How to Overcome the Number One Sales and Marketing Issue Facing Our Industry

by Darrell Amy, Dealer Marketing

Have you noticed that when you buy something you are doing more and more research online before you go to a store or talk to a salesperson? If this is true of you, this is also true of your prospects. According to a recent survey of 1,400 business decision makers published in the Harvard Business Review, buyers are now on average 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they engage a sales rep or vendor.

I’ve spent the last 21 years working in a face-to-face sales industry. Every day we get up, shave, put on a starched shirt and tie and meet with decision makers. Attention, interest, desire, and close defined the sales process, and thus the role of sales. Marketing was responsible for printing some business cards with a good logo, creating a nice brochure that made us look credible on the first sales call, and helping develop professional proposals. 

Twenty years ago, if a decision maker wanted information, they had to contact a sales rep. That has changed. With the advent of the Internet, the opportunity to share information early in the buying process has been slowly slipping out of our hands. Now the research shows that buyers have crossed the halfway mark in the decision making process before they call you. 

Clearly, the 57 percent stat is an average. I know some of your trusted clients call you right away the moment they have a problem that they think you could help with. But for every client who calls you early in the buying process, there are prospects fiercely committed to doing as much online research as possible, only calling in a vendor at the last minute once they have determined their problem, investigated the alternatives and defined their solution. 

These independent buyers don’t take calls from sales reps, nor do they have time to meet with eight different vendors. They do their research online and pick one or two companies to talk with. The bottom line is this: If you are not one of the companies involved in the online part of the research process, you won’t get invited to the second part of the process. 

Am I saying that you need to dispense of your sales force and sell everything online? Not at all: selling still plays an important role in closing deals and going deeper in the account. What I am saying is this:

1. You need to get good at marketing if you want to be involved in the first 57 percent of the sales process.

2. The handoff between your marketing and your sales team needs to be smooth

The reality of our industry is that most dealerships only have basic marketing capabilities. This is understandable given the history of our engagement with clients. But just as we are now being forced to develop skills and partnerships to deliver IT services, we also need to develop skills and partnerships to execute effective online marketing strategies. 

What should marketing do for you?

Marketing needs to take on the role of the first half of the sales process. It’s during this time that the buyer has discovered a problem. Like most people today, the first thing you do when you have a problem is look for a solution on Google.  

1. Get Found Online 

Your dealership needs to be found online. This starts with getting found in Google and extends to getting found inside social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The way to get found on Google continues to evolve, especially with the latest updates in Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, (Google’s algorithms). You used to be able to hire some SEO ninjas and they would trick out your website with hundreds of keywords. But while a correctly configured website is important, the real thing Google is looking for these days is fresh, relevant content. This begins by updating your website regularly with useful articles. These typically go on your blog. Topics should include answers to questions your clients are searching for. Not only does this help you get found, it also means that clients find useful information when they get to your site.

There are several other important things to consider when bolstering your online presence. Google doesn’t share its algorithms, so industry experts have to guess at this part. But here’s some of what we are learning: 

• More than 50 percent of Google’s searches come from mobile phones. While your dealership may not get 50 percent of its traffic from mobile devices, having a site that is not optimized for mobile could hurt your search results with Google. 

• SEO experts also believe that social signals are a part of Google’s secret formula. When you update LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, this content gets indexed by Google and it may also help the search results of your main company website. 

• Your company needs to be set up correctly in Google+ Business. This makes sure you are on Google’s map when people search. It also is a platform where clients can give you good reviews, another thing that may help your search results.

Another way to get found online is with online advertising. While it takes time to get found in the organic (free) part of Google, you could get on Page One of Google today with pay-per-click advertising. You can advertise in Google with AdWords. You can also do targeted advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook. 

These are all pay-per-click models, meaning you only pay when someone clicks on the ad. It’s done in an auction system, so the price of a click depends on how many people are competing for the space. We could write a book about this, but the critical thing to ensure when you are doing pay-per-click ads is this: you need to link to a page with a specific call to action that results in the prospect giving you their email address (more about that below). If you just send them to your main website, they may see your brand, but the chances of you ever hearing from them are slim. Use pay-per-click to send people to landing pages with a focused call to action.

The days of simply paying $20,000 a year for a full-page Yellow Pages ad are over. There is no one-stop way to get found online. Basically, if you want to be found, Google is forcing all of us to participate on the web with meaningful content. 

2. Share Useful Information

Getting found online is just the first step. What do they find when they arrive at your websites? Do they find a slick corporate brochure or do they discover lots of information that is helpful to them? If all you have online is a brochure that talks about your company, your benefits and your tech partners, the people in the first 57 percent of the buying process will tune out. They’re not looking for slick, they are looking for help. 

Recently I needed to buy new tires for my wife’s Honda Pilot. In the past I’d go to the tire store and talk to the sales guy with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He’d show me three options: the cheap tires, the Michelins and the ones they had on sale. Sometimes I’d get good tires. However, many times I’d get terrible tires. The problem is you don’t discover this until you are 2,500 miles into the set of tires and it’s too late.

This time I decided I’d do things differently. I pulled up Google and searched for information on tires for my wife’s specific make and model. Some of the sites I found were my local tire stores. All of them had websites that talked about their hours, their brands and their great customer service. None of them answered my question. Then I found www.tirerack.com. This site had buyer’s guides and helpful information on what to look for in a tire. They had recommendations along with reviews for tires on my specific vehicle. Like the typical skeptical buyer, I made my mind up after doing some research, bought the tires online and had them shipped to a local tire company to install. All of this was because I found helpful information.

Yes, your websites need to be professional and you need to tell the story of your company. However, you also need to provide helpful information. Think about the business problems your clients have. Think about the questions they ask you. Answer these on your website. Even if the person who visits your site doesn’t find an answer to their question, they will at least get the sense that you are the kind of company that could find the answer.

3. Gather Contact Information

It doesn’t stop here. Once someone is on one of your web properties you need to offer even more helpful information. The information needs to look useful enough so that someone would give you their email address in exchange for it. Think about yourself. How many times have you downloaded a buyer’s guide or special report on a topic related to an emerging area of your business, like managed services? You give your email address reluctantly with the understanding that if the follow-up emails they send you are not helpful, you can always cancel the emails.

In the same way, you need to offer information to your prospects in exchange for their emails. Recently I was sitting in Starbucks (my creative suite) writing on my MacBook with my headphones on. My friend walked up to me and said, “You look focused today! What are you doing?” I responded that I was writing a Buyer’s Guide to Managed Network Services. My friend laughed and said, “Who is going to read that?” I smiled and replied, “Someone interested in learning more about Managed Network Services.”

That is just one example. There are literally dozens of buyer’s guides and special reports that could be written to help guide the thinking of prospects in the areas of managed services, workflow optimization, document management and multifunction systems. Add in hot I.T. topics like backup and disaster recovery, cyber security and device management and you have a whole suite of helpful information you could provide in exchange for an email.

4. Nurture the Prospect

Once you have a prospect’s email you have the opportunity to build on the relationship. Keep in mind, the prospect is not looking for info on your company, they are looking for answers to their questions. So after they download something off of your website like a buyer’s guide or special report, you need to nurture the lead with more helpful information. Keep the follow up emails focused on providing help. Then at the end of the email, invite them to contact you to get some more personal help. They may not reach out immediately. However, if you have provided helpful information to them, chances are they will reach out when the time comes. Now you will be one of the select few invited to the dance. And since you provided a big chunk of the information that helped them define what they want you should be in a good position to win.

5. Hand Off to Sales

The last step is to hand off to sales. The important thing here is that the sales rep understands what has transpired up until this point. If you hand off the contact information right after they download a special report for the first time, the sales rep needs to understand that this person is very early in the buying process. First, they may not take a call. In fact, they may be very defensive if a sales rep calls at this point. On the other hand, if a prospect reaches out to you after receiving a series of emails you have a totally different situation. They have requested contact and you should have a very warm lead. 

Before the sales rep engages with the prospect they need to understand the nature of the lead. They need to know what information the prospect has downloaded and be prepared to answer questions related to that content. They also should avoid being pushy at this point. Instead, they should continue to offer to be helpful.

What’s next?

The changing buying habits of today’s business decision makers require us to modify the way we look at marketing. At a recent industry event, I was speaking to the CEO of one of the top revenue-producing dealers in the country. During his presentation he recommended that dealers invest a substantial amount of money each month in their online marketing. He told me that he looks at his marketing budget as a full time employee on his sales team. He recommended that if a dealer was planning to hire three reps this year, they should hire two and dedicate the rest to online marketing. He takes marketing seriously and it is paying off. 

I realize that this article brings up more questions than it answers. So, over the next few months we are going to take a deeper dive into each one of these critical areas. We’ll look at ways that popular platforms like Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook play into this strategy. We’ll also get very practical on how you can implement this in your dealership. Stay tuned!  

Contact Darrell Amy at damy@dealermarketing.net

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.