Bridging the Gap: Converting Online Shoppers to In-Store Buyers


You’ve invested time and money in creating a compelling digital marketing strategy. You’re focusing on engaging content and smart SEO tactics driven by a finely tuned balance of paid and organic search. Your site is optimized for mobile shoppers, because you know the majority of first interactions come from mobile devices. You’re driving traffic to your site and generating high quality leads.

But what are you doing to manage these leads when they come in?

When a lead comes in, it’s a race against your competition. If you don’t have a well-executed, time-driven process in place to field, respond, and follow up with every lead that comes directly to your dealership, you’re missing the point — and losing out on sales to low-funnel customers who have moved on to your competitors.

Online shoppers — particularly mobile shoppers — expect instant gratification. They’re receptive to responses for only a few minutes before clicking to another site. If your dealership isn’t generating a response to a lead form in 20 minutes or less, you may lose that lead altogether.

To put the importance of lead management into perspective, imagine walking into a coffee shop on Monday morning, asking for a large latte, and being told that a barista would be happy to make that for you on Wednesday — maybe.

Tony Koubridis, national director of sales for Search Optics Canada, has seen it happen time and again. He recently mystery-shopped one of his regions and found 30 percent of dealers didn’t respond to online inquiries at all.

“You get one shot to win over the online shopper,” says Koubridis. “Failing to follow up with leads is the biggest disconnect I see with dealers, and where the majority of them are losing customers.”

Koubridis says he has seen the other side of the coin too. The follow-up is there, but it’s not tracked in a systematic way. The lack of customer insight can result in serious missteps on the part of the salesperson when the customer visits the dealership in person.

“The dealership treats the customer as if they’re starting at step one, bombarding them with irrelevant info. The customer already agreed on a price online and is just there to take a test drive and close the deal. That’s how you irritate and potentially jeopardize a sale. At the very least, you lose credibility.”

So if we’re operating on the premise that follow-up is critical to success, why do so many dealerships fail on this point?

Most of the time, it’s because there are no organized processes in place to handle the volume of leads coming in. By the time sales associates get around to responding, the leads have gone cold. One study showed the average lead response time is 45 hours. If you were the customer, would you remember which sites you visited two days ago? Probably not.

More important, you found answers to your questions somewhere else. You might even have that brand new car parked in your driveway. A lot can happen in 45 hours.

Lead management can be stripped down to a few basic actionable steps that can be easily integrated into your dealership selling culture.

It starts with ensuring your team understands the value of follow-up. Businesses that respond to leads with immediacy and consistency have a 47 percent higher profit margin than those that don’t, proving that online shoppers place a higher value on quick response than the lowest price.

Your team must know how to follow up effectively: what to say, when to text, when to e-mail, and when to call. Auto-generated responses should go out within five minutes, but a personalized response should follow within another 10 minutes. Customers who receive a personalized response in that 10-minute window are three times more likely to visit a dealership in person than those who received slower responses.

Finally, they have to commit to the process, which includes understanding that it can take between 8–12 follow-up attempts to convert an Internet lead to an in-store purchase. This is where your CRM system goes to work for you, helping you nurture leads until they convert.

*Just a few words about lead nurturing. Lead management and lead nurturing are two different things but they work together to achieve a common goal. Lead nurturing has to work in tandem with your CRM system to ensure that all communications with customers in your database are targeted, focused, strategic, and integrated. The result? Effective, relevant, personalized lead nurturing that turns online shoppers into in-store buyers.


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