John Walters, Internet Business Development Manager, Lexus of Naperville
March 2014 Autobytel Dealer of the Month
We'd like to congratulate John Walters, Internet Business Development Manager at Lexus of Naperville in Naperville, Illinois, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for March 2014.
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.
We recently sat down with John to discuss how his store's "always-on" 24/7 approach to managing customers has helped Lexus of Naperville gain a distinct competitive advantage when it comes to Internet best practices and ultimately sales.
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 John Walters and I'm the Internet Business Development Manager for Lexus of Naperville. We're a single Lexus store and our primary market area is a 15-mile radius around Naperville in the Western suburbs of Chicago. This market is pretty saturated since there are quite a few Lexus dealers here, but luxury car owners tend to buy close to home so our customers are relatively close to our store.
How long have you been an Autobytel dealer and what do you think are the primary benefits of being on the Autobytel program?
Before I was here at Lexus of Naperville, I was with Cadillac and I was an Autobytel dealer for four years there. Nine years ago, I came to Lexus and brought Autobytel with me and have been with the program the entire time I've worked for Lexus. I've gone through a lot of lead providers through the years, using Autobytel among a few others, and Autobytel has higher quality leads with higher closing ratios that translate into sales. You can really waste your time with other lead providers wondering why they submitted a lead to you. With Autobytel, there is no question. When that lead comes in, someone is looking to buy a vehicle.
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.
What makes us so successful is that we respond very quickly to the consumer. We rank high with Lexus corporate as having one of the fastest response times, with a higher percentage of getting people into our store to help them buy a car. The second thing we do well is that we don't have dedicated Internet sales per se. We expect all of our sales people to manage Internet leads since there really is no delineation between Internet sales and general sales at our store. My department is a department of one and I make sure our sales team is following up with people and setting appointments. One person handles the leads and makes sure there is follow up which is a better way to manage an Internet program. Everyone is on an even playing field at our dealership. All of our sales people are very good at sourcing and there really is no such thing as a walk-in or a drive-by anymore since 90% of the people who walk in here have already been online. We train our people about how to best handle Internet leads, phone calls, and email communication. We give them the power to make the contact and the sale. While some BDCs try to make the sale, my purpose is to bring them in for the appointment and once they come in, we have sales people to service our customers and help them buy a car.
What are your thoughts about being named an Autobytel Dealer of the Month?
I think it's a high honor considering how many dealers are out there, and the thousands that are on the Autobytel program. To be a standout among more than 5,000 Autobytel dealers is quite an honor. But it also means we must be doing something right.
What are some tips or advice you would give other retailers when it comes to effectively managing Internet customers?
Again, I think response time is very important. I personally answer leads 24/7, including all of the major holidays. Our customers say they can't believe they were contacted on Christmas. And many say they're still waiting on responses two or three days later from other dealerships. We take an "always-on" approach since the Internet never shuts down and neither do people. Remember that not all of your customers are going to have evenings off. Some work midnights, some work swing shifts. Some people only have holidays off. If they submit a lead, answer that lead. If you capture their attention immediately by responding immediately, you've pretty much captured their business. This type of response is very impressive to people.
What are your general thoughts about the auto industry right now? How are sales? Any interesting things happening at Lexus of Naperville or with the brand that you'd like to share?
When it comes to the Internet, the customer is more empowered today because there is more information out there. Having access to information makes people feel comfortable. Ten years ago, consumers thought they knew nothing and the dealership knew everything. The traditional way of buying cars, where the customer was relatively uninformed, is over. Today, consumers know a lot and can make an educated decision. When it comes to our store and the industry in general, sales are definitely up. We did have some tough years but things are picking up again.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself...what do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests of note?
Right now, I'm happy to be sitting here in a short-sleeved shirt. Since December, I've been wearing a parka that looks like a down comforter. I'm looking forward to summer because one of my hobbies is fishing. It took an extra month for the ice to melt off the lakes around here with the winter we've had, so I'm looking forward to warmer weather.
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.