Assembling an E-Commerce Team

March 1, 2018
It’s not hard to lead a successful dealership Internet department, as long as you focus on hiring employees who can build relationships with clients.

Paul Smith’s initial foray into automotive e-commerce was a smashing success.

“The first car I ever sold in my career was a 1926 Model T,” says Smith, recalling a situation from over a decade ago, in which he sold a past dealership boss’s vehicle on eBay. “The thing was mint, man. … It was all blacked out and had big whitewall tires. You cranked it up to get it fired up, and that sucker just cruised.”

It didn’t take Smith long to realize that he could use the Internet to draw customers into a dealership and sell vehicles in a surprisingly efficient fashion. Soon, his career as an Internet sales manager had launched.

By 2010, when Smith took over as Internet sales director at Capital Ford Lincoln of Wilmington (N.C.), his dynamic job role made him invaluable to his employer in several respects. In any given week, Smith can essentially serve as a salesperson, as a service business development manager, or as an employee who analyzes customers’ credit applications. Now, Smith feels strongly that if a dealership doesn’t have an Internet sales director, they’re in danger of falling behind competitors.

“It’s really important, especially in today’s world, to have people that understand the Internet shopper,” Smith says. “If your team isn’t up on online buying behaviors … and having the website looking nice and easy to use, [you’re in trouble].”

Over the last decade-plus, Smith has developed a proven strategy for overseeing an e-commerce team that benefits an entire fixed operations department. He recently shared his tips with Fixed Ops Business.

Utilize Dynamic Marketing.

At Capital Ford Lincoln, the Internet department does far more than just communicating with customers via email, phone calls, and texts. Smith’s team also sends out e-blasts and uses direct mail campaigns that mention multiple dealership departments. For example, a direct mail piece that’s largely sales focused might also include a 10 percent off coupon for parts, or it might offer free car washes following upcoming service appointments.

Staff Based on Volume.

Smith says it’s a good rule of thumb to hire one e-commerce employee for every 100 potential sales “opportunities” that your dealership is typically presented with.

“I’ve got seven guys that handle about 700 opportunities per month,” he notes. “If you’ve only got 100 leads in a month, then maybe you only need two guys—one guy answering the leads, making the calls. The other is working on the website, taking pictures of vehicles and uploading them.”

Hire Personable, Disciplined Employees.

Once you’ve zeroed in on the preferred size of your e-commerce team, it’s important to fortify that department with employees who are both eager to pick up the phone and are willing to follow your dealership’s overall processes. In North Carolina, Smith has had success by hiring e-commerce employees who are used to dealing with structure in their past professions—in other words, job prospects who have worked in education, or in law enforcement, or in the military. Additionally, Smith says younger job prospects that have college majors such as communications or marketing, tend to transition nicely into e-commerce work.

“I’d rather have someone that knows about communication and communication styles than about cars,” Smith says. “Because you can teach them about the product.”

Build Relationships.

“When you think about it,” Smith notes, “there is no loyalty to a dealership anymore. So, that’s what we’re trying to do [in an e-commerce department]: We’re trying to build that loyalty and relationship with the customer base.”

If Capital Ford Lincoln receives an online inquiry from a customer, a member of the e-commerce team promptly follows up. The main initial goal is to get a client to agree to schedule an appointment to meet with that e-commerce team member at the dealership. From there, Smith’s department provides more dealership information, with a goal of converting visitors into loyal customers.

Give it Time.

One flaw that most dealership leaders have, according to Smith: a lack of patience. And that can quickly derail an e-commerce team.

“The best advice I could offer any dealer, or anybody who’s looking to put together an e-commerce team,” Smith says, “is give them time to learn the processes. If you’re looking for instant results in 30 days, it’s unrealistic. You want to give them 90 days, six months.

“Give them time to refine their strategy and learn how to work together. Let them learn the craft, let them learn the processes, and then measure that.”

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