Astorg Motor Co.
BDC and Internet Sales Manager
To say that Huey Long and selling cars get along like a house on fire may be making light of a serious situation. In early 2006, the Parkersburg, W.Va., man had just signed on as salesperson for Mullen Motors - a Dodge store - when flames broke out in his home.
"I had to put the new career on hold, but they held the job for me," he says.
Long joined the dealership after his customer service position in the credit card industry was eliminated and moved overseas. Evaluating his career prospects, he decided to look for an opportunity that combined his passions.
"I grew up a car nut," Long says, crediting his father and grandfather with his interest. "Besides liking cars, I like people. I came from a 10-plus-year background of customer service, and the two go hand in hand."
The Mullen store has since been acquired by Astorg Motors Co., where Long works as the BDC and internet sales manager. How's the job treating him? "Absolutely so wonderful, so far," he says.
DealerADvantage recently spoke with Long to learn more about Astorg's online initiatives and how those strategies help to drive business. Astorg represents five makes - Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mercedes-Benz and Dodge - and records average monthly sales of 140 vehicles. Long attributes nearly one-fourth of the deals to the internet.
"We're well on our way to getting that to 30 percent or more, just as the owner wants," Long says. "It will happen. It's coming along more and more every month, and it will stay that way once we get it there."
DealerADvantage: What activities do you manage through your BDC?
Long: We do not only the internet sales, but we run a very, very customer-oriented BDC for service, finance and customer call-backs. We're calling to see how people feel about their vehicles, if they're happy with them, if they have any questions after the sale, new or used.
DealerADvantage: You said that new prospects are managed through the BDC while existing customers are handled by the original salesperson. How does your internet sales process work?
Long: With internet leads, I'm getting probably eight out of ten of them, for the simple fact that the other two would be repeat customers. Our owner, Paul Astorg, wants leads responded to within 60 minutes; our average is 37 minutes - which is outstanding. You have no idea how many times the response comes back: "Oh, thank you for your quick response. It's amazing, I didn't expect to hear so soon," and that's how it all properly should begin. I have a couple of pre-made emails titled "Thank You for Your Interest," "Why Buy at Astorg," "Give Us First Chance" and things like that where I can just hit a couple buttons and, bang, they're off to customers. They're immediately followed by a personal email that I write as soon as the initial response is sent. That email is immediately followed by a phone call. There's a one-two-three step process that we try and get done within that first 30 to 60 minutes after an internet lead comes in.
DealerADvantage: How long do you follow-up with prospects?
Long: I personally take these leads to the full month, minimum, until they're either sold or said and done in another way. A lot of salespeople will make one phone call, send one email, two max, and poof, they're done. Well, that's not it. I truly believe that each and every lead, whether it's coming from your own website, a third-party such as Cars.com or another source, needs to be handled to the utmost. I will literally take a lead and have notes on it every single day for an entire month if that's what it takes to either get in contact with the customer, sell the car or sometimes end up, sad but true, the other way: no sale. I do not give up on a lead, and that's the key. I'm still sitting down with some of my floor salespeople every week and explaining to them, "Don't give up on this lead after the first couple of days. I want the customer to hear from you. I want to be able to look at my manager reports for your customers and see that, for the first three to five days steadily, we tried to contact them. Then I want to see at least an every-other-day attempt to contact for the entire month."
DealerADvantage: What happens after the first month?
Long: Let me give you an example. I take my file to the general manager and say, "I've had Mr. Smith here on a brand-new Ford F-150 truck for such and such a time. Here is a quick breakdown of my notes. Do you have any suggestions for follow-up that you would like me to do? Would you like to take care of it, to try and reach him a couple of times yourself? Do you want me to inactivate Mr. Smith?"
That's an extra step that I feel a lot of ISMs don't do. I go to the general manager for the store where the vehicle is, even if it's used. I say, "This is what I've done for the past two weeks. This is what I've done for the past 30 days. There's been either no response, or this is the only response I've had. What is your suggestion?" The general managers, you have absolutely no idea how much they appreciate that extra effort. A lot of times, they'll say, "Alright, I'm going to help you here. I'm going to take this over and give them a call and an email myself, personally, and let them see that the general manager cares." A lot of times, that does work. And although I've tried for two weeks to 30 days on that, all of a sudden, the general manager, maybe within the next 24 to 72 hours, will get an email back. He or she will respond again and put them back to me and we complete that sale, maybe on the 35th day. It's happened many times.
DealerADvantage: What happens if a shopper is put on the inactive list?
Long: Even though they're considered inactive - what we call "sleeping" here - they're not forgotten. Just because I inactivate prospects after 30 days, that doesn't mean they're not going to pop back up on at least a weekly basis for another 30 days after that.
DealerADvantage: What success do you have with the people who are "sleeping"?
Long: If you do it right, you can still end up coming back and pulling 15 percent to 20 percent of those customers out before the year is over still - sometimes more. The main reasons why customers are put in the "sleeping" file include: They can get financed, but we need money down, and it's going to take them awhile to get the money. Or they need a cosigner and they say, "It might take me awhile to talk dad into something like that." We punch their information into our CRM system and continue to follow-up. They're not forgotten, they're still our customers.
My most recent example is a customer who said it will be around six weeks before he get his Social Security disability. He is "sleeping" but absolutely not forgotten. He will get a bi-weekly phone call and a couple of letters during the next six weeks to let him know I still care. We still want to earn his business. As soon as his Social Security disability kicks in, we're going to bring him back in to meet with our floor manager. We're going to get him the special financing he needs, and we're going to get him in that used Ford 500.
DealerADvantage: You said that used-car sales are increasingly important to your business. Are you using vehicle history reports to help with sales?
Long: Yes. Everything that you can automatically offer up front to show your potential customer that you're straight up - an honest salesperson and dealership - is huge. It just means so much. To automatically have the VHR with your cars, for free, gives the customer an at-ease feeling. "Hey, I like this dealership. Maybe their price on that car is $1,000 higher than a couple others that I've come across, but they offer me that CARFAX report for free, and I didn't even have to mess with anybody. They're not out to get me. They're not out to hide anything." We have many, many people who call and/or bring in the print-outs and say, "Hi, I looked at this vehicle on your website, and I've checked your CARFAX report. May we see and drive the car now?" You go from there.
DealerADvantage: I understand you price your used cars below NADA Black Book. Can you tell me about that pricing strategy?
Long: More so than ever nowadays, not only do people need a proper vehicle with an excellent warranty, but they can't put any money down. "Guess what, Mrs. Jones? Here's eight vehicles in your range, in your liking, that are under book value to where, even if your credit is just decent, you won't even have to put any money down. We're already below book for the lender."
We give a hardback notebook with each used car to the customer that has an NADA book value in it, the CARFAX report and as much history as we possibly could get on the vehicle. If it's a certified car, it also has the CPO papers in it. There's even a copy of the handwritten report the certified mechanic completes after the vehicle check. If we put a wiper blade on it, it's noted; date and time. If we put new tires on it, it's noted, and we even show the customer the cost. "Hey, guess what? We put $1,132.33 into this vehicle. We have it all right here for you." Paul Astorg goes to so much length here for customers before they even know they're going to be a customer, it is unreal. You really truly couldn't work for a more customer-oriented caring owner. I truly believe that. It's unreal.
DealerADvantage: How important is the internet to dealerships, especially smaller stores?
Long: I believe they are struggling for the simple fact that it takes more work than what you would imagine to do it and to do it right. If they don't have at least an individual to oversee it, then they're probably missing sales - quite a few sales, probably, from month to month they could have captured - even if it was only four or five more sales a month. Well, guess what? Nowadays that's huge. Dealers that don't have an internet department or a couple of people dedicated to internet sales, they're going to lose. They're going to lose out big time.