The telephone is more important in the automobile industry today than it was 25 years ago. That’s
the statement that I made when I first wrote this article a year ago. I want to amend that statement:
the telephone is even more important today than a few months ago.
As a general manager, the simple math justifies this fact. Years ago, the consumer was only able to
contact the dealership in a couple 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 form
of incoming sales calls and internet leads. What is an internet lead? It’s 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
than 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 staring us in the face. Improving this important
tool is unquestionably one of the biggest opportunities still in the auto business today.
It has been well documented that show room traffic has greatly reduced because of the pandemic.
Depending on which report you look at, the number of dealerships that a consumer visits prior to
purchase is down from approximately six a decade ago to fewer than two today. The ability to
communicate and provide information to the consumer, while still 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 five
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 them 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 mention 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 and has held every position
in an automobile dealership, most recently as the general manager of a large dealer group. Marcom
was the first company to pioneer recording-based sales training in the late 80’s, and over the past 30
years has developed proprietary methodologies that drive behavior change and increase