Chrysler's Bigland: Dealers' 'methodical' response to online leads is boosting sales
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
DETROIT -- A sharp focus on responding to Internet leads has allowed Chrysler Group to dramatically decrease both the number of lost leads as well as the time the average customer waits for a response, the automaker's head of U.S. and Canadian sales said.
Speaking today at the Automotive News World Congress, Reid Bigland, 45, said Chrysler dealers must have an online presence and must be responsive to potential customers who come through the digital doorway.
"If you don't have an online presence, you're going to be at a significant disadvantage," said Bigland, who also heads the company's Dodge brand. He said that in 2011, Chrysler dealers didn't even respond to 31 percent of leads that came into their dealership. Those dealers that did respond took an average of 20 hours to do so. That resulted in lost sales, he said.
Today, after a number of interventions -- including tying a portion of factory field rep wages to dealer response times -- Bigland said the average response time for 95 percent of dealer Internet leads has been cut to under one hour.
Bigland said that Chrysler's 33-month string of year-over-year sales gains through December is "indicative of the methodical system in which we run the business." He contrasted it to the "old Chrysler," which used a less disciplined, scatter-shot approach and saw monthly sales reports that jumped up and down.
In retelling the story of Chrysler's resurgence, Bigland said pre-bankruptcy Chrysler in 2008 had "bad ownership, bad values, and bad sales." He said the company's captive finance arm in 2008, Chrysler Financial, was "missing in action" when the credit crisis hit, further exacerbating Chrysler's tenuous market position at the time.
In other comments, Bigland said:
Chrysler's trip through bankruptcy left the company "politicized, criticized and ostracized" before it "got back up and brushed ourselves off."
That looking back at Chrysler's tumultuous trip through bankruptcy, "there's no question that we could have scored a little higher on style points with respect to how that whole process was handled. But one thing that I think is undeniable is its effectiveness."
That although Chrysler is still deciding what to do with its two minivans, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, both brands will have an entry in the people-mover segment. "We're not going to give up any territory in that segment," he said.
All automakers will need electrified vehicles in order to meet tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, including Chrysler, but consumers for the most part haven't yet embraced the expensive technology or shown a willingness to pay for it.
Chrysler's flat executive structure -- with two dozen top executives directly reporting to CEO Sergio Marchionne -- greatly speeds the company's decision-making and increases accountability. It also means at least two weekend meetings a month, of 8 to 10 hours each, for those executives.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.