As Internet leads, mobile phone calls and texts swamp dealerships, business development centers are starting to look counterproductive to some dealers.
That's odd, given that the centers are separate staffs of salespeople who work leads on the phone and the Web. But some dealers say the centers can shield regular salespeople from learning Internet sales techniques. And corrosive rivalries can form between the centers and regular sales staffs.
Some dealers are dumping their business development centers, or BDCs, while others -- who defend the centers as the best way to handle the rising tide of Internet leads -- have worked out a truce between the two staffs.
Chris Hill said dismantling the business development center at Bill Jacobs Auto Group in Joliet, Ill., was the only way to shake the regular sales staff from a "country club atmosphere" that gave regular salespeople a pass on calling prospects and learning how to engage customers with smartphones.
He said the seven specialists working the phones in the call center and responding promptly online to Internet leads were doing a good job of handling a growing list of prospects.
But ultimately, he said, the center employees were a crutch covering the failings of regular salespeople and management -- a crutch that cost the group $50,000 per BDC employee in wages and benefits.
"We had salesmen with flip phones who had never sent a text in their lives," said Hill, the 31-year-old e-commerce director for the group, which sells vehicles of 10 brands, including BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Mazda. "That was our fault."
Hill wants his salespeople to engage Internet-savvy customers with computer chat, smartphone texts and even videos.
About 30 percent of dealerships have business development centers, said Chip King, managing partner of CallRevu, a calling and customer service consultant to dealers and car companies. Terminations of the centers now have a name in the industry, he says: BDC funerals.
The increase in Internet leads, mobile phone calls and other methods of contacting dealers is driving change on the showroom floor. Dataium, a market research firm, says visits to dealer Web sites are up 16 percent in May vs. May 2012.
And each lead left by Web visitors and others can generate a staggering amount of work. Jennifer Boland, an auto sales consultant in Modesto, Calif., says an average of eight calls is needed to reach an Internet lead. Some require more than 20. A lead is created when a shopper leaves an e-mail or phone number and requests information.