The telephone is more important in the automobile industry today than it was twenty-five (25) years ago. That is a bold statement, but as a General Manager the simple math justifies this fact. Years ago the consumer was only able to contact the dealership in a couple of ways they either walked in the door, or called on the phone. Statistics tell us that the breakdown of walk in traffic versus sales calls was 70% – 30%. Today with the creation and advancement of the Internet, 70%-80% or more of initial contacts come in the categories of incoming sales calls and Internet leads. What is an Internet lead? Its an incoming sales call but in the opposite direction.

The importance of the telephone on an incoming sales call is obvious, but the significance of the telephone with an Internet lead is just as valuable. When a sales manager distributes an Internet lead or when the BDC is responding to an e-lead, what’s the first thing the representative will attempt to do? Call the consumer immediately. Of course they will attempt to text and/or email the customer as well but eventually the goal is to get the customer on the phone. So once again simple math tells us that to maximize the potential of 70%-80% of our customers we have to be better on the phone then our competition.

Unfortunately, the ability of the average sales and service person to take or make these critical calls has not drastically improved in the past quarter of a century. Every dealership is looking for a differentiator, and effective use of the telephone is starring us in the face. Improving this important tool is unquestionably one of the biggest opportunities in the auto business today.

It has been well documented that show room traffic visits have been greatly reduced. Depending on which report you look at, the number of dealerships that a consumer visits prior to purchase, is down from approximately six (6) a decade ago to less than two (2) today. The ability to communicate and provide information to the consumer, while professionally guiding the conversation, is paramount in today’s business climate. Therefore the importance of appointments has increased dramatically. Efficient use of the Telephone is by far the best way to create an appointment especially when you take into consideration the average customer calls 5 dealerships before they go into a store to buy a vehicle.

The ineffective use of the telephone is not limited to the sales department. Ask any General Manager how many times a day, week or month a customer tells the GM, that they have tried to speak with a dealership employee, could not reach them and did not receive a return phone call. Most General Managers will tell you that it is too many times to count.
So once again how important is the telephone? As you see statistically, telephone skills directly influence 70 – 80% of the initial leads into a car dealership not to speak of the countless other types of calls we need to make on a daily basis. There is not another single tool or process in a dealership that has as much opportunity for improvement. If a dealership makes the telephone a priority, it will improve sales volume, service and parts repair order count, CSI and net profit.
In this exciting day of technology where things change seemingly at the speed of light, it is ironic that a tool that was invented 146 years ago is potentially our biggest opportunity for success.

Author: Casey McGraw has been in the auto Industry for over 30 years, has held every position in an automobile dealership; most recently as the General Manager of a large dealer group. Marcom was the first to pioneer recording-based sales training in the late 80’s and over the past 30 years developed proprietary methodologies that drive behavior change and increased performance.