Great online reviews = more sales

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It’s no secret the majority of powersports enthusiasts research products and services online before making a buying decision. This is why news of your dealership’s online reputation, good or bad, can spread like wildfire from the ratings and reviews displayed prominently by search engines. These ratings can create a lucrative and loyal base of repeat and referral customers, or lead to a plethora of lost sales and opportunities that can take years to overcome.

According to Businessweek magazine, 70 percent of consumers now consult reviews and ratings prior to purchasing. Here at Dealership University, we call this “the Amazon effect” — and it’s spreading rapidly into the enthusiast-based powersports industry.

THE POWER OF SOCIAL PROOF
The simple psychology behind reviews is that what consumers say about your dealership appears more authentic, and therefore is more compelling to prospects than what you or your advertising say about your dealership. It’s called social proof, and provides third-party credibility that is extremely powerful. A study conducted by the Yankelovich research firm concluded that 75 percent of people don’t believe that companies tell the truth in their advertising, further validating why consumers yearn for real reviews from real customers.

Have you had an unreasonable ex-customer post a nasty, flagrant, and worst of all, inaccurate review online about your dealership? If not, consider yourself fortunate. Most retailers are eventually going to have to face the challenge of confronting a negative review. Even the best dealers will eventually face off with an unreasonable customer. The good news is, there is a solution. Dealers willing to embrace change and implement reputation management in their marketing efforts can experience significant short- and long-term benefits.

What’s the best way to handle the inevitable negative reviews? First, you always respond to them. There are many solutions available that allow you to be notified every time you have a review posted about your dealership. Once you get an alert you can carefully craft a response. (By the way, it’s also a good idea to respond to positive reviews.) But the most impactful way to handle negative reviews is to bury them with positive reviews.

When you consider all factors regarding modern consumer behavior, you can see that your online reputation is the foundation of your marketing.

Regardless of whether you choose traditional media like radio and TV, or you pump your ad spend into digital marketing like Google AdWords and social media, the target audience you’re spending money to attract will most likely end up searching for you online. And with Google’s well-known emphasis on displaying ratings and reviews on first page results, your prospects will likely see what others have to say about your business, and this has a big impact on whether or not they choose to visit you.

SECURING POSITIVE REVIEWS
Your marketing secret weapon in the new economy is to encourage a lot of positive reviews to serve as a preponderance of proof that your store lives up to your customer’s expectations.

So how are you supposed to acquire more positive reviews? I recommend that you prepare a launch meeting with your entire staff explaining this new initiative. As with most dealership best practices, successful execution starts at the top, with the dealer principal leading the way. Staff implementation is much more realistic when they totally understand the “why” behind what they’re being asked to do.

Next, put up in-store point-of-sale displays encouraging customers to provide online reviews. These displays aren’t going to set your system on auto-pilot, but they will create awareness and act as a reminder to you and your staff. It’s also a good idea to include a custom note on the bottom of all invoices encouraging customers to provide reviews.

Roll out a storewide contest with your staff, rewarding the team member who gets the most reviews that mention his or her name. Train your staff to ask your dealership regulars to provide a review with their smart phones on the spot in exchange for a small incentive like a T-shirt or hat. Also, keep iPads with 3G connections handy so customers can create reviews immediately after a purchase, while the transactions are still fresh in their minds.

Include in your follow-up e-mail to customers a request asking them to go online and offer reviews of your service. And the last but most important component is to make the commitment to provide excellent customer service, as this will make positive reviews the natural conclusion to your customer’s shopping experience.

For more up-to-date systems, tools and strategies on how to leverage the secret weapon of reputation management and more to boost your website traffic, phone traffic, door swings and closing ratios, be sure to sign up now for the dealer business education program at the 2012 Dealer Expo at www.dealerexpo.com. I’ll see you there.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews October 2011 issue.