March 22, 2007
Most marketers have a keen understanding of the difficulties associated with generating qualified online leads for non-ecommerce firms. But how are players in these sectors (automotive, healthcare, legal, etc.) effectively leveraging leads once they get them?
A new email initiative is helping a car dealership market luxury vehicles and continue those high-ticket relationships long afterward. Five strategies (including mobile messaging), results data and creative samples.
Nine months ago, Claudie White Jr., Business Development Manager, Beck Imports of the Carolinas, decided it was time to embrace email marketing.
White and his team quickly grew their list from only 50 addresses to around 3,000. They did this by collecting addresses from hand-raisers who either called the store or showed interest online after finding their site through online searches. Plus, they added a simple email address line to their routine checkup service forms.
That was the easy part. Actually getting these leads into the dealership for test drives, future tune-ups and diagnostics/repairs proved to be the chief obstacle.
“We had a Web site that did a nice job of letting prospects look at our selections and sign up for email,” White says. “But we had to do better in terms of communicating offers and services to them. Putting together a system that would [optimally] employ our email list seemed like an extremely difficult task.”
Although White was proud of their Web site, he wasn’t about to fool himself into thinking they could do email at a high level by themselves. So, they scoured the service provider lists and chose an expert partner (see vendor link below).
Once that was done, they devised four key email strategies and a mobile messaging component to get going on their multichannel lead conversions.
-> Strategy #1. Piggyback onto corporate postal mail efforts
White and his team synched up their email with ongoing initiatives from Mercedes-Benz’s national direct mail managers. The snail mail to qualified targets living in Charlotte, NC -- combined with the email -- gave them a leg up on other Mercedes-Benz importers in the area.
“We customize the email on our end with salespersons’ names to not only make the multichanneling even more targeted but also to put a personal touch on the experience.”
-> Strategy #2. Highlight special offers in custom emails
Each month, they created an email promotion from scratch in terms of the offer, creative and copy. The October email highlighted a free offer for their door-to-door service. Touting “employee pricing extended to friends and family on all inventory,” the limited-time promo included a print-and-cut coupon.
In November, they combined three service discount coupons with three vehicle offers (one rebate, two monthly lease agreements) in honor of the dealership’s 40th anniversary. In January, they emailed past tire-kickers and other prospects with the offer of scheduling an appointment for an all-day service clinic involving a free inspection, a 20% service discount on any diagnosis and complimentary food. The offer was available to all Mercedes-Benz owners, no matter where they purchased their car.
-> Strategy #3. Triggered messages timed to buying cycles
All told, Beck’s used 25 variations on timed messages that went to past customers, depending on where they were in their buying or service cycles. Monthly tune-up promos were joined with a “Thank You” message for their last visit.
The automated system targeted customers with specific pricepoints based on the time since their last visit. In some cases, the pot was sweetened the longer they were away.
“Someone who wasn’t in the store for 20 months typically gets a very different message than the person who was here 60 or 90 days ago,” White says. “For instance, we’ve utilized a recapture piece to target people who hadn’t been in the office for six-plus months.”
-> Recent car buyers with an introduction-to-service email
-> Special offers for those who bought customized vehicles
-> Those who requested specific car services in the past
-> Responders to seasonal and holiday sales
-> Strategy #4. Get sales reps to use the system
Next, White encouraged his salespeople to use email to drive their commissions by collecting addresses from prospects and following up. He and his team used this back-end data to monitor the leads generated by the reps, while also track where most opt-outs occur in order to fine-tune the triggers. In addition, customer calls were tied back to the emails.
-> Strategy #5. Mobile messages for checkups, loyalty
White and his team then extracted cell phone numbers from their customer database. As an invitation for a service checkup, they scheduled text messages to be sent to customers six months and one year after their car purchase. Others included appreciation messages for purchasing a vehicle or service appointment thank-yous. To avoid saturating the brand, they limited these messages to just three a year.
“We don’t want to bother them on their cell phones. We just want to use text as a courtesy communication,” White says. “We keep the messages to one or two sentences for readability sake and so it doesn’t seem like we are intruding on their time.”
It’s no coincidence that Beck Imports was named one of the top Mercedes-Benz sellers in the Carolinas recently. Tying local email to national postal direct mail played a key role.
“We generate car sales, service tickets and parts business from the email campaigns,” White says. “It’s been a great return on investment, and we will increasingly use it to grow our business. We have seen people walking through the door with the printed coupons, which shows me that the multichannel approach has been effective.”
For the October email, 94% of the recipients either ordered the special offer or came into the store and spent money -- whether it was on a new car, brakes overhaul, oil change, windshield wipers or floormats. By the same measure, November's email had a 37% response and January 19%.
The monthlies and triggered emails are averaging a 15.6% open rate and a 1.8% click-to-offer rate. Opt-outs have been less than 1%.
Feedback from customers is very positive. “They enjoy the courtesy of getting texts and emails before the oil light goes on,” White says.
Meanwhile, tying the email program with incoming calls has positively affected the sales team. “It helps to see which people are getting the most calls. Sometimes they need help with their workload,” White says. “And it is good to know what times those calls are coming in, so we can better learn how to communicate with our customer base.”
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Beck Imports’ email campaign:
Marketview 360 - Beck Imports’ email and text messaging services partner:
E-dreamz Inc. - Beck Imports’ Web design partner: