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Jan 09, 2008
Case Study

How Auto Dealer Tripled Leads - 6 Steps to Coordinate Email & Search

SUMMARY: When you need to get leads fast, an email campaign that is part of an integrated multichannel strategy is hard to beat.

A car dealership used triggered emails, search ads, a microsite and incentives to drive 276.7% more leads through the door. Online-generated purchases jumped more than six times.
With dozens of other Chevrolet dealers vying for the same customers in the saturated marketplace of northern New Jersey, Todd Smith, General Manager & Partner, D&C Chevrolet, knew he had to get a leg up on the competition. Not to mention the fact that the dealership was operating in the red, and getting it in the black wasn’t going to be easy.

“One of our main goals was to return the dealership to profitability and sell it back to General Motors, so we could begin selling a different line of cars with much-better margins on the same physical location,” Smith says. “There were 49 other Chevy dealers in my local area. It was an extremely fragmented marketplace. Since we couldn’t mass-advertise like some competitors, we had to find something with more of a direct marketing, grassroots touch.”

To find out what he was up against, Smith personally scouted out the competing dealerships. Nearly every one had either a better location or more vehicles to choose from. Next, he emailed his competitors. Half didn’t reply to his request for information, while those who did lagged in their response.

Smith realized he had found a potential edge: using an online lead generation strategy that hadn’t been tapped for the dealership.

Smith and his team put together a plan to use search ads, a “blind” microsite, six triggered emails and incentives to get more customers in the door.

Here are the six steps they took in the three-month campaign:

-> Step #1. Test keywords for search ads

They decided that Google ads could be an incredible source for driving prospects to a microsite. For a few weeks, they tested around 100 keyword purchases in small spurts to gauge their effectiveness.

Then, they took the top few dozen performers and tested them again for a week. Interestingly, misspellings of “Chevrolet” and “Chevy” beat other terms.

They honed in on the following 12 terms:
o Chevrolet
o Chevrolet invoice
o Chevrolet car
o Chevrolet truck
o Chevy dealers
o Chevy
o Chevy trucks
o new car price
o Chev
o Chevolet

Many of these keywords were affordable and in low demand because of the “.com” and “invoice” parts of the phrases, but they were getting queried by qualified targets in the tests, Smith says. “I wanted to capitalize on the multiple variances of keywords that people type in.”

-> Step #2. Direct leads to microsite

The site was designed for consumers to get quick invoice pricing, which “is the No. 1 thing car shoppers are looking for when they purchase a new vehicle,” Smith says.

People who clicked on the Google ad were taken to a microsite without the dealership’s name or logos. “My thought was that we could do what and were doing for car dealers, but accomplish the same thing for ourselves.”

Above the fold on the right-hand side, viewers saw a drilldown bar underneath the large copy: “Select your Chevy model below.” A ZIP Code slot and a green “GO” button got prospects started in the process. The same options for viewers ran just below the fold underneath the copy, “Easy as 1-2-3.”

On the following page, viewers were asked to supply their first and last name, primary email, alternate email, home phone, work phone, cell phone, street address and year, make and model of their car of interest.

Leads were encouraged to give their choices for exterior and interior colors and transaction type. They also had to indicate how soon they expected to make a purchase from a drilldown box with these options:
o 48 hours
o 1 week
o 2 weeks
o 1 month
o within 3 months

-> Step #3. Localize leads

Smith didn’t want to follow up on leads well outside of their geographic area. So, they set the database system to sort out leads that originated outside the state or a reasonable driving distance to the dealership.

-> Step #4. Three emails sent, phone call made

Three emails were sent and a phone call was made within 72 hours to try to quickly get the local leads into the dealership for a test drive.

- Confirmation email
This email was sent immediately and included a review of the personal information from the form filled out. The 168-word letter-style message ended like this: “If you have any questions, please call our Internet hotline at 1-877-GET-CHEVY.” Below the message appeared an individual sale rep’s name and contact information.

- 1-hour-later email
A similar letter-style email was sent within an hour that included three price quotes for the vehicle of interest.

- Sales rep email in two days
If an appointment didn’t come out of the second email, prospects got another message in two days telling them that a sales rep would be contacting them soon.

- Follow-up phone call
A sales rep called each prospect within 24 hours of the distribution of the third email.

-> Step #5. Triggers for slower leads

Smith and his team didn’t give up on leads after a few days. Over three months, they sent the leads up to six additional email messages based on a set schedule.

Converted leads were taken off the email list. Recipients who received messages after one month were those who stated they were going to be shopping for a car for up to 90 days.

Here was the time frame for each email:
o 1 week
o 2 weeks
o 21 days
o 1 month
o 2 months
o 3 months

-> Step #6. Internet-only incentives

Online-generated leads that made it into the showroom were incentivized with a package of offers that weren’t made available to regular walk-ins. They included tires for life and various additional automotive perks associated with a “Rewards Pass” program.


Without question, the SEM strategy, microsite, lead-localization system, triggered emails and Web-only incentives worked wonders.

o Online leads climbed 276.7%
o Sales conversions zoomed by more than six times.

“With the microsite and using very specific keyword targeting, we were able to convert almost 10% of our visitors into leads and then maintain a healthy closing ratio at the dealership,” Smith says. “We were also able to create a higher inventory turn by targeting with the [keywords].”

Specifically, for the critical summer sales months, the campaign generated in the following numbers for a one-store location:

Month ..... Microsite visitors ..... Submitted forms ..... Vehicles sold
May ................. 3,217 ....................... 267 .......................... 48
June ................ 2,854 ....................... 271 .......................... 41
July ................. 2,912 ....................... 277 .......................... 35

Smith credits the SEM strategy for what he called an “outstanding ROI” for the campaign. “What I found with Google users is that they tend to type in exactly what they want. They don’t type in, ‘Christmas tree.’ They enter in, ‘I want an 8-foot-tall Christmas tree.’”

And, perhaps best of all, the sales strategy allowed Smith and his partners to sell the business back to General Motors for the price they wanted and reopen as D&C Honda. “Now, we will be able to use the same strategies even more effectively because consumers search for ‘Honda’ terms with a lot more frequency.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from D&C Chevrolet’s campaign:

WebTrends - D&C Chevrolet’s Web analytics firm:

WordTracker - helped with keyword strategy:

Google AdWords - tracked keyword performances: - CRM solution used in the trigger emails:

D&C Honda:

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Jan 15, 2008 - Sara Turner of says:
How did they get permission to email the online leads?

Jan 17, 2008 - Tad Clarke of MarketingSherpa says:
Sara - Thanks for the question. Yes, prospects gave permission during the online registration process.

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