For instance, how many dealerships do you know that have a spoofy video on their e-commerce website entitled: “Don’t Feed Sales Zombies?” Or a video entitled: “Lisa Cryder (The GM) does a little Rocky Top?” Check it out on www.lebanon-ford.com. This dealership makes shopping for a car look like a whole lot of fun!
Beyond fun, this dealership offers free online education. Lebanon Ford posts a monthly podcast – an in-depth discussion on serious topics, such as: “What are the financial benefits of leasing vs. buying a car?”
And, consumers can select from nearly 100 videos on the site to learn such things as “How to Fix Common Microsoft SYNC Connection Issues,” or “How to use Apple’s Siri and Microsoft SYNC to send a text message through Bluetooth.”
Lebanon Ford’s tech gurus, who are the presenters in these videos, are fast becoming local celebrities – experts that consumers depend upon to give them the straight talk on everything automotive. And, there are video bios for the entire Lebanon Ford sales force, so consumers can pick out a sales person they have something in common with before coming to the showroom.
As a result of all this innovation and great salesmanship, Lebanon Ford boasts 1,424 Internet sales units for 2011, and a 22% conversion rate for used car Internet sales leads and a 17% conversion rate for new.
Lisa Cryder, co-owner and general manager, and Jeff Cryder, director of marketing, recently discussed their sales philosophy and strategy for success with Dealer magazine.
Lisa, first, please tell us how you got into the business of selling cars?
Lisa: I’m not the person who came up through the dealership, like a typical general manager. In 1986, I was working at the Cincinnati Marriott as a salesperson. Chrysler Corporation was one of my clients. Chrysler had an initiative to place at least one female in every 25 zones, and they recruited me to work in Syracuse NY. After two years, I went retail with Burdick Companies in Syracuse and sold Toyota and Lexus for two years. Then, I became one of the first people hired at Amati. I was in dealer development and flew across the country interviewing dealers.
When Amati closed down in 1991, I got a call from the Dobbs organization in Memphis that I had met through my travels with Amati. I worked for six years in their management company. They eventually sold AutoNation their 23 dealerships and I worked for AutoNation on the human resources side. Then in 1998, I moved back to Dayton, Ohio – my home area – to run one of AutoNation’s car megastores.
When that closed, AutoNation had me run Townsend Ford, in Cincinnati, for five years. They sold that store in 2005, and that’s when Ford came a knocking and asked if I would like to be a partner and owner in this dealership. My business partner, Winston Pittman, Sr. of Louisville, Kentucky, and I purchased Lebanon Ford, and I’ve been here six years.
Jeff, how did you get into the business?
Jeff: In 2009 and 2010, Lebanon Ford’s Internet Sales Manager Kody Lowe and General Sales Manager Andrew Creech went to the Digital Dealer Conferences and learned about the changing digital space. When they came back from that second conference, they persuaded my aunt, Lisa Cryder, to get the dealership involved in Social Media, Facebook, in particular.
Now, our family has a tradition where everyone meets at Lisa’s mom’s house for Sunday dinner — grandparents, cousins, anywhere from 10 to 23 people usually. I wasn’t at this particular dinner, but my Aunt Lisa was talking about social media for the dealership and asked if anyone at the table knew someone who was proficient in it.
I was close to finishing up college at that time, and my uncle dropped my name and said: ‘Jeff is really into social media.’ So Lisa interviewed me and asked me if I’d do some work on Facebook for the dealership.
I said: ‘Absolutely!’ and came onboard. From there, my role grew. I subsequently became social media manager, digital communications director and, ultimately, director of marketing.
What’s unique about this dealership?
Jeff: We’re not the biggest dealership, and because of that we embrace change with a different outlook. Lisa’s ability to navigate change is awesome. I speak regularly with a few folks around the country who are in my position or doing social media, and they can’t get their general managers or owners to change the way they operate and adopt new strategies, even if these GMs say they think social media is important.
Lisa has fully embraced not only social, but what social represents – a new age of business, social business. In a sense, things are going back to the way they were before mass advertising. We’re focusing our attention and dollars on getting back to basics. And, that’s smart marketing and cultivating a culture of remarkability.
Please explain that in more depth.
Lisa: Our vision is to forget that we’re in the car dealership business, and market an experience that just happens to sell a product.
We are in a very overpopulated marketplace between Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, and we’re working very hard at differentiating ourselves without screaming about $20,000 off our Focus, or $59 a month for F-150s. We’ve got the same product everybody else has. We want to be better at selling it and servicing it. We want to be a service company that happens to sell Fords.
So, we’ve raised our hands for the new Ford Consumer Experience Movement. Ford has designed this program to help dealerships engage customers, and encourage them to be enthusiastic advocates of Ford products and services, by making the customers’ dealership experiences exceptionally good. Ford had 27 dealers who were a test market last year for this program. This year they’ve got 400 hand-raisers.
We have our fourth visit this week with our ‘coach’ and this has really helped us as a management team trying to get ourselves to that next level of customer service.
It’s a huge initiative for Ford and it’s similar in thought process to what we believe. Ford would like the customer, as their products get better and better, to have the same experience from one Ford store to the next. And, that experience should be better than anybody else’s in the industry.
We aim for that as a single dealership and we are also aiming to help consumers spread that word about our service for us through the social and other digital media.
You sound like a very progressive dealership. How is this reflected in specific aspects of your marketing?
Jeff: We bring a holistic approach to our marketing. The motto we are promulgating throughout the company is: “Connect. Engage. Drive. — Connect to exceed expectations, engage to grow relationships and drive to build trust.”
We work hard to make our messaging consistent across all of our marketing channels. So, what consumers hear and see in our traditional advertising and in our digital/social media, is what people experience when they walk into our showroom.
Lisa: We are presenting online and on location a focused message that we are a service company with a product offering.
If you asked our consumers, I think they would say we are a very friendly store, where they get a good vibe when they walk in. We’re constantly saying hello. We’re clean. We just remodeled the front part of the showroom and offices, and we’re working on the waiting room and service drive. Our goal is always make our customers comfortable and to put our customers first.
So, what customers experience on our website – as Lebanon Ford being a service-oriented company — is what they experience in our showroom and in our service drive. We’re focusing on making the entire vehicle sales and ownership process better.
Jeff: We don’t have the ad budget a lot of big stores in our area have. So what separates us from them is coming up with unique services that differentiate us from other players. Then we get the word out about those services in new and engaging ways.
Explain how your e-commerce site reflects this philosophy?
Jeff: It actually reflects it in a variety of ways. We publish a monthly podcast on our website called “Across the Lot” where Zach Bello, our marketing communications manager, or I interview experts in all different subject areas, such as “Everything you need to know about car insurance,” or “How your credit score influences a vehicle purchase.”
We also publish a blog about car servicing and technology tips both on our website and on social media channels.
The online content we create gives consumers knowledge and confidence as they shop for a vehicle and throughout their ownership experience. For instance, one recent blog is: “How to Program HomeLink and Car2U Garage Door Openers Pt. 2 (Fixed Code and Gates).”
We’ve also created and posted dozens of in-depth “how to” videos on our website that have helped make our sales staff local celebrities. For example, before the customers come onto our lot, they’ve seen a video of our director of trade appraisals, Bill Nickell, talk about: “How to get more money for your trade.” Zack Funkhouser, our co-director of new operations, talks about how credit affects the car shopping process. Kody Lowe, new car sales manager, talks about the differences between leasing and buying.
Not only do these videos make our employees celebrities, but, more importantly, they give the customer knowledge and power so they can feel comfortable making an informed purchasing decision.
Lisa: If we do a great job explaining to our customers when they need to buy tires, we hope that, in return, they buy their tires from us. We want to be very transparent and have that trust relationship and you know what? It may not sell a car, or sell service right away, but I think in the long run it will.
Jeff: Lisa’s leadership makes us unique because she is completely open to new ways of inviting consumers to do business with Lebanon Ford. When she initiated our exploration of social media, and Facebook in particular, and we saw what social was, that was our world initially, but we quickly realized that it wasn’t our complete world.
We began to see social media not as a destination, but as an avenue to achieve larger business objectives. Dealers spend too much time “doing social media” instead of doing remarkable and unique things and using social as a platform to showcase those things. We realized early on it wasn’t about the hammer [Facebook, Twitter, etc.] it was how the hammer worked in harmony with the nail and the wood, saw, etc., to build a house.
Because we see it like that, we focus our attention on continuously coming up with new content. It’s all about providing helpful information to our customers and presenting it in unique and remarkable ways.
We have another social media-based program called “Drive One for a Week.” We identify local area influencers — by going to social media events in our area — and invite them to drive any vehicle from our lot for a week and blog about it. Nineteen influential bloggers have taken us up on this already. We ask them to blog and give their honest opinion about the product, the brand and the service.
As an important part of your social media strategy, how are you handling online reputation management?
Jeff: We have a robust online presence and stellar reviews. We do all online reputation management in house. Lisa, Zach, and I are the communications team and we respond to every review, and to all e-mails we receive in a humanistic manor.
We were the first Ford dealership in Ohio to be on DealerRater. We currently have 374 reviews on DealerRater and a 4.9 rating out of a possible 5.0 rating for customer service, quality of work, friendliness, price, and overall experience.
Our Google Places is 100% set up and we have 21 reviews there so far.
Do you also use an e-newsletter to market to your customer base?
Lisa: In the past year, we just started e-mail marketing and we recently signed up through Dominion Dealer Solutions’ Autobase for their e-newsletter product, done by 3 Birds Marketing. Our first e-newsletter using their template came out in April. Jeff and Zach are doing all the writing for this.
You have a lot of great content online in various formats, but especially on your website. How do you drive people to your website?
Jeff: Before we started to focus on the Internet, you couldn’t even find us on page one of the Google Search results if you searched “Lebanon Ford.” Now, because of our efforts with online reputation management and SEO and SEM, we take up the entire page one of search results for our brand name, and it’s energized the company in a way. You hear what people are saying about you and it energies our beliefs about what we are doing and why we do it.
We do our SEO in-house and we also utilize TK Carsites for SEO. They do a fantastic job and I couldn’t be any happier with them. (I also consult for TK Carsites in social media.) TK Carsites hosts our website and Zach Bello, our marketing communications manager, and myself maintain it. The TK Carsites platform is like a blank canvas, so it allows us to do what we want and manipulate its modules easily.
We do our own SEM in-house and we also use other tech partners for that. We’ve been collaborating with Les and Dave over at AdSmartOnline.com for some of our SEM strategies. They’re the quintessential startup who’re currently doing some really neat things in space. I reluctantly share this because they’re an invaluable asset, however, they undoubtedly deserve praise.
Can you share some website analytics with us?
Jeff: Sure, here are some that show how successful we’ve been:
www.lebanon-ford.com (main site)
- 27.1% increase of visits (Q1 2012 over Q4 2011)
- 43.87% increase of unique visitors (Q1 2012 over Q4 2011)
- 66% increase of visits (YOY 2011 > 2012 Jan-Apr)
- 77.90% increase of unique visitors (YOY 2011 > 2012 Jan-Apr)
- 121% increase of visits (Q1 2012 over Q4 2011)
With all this success on your website, what has been the return on investment in terms of sales?
Jeff: 2010 was our best year ever and then last year we topped that. So year over year, we’ve had our best years of the store. We keep breaking our top sales numbers, and we’re steadily increasing, instead of spiking.
Lisa: We sold 821 new cars last year and 603 used cars at Lebanon Ford.
We had a 30% increase in Ford vehicle sales, year over year, and a 15½ % increase in pre-owned cars from 2010 to 2011. This year, first quarter, we’re averaging about a 9% increase over last year’s first quarter figures for both new and used cars, and when Ford was down 5% nationally in April we were up 25%.
We had a 22% conversion rate for used car Internet sales leads and a 17% conversion rate for new car Internet sales leads in 2011. This year’s rate is looking even better.
How do you process your Internet leads?
Jeff: First of all, our leads come from a litany of places – our own website, Ford Motor Company and our third-party lead provider, AutoTrader.com.
All these leads go into Autobase, our CRM, which is fantastic! It’s very user friendly and it’s great for analyzing data, doing campaign analysis and tracking leads. We are definitely happy with it.
Lisa: We’ve got a nice partnership with Autobase, which is now owned by Dominion Dealer Solutions, out of Indianapolis.
Jeff: New car leads go through the CRM to Kody Lowe and used car leads go to Travis Martin and they disseminate them to our 18 salespeople. Internet leads go to our entire staff. Everyone is in the Internet department and every lead is an Internet lead
We don’t use an auto responder, because Kody and Travis respond so quickly, with e-mail or phone, depending on customer preference. Our average response time to an Internet lead is within the five to seven minute range.
How long do you follow a lead?
Jeff: We follow customers diligently until we confirm they’ve bought a vehicle somewhere else or they’ve purchased from us.
Besides following the leads that come in through your website, Ford Motor Company and your third-party lead provider, are you using any data mining products to get sales leads?
Lisa: We’re just starting to work with AutoRevenue, now owned by Dominion Dealer Solutions, which will allow us to market a little differently to our customer base. AutoRevenue is going into our Autobase CRM system, (also owned by Dominion Dealer Solutions) and looking at individual customers and telling us: Customer ‘A’ bought a Ford Fusion three years ago. With rebates today and how the car’s doing in the marketplace, I can call this customer and say: ‘What if I could get you into a new Ford Fusion today and actually lower your monthly payment?’
We can make this offer now, because, with AutoRevenue, I have the facts that I can use to do this. We have just spent the last year going back into Autobase to get the data on 4 ½ years worth of deals to put into the AutoRevenue program, so that going forward we can keep tabs on our customers effectively and present them with sales options in a timely fashion.
What do you use for a DMS?
Lisa: We use Arkona [also known as DealerTrack DMS] for our DMS and we like them very much and the price point is wonderful. DealerTrack has been great. We recently had one to their reps come in and speak to us about DealerTrack’s integration with other digital technology solutions we use. We were looking for an integrated approach to the way we’re operating and DealerTrack was very open. A DMS is something that nobody gives enough credit to when it goes well, but you completely bash it when it doesn’t go well. We’d like to give DealerTrack credit for being part of a great foundation for our business.
What do you consider as other key components of your business foundation?
Lisa: Our people are really the most important component. We’re doing a lot of phone training, sales training and service advisor training that we’ve never really done before to enhance their skills and ultimately, our customers’ experience.
We’ve recently partnered with two great companies for training: Alan Ram’s Proactive Training Solutions for automotive dealerships, with Firephone training, and Joe Verde’s Sales and Management Training. Both of these companies mirror the way I want to do business.
Alan Ram is the leader in web-based telephone training for salespeople as well as managers. Every morning at 9:15, my entire sales department is in Ram’s Firephone Training.
Joe Verde’s Training Network gives us online sales training modules. Every morning, five days a week, for the last three months, my salespeople have taken a 20-minute online chapter, and we have online records of when they take it. The more experienced sales people are at the higher learning levels in the series and a newer sales person is at a more basic level. In the end, we’ll all be talking the same language, phrases and statistics. We’ve not done that before.
Speaking of your people, do other family members, besides Jeff and yourself, work at the dealership?
Lisa: It is a family business, but everyone who works here, even family members, need to be interviewed and be qualified for the job.
My other nephew, Jeff’s brother, Alex Cryder, is on my tech team, as our sync specialist for the Sync with My Ford Touch program. He’s doing a fantastic job. We’re tracking how many states are calling him, and he’s reached out to consumers in 24 states and three countries. Ford has asked every dealership to have a sync specialist. The technology in the new cars is so advanced, that it requires a lot of explanation in delivery to the new car owner. Having a sync specialist keeps the salesperson from being tied up for two hours with delivery details and instead, gets them back in front of another customer.
My sister, Tricia Cryder, works as our title clerk in the business office and my mother, Julie Cryder, works two days a week as an admin for our database. There are a lot of days and weeks, we don’t see each other at the office, but we see each other on Sunday at dinner.
Beyond family, we have 67 employees here. We’ve got a good group of people getting the work done every day and some of them have been with me for a long time.
The controller, Bonnie Kasik, who worked with me at the AutoNation store in the mid-‘90s, is with me here, as is my service manager, Ric Young, and my co-director new operations, Tom Aldridge.
I’ve got quite a few other technicians and managers that have been with me for 12 years, Because of the way we do business, we believe all our employees will be here for a long time.
What is your biggest challenge?
Jeff: Our biggest challenge is time management, because we do so much in house, and because we do so many things. We are trying to become smarter marketers, and re-design our marketing processes and simplify it, for everyone at the dealership. We want to strengthen an already strong foundation that can be built upon year after year. That’s the fun part.
And, we have to be careful where we focus. We conceptualize, strategize the message, plan, design, implement, measure and renew. Multiply that through each profit center – new, used, fixed operations, etc., and then multiply by each competency in e-mail, advertising, social, etc., and our bandwidth could get very thin.
So when it comes to chasing a shiny new marketing object, which many dealers do, we have to be very selective. A classic example of this is Google +. A lot of dealers are jumping on this. In our case, we found a way to monitor how much of our customer base is on Google + and not a lot of them are. So, we’ll put Google + in the spectator column and we’ll check in on it from time to time. Right now we’re in the process of developing a utilization strategy.
Lisa, what is your vision for the future of the dealership?
Lisa: I want to run a good business, doing it the right way with good people and prove that we can serve the consumer well and still make a profit. So far, we are on track. We’ve had increases in business year after year. They are slow increases but they are the right increases.
That’s what drives me. The way I like to lead my team and inspire them to drive themselves is to start every year off with a theme.
Last year’s theme was “The Butterfly Effect.” We had butterflies all over the dealership and everybody had to read the book, “The Butterfly Effect.” The theory behind that is the flap of the butterfly’s wings have a far-reaching effect. So every little thing we do in the dealership affects something else.
This year our theme is “Together We Can.” One of the quotes I adopted at the start of the year is: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” (Hopi Teaching). By that, I mean a lot of the things we are doing now, we weren’t ready for 10 years or even six months ago. This year we are in building mode to get everybody up to speed with leadership skills, so if we do decide we want to expand with a second dealership, we won’t weaken this store by pulling key people out.
My game plan down the road is to have another store. I don’t know if it’s going to be another Ford store, or another franchise, but I’m building and training my staff so that we can expand. And most importantly, we’re getting ready right now to take everybody to the next level in providing an excellent customer experience and in growing sales revenue for the dealership.