Ask a dealer what they need to sell more cars and a typical answer will be “more leads.” On the surface, this makes sense. But to get more leads, you need to spend more money. Even then, you’re never really in control of how many leads get generated.

Now that new car sales and lead volume are plateauing, a better solution for selling more cars is to increase your customer connection rates. This may require a shift in mindset and habits of your sales staff.

After all, your salespeople were probably trained in the art of persuasion. They know how to overcome objections and close the deal. But do they know how to get a potential customer to respond to an email or call them on the phone?

If I had to hire a car salesperson today, I’d look for someone with personality, persistence, appointment-setting skills and a top-notch, helpful disposition. By helpful, I mean the kind of consultant-type of associates you find at Best Buy or in Apple stores.

Selling vs. Persuading the Customer

Selling is no longer about persuading; it’s about connecting in the way more of today’s consumers are demanding. Here are a few stats to consider:

  • The connection rate is 84 percent when you have two phone numbers for a customer.
  • Approximately 72 percent of customers provide a phone number with their lead.
  • It takes an average of 4.8 phone calls to connect with a customer.
  • Salespeople can increase their close rate 5 percent with a consistent, long-term phone follow-up process.
  • Approximately 95 percent of customers contacted are willing to take a short survey.

Car sales are not about standing around, waiting for ups. It’s about being proactive, not just with new leads coming in but also with the customers sitting in your CRM. If you’re not data mining, you’re wasting an amazing opportunity.

The Hybrid Sales/Automotive BDC Approach

To connect with more leads, I always recommend a hybrid sales-and-BDC approach. Have salespeople handle the short-term follow up and a BDC handle the longer-term follow up. If you don’t use an outsourced BDC, keep your sales team accountable for those follow-up calls.

A great way to get more sales leads is to establish a vehicle exchange program. Rotate your sales force so that one salesperson is working your service lane every day. Have that salesperson place an offer on every single vehicle that comes in for service. The salesperson needs to take ownership of the follow-up process.

It’s also important to connect with more of your current and past customers. Most dealers do a terrible job of keeping in touch with their customers beyond sending email and direct mail campaigns. Try creating outbound call campaigns designed to re-connect with your customers.

First, show your customers you care by calling them within seven days of purchasing their vehicle. Take a moment to thank them and ask how they like their vehicle. Once a week, also reach out to your recent unsold prospects to see if there is still interest. If they purchased elsewhere, find out why.

Reach out to your customers after they purchase to gather any information missed during the sales process, including driving patterns, and try to get them in for their first service appointment.

If they fail to come in for service, try them again six months after purchase. Offer incentives to your sales staff to make this worthwhile. Two to three years after purchase, use an equity-mining tool and create an incentive for customers with equity in their vehicle or are at the end of their lease or warranty. Always ask for referrals.

Your Online Reputation and “Word-of-Mouth”

Connection rates can be significantly affected by your online reputation, so make that a priority. For Millennials, online reviews are the top reason they choose to engage with a company. “Word-of-mouth” is the most trusted source of marketing, with 84 percent of buyers saying it’s what they trust the most. Work to raise your average rating above four stars and include a link to your online reviews in every single email that goes out to a customer.

Review the emails that your sales staff are sending out and the phone calls they’re making. Are your salespeople trying to “sell” an appointment, or are they helping your customers with answers to questions and detailed information? The right messaging at the right time can make a big difference in connection rates.

Use reporting tools to track your sales team’s connection rates. It’s not about how many phone calls you make or how many emails you send; it’s about how many conversations you have.

From those conversations, you want to track appointment rates. Are your salespeople able to convert phone calls into appointments? If not, they may need some additional training. Asking for an appointment too soon is guaranteed to drive the customer away. You need to earn that right to ask.

In our world of high tech, there’s still nothing that beats high touch. If you want to make more sales, don’t focus on more leads. Focus on increasing those connection rates.