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Selling Cars Online Is More than a Typical Sales Job

Moving from the showroom to the Internet desk can be a tough transition for a salesperson. Internet car sales require a different skill set from showroom car sales. But if a salesperson succeeds, the payoff is sizable.

February 2, 2012
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Kelly Blackwell has sold cars in the Five Star Ford showroom since 1997.

But it wasn't until he joined the North Richland, Texas, dealership's Internet sales desk in 2000 that it got really challenging--and rewarding.

"There's a lot more you have to know how to do. You have to know your limitations in terms of selling and pricing. You have to know how to structure the deal with interest rates and put a package together. You're managing more of the process," says Blackwell, Five Star Ford's Internet director. "The rewards are you're not outside waiting for someone to drive up. Leads are coming to you."

At Five Star Ford, moving from the showroom to the Internet desk can be a tough transition for a salesperson. Internet car sales require a different skill set from showroom car sales. Internet car sales skills include an ability to structure an entire sales deal without a manager, a good phone voice and proper enunciation, solid writing skills in e-mails and plenty of self-motivation.

But if a salesperson succeeds, the payoff is sizable.

The average annual salary for a Five Star Ford showroom salesperson is about $50,000, says Tony Pack, owner. But the average Internet salesperson there earns about $80,000 a year, Pack says.

"They make more money selling on the Internet," Pack says. "They still have to build up their customer list, but over the course of doing Internet business you have a higher CSI score because they're able to build value and trust with the customer."

Pack says high customer satisfaction scores mean more commission, increased clientele and more business.

Five Star Ford sells about 4,000 new and 2,000 used vehicles annually. About 40 percent of new-vehicle sales and 27 percent of used-vehicle sales come through the Internet, Blackwell says.

When Blackwell started in Internet sales 11 years ago, much less business came through the Internet. In fact, the Internet desk then consisted of only Blackwell and one other person. But now there are 13 salespeople and three others with Internet related jobs, Blackwell says.

Blackwell and Pack say many customers prefer shopping online and talking to the Internet salespeople because those staffers offer no-haggle pricing. And when a customer wants to haggle, the Internet salespeople are authorized to make a judgment call without having to keep getting up to ask a manager in another room.

"By eliminating the back and forth, the Internet salesperson can build a rapport with the customer right away," Pack says.

Pack estimates each of his Internet salespeople sells 12 to 14 vehicles per month vs. eight sales per month by each showroom salesperson.

The Internet salespeople handle the entire transaction except for the sale of finance and insurance products, Blackwell says.

"It's a lot of sitting at your desk and making phone calls. You have to be able to type an e-mail even without spell check. I've seen some e-mails that you would not believe," he says. "There are several people I've had to eliminate because they don't have the phone skills, they're hard to understand. Our position is it's not just a sales position. It has to be more than that."

Internet salespeople have to be able to estimate the value of a trade-in vehicle over the phone, too. And there's the most difficult task of all: learning how to structure the deals.

"That's the desk manager's traditional role and that is the toughest part to teach," Blackwell says. "Then, there's the average person who has had some credit issues. That's where it takes real talent to put together a package. And that's your typical customer."

Jamie LaReau writes for Automotive News, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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