Room for Innovation

Social media marketing remains one of the most valuable, yet underutilized channels for marketing and selling among independent dealers. Anecdotally, dealers and sales teams repeatedly prove their social media profiles and referrals generate leads that close at a higher and faster rate. Used car dealers tend to view social media as a way to promote their dealership’s brand value, available inventory and financing options for their ideal buyers.

Used car sales teams understand the importance of social media for building their personal brand and nurturing potential leads through private messages and comments that lead to appointments. Dealerships, by accident, sometimes on purpose,  incentivize social selling among  their sales team. However, the entire social selling process remains in the hands of individual salespeople.

Here are a few potential pitfalls to social selling: dealerships do not treat social media leads as ongoing conversations; lead handling and customer service will need more consistency across the sales team to avoid misunderstandings and unhappy customers; and the dealership will not retain a database of potential unsold leads for future marketing and selling opportunities.

To avoid these pitfalls in social selling, used car dealers would benefit from an internal process designed for social selling. One way to keep the cycle of social selling within the dealership process and off personal Facebook pages is to implement a CRM. But proper use of a CRM requires consistent, detail-oriented and military-style discipline on the part of management to hold the team accountable. Unless managers plan to incentivize CRM use through the commission structure, they are better off designating an individual or group to manage social media conversations on the dealership’s Facebook page. It will also eliminate spiffs for self-generated leads.

Social Selling as a Conversation

The key to social selling success relies on a timely response from a person and a conversational tone. Respond to questions or comments in private messages and posts as quickly as possible.

Check your inbox on your social media pages and count how many messages went unanswered. Then, count how many messages were  answered and never touched again.  If an individual calls to ask if a vehicle is available on the lot, do you say “yes” and leave it at that Hopefully, the answer is no. When a caller inquires about a vehicle, you keep the conversation going, get a  name, set an appointment, and  qualify the lead. Treat each comment and message, no matter how short they may be, as the start of a conversation. Conversations are not like email messages. They occur in a moment of availability so keep responses and follow-up questions timely. If the conversation from a month ago stops before you get personal information and set an appointment, go back to those messages and restart the conversation. If the conversation results in disclosing a full name and a phone number, get that information into the dealership’s central database.

Protect the Brand

To build a successful sales team, managers must allow individuals autonomy and ownership over their sales process to an extent. However, dealerships need to balance this with the overarching brand message.

The challenge lies in getting your sales team to promote the dealership brand to build loyalty to the dealership rather than the individual salesperson. Rather than taking a page from the larger franchise model of forming an internet sales team or a BDC to handle social selling, independent dealers have room to innovate a process.

Dealers and sales teams will ultimately have to overcome loss aversion when venturing into new territory of social selling under the dealership umbrella. The fear of losing sales under the current system outweighs the potential gains. The sales team must also find the benefit of losing some individualism. The bottom line with branding a business is how you make people feel, from before they enter your door to when they walk off with a lien-free title. Your employees will treat your customers as well as you treat them. As the employer, if you initiate an attempt to mitigate the salespeople’s risks when you start a new process, you’ll gain buy-in and internal loyalty to achieve gains faster.

Safeguard against Lead Loss

Regardless of whether your dealership implements a CRM, you lose leads on social media. Even the best software systems have yet to integrate social media messaging fully.

Facebook currently provides a mini lead handling center on its platform. The lead center allows dealerships to assign, track and export leads for safekeeping in a database. The Facebook lead center has the potential for powerful marketing. Keeping the data for those individuals on the platform allows tracking visibility for future remarketing campaigns. Many third-party lead providers prefer to keep the data on their media because it ultimately provides a better marketing experience for both the shopper and the car dealership.

It is only plausible for sales teams to work leads in some of the different portals for third-party lead providers. Inbound leads get worked on post-it notes and individual spreadsheets and rarely make it to one central database. Dealerships would benefit from an internal process where the sale team nurtures leads on the platform, captures the full name and contact, then regularly exports that information to a spreadsheet. The dealership now has first-party data that it can use on marketing and advertising channel for targeted marketing.

Independent dealers have room to innovate in the space of social selling. Rather than looking for a new widget to solve all of the headaches of social selling, dealers have the potential to gain a significant competitive edge if they apply an entrepreneurial mindset to this challenge. By developing a social selling process that avoids the above pitfalls, dealers will set themselves up for sustainable success.

Originally written for and published in the January 2023 Edition of Used Car Dealer Magazine.