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Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Keith Sponburgh, Packey Webb Ford
Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Keith Sponburgh, Packey Webb Ford

Keith Sponburgh, Business Development Manager, Packey Webb Ford
March 2015 Autobytel Dealer of the Month

We'd like to congratulate Keith Sponburgh, Business Development Manager of Packey Webb Ford in Chicago, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for March 2015.

The Autobytel Dealer Awards Program honors exceptional dealers from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers who employ the highest standards in customer service, Internet automotive retail sales and lead management processes, and mobile and emerging technologies.

Keith recently spoke with us about how having a great team, great response times, and providing customers with the information they need have all played a critical role in driving his dealership's success.

Tell us about yourself and your store. What is your official title, what brands do you sell and what are your primary markets?

I am the Business Development Manager at Packey Webb Ford, a family-owned dealership that has been in business for 54 years. We serve the west suburbs of Chicago, to downtown Chicago, to the corn fields in the far west, so we serve a very large area. Our store is located on dealership row, and this zone is very competitive for our brand. This zone is also well above the average in terms of receiving Internet leads. In fact, the national average response time on Internet leads is 40% within the first hour, but the average in our area is 90% response within the first hour.

How long have you been an Autobytel dealer and what do you think are the primary benefits of being on the Autobytel program?

We recently signed up for the Autobytel Text Leads program in October of last year, and so far, we have been impressed! I have spent the last two years looking for a text / chat program, but hadn't found exactly what I was looking for until the Autobytel text leads program came along. I wanted my team to communicate with customers via text, and not have to send blast emails out, and I wanted a product that could integrate with my CRM and other tools. At first, my motivation for finding a quality texting product was so that I could communicate with younger customers. However, to my surprise, my text customers are much more diverse in age than I thought they would be. Customers of all ages are initiating conversations with our dealership via text, and I love it! The Autobytel program really has been the answer to my prayers.

What do you think makes you so successful at meeting the needs of today's Internet consumers? Please share a few of your best practices in terms of managing Internet leads.

I have a great team of people in my BDC, and they are all truly focused on customer service. One key to our success is that we strive for fast responses when customers reach out to us, and my team jumps to answer customer questions right away. If an online customer reaches out to us with a question, we simply answer their question instead of using the opportunity to force the sale of a car. We believe that when you answer a customer's question(s) and there is a natural and easy flow of communication, the customer becomes disarmed and enjoys a pleasant experience they might not have been expecting from the very beginning. I really don't think of my team as salespeople. Instead, I view them as always working towards answering our customers' questions.

What are your thoughts about being named an Autobytel Dealer of the Month?

I thought it was pretty cool, I like getting titles and awards like this!

What are some tips or advice you would give other retailers when it comes to effectively managing Internet customers?

Consider acquiring a text / chat product. For us, having a third way to communicate with our customers has been instrumental. I really believe that you have gold right in your own database, and if you find the right way to communicate with your customers, they will respond. Texting allows you to communicate immediately with your customers, we can initiate a fast response with text / chat. Believe it or not, daytime response from our customers is incredibly fast! If you can do things the way customers want it done, you will succeed, and response time is key. When you do business in a competitive market like ours, customers will remember the best and fastest responses and the worst and last responses. We have people on our team that can respond to a customer in the middle of the night, or very early in the morning. Texting capability makes this all possible! If you are afraid of being an early adopter of technology, you're just going to be left behind.

What are your general thoughts about the auto industry right now? How are sales? Any interesting things happening at Packey Webb Ford or with the brand that you'd like to share?

As an industry, we're behind when it comes to technology, but things are looking up. For instance, every other industry has had responsive websites for at least 5-6 years, and that is just now becoming a buzz word for the auto industry. OEMs have all been pushing for advancements in technology which is great. Ford now requires a certain amount of digital in our businesses. Many of the OEM required digital sites have also become very useful instead of a system you're just required to have. Ford Direct is now a great resource. Having this direct support from the OEMs is terrific. I believe the industry is going to see changes across the digital landscape. I get calls every day from someone trying to sell me something new that I haven't seen yet. In the end, the customer controls what technology we choose. It will be exciting to see what evolves.

What are your thoughts on the new / emerging technologies coming out of Autobytel? For instance, receiving leads via text and texting with customers? Web based chat?

I can't say enough about the Autobytel text leads product. We get high quality customers from text / chat and our numbers are phenomenal. When I say that, I don't mean that we get a lot of customers / leads, but the quality of leads is very high. In the first three months of using the product, 76% of customers who initiated communication with us physically came in to our store, and 69% of those who showed up to our store actually purchased a car! As you can imagine, the ROI on the Autobytel text leads product is amazing. Autobytel text leads was exactly what I was looking for at the right time. I can't wait to hear about future new technologies coming out.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself...what do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests of note?

I am an Army veteran, and I love working with veterans. I have worked in the auto industry for 8 years, since 2007. I have an IT background so when I first started in this industry, that landed me in the Internet department and onto various manager positions. I really enjoy much so, that I even write my own mobile apps. I wrote a mobile app to help my daughter with her Algebra homework. I love anything tech-related. I drive a hybrid and still own a first generation iPad. I have always loved technology, in fact, I bought a Ford F-150 back in 1998 via the Internet and Autobytel!

Each month, Autobytel's sales and dealer operations teams evaluate prospective candidates from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers in the Autobytel network, with a monthly finalist selected based on key online automotive best practices, including conversion rates, lead management processes, customer service principles, customer and brand retention analytics and Internet department practices, among others.

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