Paul Hamilton, General Sales Manager, Livermore Toyota
February 2015 Autobytel Dealer of the Month
We'd like to congratulate Paul Hamilton, General Sales Manager of Livermore Toyota, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for February 2015.
The Autobytel Dealer Awards Program honors exceptional dealers from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers who employ the highest standards in customer service, Internet automotive retail sales and lead management processes, and mobile and emerging technologies.
We recently spoke with Paul about the importance of customized service, process, and timely follow-up and how these factors have helped his store succeed in a competitive market.
Tell us about yourself and your store. What is your official title, what brands do you sell and what are your primary markets?
My name is Paul Hamilton, and I am the GSM of Livermore Toyota in Livermore, California. Our store opened in November 2013 and we are the newest store in the Bay Area and Northern California. We sell new Toyota and Scion vehicles, and we have a large inventory of used cars of various makes. We typically have an inventory of 350 used cars in stock.
How long have you been an Autobytel dealer and what do you think are the primary benefits of being on the Autobytel program?
I had been on the Autobytel program at other dealerships in the past, and had always had success with the program. Livermore Toyota had signed up with a competitive lead company to Autobytel, and after a few months, we decided to run the Autobytel program simultaneously to see which program performed better. The Autobytel program outperformed the competitor by far! In the first month, we closed just over 11% of Autobytel leads vs. 4% with the other company. After 3 months of running both programs, we saw that our profitability was better with Autobytel. We lost $1,000 overall with the other program, whereas with Autobytel, we made our money back four times over. As an added bonus, our Autobytel leads were resulting in more back-end product sales, and that is huge for us. Eventually, we cancelled with the other program, and we are now exclusively using Autobytel as our only new vehicle 3rd party lead source. There are so many marketing and lead generation sources out there, but the Autobytel program is real simple for dealers. We trust that Autobytel will send us high quality leads, and with a direct lead source, like Autobytel, we can easily track ROI and measure our results.
What do you think makes you so successful at meeting the needs of today's Internet consumers? Please share a few of your best practices in terms of managing Internet leads.
The primary thing that I think makes us different is that we approach each Internet customer as if they were a customer physically walking into our showroom. Back in the early days of the Internet, I think many dealers got used to having little interaction with the customer before offering best pricing on a vehicle. I can't imagine welcoming a customer into my dealership today with a hello - immediately followed by the price on a car - without asking exactly what they are looking for. Today, EVERY customer is an Internet customer whether our first interaction is online or in person in our store. The majority of car buyers go online to research before they walk into a dealership. And not all customers are just looking to find out price information or our best pricing, they are each looking for different information. Our job is to engage our customers and ask the right questions to find out their exact needs. The key to any relationship is asking questions and listening, and we do this with each and every customer. We ask our Internet customers serious questions in order to quickly get down to the "nitty-gritty" of what they are looking for. Our success has so much to do with our tailored, customized approach to each and every customer.
What are your thoughts about being named an Autobytel Dealer of the Month?
We are incredibly honored to be named the Autobytel Dealer of the Month. We are such a new store, and to receive this national recognition means so much to us. It means that Autobytel saw something in us and in our process that was worthy of this award, and we are thrilled.
What are some tips or advice you would give other retailers when it comes to effectively managing Internet customers?
The car business is a tangible business. As dealers, we are all taught to make eye contact with our customers, offer a firm handshake, be welcoming, be engaging, warm them up. We feel this is equally important with Internet customers. It's easy to forget this when dealing with Internet customers because there is a computer involved, and you don't see this person face to face. But, you need to have a protocol in place to be welcoming, to be engaging to customers over the Internet because building a relationship and building trust with your Internet customers is more important than a focus on selling the car.
What are your general thoughts about the auto industry right now? How are sales? Any interesting things happening at Livermore Toyota or with the brand that you'd like to share?
As a whole, things are great with the auto industry and the industry is moving in an upward direction. Banks are opening up more, people are out there buying cars again, and in my opinion, Toyota is the best brand in the market! Toyota has always had strong sales numbers, and really, Toyotas sell themselves so our job is to focus on being there for the customer.
What are your thoughts on the new / emerging technologies coming out of Autobytel? For instance, receiving leads via text and texting with customers? Web based chat?
I always see that Autobytel is staying up to date, and ahead of the technology curve. I know that texting is the next big boom, and mobile is huge! Autobytel is developing their products in line with texting and mobile, and I think that is awesome. I'm glad to know that Autobytel evolves to offer the latest in technology to their dealer customers, and with technology changing so quickly, when it comes time to choose a provider for new technology products, I always go with a trusted source who has proven success like Autobytel.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself...what do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests of note?
Like most people in the car business, I spend a majority of my time at the dealership, but in the free time I do have, I golf whenever I can squeeze in a round, and I love spending time with my fiance, my family, and friends. I also watch most sports, and have fantasy football and baseball teams.
Each month, Autobytel's sales and dealer operations teams evaluate prospective candidates from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers in the Autobytel network, with a monthly finalist selected based on key online automotive best practices, including conversion rates, lead management processes, customer service principles, customer and brand retention analytics and Internet department practices, among others.