You didn’t phone, they didn’t buy

SAN FRANCISCO -- Too many retail sales personnel are waiters.

Sales traffic down, credit-challenged shoppers staying home, the dealership sales staff sticks with the comfortable technology of the past: They patiently wait for customers to pull into the lot and get out of their car.

That’s a big mistake for retailers, urges Patrick Kelly, senior vice president for CAR-Research XRM, a dealer management services business. Kelly says it’s a behavior learned from the past 20 years when industry sales were strong and more constant. It was more productive to stand in the showroom waiting for the next customer because one was certain to come along any minute now.

Not so in 2011.

Kelly presses his dealer customers to work the phones, e-mails, Facebook and all other forms of person-to-person communications to connect with sales leads. It’s not merely a better use of their times, he tells dealership managers -- it’s a statistically more rewarding pursuit.

He cites research by J.D. Power and Associates in his presentations: On average, he tells dealers, only 9 percent of the purchase-ready customers who walk into a dealership for the first time will buy a vehicle on that visit -- 91 percent will walk away empty handed.

But, he emphasizes, with a little follow-up work, one-third of those same empty-handed customers will return for a second visit. And of the one-third who return, more than half will end up buying a vehicle.

Reasons Kelly: the magic isn’t getting customers to come in the first time -- it’s following up with them and getting to come in that second time.

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