One thing I’ve learned after 20-plus years in this industry is that we often get so ingrained in the day-to-day routine, we tend to miss things that are right in front of our face. When we think about digital marketing initiatives and their impact on our operations, we sometimes neglect a very important factor: PRODUCT! And in our space, that is one of the most crucial yet elusive aspects of any effort we make.
One of the biggest mistakes I see dealers making time and time again is adding ALL of their inventory to their websites. Think about this from a customer’s standpoint: Imagine searching and searching for a vehicle online, thinking you’ve found it, scheduling an appointment, and finally driving to the dealership—for hours, in some cases—only to be told once you arrive that they don’t actually have that car on-site! Think about how mismatched your SRP experience might be with all the stock images inundating customer searches now more than ever. And don’t even get me started on the digital ads that have become more and more prevalent on social media platforms of carousels filled with stock images. It is such a bad practice, and I cannot understand why some dealers are so stubborn about this!
Folks, having that car on your website is not helping you secure any deals. In fact, it is hurting you more than you realize. As a marketer in this space, I’m constantly being asked for the next big idea, trend, pattern, or strategy to help sell more cars. If you’ve been following my content for any amount of time, you probably know that I don’t believe in marketing efforts as much as dealership decision-makers do. Personally, I think that ALL of the initiatives we do, except for price and selection, help a little bit—and I can prove it! If you think your marketing efforts are what makes the difference in your operation, then I dare you to get rid of your people and process, double down on those same marketing efforts, and see how long you remain in business. However, I’d bet you my whole company that if you shut down all of your marketing initiatives and instead doubled down on your people and process, you would remain in business for years to come. I’d even go so far as to say that you would probably experience growth.
Why do I say this? Simple: processes equate to experiences, and experience creates word of mouth, which is the best form of marketing there is. On the other hand, people—great salespeople, great service advisers, and so on—won’t just stand around all day waiting to be fed! They will go hunting for you and bring back the business. Now, what marketing efforts (digital marketing in particular) can do is connect your inventory to eyeballs! Customers are doing hours and hours of research before they actually purchase a vehicle, and if you can connect a potential buyer with a vehicle of interest and sell them on your digital experience, you will have a significantly higher chance of getting that person to convert from online to in-person.
The biggest miss or detractor to activity is not what marketing channels you have. It’s not what third-party vendor you have your inventory on, and it’s certainly not how much money you spend. It’s one simple thing that is so easily overlooked: frontline inventory levels! What’s crazy to me is how many decision-makers out there are not tracking their frontline units on a weekly basis. I can’t tell you how often I get calls regarding things being “slow” only to find out that dealers are, in fact, selling inventory at the same rate—there’s just less frontline product available. Just because you have 150 cars on your website does not mean you will sell 150 cars!
I get this all the time: “I want to sell X units a month.” Ok, great! How many frontline-ready units do you actually have? (Because, of course, you can’t sell what’s not available.) “Well, I sell units from service all the time.” Really? Awesome! Do you sell 90 percent of your units from service? Of course not! There are always exceptions, but I bet if you added up all the inventory you have available to sell and compared that to what you are actually selling, the numbers would be very close. How do I know this? I see it every single day.
One of the things we prioritize over at DTVMS is tracking weekly frontline units. This means for our clients, every single week we account for how many frontline units we have, how many units have been sold, and how many units were replaced. This data tells us time and time again that if you do not replace what you sell on a daily basis, you will notice a decrease in activity.
Let’s say that this month you started out with 100 frontline units. The first week, you sold 10 cars, so now you are down to 90 frontline units. If you do not replace those units by the end of the week, you start week 2 with 90 frontline units. Now, people visit your website, search on Google, and go to Autotrader, Cars.com, and such every single day, correct? This means that in week 2, with only 90 frontline units instead of 100, you have less opportunities to gain traction! Your activity will almost certainly experience a slowdown. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet the majority of decision-makers I speak with do not understand how critically important this is!
The assumption is “Either way, I have X amount of cars listed on my website.” Yes, you do, but the non-front live units are not actually available, and you can only sell what you have frontline ready. “But Herb, that is exactly why we do it—so we always show as many levels as possible!” Ok, so then you end up showing more digital units that are not yet merchandised, and that’s the problem. Customers don’t engage with stock images. At that point, the jig is up—they know that if they see stock photos, that means you don’t have the car! So instead of focusing on maintaining appropriate levels of frontline-ready units, we often focus on filling our website with units, regardless of whether we have them or not, and then expect to sell ALL of them in 30 days.
This is nonsense, and it won’t help you reach your objectives—EVER! Your sales growth will be directly related to how many frontline units you have available to sell and how quickly you can get this system in place of maintaining the required available inventory in relationship to the number of cars you want to sell. That’s the other thing: when you consistently track your frontline unit levels, you can also track your sales rate, and this can help you anticipate volume!
In conclusion, stop for a moment and pay attention to what’s going on right in front of your face. Don’t just add inventory to your website because you’re afraid that not having that car on there will hurt you. I can assure you, IT WON’T! Instead, focus on displaying your frontline units (thus giving customers looking for those cars the opportunity to actually test-drive and subsequently buy them), stop “selling from service,” and set up your growth goals in a way that makes sense based on data and common sense!