My recent search for a car (I was looking to buy one) brought forward enough to overwhelm the advocates of lead management in car sales. While OEMs lose sleep over negative growth and shrinking bottom-lines, there prevails the missing concept of end-to-end customer management, continuous shuttling of a customer between different sale touch-points, and redundant pre-sale feedback collection mechanisms which are never channelled back into the system.
The result, a lead which could well have fallen through the cracks because no one person owned it, and different factions talking to the customer did not talk to each other.
Lead management has always been an important part of sales performance improvement. One would believe in this time of sales slump, the focus would build up to micro-management of each customer enquiry that would come into dealerships, whereas reality, for some of the leading OEM dealerships is otherwise.
Even a basic single pool of leads consolidated across channels, like walk-in, telecall, references, web enquiries, third party forwarded queries (e.g. partner websites, Just Dial queries), DSA, corporate and others was missing in several places. Given the current scenario, it is expected that dealerships will be so much as paranoid about each enquiry that comes into the dealership and continuously track customer movement from one stage of the sales cycle to the other – there cannot be any other option, leads and their tracking needs to be AIRTIGHT.
As for lead management processes, for most part, they exist. OEM driven mandates include daily recording of leads into the dealer management system (DMS) or CRM tools, and daily sales team updates of enquiry status and follow-ups for the day, sales meetings etc. are some of the other ways that leads are managed.
The effort however is needed more towards the practical side of enabling the sales consultant and ensuring that follow-ups happen. Likewise important is to realize that lead management is also an OEM responsibility, and not just to the extent of providing IT tools and documented training material, but also in hand holding the frontline staff and reviewing the inflow real time.
And there is merit in doing this, rolling up to the wholesale numbers there is all the incentive available for ASMs to work jointly with sales consultants and sales managers at the ground level to review the leads and the challenges leading up to low sales or lack of prospects. A moment to appreciate the nuances will make this case stronger:
A dealership is not considered a high risk taking environment; it is a business which is started with a hope to deliver sustained results with standardized operations, many a times simply replicated from the OEM.
Lets also appreciate that the biggest stakeholder in this whole scheme is the dealer principal, the only person in the chain whose own capital is at stake. For everyone else, it is fixed remuneration plus bonus positive or flat.
Analysing dealer cost components; there are three major chunks, the real estate cost, interest cost and the cost of manpower.? While, real estate and interest costs are driven largely by external factors, when financials beckon it is the manpower which any dealer principal finds easiest to control which is the very aspect that damages dealership sales and overall lead management the most. Now why should manpower practices bother the OEM in terms of lead management, lets look at a few examples:
- Dealer pulls back on incentives: Incentives are either delayed, not at par with the market or are not paid at all. Consequently, there is no motivation for sales persons to sell, even worse, your leads start falling out of the system.
- Allowances, like transport, mobile, etc. are not paid: Todays customer needs convenience, each sale is a function of face-to-face and telephonic communication follow-ups which need a mobile phone, mode of transport and time. If the sales person is not duly compensated, there will always be a hesitation to make optimal number of follow-ups or make personalized customer visits during the sales cycle. What results is sub-optimal customer touch-point, or generic customer contact which does nothing but annoys the customer. Like the CRM pre-sale feedback call I got from the dealership. I am yet to finish the sales process, if your sales person himself is not talking to me for as long as or as often as I require to clear queries, why do you bother wasting more time and money to have a third person call in? In view of the basic inefficiencies in the system, with just a few steps into the sales cycle, ensuring appropriate communication is more important than taking feedback.
- Lack of sales force education about market dynamics, ongoing schemes and new launches: Market forces operate at a much higher level than the internal functionalities, there are competitive pressures, rising and falling consumer sentiments, emerging alternates like organized used-car retail, and macro-economic concepts which will continue to impact the sales at all levels. Many a times the market or related communication is dated by the time it reaches the sales force. This may be due to lack of a designated marketing representative at dealership, a busy sales manager who was multi-tasking and thus did not find time to forward the communication to the sales team, or simply sales staff not being able to get access to a shared terminal to which all such communication is forwarded. How effectively will this less-informed sales consultant address a google-savvy customers queries is anyones guess.
These are just a few example of what may be impacting leads management at dealerships. On a greater scale though, there is a need to develop mechanisms to ensure each customer who considered your brand is managed not just for one sale, but for a continued and sustained relationship.
This will take more time than laying down processes and creating SOPs, but the benefits will be direct and open line of communication between the OEM and the sales team. And no, this will not mean stepping onto dealerships toes and should not be punitive. This will mean, the OEM is in the know of what is happening on the ground and can connect the market perceptions with in-showroom realities.