For several years, the process for automotive Internet leads has remained largely unchanged: Shopper researches vehicle. Shopper fills out online lead form. Lead makes its way to dealers in the area. Dealers may or may not contact shoppers. Shoppers may or may not respond.
But with leads coming from third-party aggregators, there's a disconnect between shoppers and dealers. Consumers are more likely to be frustrated by a dealer not having the opportunity to answer specific questions about, for example, certain packages or options. That's because most third-party aggregators obscure where the lead came from and any research they did on pricing and configuration. And for dealers, there's a bigger chance that the contacts are not serious car buyers, with leads from top automotive shopping sites bundled in with unknown entities. This engagement gap isn't lost on Edmunds.com, whose stated company mission is to help consumers find the car that meets their every need, no matter what it takes.
"It became clear to us that the model for Internet leads just wasn't working," said Donna Sechrist, senior vice president of dealer initiatives at Edmunds.com. "It didn't treat consumers the way they want to be treated, and dealers deserved a better quality of leads as well as access to buyers who don't like filling out online forms. We challenged ourselves to address the pain points and committed to a better way to connect dealers with shoppers that would be a win-win for all."
As a result, Edmunds.com gave birth to its new Edmunds Direct program. The idea behind Edmunds Direct is not just about sending customer leads to dealers. It's about sending the message to shoppers on Edmunds.com that there are dealers in their area that are ready to provide specific answers to specific customer inquiries through the most direct channels, whether by phone, text, e-mail or online chats. The program helps consumers gather more information than simple price quotes — information like option availability, financing questions or even simple inquiries into whether a car is in stock. The initiative strikes at the heart of the philosophy that an informed shopper makes for a better quality customer.
Of course, a quality audience has never been an issue for Edmunds.com. The company has built and maintained an unparalleled reputation of offering the most engaged audience of quality car buyers. Edmunds found that 42 percent of deeply engaged car shoppers use Edmunds.com, and that 90 percent of its lead submitters on the site purchase a vehicle within 70 days. And with an estimated 13.6 million unique visitors accounting for 166 million page views each month, Edmunds offers not just a high quality of customers, but a high volume of them as well.
Edmunds Direct is designed to give participating dealers direct, exclusive and immediate exposure to this rich audience of car shoppers who are actively researching and comparing vehicles on Edmunds.com. The program allows a dealer to be included in Edmunds' shopping funnel as an Edmunds Premier Dealer, with the opportunity to list both new and used inventory for a flat monthly fee, with no additional charge for interacting with a consumer in any way they choose to do so. Along those lines, Edmunds is developing new ways for dealers to interact directly with Edmunds shoppers, including an online chat function that's currently in beta.
Giancarlo Asong of Metro Automotive Group, which represents four dealerships in California's Inland Empire, was one of the first to sign up when the product was made available in Southern California. As the group's e-commerce operations director, Asong oversees all Internet sales business, and he quickly found that Edmunds Direct created a more engaging experience for both his customers and salespeople.
"The first thing I thought when I heard about the program was, 'How do I sign up?'" said Asong. "The reputation at Edmunds is second to none."
Asong said that the program's penchant for quality shoppers has already had a positive effect on his bottom line. He said that his sales team successfully makes contact with 40 to 50 percent of all contacts from Edmunds' consumers, compared to just 15 to 20 percent of leads provided by third party sources.
"When we respond to leads from other third party aggregators, people just aren't picking up the phone," said Asong. "But our Edmunds Direct leads are picking up the phone and calling us back. There's much more dialogue and interaction."
When the program first launched last year as a pilot in Nashville, Portland, Austin and San Antonio, the early success encouraged Edmunds to introduce the program nationwide. Edmunds rolled out the first mass market launch in March, and successfully initiated its fourth and final launch of 2011 just last week. Edmunds Direct is now available in almost 75 markets nationwide — including the top 35 markets — with plans to open up even more in 2012.
Edmunds also took steps to make sure dealers have the best support possible to seamlessly implement and maintain the program. Dealers work directly with an assigned Edmunds Area Manager and Client Service Representative who can offer support throughout the process. Edmunds also encourages open and transparent feedback from dealers who have suggestions for improving or customizing the program. In August, Edmunds hosted its second quarterly roundtable of internet sales directors from participating dealerships across the country to listen to their experiences and find ways to make the product even better.
Charlie Bass, an area manager for Edmunds.com in Seattle, says that his monthly visits to dealerships are more than just check-ins. He tries to bring more value to the product by sharing best practices from other dealerships and providing new source sheets that make it easier for customers to identify where they conducted their research before they stepped foot in the showroom.
"Dealers are bombarded by outside vendors every single month, and with all that noise, we want to be sure that we give them the one meeting they can rely on to provide real value in every single visit," says Bass. "A lot of that comes from experience. Every new area manager in my training class had at least 10 years experience in this industry, so Edmunds is offering an undeniably high level of experience and knowledge when we walk through the door."
Edmunds Direct has been available in the Seattle market for just two months, but the results are already positive. Bass says that one dealer closed eight transactions last month via Edmunds Direct inquiries, compared to just two sales initiated by its own site. Generally, Bass says closing rates at the top dealerships in his area come in over 20 percent for Edmunds.com consumer interactions, compared to less than five percent for leads generated by third parties.
"The dealers are quickly learning that the informed shoppers on Edmunds.com can be their best customers," says Bass. "This program has already helped them make more car deals — and more money — a lot faster."
For more information about Edmunds Direct, please call 1-855-EDMUNDS or email@example.com.
Corporate News Producer