SURREY, British Columbia -

Matt Hale is the e-commerce specialist at Wolfe Langley Subaru, part of the Wolfe Auto Group in Surry, B.C. He may have only been in the business of selling cars for a little over two years, but he has certainly already made his mark.

In fact, after over 20 years in the hospitality industry, Hale jumped into car sales at the age of 39 and has been notching records ever since.

Take these stats into account. For 2014, Hale was:

  • The No. 1 salesperson for Subaru in British Columbia
  • The top salesperson for new units sold in Canada for the brand (308)
  • No. 1 for the year in parts and accessory sales.

The new industry leader is certainly gaining renown, but let’s take a look at why Hale decided to jump into the car business in the first place.

Starting in the biz

Growing up, Hale was already a Subaru fan and actually wanted to go into the auto business at an early age, he said.

Instead, he found his place in hospitality. Interestingly, one of his best restaurant customers turned out to be Mike Hacquard, vice president and general manager of the Wolfe Auto Group.

“One night we were talking, and I didn’t know his history or who he was, but it turned out when we became better acquainted, he gave me a business card, and when I sold the restaurant, I decided to follow up and he gave me the opportunity to work for Wolf Subaru,” Hale shared.

Hale joined the dealership as a salesperson in 2013 and quickly moved up to the position of e-commerce specialist after about a year.

“I think the dealer saw the stats and the weekly reports that would go to the sales manager and dealer principal, and they would see the amount of leads and how many sales are generated from those leads, and I think that they saw that I was a fit for the Internet position based on those numbers,” Hale said.

The switch to auto sales, Hale noted, wasn’t as difficult as one might think, as he was already very familiar with customer service processes.

“I certainly was from a customer-service based industry before — for 20 or so years — and coming into this role, I definitely knew the process. And I could definitely provide customer service on the sales floor, but where I started to excel and where I firmly place my success in the industry —since I have only been at it for two years — was the use of DealerSocket, and the follow-up tools and everything it had to offer.”

The importance of a CRM in Internet sales

When he joined the dealership, the store had recently adopted the DealerSocket customer relationship management system, which Hale calls his “micromanager.”

“I have upwards of 250 clients rolling at any one time, coming in, or sold, or inquiring, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way than through this program,” Hale said.

When introduced to the DealerSocket program, Hale said that as a “tech guy,” he embraced the product and tried to get everything out of it he could.

Hale said the product, along with his dedication to his Internet customers, helps him stay up to speed.

“I have a smart watch that gives me all my leads and any emails, or when anyone clicks on a link that I send them, I get updated on my phone, on my watch, etc.,” said Hale. “I never miss anything that one of my customers is doing, when I have got them in that profile, whether they have been written up and in F&I or just coming in as an Internet lead.”

Switching from the sales floor to dealing primarily with Internet customers, Hale said, was an adjustment.

“I certainly had to learn how to deal with an Internet customer, because an Internet customer is very different from meeting a customer face-to-face. The demands I find with Internet customers are even higher,” he said.

Utilizing the CRM system, Hale says keeping in touch with customers throughout the deliberation process, the sale, and beyond, is key to retention and customer loyalty. The CRM system prompts Hale to send follow-up emails, promotions and more, which he says is key to Internet sales success.

“These Internet customers can easily get lost if they are not followed up with, and these generated tools, as well as the prompting tools that say follow up with this person, email this person, get back to them, however it comes up, provides what I call the momentum that keeps on bringing them along,” he explained.

And even if these communications don’t necessarily end up in a sale, he said it keeps Internet customers at the point where they know they haven’t been forgotten about.

“Even if you just keep reaching out and say, ‘Hey, you know too bad we couldn’t get you there this time and that unit sold, but now I’ve got you on my radar,’ and that communication can be set up so that every week or couple of weeks to just touch base,” he shared.

Hale said a good CRM system makes this easier because you can simply set your next “to-do” item, and when you get in the office in the morning, “there it is, in order of importance.”

“It’s (DealerSocket) just a system that makes it fool-proof as long as you are keeping up with your customer base. It actually is like a micromanager for a person just guiding you along,” he shared.

The Internet sales position is a highly sought after role in dealerships these days, especially if one is willing to invest in it.

“Your leads are mostly generated for you. Those Internet leads come in knowing what they want, and you have enough information to really get a picture of what they need, and you will know very quickly into it if they will turn into a sale,” Hale said.

And when using a quality CRM system, you aren’t just blindly sending out emails, but rather, you are prompted when a customer opens an email, or clicks on a link.

“There is a satisfaction in the process as well. You aren’t just wondering if you are going to get that person to get back to you or whether they have seen it or not. One of my best emails templates that I have is, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed you have seen my information, what would you like to do now?’ It just prompts them forward again, and I’ve only been asked once how I knew that they opened their email,” Hale said, laughingly.

Top focuses in e-commerce for dealerships

When asked what dealerships should be focusing on in e-commerce, Hale said it all comes down to timing.

Hale said he answers Internet requests within 60 minutes. And he doesn’t stop when he’s off the clock. In fact, Hale said some of his busiest hours responding to clients occur between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“And I actually have gone to the point, with a customer I know is right there close to a sale, when I know they’ve opened their email, I will just give them a call within a minute or two,” he said.

Once you make that point of contact, and the shopper hears your voice, Hale said, “They go from being an Internet customer to being your customer.”

“That voice connection to the information that you sent out is another big thing, as well,” Hale said. “So I think timing more than anything else is important, and just knowing that customer has received the information and have it in front of them on the screen. I spend most of my days and nights watching and seeing how customers progress through the sales process.”

He also said that using mobile tools is key to success as an Internet specialist in dealerships they days.

“I always know what is going on, even though I might be with a different customer. And that is one of the toughest things. A lot of people will arrive on your doorstep without an appointment, and you know that they may be coming, but your only one person that can take care of one person at a time properly,” said Hale. “But if you are out on the lot or writing up a deal, and you see that you have got a customer that has opened the email on your smartwatch of smartphone, you know they are the first point of contact after you have finished up, and you go straight to that.”

Just over Hale’s short time in the industry so far, he is seeing a shift to a more digital, online car sales process.

“I certainly know the statistics of when people are looking on the Internet and starting their steps toward the purchase is increasing every year, especially in Canada,” Hale said.

This trend bodes well for dealerships, as Hale explained when an Internet customer comes through the door — if you have provided proper service over the Web — he or she is often ready to buy upon entering the showroom.

“I know that I have provided them with the information, with the emails back and forth, and they come in with a sense of confidence more than anything else, that they have been taken care of coming to the dealership through the Web,” said Hale. “And they are ready to buy, and that’s usually when they step foot in the door.”

Hale says the key to ensuring these Internet customers come in for a sale is making sure they feel well serviced on the Web, before even making it into the store.

“They can be on the other end and I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, but if they feel as if they are getting taken care of, it leads them to our store,” Hale added.

Hale also pointed out a rumor moving around the dealership was that Internet sales normally remained flat, but it didn’t take this e-commerce specialist long to prove that theory wrong.

“I out-grossed the guys on the floor through the Internet. I don’t manage the process through; I carry the process out through what I am being prompted to do,” Hale said, once again noting how a CRM system can help salespeople stay on top of their duties.

“Today (in early September), I came in and had 15 to 20 three-month follow-ups, phone calls or emails; so I’ve got my three-month template, I have a little bit of a personal blurb, and 99 percent of the time I have those people get back to me and say, ‘thank you.’ Sometimes, people feel as if they have driven away and been forgotten about, and this ensures that doesn’t happen,” said Hale.

And for Subaru — a brand known for its customer loyalty — retention and referrals are key.

“Referrals for the Subaru brand are huge, and that is the word-of-mouth for not just the product, but also being taken care of and being that guy that follows up with them. Again, I do a three-month, six-month and 18-month follow-up, and those follow-ups oft en lead to repeat sales and happy customers sharing their experience,” Hale concluded.

Editor''s Note: This profile was first published in Auto Remarketing Canada's Power 200 Issue. See here for more insight from top-selling dealerships and leading remarketing companies.