Tune in to Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s Dealer Success Academy for expanded comments from Patrick Richardson, www.DealerSuccessAcademy.

Think of a store that is virtually unlimited in terms of square footage, located on a major interstate, and can handle a multitude of customers 24x7 with limited staff. That’s your website — an asset that it’s time you utilize to its fullest potential.

Patrick Richardson, IT manager and digital marketing specialist for Sherwood Tractor, Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s 2018 Dealership of the Year in the multi-store category, explains why you need to rethink the purpose of your website and how to transform it into an extension of your physical store. The dealership counts their website as a location in addition to stores in Rose Bud and Blackwell, Ark.

“There are some basic ingredients that it takes to have a dealership. You have to build a building. You have to hire employees. You have to fill it with products. You have to have effective communication and a point-of-sale system. All of the ingredients that are necessary to start up a dealership are also needed to have a successful virtual location or web presence.

“We really treat our website like a store. It's filled with products that people can look at. We have signage and banners to drive people's attention and to convey promotional messages. And we integrate our efforts so that our website is staffed by the employees that we have in various departments,” says Richardson.

Dealer Takeaways

  • Look into new technology that allows you to interact with customers on your website, such as through chat boxes or request forms.
  • Your website should help speed up the buying process and even be able to replicate the in-store experience.
  • Use various ways to reach customers along their buying journey and add value through each interaction.
  • Assign an online prospect to the appropriate staff member and set goals for responding.

Read on for Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s “how-to” discussion with Richardson and learn how you can gain valuable retail space online.

Rural Lifestyle Dealer: What do you see happening in consumer buying behavior that influenced Sherwood Tractor to rethink its website?

Patrick Richardson: The primary reason is that the post baby-boomer generation has created huge shifts in retail and how products are being sold. In order to reach these buyers, it’s necessary to go beyond a brick-and-mortar location. The second reason is that baby boomers and even older generations are becoming more used to shopping online. Third, your website can help you reach buyers earlier in their journey, even before traditional advertising reaches them. And, this idea of “multi-channel” retail is the new normal.

There’s something else happening in the market and that’s the influence of younger generations on purchases made by older generations. For instance, Generation Z, those who were born roughly between 1995 and 2012, are on track to become the largest population by next year. Studies show that as much as 93% of parents say that their children under 22 influence family and household purchases. And, this generation goes online first to interact, socialize and gather information.

RLD: Can you provide an example of how this new way of shopping and buying occurs in the context of a dealership?

Richardson: Here’s a real customer purchase that shows the importance of using all angles of marketing — and sticking with a customer as they research. I’ll change the names of the customers, but the details are real. John, 60 years old, is a farmer and his wife, Sandy, is a banker. They live about 35 miles from our Rose Bud location. John had heard about Sherwood Tractor from a television ad last spring. In September, he started researching Mahindra tractors online, clicked on one of our Google ads and spent almost 20 minutes on the site. He then submitted information through an online request form. We immediately followed up and answered his questions.

“This idea of ‘multi-channel’ retail is the new normal…” – Patrick Richardson, Sherwood Tractor

A week later, John visited our website again, looked at 6 different models and submitted another request form. One of our re-marketing activities is to take all the email addresses of those who submitted online forms and send them a general email each month. So, about a week after the second visit, we sent John an email as part of a monthly campaigns. We saw that he opened it, but didn’t take any action. The same thing happened in November.

John opened the December email, however, clicked on the links and visited our website. He checked out two models and the financing information we have on our site. The next day, he looked at one model in particular and submitted a credit application. Our sales team was in touch with him through phone calls, emails and in-person visits to finalize the sale. In all, over a 3-month period, the interactions included 9 website visits, 10 emails, 3 phone calls and 2 in-store visits.

This was just one journey and each dealership needs to understand what mix of marketing is best for them. And, it also shows the importance of reaching customers early, sometimes even months before they are ready to buy.

Here’s an example of the interactions between Sherwood Tractor and a customer, online and in the store, starting with a Google ad and through to purchase. Prior to clicking on the ad, the customer had seen a Sherwood Tractor television commercial.

RLD: Can you share how Sherwood Tractor duplicates the in-store experience online, to create a virtual location?

Richardson: We think in terms of people, processes and products and how we can reduce friction in the buying process. Let’s start with the sales department. In general, we have lead generation processes, our website is kept current and we regularly do promotional marketing campaigns that are supported with information in the store and on the website.

For instance, we have implemented a CRM software and ticketing system that helps us gather leads through forms on the website that are then assigned to someone on the sales team. We have set a goal that those leads are responded to within 1 business day. We have also added a live chat feature during business hours. The software is all scripted to be conversational, based on the page the customer is viewing, and provides a more immediate response to customers. We also highlight the dealership’s phone number on the website and have improved our phone system to handle more call volume.

Sherwood Tractor’s Online Sales Goals

  1. Deliver product information and sales materials through an organized, user-friendly website.
  2. Collect leads and respond to them within 1 business day.
  3. Reach out by phone where possible, always following up by email.
  4. Provide a quote with a solution, not just a price.
  5. Invite the customer to take action.

One thing I wanted to add about our website: We have designed it so that it has all the information someone needs to make an informed purchase, without having to talk to someone. However, the website doesn’t exclude the sales staff.

All of our interactions online give customers what they need, show them we are interested in them and invite them to take action. (Learn more about Sherwood Tractor’s response goals in the accompanying sidebars.)

RLD: How does the parts department fit into this, especially with your new online ordering system?

Richardson: Over the past few years, we've seen an increasing number of people who would prefer to call in and ask about a part and whether we can ship it to them. Or, they’re searching Google for a part and want a more convenient way to buy rather than driving to a dealership and waiting at a parts counter.

We tried to come up with a solution to meet those needs. Our customers can look up a part on our website — we stock about 800 popular parts — and add it to their cart to purchase. They will receive it in 2-3 days on average. Online parts orders are fulfilled through integrating various platforms, including Basic Software, our website (platform provided by Dealer Spike), Shopify eCommerce platform as well as Stripe, PayPal and Apple Pay for credit card processing.

Sherwood Tractor’s Online Parts & Service Goals

  1. Provide customers with the most convenient way to locate the correct part and obtain it.
  2. Assistance is one click or call away.
  3. Use our parts website to drive sales via in-store, online and phone sales.
  4. Respond quickly with a time & cost estimate on service work and then schedule the job.
  5. Automatic status updates via SMS/Email

A workstation near the parts counter is the hub for fulfilling and shipping the orders and the integration with the dealer management system ensures inventory totals are correct for the parts counter staff.

To answer questions, we use online forms and the chat feature, like we use for sales. Our goal is to answer a question in an hour or less, which really drives sales and enhances the customer experience. We want our expertise to be just one click or one call away. By reducing barriers, more customers will depend on you and have confidence in your business.

RLD: Do these same kinds of processes follow through for the service department as well?

Richardson: Yes, when customers come to our site inquiring about service, we can gather information through a form and provide them with a cost estimate or they can schedule a time to bring their equipment in. We’ve also recently added the capability to send text messages with repair status updates to keep customers informed as their equipment goes through each step of the repair process.