By Bob Clements
What would happen to your business if you had the ability to be in front of all of your potential customers as they were going through the process of making a buying decision about outdoor power equipment?
It may sound impossible, but if you harness the power of the Internet — through your Web site and social networking — you can do just that. According to recent studies, more than 70 percent of your future customers will make the decision to buy from your dealership before they ever pass through the doorway of your brick-and-mortar store.
For good or bad, the Internet is the new model for doing business. I know from my own personal experience that when I am in the market for any item of significant value, I will do my research on the Internet. Using a Google search, I find what I am looking for and then start clicking on Web sites that come up on the first or second page to get my questions answered. If my purchase has the potential to need service, I know I am going to buy it locally, and I look at the Web sites to give me a sense of what the store or dealership is like before ever driving there. I am no different than that 70 percent of the people I mentioned earlier. The Internet, and more importantly a Web site, is going to be my first point of contact with any new company I do business with today.
Rethink your Web site
When it comes to finding ways to bring potential customers to your physical location, your Web site is one of the most inexpensive tools you have at your disposal. There are many ways to create a Web site, and most of you reading this article already have one up and running. The key to making your Web site work is to drive people to it, and you do that by making sure your Web address is on everything you have printed. Your Web address should be on your business cards, brochures, flyers, work orders, invoices, sales receipts, the side of your trucks, on your building signage, in your newspaper ads — everywhere. Your goal is to drive people, who are looking for outdoor power equipment, to your Web site and then to have a Web site that gives your customers what they are looking for — information about what you offer and why you should be their dealer of choice.
It’s important to understand that the online buying process can start four to six months before the customer comes to your dealership. With seven out of 10 buyers looking online before buying, the importance of providing information that customers need to have answered is essential. Keep in mind that a good Web site should provide the same information that a top salesperson would give to a customer coming to the dealership.
Make it “Google Simple”
If you are a Web surfer, then you are familiar with Google. It is the number one search engine on the Internet, and it gained its popularity because of its simple design. Google didn’t clutter up its site with all sorts of junk; it was, and still is, clean and simple. Google understood what we need to keep in mind — simple is better. Simple navigation and not overloading the page with excessive content will make it easy for potential customers to maneuver through your site and find the answers to what they are looking for.
One of the keys to creating a high-impact OPE site is to showcase not only your wholegoods, but also your service and parts. Keep in mind that consumers can buy your mowers and handheld equipment from a dozen other people right around you, but what they can’t get is your parts and service department. Always make sure that your Web site promotes your dealership’s advantages over the competition, and highlight anything that makes your dealership unique so that a potential customer would be attracted to it.
Respond to leads and questions
Most dealerships don’t place the same priority on a customer’s question or a sales lead from their Web site as they would if that same person walked up to the parts counter or phoned in.
If you have invested in a Web site, it makes no sense at all to not follow up with someone who has taken the time to contact you through your site. As a matter of fact, not following up on a contact in a timely way, can actually deter that person from coming into your dealership and may lead that person to check out your competition.
The Internet offers an endless supply of information on any topic or pertaining to any business, and all it takes is the click of a mouse to access it. However, the downside to having such a limitless resource is that most people search through multiple dealers, making comparisons and seeking out their best options without making a single one-on-one contact with a live person. The dealership that takes the time to personally respond to a Web request will usually turn the potential customer into a real one.
Most dealers are using ARI’s PartSmart, but you may not know of another one of ARI’s programs called “Footsteps.” It is a powerful tool that helps you stay on top of those incoming leads and gives you the ability to harness your Web site to help in your marketing efforts. I have several dealers that are using the program and have heard nothing but positive feedback from them. If you want to get more out of your site, you should consider talking to ARI about this product.
As an owner or a manager, your Web site is a vitally important part of doing business today. I would encourage you to spend some time on the Internet, look at what other dealers are doing, and do a reality check. Is your site as good as, or better than, other dealers with whom you compete? If not, maybe it’s time to up the ante this fall by spending more time and money to enhance your Web presence.
If you have children or grandchildren, then you are most likely familiar with social networking. Whether it is Facebook or Twitter, someone you know is most likely on it right now. This is a tremendous area of growth for the Internet and a valuable opportunity for business.
Before you start thinking about using social networking for your dealership, take some time and use Google, Yahoo or other search engines, as well as Facebook and Twitter to find out what other dealers in your area are doing. Check out their Web sites and social networking pages if they have them. Try searching for their latest promotions. Sign up for their e-mail newsletters. Armed with this free competitive intelligence, you can see what’s worked for dealers you admire and fine-tune your own marketing strategies to compete with them.
One of the most popular of all the social sites is Facebook. What started out as a simple way to connect or re-connect with friends has turned into a site that just recently added it 500-millionth member. Although it is primarily a personal forum, from a business perspective, there are many ways that Facebook can be used to promote your dealership as well.
There is a high probability that many of your customers are already on Facebook, so by building your own Facebook page for your business, you can create a great way to communicate to existing customers about your dealership’s important upcoming events, preseason service specials or other promotions.
Facebook also gives you a unique opportunity to attract new customers. If you take pictures of your customers and then post them on your Facebook page, friends or acquaintances of those customers will log on to your page and have the ability to see for themselves how well you take care of those who do business with you.
You may not be as familiar with Twitter as you are with Facebook, but it is developing into another great, free forum to promote your business and connect with potential customers.
Twitter is like a combination of a pager, blog and e-mail all rolled into one tool. Its primary difference is that posts, or tweets, are restricted to 140 characters or less. With the ability to follow people and have followers, and the ability to interact with Twitter on your cell phone, it has become the perfect social messaging tool.
There are a few keys to making Twitter work well. First of all, to get started, log on and set up an account for your dealership. It’s important to “tweet” at least once per day, so it will take a little effort on your part to keep the dialogue going. You may be tweeting about something that your customers or potential customers would find interesting or even amusing. Ask and answer questions, but remember you only have 140 characters, so you have to be concise.
Although it is a social network, once you have started developing a following, it makes sense to offer an occasional coupon or discount to your connections. If you have made a change on your Web site, take a moment and tweet it. That’s what Twitter is all about — a quick way to let people know what’s happening in your dealership.
I use it to keep those that I follow — and those who follow me — updated on new articles I write and new ideas I pick up from dealers with whom I work. It’s a great tool that is free and simple to use. What could be better than that?
I always tell dealers that if you are going to spend time or money on something, you have to measure the impact it is making on your dealership, and the same holds true for your Web, Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s very important that you have your employees ask new customers how they found you. Put a coupon on your sites and allow customers to print them off, so you can easily track people coming into your dealership and know what is and isn’t working.
The key to everything you do in your business is to ask the question, “Is the time and money I am spending on this making a difference?” If the answer is yes, keep doing what you are doing. If you are not sure, make some changes, give it some time, and measure the results again.
Link to other free sites
Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunities to list your dealership on free directory sites like MerchantCircle.com, Google Local Business Center, Angie’s List, Yahoo! Local, Yelp, YellowPages.com, SearchLocal, and SuperPages. Each of these sites has an online business directory that allows businesses to create a free listing. If the site already lists your business, you can “claim” it by adding more details to the listing, such as your company Web address, a map, phone numbers, or business hours.
When it is all said and done, your Internet presence — whether on your Web site, Facebook or Twitter — should focus on your business. It represents your storefront and needs to be a reflection of who you are and what you have to offer, as well as inform potential customers about what you bring to them. Keep in mind at all times that your Web site is a doorway into your dealership and your social networking sites are tools to help drive traffic through it. The Internet is an open communication system, which means anybody can read what you put out there. That’s what makes it such a powerful tool to help your dealership reach the next level of profitability. Take advantage of the power of the Internet and watch your profits soar.
Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.bobclements.com.