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I really love my job at Liquid Motors. Not only am I an account manager working with a lot of fascinating dealerships, I serve as a consultant, therapist, mediator (this role is actually pretty funny..boy do I have some stories to tell), provide some comic relief, you name it. It’s quite interesting most days. But as I was playing therapist a few weeks back, one of my (once not so internet marketing savvy) dealers called to vent. She was telling me that she just realized that day how for the last 4 or 5 years she had not been getting any email leads from one of her main dealership websites. I know you might be thinking how ridiculous that is. How could this happen? Are you kidding me? Really? But, let’s face it. This is not uncommon. Hopefully the 4 or 5 years part is. But, going back to what I said before…the “not so internet marketing savvy” part, they simply did not realize they should be inspecting what they were expecting. As she spoke to the website vendor, they explained that a lead forwarding address was never set up when the website was created. OUCHY!! You know what really stinks about the whole thing? They missed a ton of leads because there was no competition for that brand within a 200 mile radius of them.

I blog about every other time I blog reminding dealers that they MUST send test leads from all sites where they market as well as phone verify all tracking numbers at least monthly. There should be a designated person that on the first of every month (or whatever time works best) sends out test leads and keeps a record of what has been tested. It can not be assumed that things always work like they are supposed to. Think about when a change is made in sales personnel, CRM company or inventory management system, there are a lot of vendors that need to be contacted. That is a lot of people updating information, and mistakes (typos, transposed #’s, etc.) can and will happen. Don’t tell anyone I said so, but I even make a mistake from time to time. WE ALL DO! So a second set of eyes looking out for your best interest is a MUST.

I hope every dealership I know reads this blog. Hopefully it will be an eye opener for those that just assume everything is happening as it should. Do you know who’s looking out for you?

eBay is still a great place to sell your vehicles. At this moment there are just under 54,000 vehicles listed there. What should you do to maximize your efforts to be successful on eBay? Below are a few tips to consider:
1. Picking the right vehicles. What are the right vehicles? The answer is simple – any vehicle. I’ll explain in a subsequent tip.

2. Properly showcase your vehicles.
a. Photos: eBay will tell you the more photos, the better. 40+ photos gives you a 75% higher chance of success than having less than 40 photos. Obviously, lots of photos are key. Be sure to take pictures of any issues the vehicle has including small dents and paint scratches. The more you tell someone about the vehicle, the more trust you will build. Let’s face it…buying a car you can see can be scary…buying one sight unseen is very scary.
b. Description notes: The more you tell, the more you sell. Again, build that bidder trust with good description notes describing the qualities of the vehicle including any issues. A good way to earn BAD feedback is to not describe a vehicle properly and have someone fly in to drive it home or have it delivered to them, and it is not what they expected. Disclose everything!
c. Customize your title: eBay gives you an additional 55 characters for a subtitle to include key search terms shoppers may use to find your vehicle. You should use every space. The default search on eBay is the title, so this is important. If you have space left over after the key search terms, include things like one owner, clean Carfax, certified, etc. to draw attention to your listing and to help justify price. Before listing your vehicle, go to eBay and see what your competition is doing. Then do BETTER.

3. Choose your listing type (auction, fixed price, etc.): Here’s the tip I mentioned in tip #1. Consider eBay just another site where you market. What you want is someone to contact you about the vehicle they see, and if it turns out that it is not the vehicle for them, cross-sell them on something else. All kinds of vehicles sell on eBay, so it does not matter what you list. eBay shoppers are not any different than any other shopper. They certainly will attempt to get a deal that makes sense since they will probably incur some extra costs in order to get the vehicle if they are not local, but they are JUST shoppers. Speak to every customer with the intent of selling them A vehicle. When customers walk on your showroom floor interested in a vehicle you do not have, you do not simply say, “Good luck”. You actually find out why they are wanting that particular vehicle so you can determine what you have that may work just as well if not better. We know a large percentage of people end up buying a different vehicle than the one they initially inquired about. To use eBay as a lead generator, you should try a RESERVE/NO BUY IT NOW auction and start your bidding low. Yes, $100 low. Bids on your listings help you more than you think. When someone bids, you do get their contact information so you can do that cross-selling I mentioned if you need to. But, also, the more bids you get, the quicker you get better placement on eBay. There are several factors that dictate your placement, and bids are one of them. Take advantage of this. Keep in mind if you are doing a fixed price listing, you are probably only going to get the opportunity to sell that one vehicle. If someone sees your price and you are out of their range, they are not even going to give you a shot. What they do not know is you may have a vehicle that is similar but cheaper that they could consider. The average hits on an eBay listing are 350 so if you are not seeing this #, you are missing opportunities.

4. Create some sense of urgency: Consider a 5 or 7 day length for your listings. This will let buyers who are very interested know that they must act fast or they could miss out. Also, include some verbiage in your listings that the vehicle is available for sale locally, and the auction could end early if sold. Let them know as well, that you are willing to add a “buy it now” at any time and end the auction early. This will let those people who do not want to wait and do not like the bidding game know that they can buy at any time.

5. Call all bidders: If you are not going to work every lead you get on eBay, you should not do eBay. You are spending a minimum of $50 per listing, so you should maximize your efforts. Again, it’s the cross-selling that you will find aids in your success. Also, respond to all inquiries, ie. questions and emails as quickly as possible.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I cannot tell you how many times I have been called and thanked for the advice above because a dealership is increasing sales due to eBay. I have been told more than once that dealers are finding that their success is because of eBay but not necessarily on eBay as they are cross-selling potential customers when necessary. When you think about it, the above just makes sense and when we do what makes sense, success will come.

Good luck and happy eBaying!!

Every day I find myself reading through at least one forum, if not more, on one automotive site or another. I like to keep up with what is out there and know what people, dealers, are talking about. This morning I read this entry on a great forum, Automotive Digital Marketing, When’s the last time your saw an evidence manual?. If you haven’t taken a minute to check out their forum I urge you to do so today! The author of the post asks the question, Where is your evidence manual? To be honest I didn’t even know what he was talking about and then I read on and thought, “That’s a great idea”! For those of you who don’t know what an Evidence Manual (EM) is basically it’s a “brag book” with pictures of happy customers and testimonials etc. I used to work with Saturn dealers and the one thing I loved about going to visit them is they all had pictures showering the showroom of happy customers and their new cars. What better way to build a potential buyers confidence then showing off all of the happy customers you have?? Jae went on to say that with today’s technology it’s even easier cause all you need is a camera, memory card and an electronic picture frame. Perfect! So all you have to do is take a picture with your happy customer as soon as they get the keys to their shiny new car and upload it to the electronic picture frame that is sitting on the front of your desk on the showroom floor and viola..instant customer testimonials!

As we all know (at least I hope you all do!), you can never really have too many photos to help highlight and market your vehicles, right? Well, it isn’t just photos you need, it is good, quality photos that make your inventory “POP” and help market your vehicles effectively. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when photographing your inventory.

The absolute best natural lighting conditions for you to photograph your cars will be early in the morning or just before sunset. If at all possible, avoid shooting in harsh, glaring mid-day sunlight, or you will end up with color-faded paint on the car’s top surfaces and murky shadows on its lower regions. Your best shooting days are those that are overcast. Keep an eye out for any separation in the clouds, as this may cast unusual and uneven reflections on your vehicles and lead to unusable pictures.

To help get some of your best images, a basic rule of thumb is to set your camera to “Forced Flash” or “Fill Flash”, not on “Auto Flash”. It is really important to use the forced flash mode in bright sunlight. I know, I know, it sounds like you should do the opposite – but you are not actually “adding” more light to the picture, you are “redistributing” the light. This will illuminate the shadowy areas of your car and reduce the glare from the bright areas allowing you to capture a much better image of the vehicle.

As far as an automobiles color is concerned, the best time to photograph your darker vehicles is in the evening or the morning, when the sun is below the horizon. Bright cars are better to photograph when there is some sunlight present, but again, not harsh, overhead, mid-day sun.

For capturing your best interior shots, a white card, like a poster board, can be used to bounce some light off of the headliner to illuminate the inside of your vehicles. To best highlight all the bells and whistles in the dash, the white card can be propped on the backseat to reflect some light on the dash and show off its features

While shooting, be aware of your surroundings and all the extra distractions near your vehicle. Signs, telephone wires, trash cans, poles and customers wandering your lot are just some of the things in the background that can take all the focus and emphasis off the car you are hoping to sell.

A really simple trick for making your shots more appealing is to wet down the area where the car will be photographed. This will darken the pavement and provide a nice “highlight” effect. Remember my previous tip, though, and make sure you don’t leave a “distracting” hose or bucket lying around!

Unfortunately, chances are you are not going to be shooting your inventory in a comfortable studio with perfect temperature and lighting conditions. Don’t let this worry you! Even if you have to shoot your “subjects” outside, there are plenty of opportunities for capturing some fantastic shots on your lot that will “WOW” your customers.

I was browsing through the latest delivery of one of Dealer Communications eNewsletters when an article caught my eye – “Consumer Reports Index: Sentiment Plunges To Lowest Level Since December 2009”. Being a person who likes to look at surveys and statistics, I began to read through the article. The article contains survey data and analysis conducted by Consumer Reports around various categories including consumer outlook, financial troubles, employment, stress and purchase behavior. Besides being an interesting read, at least to me, the article also got me thinking about how this information could be used to help increase the marketing effectiveness of a business.

The overall findings in the Consumer Reports study are a bit depressing:
• Consumer sentiment dropped to 43.4 a 5.1 point drop in only one month – this indicates a more pessimistic consumer attitude toward their finances.
• Financial difficulties were reported 10 points higher than the previous month at 60.6 – indicating many more households are experiencing problems paying bills.
• The Employment Index fell to 49 another drop from the previous month and reportedly the largest monthly drop in 2 years.

So what got me thinking about marketing in the midst of all of these woeful numbers? By reading between the lines and looking at the secondary points within the article, you can find data on which categories are faring the best. While the overall consumer outlook is bad, the report indicates the most optimistic consumer groups are ages 18-34 and households with $100k or more income. Consumer retail behavior was actually up from the previous month despite the negative outlook. Vehicle purchases remained static month to month and forecast for new car purchases are expected to increase in following months. Looking at these points, it is possible to see where your marketing efforts and money might best be spent.

So how flexible are you in your marketing efforts? Are you able to review data such as this and make changes based on your analysis or are you locked into doing the same things month after month. I am not suggesting you should make a massive change to your philosophy based on a single article or report but imagine how much more efficient capitalizing on current situations would be. The phrase ‘throwing good money after bad’ comes to mind; being locked into committing time and money pursuing markets that are returning less and less results or are predicted to do so is counter-productive.

So take a look at this study and let us know what you think. How flexible are your marketing efforts and have you seen a return on investment from being flexible? If you wish to see the article in its original post, it can be found here: Consumer Reports

In case you haven’t heard Google made a change a few weeks back to the Google Places page and decided to remove all 3rd party review “snippets” and only allow Google reviews to be seen, see this blog and this blog. For dealers this was a major blow considering the popularity of 3rd party review sites such as Dealerrater.com, Yelp, Yahoo, Google places reviews and the newcomer Cars.com. Now out of the main players I know for a fact that majority of dealers focused on Dealerrater.com and had a good number of reviews on that site so to remove those reviews from their Google Places page is huge. Now Google wants everyone to focus on Google Places reviews written by Google users. So if you are a dealer that was focused on 3rd party review sites that did not include Google reviews how do you plan on shifting the focus to get reviews there?

Let us know your Google Reviews Plan!

There is a new Google feature out called +1 that is similar to the “like” feature on Facebook. If you have not seen it yet, you should definitely check it out. You can get the info you need at http://bit.ly/qUxNQo You place the code on your website so that someone who likes your content can recommend it on Google search. As Google crawls the pages on your website, the +1 information can be picked up. Then when someone is searching on Google and find your page, they will see how many recommendations you have. This can visually make you stand out and possibly lead to click through to your site. I would definitely recommend placing the +1 feature on the home page of your website as well as the vehicle details pages. Who knows where this will go, but if it will ultimately give your website more relevance in searches, then it’s time to jump on the bandwagon.

Imagine one of your sales representatives at your store walking up to a prospective buyer on your lot to help answer their questions. The salesman asks the buyer how they can help, and the buyer responds by saying that they are looking for a black truck. With a smile the salesman tells the buyer to follow him and takes them to a row of black trucks. “Here you go” the sales person tells the buyer and walks away.

Now, imagine the same buyer walks onto your competitor’s lot and is approached by a salesman there. The sales person ask the buyer how they might be able to assist them and the buyer responds in the same way as before saying, that they are looking for a black truck. The salesman without hesitation, before ever making a move begins to ask the buyer a series of questions including:

How many doors are you looking for?
Are you looking for cloth or leather seating?
Manual or automatic transmission?
Are you interested in the XL, STX, XLT or FX2 model?

They buyer tells the sales person that they know that the XLT is in their price range, they prefer the truck has automatic transmission and dark cloth interior. Shaking his head the salesman asks the buyer to follow him because he actually has a truck that matches exactly what they are looking for.

Once at the truck the salesman walks the buyer around all sides of the truck pointing out specific features and upgraded packages the truck comes with. After walking around the truck the salesman opens the driver side door and lets the buyer sit inside the truck and look around while he goes and gets the keys to the truck so that they can take it on a test drive. The buyer after a short 10 minute ride decides they want to work up some numbers and see what it would take to drive home in the truck that day.

Now ask yourself which salesperson would you want working at your dealership? I would put my money on number two and would assume that most of you would as well. The same is true when it comes to how your inventory is presented online. Put simply, listings that do not have style specified, high quality images (interior and exterior), custom descriptions and any other level of detail that can possibly be added are no different than the salesman in the first scenario above.

While there are many dealers out there that are doing a great job, I think that the vast majority could be doing even better. The fact of the matter is that if you want to maximize your advertising dollars online you must start with the most critical components of online marketing. We call these at Liquid Motors the 7 steps to success and our dealers that use our system to ensure that all 7 of these steps are achieved across their entire inventory are the ones that are reaping the rewards when it comes to higher hit counts on their advertising sites, more qualified leads, higher conversion rates, and even more walk in traffic to their stores.

To learn more about how we can help your dealership maximize it’s online marketing efforts give us a call or visit http://www.liquidmotors.com/Liquid-Motors-Live-Demo.aspx to sign up for a demo today.

Where are your pictures? I hate stock photos! I read a blog recently about whether or not it is beneficial to have new car photos online. It wasn’t the article itself that really struck a cord with me, but it was some comments that were made to the blog.

We know it is very important to have photos for your used vehicles. You want to build value and piece of mind that the vehicle is nice and clean. The photos also show all the bells and whistles which is great for building value. But, the idea of having photos for new vehicles has not caught on quite as well. In this day and age, I am still surprised to see so many dealerships not buying into the “new car photos” hype. For some reason they must believe that their cars are new and therefore customers are not interested in seeing them. That can be the only reason I would think as to why they would not want to show them. Heck, new cars sell themselves, right?

Going back to the comments to the blog I mentioned a second ago, the point was brought up that you do not take photos trying to get someone to buy the car, but you want to take photos to get them to buy it from YOU. He mentioned too that having an actual photo shows the person looking at your vehicle that you do actually have that car in stock. Sometimes I tend to look at the big picture and do not take the time to focus in, but this guy was exactly right to his point about why you should have pictures. Have you looked at new vehicles on a website lately and the info you are given. I know that if you do not give those vehicles the “personal touch”, ie. add the actual options in notes that the vehicle has, there can be some confusion as the vin explosion info only gives all the features that the vehicle COULD have had when manufactured. But this in no way tells someone what yours really has. Having actual photos clears up the confusion and lets the shopper see the features.

I personally think my online shopping habits cannot be too far from the norm, and I know personally that if I cannot see it, I am not interested. Now, I am an impulse buyer so, as I shop online, I want what I want NOW in most cases. Or at least I am trying to make some kind of decision to purchase at that moment whether I pull the trigger or not. If I am not given enough info to make a decision, I’ve got to move on. If you have the luxury of having someone hit your listing (because you have spent a ton of money and effort working on your SEO), then why not give yourself every opportunity to make the sale.

Yeah, I said big bucks because that is what you pay for your internet marketing. Oh, who am I talking to? You know what you pay and will agree it’s not cheap to have all your vehicles listed on the most popular automobile websites. Hey, it’s worth it, right? The customers are there. You want to be as well. Then I have to ask why on earth you would not take advantage of your advertising dollars and showcase all your vehicles with photos and notes? Also if you are paying for a pricing tool, your vehicles should be competitively priced from day 1 online. Even if you are pricing your vehicles by the “I think, I feel” method, getting a price online will certainly help you on sites like Autotrader where you lose in both the high to low (which is the default search) or the low to high (which is probably the most common search) if they are not priced. If your vehicle does not have a price, you are at the bottom of the list either way. We all know the goal is to sell your vehicles as quickly as possible since the longer they sit on your lot, the less profit you will make as they depreciate and your cost of owning them rises. Remember 80+% of shoppers start online. You have got to get it right if you expect to get the most for your advertising buck.

I challenge you to inspect your inventory and see what percentage of vehicles are being advertised without photos, notes and pricing. I am not just guessing that many dealers have high percentages in these areas, I know they do. I review our dealers’ accounts monthly and send them a report so they can see where they can improve. There really are no excuses for neglecting these areas. With all the cool internet marketing tools out there, including ours, you can upload photos, use a description builder tool if description writing is not your thing, and price your vehicles without having to check several sites to see what vehicles are retailing for all in a snap.

A common excuse I have heard for not having pictures is the weather. If you live in an area that has a long messy winter, you may consider investing in a photo booth out of the weather or just reserving a service bay just for photos. If you do not have a photo booth, then you should have plenty of time to sit in the nice warm dealership and get your notes updated. If it takes a while to get photos, you can at least give a potential customer some good info on the vehicle to let them know why they should consider yours. Another common excuse for no photos is that the lot service company only comes by a few days a week. Everyone has a camera, so why not take a photo or 2 of the vehicle as soon as it is traded in and upload them into your inventory management tool so that photos are online until a complete set can be taken. At least you’ll show the potential customers that the car is in good shape and worthy of a call. No picture showing means I am moving on.

Really I could go on and on, but I will give you a moment to chew on this. If you do a great job (and there are many who have mastered this), you are probably too busy to read this blog (unless you are making time since you think I am really cool and just enjoy my rant :)) On the other hand, if you are a dealer not getting the lead return you expect from the sites where you market, then you should evaluate whether or not you are doing the things that have been proven to be effective. Internet Marketing 101: Show more, Tell more, Sell more. If you master it, you will get the best bang for your big bucks.

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