC Specialists: Cons

Many dealerships are not large enough to staff or outsource a Business Development Centre. 

Some would also argue that dealerships are paying twice for the same result; paying a BDC Specialist to coax the customer to the dealership and then paying a Sales Consultant to ultimately sell the vehicle. 

Many BDC Specialists also lack the intimate product knowledge to satisfy customer questions (think pick-up trucks); and customers are sometimes left frustrated. 

Other customers have a very positive experience chatting with a BDC Specialist and feel somewhat let down or duped when they arrive at the dealership only to be turned over to a “traditional” Sales Consultant. 

Further, customers often complain that a transfer from a BDC Specialist to a Sales Consultant is awkward; customer information is often not relayed, the BDC Specialist is not available, a vehicle is not prepared in advance and the customer feels that they are being dished off to someone else and starting the relationship all over again. 

BDC Specialists generally answer e-leads and live chat with a sunny disposition, answer customer questions directly and provide copious amounts of additional information. 

However, many seem to forget that in addition to serving customers, their function is to convert e-leads and live chat to showroom customers (appointments!) or to complete an online sale. 

Many online customers are receptive to phone conversations (they provide contact information in the signature lines of their e-mails). 

Quickly phoning a customer immediately upon receiving an e-lead will often be the win, however, many BDC Specialists are actually uncomfortable picking up the phone, preferring to keep it digital. 

In short, many are excellent information-providers, but lack the fundamental sales skills of asking questions, building rapport, creating two-way conversations and setting appointments. 

Internet Sales Consultants are most often progressive in their sales approach to working with digital customers; they do not simply beg customers to “come on down to the dealership.”

Internet Sales Department and Internet Sales Consultants: Pros

Internet Sales Consultants want to answer e-leads and live chat. 

They prefer to serve digital customers versus walk-in customers. 

Internet Sales Consultants are tech savvy and embrace the use of video and video apps to communicate with customers. Because serving this customer is still relatively new and changing, they tend to embrace and follow the dealership’s Internet Sales Process (if one is provided). 

They are also much more receptive to new technology, innovation, change and experimentation with new online sales strategies. 

Internet Sales Consultants are most often progressive in their sales approach to working with digital customers; they do not simply beg customers to “come on down to the dealership.”

Instead, they begin their sales process online, imagining the customer to be sitting in front of them, attempting to build rapport with interest, empathy and questioning. 

They do not skirt difficult inquiries such as, “What’s my car worth?,” “What’s your best price?” etc. 

Internet Sales Consultants develop (or learn) strategies for dealing with challenging inquiries. Moreover, Internet Sales Consultants know and understand that their job is to (ultimately) convert customers to showroom appointments or to nurture customers to online sales. 

Customers are also pleased that the person that they communicated with online is the person that will meet them at the dealership and seamlessly sell them a new vehicle. 

Information gathering such as number of e-leads/live chat, source, showroom conversion ratio, closing ratio is also much more culturally accepted and embraced versus the constant chase of Showroom Sales Consultants to log customers into CRM tools, etc. 

Internet Sales Consultants are also much more likely (or scheduled) to serve e-lead and live chat customers when the dealership is closed. They view and embrace the role to be 24/7. They will also communicate with customers over a much longer expanse of time. 

Traditional Showroom Sales Consultants often lose interest in e-leads after a few days or a week, especially if the digital customer is unresponsive. 

However, dedicated Internet Sales Consultants know that the internet sales funnel is much longer and will stay in touch with customers for up to several months. Many digital customers either purchase immediately or go dormant for up to 45 days—then pop up and reconnect. 

Successful Internet Sales Departments often staff an Internet Sales Manager. A dedicated Internet Sales Manager has the time (and desire) to create and implement a Digital Sales Process, track incoming e-leads and live chat, e-lead source, appointment conversion ratios and closing ratios. 

Moreover, a dedicated Internet Sales Manager has the time and desire to train, coach and grow the Internet Sales Department. Internet Sales Managers also create more depth in the leadership team as well as initiate positive and fun rivalries with their traditional counterparts. The position also creates another opportunity for advancement within the organization. 

Internet Sales Department and Internet Sales Consultants: Cons

Staffing a separate, dedicated Internet Sales Department often requires more people comprising two teams; a team of traditional, Showroom Sales Consultants and a team of Internet Sales Consultants. 

The challenge lies in ensuring that there are enough Showroom Sales Consultants to serve the ebbs and flows of unpredictable and seasonal customer walk-in traffic. 

Showroom Sales Consultants feel that their opportunities are being systematically reduced, even eliminated as walk-in customer traffic continues to decline or become much more seasonal, while online customer traffic trends upward and remains constant. 

Many Showroom Sales Consultants fear becoming obsolete or feel the added pressure to close walk-in customers or create their own customers through prospecting initiatives. 

Successful Internet Sales Departments require their own Internet Sales Manager. Many traditional Sales Managers admittedly dislike digital customers and often dole out useless platitudes to Internet Sales Consultants such as, “Just get ‘em in.” 

The benefits of a dedicated Internet Sales Manager are many, however it also adds headcount and expense. 

Traditional Sales Department and Sales Consultants (Hybrid): Pros

Having a team of versatile (hybrid) Sales Consultants that are trained to serve both walk-in and digital customers eliminates headcount and the necessity of creating two separate sales departments. 

These Sales Consultants are appreciative and know they are given more opportunities to succeed; as well as a sense of being an integral part of the dealership’s future, not a remnant of the past. 

For this reason, Sales Consultant turnover is also reduced. 

Dealerships that choose a path (forward) of Hybrid Sales Consultants tend to recruit younger, more customer-focused Sales Consultants, as opposed to the traditional “grinders” and “closers” of yesteryear. 

This new generation of Sales Consultants multitask easily, are much more flexible in where and how they work (not attached to traditional desks, office spaces and desktop computers), comfortably communicate in person, by phone, text, FaceTime, live chat, video—and are fast-paced and mobile (taking vehicles to customer homes/workplaces, etc.). 

They have expectations of constant change, new technology and new approaches. 

Traditional Sales Department and Sales Consultants (Hybrid): Cons

Many traditional Sales Consultants do not like handling e-leads and live chat and would prefer to serve walk-in customers or prospects to build their own clientele. 

Traditional Sales Consultants do not view e-lead and live chat customers as being “hot” or “now” customers. 

They perceive a showroom customer as serious and “real.” Hence, e-lead customers are often treated as “second-class,” and the interactions lack interest, strategy, enthusiasm and urgency. 

Older, traditional Sales Consultants also admit that they lack the knowledge, training, technology know-how and patience to serve e-lead and live chat customers. 

Many use outdated, uninspired or even manipulative approaches to answering inquiries and setting showroom appointments. 

Showroom Sales Consultants feel that their opportunities are being systematically reduced, even eliminated as walk-in customer traffic continues to decline or become much more seasonal, while online customer traffic trends upward and remains constant. 

Conclusion

Many very successful dealerships staff long-term, loyal, productive Sales Consultants that do outstanding work with walk-in customers, prospect for new customers and carefully nurture and recycle their previous customers. 

However, many of these same Sales Consultants admit that they do not like serving e-lead and live chat customers or are unwilling to truly embrace the sales strategies necessary to convert these customers to showroom appointments. 

Hence, if your sales team comprises mainly traditional Sales Consultants that prefer “warm bodies,” then it’s time to create a dedicated Internet Sales Department and a fresh team of energized Internet Sales Consultants. 

On the other hand, if many of these traditional Sales Consultants have left your dealership or are quickly phasing out (by their choice or yours), consider recruiting young, fast-paced Hybrid Sales Consultants that are trained to serve every type of customer; walk-in, e-lead, live chat, and those that use any other form of new, emerging communication. 

In effect, many of today’s dedicated Internet Sales Departments will phase out today’s traditional Showroom Sales Departments and become the new traditional Sales Department. 

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