When Mark Olson took charge of Internet sales at Findlay Kia in Las Vegas in September 2014, the leaderless operation "was in disarray," he says. The department had an average response time of 75 minutes and 90-day closing rate of a measly 4 percent.
By the end of that year, the team was answering all e-queries within 10 minutes and turning nearly 13 percent of its leads into sales. That closing rate has held steady while other metrics have improved. Olson began with intensive training, which he considers one of his strengths, and creation of a uniform process for handling leads.
Olson, a native of New York's Long Island, began peddling cars in Las Vegas in 2006, when a buddy in the business urged him to come sell Chevrolets on the weekend. Olson made $2,500 on the first weekend and was hooked. "I like to talk," he says.
Olson worked in finance and sales before discovering an aptitude for e-commerce. In 2012 he was salesman of the year at Fairway Chevrolet in Las Vegas, working solely off Internet leads and referrals to sell 256 vehicles. The next year, he joined Findlay Kia, owned by Findlay Automotive Group, which has 28 stores selling 24 brands in five states. Olson worked in finance and sales there before discovering an aptitude for e-commerce. He was the store's salesman of the year in 2013, working solely off Internet leads and referrals to sell 256 vehicles.
Findlay Automotive Group is No. 24 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. ranked on 2015 new-vehicle retail sales units.
In 2014, Olson persuaded his general manager to let him take over the dealership's e-commerce department on a trial basis. The promotion was made permanent at the start of 2015.
To begin with, Olson devised templates for the steps to take when a lead comes in. Drawing on an earlier intensive phone training course, he wrote telephone and email scripts, which he urges staffers to use as a road map with leeway to "make it their own." Previous communication amounted to little more than "Call me about the vehicle," Olson says. Follow-up, which was minimal, now extends for 180 days.
He also makes sure customers receive thank-you notes after purchases, birthday cards, emails on anniversaries of sales, service offers such as free oil changes and social media outreach.
Response time has now shrunk to five minutes, and Olson's goal is less than a minute for a phone call and less than five minutes for an email.
He discovered that the dealership was relying heavily on expensive third parties such as Autotrader and Cars.com for referrals, rather than generating leads from its own website. Souping up the dealership's site allowed Olson to drop those outside services, saving $10,000 a year.
Findlay Kia now has four sales consultants dedicated exclusively to Internet sales and eight who handle Internet leads as part of their sales duties. When Olson took charge, only three staffers worked on e-commerce.
Olson monitors some e-sales calls. "But I never come down hard on someone," he says, preferring instead to discuss better approaches. He tells his staff: "Your main goal is to sell the [showroom] appointment, not the car." But if a customer prefers to handle the purchase by phone and email, the sales reps should be happy to oblige.
In 2015, the dealership's Internet sales topped 980 vehicles, about three-quarters of them new models. Olson says that as Findlay Kia's showroom traffic has slowed, e-commerce has picked up the slack, now accounting for more than half the store's total sales volume.
-- Katie Kerwin