The Car Dealer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Getting More At-Bats


The Car Dealer’s Step-by-Step Guide to Getting More At-Bats


WARNING: This is a freakishly long article that’s chock full of valuable information, so give yourself plenty of time to digest it and be prepared to share parts of it with different people on your team.

DISCLAIMER: There is no way to include every single solitary thing a dealer can or should do to generate more opportunities for their sales teams – even in a freakishly long article. So… save your “Where’s _______?” outrage for someone else. This is free advice, after all.

I write a lot about the processes that help dramatically increase appointment shows, drive up closing percentages and generate additional gross; but what about those dealers and salespeople who are good with processes, though simply don’t get enough “at-bats?” That is, they’re simply not receiving the number of leads, calls, chats and walk-ins they need to truly grow their business. How are they supposed to dramatically grow their appointments, closes and gross profit even with the best processes in place?

Here’s how:

The (just about) Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Getting More At-Bats for your Dealership (and it’s a page you’ll want to share with your teams and bookmark for yourself). Let’s dive right in!

Step 1: Maximize First-Party Opportunities

Above all else, a dealership’s foundation for improving their sales opportunities must come from generating more sales leads through their own means. Whether created via the team’s networking activities, the dealership’s website or their database marketing efforts; first-party opportunities close at the highest rates and generate the best grosses for dealers maximizing these channels.

Let’s look at a few of these sources more closely.

The Dealership Website

Your dealership’s website has just two primary goals. The first goal is to attract visitors – this makes sense, right? (We’ll work a bit on this in Step 2 of this step-by-step guide.)

Once the visitors arrive, your website has just one remaining goal: Convert that traffic into paying customers. These goals are supreme to any other result you think your website should deliver. As such, they should drive every decision about what to change, include or remove from your site (or, even which website provider to select in the first place).

The test is simple, and it goes like this:

  • Someone proposes a website change or presents you a shiny new object for your site. Will it:
    1. Increase traffic?
    2. Increase leads/calls/walk-ins/service appointments/parts orders?
    3. Accomplish both A & B?
    4. Accomplish none of the above?

If the answer is A, B or C, you consider it. If the answer is D, you pass. End of meeting; have a nice day.

Some solutions, like trade-in forms, instant retargeting and chat applications are no-brainers for dealers to add; as the impact of these solutions on your leads and sales is easily measured, making Return On Investment (ROI) calculations simple.

Other website changes that can drive additional leads, calls or showroom traffic are a little more complicated. For example, deciding which conversion buttons you should deploy to your Vehicle Details Pages (VDPs) takes some planning and the impact isn’t always noticeable right away.

Luckily for you and your dealership, I have a both a free video series and a free blog series for maximizing sales from your existing website traffic. Feel free to share them both with the appropriate members of your team:

The Customer Database

For your database marketing efforts, many of you use third parties who provide software that helps identify potential in-market customers and scripts designed to get them to visit the store. If these efforts are genuinely successful for you over the medium and long term, then keep at it.

However, if you’re experiencing any of the following, you may want to rethink how you attack your database:

  • Angry customers who ask your team to “stop calling or else!”
  • Data from these calls entered in the third-party tool, but never in your CRM.
  • Low number of appointment shows relative to the efforts exerted.

Your database, you see, is the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs. Lopping it’s head off and looking for all the eggs at once won’t work. If you’re experiencing any of the above issues, you may need to change course before you destroy your most valuable asset: your database of customers.

A free process that I’ve taught for years prompts you to contact your database (via your CRM) on a schedule that doesn’t feel like you’re spamming everyone. Additionally, the talk tracks have a friendlier, less salesy feel than what many of the third parties provide you.

That said, if your third-party application is working, keep at it. If not, you can find the process and word tracks I teach for free by following this link: How To Set & Sell Owner Marketing Appointments.

Real Social Selling

Instead of driving their own opportunities, many salespeople are content to just wait on the Up Bus.

An often overlooked, though extremely fruitful way to occupy a bored salesperson’s time is to encourage them to begin working to drive their own “Up Bus” via Facebook live (and other social media channels). Incorrectly called “social selling,” it’s really a form of personal social media marketing and branding.

Of course, if you want to argue semantics, then this is probably not for you. However, if you’re ready to have your salespeople start generating real business on their own, ask them to watch this free 49-minute video lesson called Real Social Selling. It will provide them with virtually everything they need to start driving their own Ups today.

Networking & (Where Legal) Birddogs

Long before social networking, there was something simply known as networking.

Back then, successful automotive salespeople leveraged every possible human connection they had – regardless of how tenuous – to drive their own Up Bus. From joining the local chamber of commerce to always leaving their business card when they paid a restaurant check, top car salesmen and saleswomen knew that everyone wanted a “friend” in the car business; and that’s exactly who they intended to be. This was and is Networking 101.

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There’s nothing stopping your salespeople from doing the same things today.

Shaking hands, handing out their business cards, and assuring everyone they meet that they indeed “have a friend in the car business” is a surefire way to drum up business regardless of a dealership’s marketing spend. Plus, where legal, mentioning your birddog (referral) reward to everyone you meet will catapult anyone’s results from their traditional networking activities.

Step 2: Grow Legitimate Website Traffic

Wait, why isn’t this the first step? Shouldn’t dealers work on generating more website traffic before trying to maximize their first-party leads?

Nope; and I’ll tell you why.

First, virtually every dealership website built today is out-of-the-box search engine friendly. This means Google and other search engines are going to make sure those who are looking for you can find you without the need for much additional search engine optimization (SEO).

And second, why would you want to increase traffic to a website that fails to convert visitors into opportunities, anyway? Fix your website’s ability to generate more first-party leads and calls, then work to drive more in-market traffic.

The Basic Website Traffic Drivers: SEO, SEM and Email Marketing

A bit of caution: Increasing website traffic through better SEO and by purchasing qualified traffic – via search engine marketing (SEM) and third-party email marketing – sounds like it makes sense; but SEO, SEM and email marketing happen to be the areas where I see dealers waste the most money on ineffective products sold by unscrupulous vendors.

Let me say that more clearly: I (and others) have discovered outright theft occurring when taking a deep dive into dealers’ SEO, SEM and email marketing budgets. Not all vendors, mind you, but enough that every dealer, dealer group, Tier II and OEM should keep very tight controls of these budgets.

Moreover, not every dealer needs SEO, SEM or outsourced email marketing. For example, if you’re Minot Toyota in Minot, North Dakota, then everyone in your market looking for a Toyota dealership on Google will find you. No need for you to spend a dime on SEO; and your SEM spend shouldn’t include buying your name or even the word “Toyota,” in my opinion.

While I generally have vendor recommendations for those products I’ve vetted for clients, I’ve found that sharing those I recommend in a post isn’t a great idea for these particular services. For SEO, SEM and email marketing, I’ve personally witnessed companies go from honest and transparent to straight up thieves as they chased more and more dealer dollars.

Given this, rather than publish the names of those I recommend as of this writing (and be forced to remember to change these as better services are introduced), I’ll just ask that you contact me for my current recommendations.

If you plan to go it alone on SEO and SEM, you can use the free tips from an article I wrote to ensure you ask the right questions of your vendors: SEO and SEM Questions to Ask Your Providers. (I hyperlinked directly to the part in the article where you can find the questions – you’re welcome.)

If you’re a genuinely honest provider of SEO, SEM and email marketing – and you can PROVE your value to dealer-clients – feel free to contact me directly. I’d love to be able to recommend you.

Step 3: Price Your Vehicles “To Market”

There is no doubt that if you want more at-bats in the form of calls, leads and (especially) walk-in traffic, you should price your vehicles (both new and used) close to the expected selling price. We know this is true, because dealers have proven the opposite.

“Call for Price” means “Highest Price” to today’s qualified car buyers; so, they will avoid you. Of course, the desire to price higher than your expected selling price makes sense: “This gives us room to negotiate and hold some gross.”

Except it doesn’t, does it? Dealer data we’ve reviewed over the years shows that grosses for walk-in traffic is the same as it is for vehicles sold to internet customers. Try as we might, our efforts to hold more gross than the market allows works for only a small percentage of buyers – and, chases away lots of prospects who were ready to buy at or near the market price.

Of course, market-based pricing is only a net positive for your dealership if you can hold to that posted price. In other words, your team must defend this pricing at every turn! Pricing your vehicles at or near their expected selling price does not have to mean giving up gross.

Top dealers and disciplined salespeople can defend their online price with some very simple verbiage. Whether on the lot on or on the phone, you should defend your price whenever any prospect requests a better price. Here’s a quick word track you may want to employ:

If you’ve been shopping online, then you know we price all of our vehicles competitively right from the beginning. We would never dream of trying to trick our customers by showing you our second best price and then making you jump through a bunch of hoops to find some hidden best price …”

Pricing-to-market increases your at-bats by growing your phone, lead and foot traffic. However, pricing-to-market and then failing to properly defend that online price results in lower grossing deals and defeats the purpose of pricing-to-market.

Step 4: Leverage Measurably-Effective Third-Party Lead and Sales Drivers

The key words in this step are measurably and effective. This means the only third-party providers you want to work with at this stage are those that provide real results you can track. Luckily, there are more than a few vendors in automotive that meet these requirements. Let’s break these up into three categories: online classifieds; third-party lead providers; and social media marketing.

Lead-Driving Classifieds

While all websites that display your vehicles alongside others should be considered “lead-driving,” the sad fact is that many are not. In fact, some online classifieds are now telling their clients that leads and sales tracking is foolish, and that dealers should just look at the various attribution models to determine the value of putting one’s inventory on their website.


While some of the attribution models have value, that value is subordinate to leads and sales when the provider should be delivering measurable leads and sales.

In other words, feel free to grade your television ads solely via an attribution model, but when a website presents your phone number and a lead form, and asks their in-market visitors to contact you, then your first measure of that provider must be crusty old leads and sales. Employing these basic ROI measurements should direct your budgets when it comes to deciding which providers to keep and which ones to cancel.

One quick caveat to measuring these sites via leads and sales: While not all sites perform well for all dealers, when it comes to Craigslist, you should expect a decent ROI. In fact, if you’re not seeing a decent return with your Craigslist listings, you’re likely doing something wrong. When Craigslist is managed properly, and best practices are followed, dealers nearly always see a good return. (Rather than rehash those best practices here, you can read about them in this post: How to Sell Cars on Craigslist.)

Traditional Third-Party Leads

For over two decades, dealers have had the ability to buy additional “Ups” through various third-party providers. Unfortunately, as the market for these sales leads grew, so did the unscrupulous players. With bad actors in the industry, the overall image of third-party leads dropped along with the closing percentages.

That was then, and this is now.

Today we have fewer players in the market (two of the top three providers were gobbled up by Autobytel), and fewer dealers are falling for the “cheap leads” presented by low-quality vendors that still pop up from time-to-time.

This means the time has come for you to begin buying third-party prospects directly again.

“But, we’ve never had success selling these prospects even when using the legitimate third-party providers.”

If this describes your experience, then this is a “you problem.” You have process issues that must be solved before you even start on Step 1 of this guide.

Dealers with good internet sales processes in place enjoy good closing percentages and acceptable costs-per-sale in the $250-$399 range. You can and should buy all of the third-party prospects available, provided they generate an acceptable ROI.

“But, we like to do it all by ourselves!”

Of course you do! That’s why you’ve already exhausted the viable DIY opportunities to increase at-bats using the first-party methods presented in Step 1.

The truth about doing it all yourself is that you can’t, okay? You simply cannot afford, for example, to chase a Silverado buyer in a neighboring PMA using Pay-Per-Click; it’s just too expensive.

You can, however, afford to spend $16-25 to buy that prospect from someone like Autoweb. [For those who’ve read my writing, you know that I’m a fan of iControl that Autoweb created to help you buy specific Model leads in specific ZIP Codes. For smart dealers, this is the only cost-effective way to conquest ready buyers outside of your PMA.]

Facebook/Social Media Marketing

While we already discussed social selling (which is free), there is a paid side to Facebook and other social media that can cost-effectively drive leads, calls and sales for dealers – provided you measure and hold your vendor accountable.

“Vendor? But, we manage our own Facebook marketing budget!”

Big mistake. There are too many options for Facebook marketing and too many chances to make costly errors not to hand this off to a competent third party.

Interestingly, the visibility and results that you can achieve from advertising properly on Facebook is the same as you should’ve been receiving all along from your SEM and display spending (Step 2), but search engines and some display networks just cannot deliver the ROI they promise.

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Step 5: Leverage Marginally-Measurable Digital Marketing

In this step, you and your team will work to increase your at-bats through the various marketing sources and tactics where you have some “kinda sorta perhaps” measurements in place (VDP views, for example).

While it makes sense (to me, anyway) that these sources should be leveraged only after maximizing your results from the products and services in Steps 1-4, many dealers’ teams focus most of their effort (and dollars) on generating opportunities from this step and Step 6.

One simple way to ensure you drive more at-bats from these sources is to include photo overlays (that contain your web address and phone number) on all vehicle images you post online. This will help you encourage visitors to leave low-converting sites loaded with your competitors’ vehicles in favor of visiting or calling you directly.

Another tactic that fits here (and that most dealers miss) is to work on generating actual photos for your new car inventory. While we can’t tie these efforts directly to an at-bat, there are plenty of stats that show how actual photos drive greater customer interest. (By the way, for those of you thinking “How in the world will I be able to afford the time or budget to take pics of all my new inventory?” there’s a product I learned about at Digital Dealer 23 that makes this a seamless, cost-effective endeavor. Do yourself a favor and check out Tru Images.)

Step 6: Find the Next Gem Among the Shiny Objects

After everything else is performing for you and your team – and after you’ve implemented and are enforcing simple, repeatable sales processes – you should begin to explore the shiny objects offered by those vendors who won’t stop calling you.

So long as you have a solid strategy and great processes in place, you can afford to search for the real gems among the myriad of junk pitched to dealers today. But remember, when it comes to the cool new stuff: Top dealers aren’t using technology or marketing you’re not using. In fact, they often use less.

There are no secrets and there are no magic bullets. Top dealers are top dealers because they spend their time at the top of this list, not down here at the bottom.

Good selling!

Thanks to our friends at, you don’t have to print this 3,000-word article to keep as a reminder of the 6 steps. You can simply download their easy-to-follow infographic by clicking on the thumbnail above.