Finding talented auto sales personnel is hard enough. Dealers now have the added challenge of finding talented Internet salespeople.
And they are not the same people, says Pat Moran.
As CEO of Southeast Toyota Distributors Inc., the independent wholesaler of Toyota vehicles and services in five states in the Southeast, Moran has put a priority on putting Internet sales staffs into dealerships. Southeast Toyota distributes cars and trucks to 160 retailers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. Moran's company has pressed all of the stores to hire full-time staffs to handle e-commerce.
'You can't address this business on a part-time basis,' says Moran. 'You can't have one of the regular salesmen answering e-mails when he's not busy. You can't just put a beeper on somebody and have that serve as your Internet staff. That won't work.'
An estimated 75 percent of new-vehicle retailers have a presence on the World Wide Web. But observers chide many of them for bungling sales leads by failing to respond to customers' online overtures.
'You have to treat the Internet customer as a new type of business,' she says. 'It comes in at all hours. People are sitting there shopping in the middle of the night. The dealer has to be prepared to handle them.'
Southeast Toyota has set a goal for its retailers of responding to customer e-mails within one hour.
To do this, Moran says, dealers need to hire what she calls 'Internet people.'
'That's not easy to do,' she adds.
Southeast Toyota does some of its recruiting through outside placement firms that specialize in computer personnel.
But the effort is difficult, she says. Auto selling typically requires a working knowledge of cars - or, at a minimum, interpersonal skills. While those assets also would help an Internet staffer, handling e-commerce takes people who don't mind working strange hours and are willing to work in a nontraditional work environment.
'You're talking about people who like to stay up all night,' Moran says. 'They're usually young. They may already be making money doing other business on the Internet. Their bed may be in their office. They're not going to be like the usual person you'd hire to sell at the dealership.'