When we asked readers last month whether the business development center is obsolete, you'd have thought we had asked something as monumental as who should be Major League Baseball's 2012 MVP: Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers or Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels?
The traditionalists argued for the BDC. They reasoned that the same golden-tongued salespeople who could charm your socks off on the showroom floor couldn't put together a cogent sentence on the phone or Internet. So leave phone and Internet lead follow-up to a dedicated group with that specific task.
The modernists -- the types who pushed Trout's newfangled Wins Above Replacement stats over Cabrera's Triple Crown in last year's MVP race -- said no to BDC. They felt all salespeople should be educated and equipped to communicate with customers whether by phone, text, e-mail or social media.
By the tenor of the debate that greeted our Page 1 story, I doubt the two schools will ever see eye to eye.
But I've come to believe that either model can work, or even hybrids, provided that management commits to the training and procedures necessary to ensure that employees maximize their time.
Dealer consultant Larry Bruce said dealerships should choose the method that provides the most value to customers.
The problem with business development centers is that a center employee establishes rapport with a customer over the phone or Internet only to later turn that customer over to a salesperson on the floor to rebuild the trust, said Bruce, a former dealer in the Houston area.
But some stores, such as Rick Case Honda in Davie, Fla., are so busy that a BDC is the only way to handle a flood of shopper inquiries, while salespeople close sales and make check-in calls to existing customers.
It can take two hours in the showroom to take a customer through the car-buying process, including the trip to finance and insurance and some pointers about infotainment and other gadgets.
Bruce's bottom line: If salespeople have enough time on their hands to wait for customers to walk into the showroom, you don't need a BDC.