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10 Best Practices for Responding to Phone Leads 10 Best Practices for Responding to Phone Leads

As with email leads, dealerships should have a set process in place to respond to telephone leads in order to maximize close rates, as well as provide a better customer experience. Yet, too often, dealers fail at the basics: namely having real people answer the calls, and consistently following up in a professional and timely manner. Here are some basics to keep in mind for responding to telephone leads.

1. Answer the phone.

This first tip might sound a little funny because it's so obvious, but the truth is all across the country, in metropolitan dealerships and rural dealerships, in multi-franchise dealer groups and small mom and pop independents there are customers calling because they want to buy a car, and no one is answering the phone! Or just as bad; someone does answer the phone, and they put the customer on hold. Don't be that dealership. Which leads us to tip #2.

2. Make sure calls are directed to the right people.

The phone numbers that you use in your Internet marketing campaigns and advertisements should direct to your Internet sales team, whether it's your appointment setter or Internet sales manager. If possible, set up a hunt group so if ISM #1 is not available, the call will re-direct to ISM #2, and so on, until a live person answers. Even forwarding calls to ISMs mobile phones is better than a general receptionist or a voice mail. The goal is an immediate, live response from a qualified sales person when a prospect is calling about a car.

3. Just in case: make sure your voicemail system is set up properly.

Ok, in the event that a prospect calls at a time when absolutely no one is available to answer the phone, you should have a working voice mail system set up with an appropriate recorded message. The voice mail greeting should thank the caller for calling your dealership, acknowledge their interest in an automobile, and also provide the name and title of the salesperson (or sales people) from whom the customer can expect to receive a call-back. Another option is to provide an alternative phone number in the voice mail greeting, such as a mobile phone number. In addition, mention business hours in the greeting. Since a real person will always answer the phone during business owners (right?), as most customers who get a voice mail will be calling during non-business hours.

4. When you do talk to your phone lead live, get their contact information.

Even if a prospect calls and says they're interested in a specific vehicle, and you're 100% sure that they will be coming into the dealership that day to see the car, don't just rest on your laurels. Make sure you get your prospect's name, phone number, and time they'll be coming in, and also how they found out about your dealership (Internet search results, website, etc.) Too often dealers are so psyched to have a serious prospect coming in, they forget to ask for their name and contact information.

5. Get information on the vehicle they're interested in, and explore whether they're open to other possibilities.

This can apply to both email leads and phone leads, and especially to phone leads regarding specific pre-owned vehicles. Often consumers who are interested in a specific pre-owned vehicle will call the dealership to see if the vehicle is still available. Take advantage of the opportunity to pre-qualify your prospect when you have them on the phone, so you can be ready with vehicle alternatives and choices when they come in. Likewise, industry studies show that 42% of consumers who submit third party leads for a new vehicle will end up purchasing a pre-owned vehicle.[1] With this information, you should have pre-owned options available for your prospect, and it wouldn't hurt to begin this discussion with them while you have them on the phone.

6. When setting the appointment, give the customer appointment options instead of asking "Yes" or "No" questions.

It's an age old sales technique, but one that gets forgotten all too often. Ask open-ended questions instead of "yes" or "no" questions. For example, when setting the appointment, don't ask, "Does 5:30 work for you?" Because this can be a conversation killer that ends with a "No." Instead, ask, "I have an opening at 5:00 or 6:00. Which one works for you?"

7. Establish yourself as the person they'll want to work with.

When a customer comes to you via a phone lead, they may not be asking for a specific person, so it's important to begin establishing rapport immediately. In addition, it's a good idea to give them an added incentive to work with you and/or the Internet sales team, such as special pricing. Make sure to give your phone lead your name and phone number (including your cell phone), and tell them to look for you when they come to the dealership. Even describe yourself to them: "I'm the tall guy with red hair," so they get a picture of a real person who will be expecting them.

8. If you return a prospect's call, and get their voice mail.

Here's another example where sales people all too often fail at the basics. The golden rule for leaving a voice mail message is: make it clear, short, and sweet. Always introduce yourself (name and title) and state what the message is regarding, for example, "Hi Mary, I'm Joe Sims, Internet sales manager for Northland Ford, and I'm returning your call regarding the F-150." In addition, always leave appropriate contact information and say it slowly and clearly, and say it twice. We've all had those voicemail messages where the caller says, "Hi, it's Joe from Northland Ford. Give me a call at...." and you have no idea what the message is regarding. Or, worse, you get a voice mail where the caller drones on and on, and then finally, at the very end of the message, they leave their phone number and they say it so fast, you only get three digits. And then you have to be subjected to listening to that long droning voice mail all over again, just to get to the phone number. Again, you don't want to be one of those people, especially with sales prospects.

9. Don't just call to confirm the appointment.

Tell the customer that you'll be doing so. When you do set an appointment, tell the customer that you'll call them a day ahead to confirm. Saying that you'll call to confirm shows the customer that your dealership is organized and professional, and it goes a long ways towards what calling to confirm is all about: Making the customer take the appointment seriously and show up on time.

10. Answer the phone and call the customer back.

What? You already read this one? We thought it was important to say it again because too many surveys of consumers who submit leads reveal that

  • too often their phone calls go unanswered or they're put on "perma-hold"
  • they end up going to another dealership because the first dealership never called them back

Phone leads are a golden opportunity to make a sale, but they're not going to wait around forever for a call back, because they're ready to buy a car.

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