Businesses create personas to place the consumer at the center of decision-making. Customer personas work when designing products and services, yet do they still serve a purpose in marketing and sales?
Marketing, the process of identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customers’ needs and wants, essentially matches what you’re selling to the people looking to buy. On a fundamental level, we all share the same basic needs and wants. Moving beyond the basics of buyer personas opens up a world of possibilities.
With everyone as a potential customer, creating personas may help marketing feel more manageable. Putting a face, age, and fictional name to your customers’ traits, personality characteristics, and pain points kicks off your digital strategy, but then what? Where do you go from there? Customer personas, in theory, work to attract leads, yet treating each customer in a generalized manner may actually move your brand further away from connecting with prospects.
Technology now provides valuable information beyond the type of customer interested in your brand (married with two kids and a mortgage); it delivers details on their online behavior (searching for distressed dining room tables to seat 10).
With the right software and CRM, collecting valuable online data generates insight into the customers’ specific needs and wants. Real information, captured in real-time, directly from the people interested in your products. From there, you can use the data to personalize the follow-up and lead-nurture process for more prospect engagement and brand loyalty.
More than Just a Customer Persona
Technology allows for a deeper understanding of consumers. Not only do you learn more about your customers through their actions, but you can also create a better experience online to stand out from the competition. Give website visitors the opportunity to interact with your brand, while also providing the information they need.
Understand what customers want while shopping. Offer interactive engagement opportunities like quizzes and assessments, live chat or online financing pre-qualification. Even better, with AI-driven software you can ensure your website remembers the customer’s previous visit, suggesting options and incentives based on prior behavior. These personalized, guided interactions will shape how the customer views your brand and build a feeling of welcome and value.
Buyer personas may attract shoppers to your website, but leverage personalization to move them along the customer journey toward a purchase.
Customer Data Helps You to Focus on Personalization
Not only does personalization benefit your customer, but it also translates into customizing your company’s operations. Your customers’ behavior and data should drive your business decisions.
If your target consumers continually search for specific products or services you don’t currently offer or do offer but don’t prominently market, demand exists and justifies expanding your offerings or adjusting your ad and website copy to meet the need. If prospects routinely drop off the website after reviewing pricing on your website, it may be time to run some competitive intelligence.
Analyze and use data from your CRM to help your sales team nurture leads and convert them into sales. Generate automated and personalized emails with AI-driven technology to get shoppers back to your website or in the door. Track the average number of touches necessary to result in a purchase, and adjust your approach based on the analytics.
It may feel counterintuitive to rely on technology to build personal relationships and really get to know your customers, yet with more than 80% of shoppers beginning their shopping journey online, the power of personalization makes it possible — and imperative.
While your auto dealership may be closed or having to adjust the way consumers are allowed to interact, it is important to capitalize on the opportunity to provide your shoppers a great customer experience that begins on your website so that they choose to buy from you … whether that’s now or in the future. It is a crucial time for you to adapt to a digital sales approach. Follow these best practices to keep your dealership running smoothly to continue to gain revenue.
Personalize the Car Buying Experience
Personalize the buying experience to connect with prospective shoppers. Using tools such as text messaging, video chats, and 1:1 appointments will enable your sales team to make connections with shoppers without seeing them in-person.
Just because your dealership may be closed to the public, doesn’t mean test drives have to stop. It is time to bring the vehicle straight to the consumer by offering virtual and at-home test drives. Virtual test drives allow the shopper to experience the car from the comfort of their own home. Utilizing tools like FaceTime and Skype allows you to show off the features of the vehicle for your shoppers.
In addition to virtual test drives, you can also offer 1:1 at-home test drives. By offering at-home test drives, you can bring the car to the consumer who may be skeptical about leaving the house. Be sure to sanitize the steering wheel and handles of the car before and after the drive.
Adjust your communication with vehicle shoppers
The buying experience has changed and so should your communication with shoppers. Use this crisis as an opportunity to update your language and tailor your message to a more personalized approach.
Updating your banner ads and Call to Actions (CTAs) on your website is an easy and effective way to continue to drive traffic and sales. Changing the language on the banners allows your shoppers to see how you are catering to them during this time. Let them know that you are offering new virtual test drives, or to promote OEM deals or dealership trade offers.
Use emails to notify shoppers of special offers or financing that is currently going on. Email blasts are an effective way to reach your shoppers while still keeping the message personal to each shopper.
Lastly, updating your website to include chat bots and text messaging features allows your sales team to connect instantly with shoppers, rather than waiting for them to fill out a lead form and then calling the shopper back.
Communicate how you plan to keep your shoppers safe
The No. 1 priority should be putting your shoppers at ease. Follow these tips and tricks to make shoppers feel safe while in your showroom.
- Make “special appointment” service hours available.
- Communicate with shoppers the steps you’re taking to keep them safe online and by email.
- Keep the pipeline for sales open by having one-on-one conversations through video consultations.
- Post your cleaning practices around your showroom.
- Avoid shaking hands with customers. Place markers on the floor if you have waiting spaces signaling 6 feet.
- Clearly communicate changes with shoppers, like home deliveries, store hours and when your team is available.
- Add extra hand sanitizing stations around the showroom.
Check out this Crisis Mitigation Guide from our partner Kain Automotive.
Additional Auto Resources
The largest prize ever to be awarded in the FATWIN sweepstakes sponsored by PERQ and Larry H. Miller Dealerships has been claimed by 52-year-old Michael Bozner of Glendale, Arizona.
Bozner was presented with a ceremonial $100,000 check at the Larry H. Miller Toyota Peoria dealership in a ceremony on January 22. The actual cash prize will be paid out in five yearly installments of $20,000 each.
Family Visits Dealership and wins PERQ FATWIN Sweepstakes
Bozner says his 13-year-old son was going through the mail, found a flyer for the FATWIN Black Friday giveaway event and convinced him to go down to the Larry H. Miller Toyota Peoria dealership to see if they were a winner.
Bozner was skeptical and told his son it couldn’t be that easy to win.
“He was pretty persistent so that he could have something to drive,” Bozner laughed. “We went down and the salesman asked me some questions. Then I tried my luck, hit the screen with my number and the salesman looked at me and said ‘Oh my God! You just won $100,000!’ My boys were bouncing around. I have to give my son credit for going through my mail!”
“It was incredibly exciting to see Mr. Bozner win a $100,000 grand prize during our Black Friday weekend event. His excitement was contagious, and was felt by the salesperson assisting him, other customers in the showroom, and the entire team at the dealership,” said Jay Carley, general manager, Larry H. Miller Toyota Peoria. “We hope this prize enriches Michael and his family’s lives.”
FATWIN, a technology product of PERQ, has been used to give away millions in prizes through online games and register-to-win promotions.
This is the largest prize ever won through the FATWIN promotions.
“We’ve had some $25,000 prizes given away, countless TVs, wireless earbuds and other valuable prizes,” says PERQ Senior Account Manager Ashley Beck Cuellar. “But, nothing compares to the excitement of finding out we had a $100,000 winner! We’ve been so excited to work with Mr. Bozner to get him his winnings and assure him it really was that easy.”
Plans for the FATWIN Winnings
Bozner has owned his own auto repair shop for more than 20 years and has an affinity for cars. He’s already bought a new drag racing vehicle with the money, paid off some credit cards and his wife is planning to remodel the bathroom.
But, don’t worry. He didn’t forget the son who asked him to take the flyer to the dealership in the first place or his other nine-year-old. Both boys got some cash to spend in any way they want or to save.
Bozner says he may not be so cynical in the future. “I’m happy and I’ll look at things a little differently,” he says. “I did think maybe I was on a lucky streak and bought some lottery tickets. That didn’t work out as well!”
Click here to watch the news coverage of the ceremony.
Building any kind of relationship, personal or professional, takes time and effort. With the vast majority of consumers starting their research online before investing in a big-ticket purchase, it’s more important than ever to find new ways to start building that trust and commitment to your brand from the moment they click on the company website.
Upping your website game as well as upgrading the internal tools your team uses to analyze and organize online consumer data will help you stand out from the crowd and close more sales. An AI-driven website paired with personalized lead follow-up gives your online customers a shopping experience that’s comparable to the dedicated service they’ll receive when they finally visit in person.
To unlock a top-notch consumer journey for your online leads, keep in mind these 4 keys to forming a successful relationship from the get-go.
1. Prioritize Leads and Important Information
Improving the lead follow-up process starts with collecting better data on each online consumer who visits the website or clicks on a digital ad. Add interactive web experiences to increase engagement with your brand and also gain opportunities to learn more about each consumer who engages with the quizzes, incentives and digital tools you add to the site.
By tying an AI-driven interactive website to a marketing cloud and aggregating all online consumer data in a CRM system, companies can store all consumer data in a centralized spot for better analysis and lead organization. A quality CRM can help your sales team sort leads and prioritize consumers ready to take action right away, and track every touchpoint along the way.
“We utilize our CRM to leverage our data as best we can,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential, headquartered in Denver. “We overlay our website insights in terms of prospect engagement with a series of other data points, from our property management software and Google Analytics, just to better understand the activity of the consumer.”
Julia Critelli, General Manager at Critelli’s Fine Furniture, uses the website information stored in a cloud-based, connected CRM to sort and prioritize “hot leads” the sales associates should pursue first.
“We can also see how many deals are open and the value of those deals, along with probability of sale,” Critelli says. “I’m able to export certain lists or organize it in different ways, which I think is a good tool for myself and the sales staff.”
2. Personalize Lead Follow-Up
Knowing exactly which experiences a lead interacted with online and seeing what they’re searching for on the website gives your team a leg up on the lead follow-up process. The sales team can personalize their responses and tailor the information they provide the consumer to prioritize what features they indicated online they’re most interested in. Feeling like you already know them and their preferences helps establish a relationship with the consumer before you ever meet in person.
“It helps be more personable in our responses,” says Chris Berry, Senior Regional Manager at First Communities based in Atlanta. “We’re able to tailor our response, whether it be in an email or a phone call. I encourage my team to use that information gathered on the website, and don’t just send a cookie cutter response telling them something they already know.”
To eliminate the extra work for your sales team, consider automating email or text nurturing through a marketing cloud and CRM database. When connected to an AI-driven CRM, automated emails and text messages are personalized based on each consumer’s information and timeframe for purchasing.
3. Communicate with Consumers on Their Terms
Do you know what time of day your customers prefer to be contacted and their preferred method of communication? That’s valuable lead information that’s unique to your industry and market, so be sure to collect that data whenever possible.
For the multifamily industry, PERQ online data shows 48% of prospects prefer to be contacted in the morning hours and 54% like emails from properties over other forms of communication. Emails tops the list for the majority of home furnishing customers PERQ surveyed as well, although the data shows text is quickly becoming a favored form of communication for consumers across all industries.
However, every person is different. You know that friend who always responds to texts with an unwarranted phone call and leaves voicemails you never check? Don’t cross that miscommunication line as a company trying to connect on a personal level with a consumer.
To increase your chance of successfully building a lasting relationship, offer a variety of communication avenues for consumers who wish to reach out to your company with questions or to gather additional details, such as an online chat-to-text tool in addition to email and phone options.
Big Sandy Home Furnishings Superstore recently introduced text-to-chat on the store website and are finding consumers who use the feature are highly engaged and more likely to convert than the average online visitor.
“They’re further along in the buying cycle,” President Bryan Scott says. “The interesting thing though is it seems like it’s all ages of demographics who engage. Everybody wants to text now.”
4. Manage Leads Through Entire Consumer Journey
Consumers who divulge personal information and devote significant time when researching on a company’s website expect you’ll reciprocate in the relationship, giving them something in return. Reward their commitment with relevant incentives to entice them to take the next step, and offer them your team’s industry knowledge and personalized advice to make them feel like they have a friend in the business.
Even if you don’t manage the newest property on the block or run the biggest retail furniture superstore this side of the Mississippi, you can win the battle for a consumer’s heart by delivering outstanding, personalized service.
“That’s where customer service and a more tailored leasing experience — and resident experience — becomes crucial,” Eppsteiner says. “That’s the only way you can compete with a new build or a bigger company with a bigger budget.”
Utilize technology to follow leads throughout the consumer journey, touching base every step of the way to offer helpful guidance. Continue that commitment to concierge-type customer service beyond the lease or sale and build long-term loyalty that only comes with time and consistent work.
Scott says being able to track the entire buying journey online makes all the difference when trying to connect with a customer. “It helps us build that relationship with the consumer before they actually come through the door,” he says. “We know all about them and we’re able to build trust.”
The concepts of AI technology and digital marketing don’t typically make the priority list when companies contemplate new ways to elevate their customer service experience. Let a computer automatically nurture leads?
For those who don’t fully understand how artificial intelligence works and the best way to utilize new business technology tools like a marketing cloud, the concept of online customer service seems counterintuitive. Yet, it’s the very key to successful consumer engagement in an online world that offers too many choices and endless access to internet research, resulting in shortened attention spans and higher demands for instant information.
Marketing clouds powered by AI aren’t designed to steal jobs, but rather make your employees more efficient and effective at their jobs by using a data-based approach that can adjust in real time as new data flows in from your website, digital advertising campaigns and in-person transactions. With everything connected, adjusted automatically and tracked in great detail, the online leads generated from an AI-powered solution guarantee your customers and your team enjoy a tailored customer service experience that makes buying (and selling) easier.
Instead of using your online website as an e-commerce platform or as a digital brochure, technology makes your strongest asset available online: your people, physical inventory and services like in-house designers or taking a tour of a rental property. It’s that customer service element that sets your company apart from giant corporations competing online for a share of your local market.
“Your job is to create a memorable website experience that’s both convenient and helpful as online shoppers research and narrow down choices from the comfort of their homes, while also highlighting the value of your in-store resources,” says Scott Hill, PERQ Co-Founder and Executive Chairman.
Here are 5 tips on how to create an influential customer service experience online that’s sure to capture and convert more leads, while giving your brand a big boost at the same time.
1. Give Consumers Information They Want Online
Don’t hold back on pricing and other details consumers seek when shopping online, thinking it will push them to visit in person. Our research shows they’ll likely bounce to a competitor’s website or click around Google and social media until they find what they want, because someone in your market — a competitor, manufacturer or industry group — surely offers the details or planning tools they’re searching for online. Help the customer help themselves.
“It gives transparency,” says Sandra Dellolio, internet manager at Atlantic Auto Mall in New York, of the leasing calculator and other interactive online tools available on the dealership’s website. “Especially in the car business, people go online because they absolutely want to have the knowledge before they go into a dealership. This is a way to show them what they want before they know what they want.”
2. Deliver a Connected Consumer Experience
Adding interactive tools on your website personalizes the shopping experience as it gathers lead data from each visitor who engages with them. You’re moving them closer to a decision by helping them along the consumer journey and narrowing down what they want to buy, while also delivering a customer service experience that mirrors the service your staff offers in person.
“The beauty of [the website experience] is that they’re designed to engage our guests in natural, small steps,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s furniture and appliance retail stores in central Illinois. “We can’t jump straight from awareness to asking for the sale. It’s much easier for the guest to make those micro-commitments, leading them further down the path to purchase without feeling like they’re being ‘sold to.’”
By connecting all of your online platforms through AI and cloud technology, the customer gets an online shopping experience that feels personal, like you know exactly what they’re looking for online.
3. Show Online Customers the Exact Product They Want
Embed helpful planning tools in your automated emails and digital advertising to drive traffic back to the website and keep consumers engaged throughout the lead nurturing process. AI and cloud technology tracks where each lead is at in the process, which touchpoints they’ve encountered along the way and what they’ve looked at online, then automatically serves the consumer with customized incentives, emails and website prompts every time they return.
With machine learning, a type of AI programming, cloud software can learn and adapt its content based on a company’s own lead data compared alongside millions of other aggregated data points gathered across markets and similar industries. It can predict the type of person most likely to buy from a particular company, show where those people are most likely to be reached, and deliver the best experience proven to convert that lead type. Gathering all of that data helps AI-driven software deliver the most relevant results for each individual website visitor, making their online shopping experience easy and intuitive — a sure win in the customer service department.
4. Capture Lead Data to Better Nurture Online Leads
AI technology gives companies the power to collect detailed online lead data far beyond what the standard static contact form offers the sales staff. It can then use that intel to automatically nurture consumers via personalized emails pertinent to their search and customized digital ads with calls to action.
Your sales or leasing staff get a detailed consumer journey that accounts for every device a lead used to look you up online and every visit, something most analytic programs can’t do. That allows salespeople to see the big picture and not just the last thing the consumer searched before coming in to visit.
“That personal touch is a nice way to develop instant rapport with a prospect,” says Cindy Scanlan, Director of Operations at Thalhimer, a property management company with apartment communities in Virginia and North Carolina.
Capitalize on that lead information to give the consumer a personal customer service experience that will make an impression, and save the shopper valuable time by starting the sales pitch right where they left off online.
5. Automate the Process to Focus on Live Interactions
Automating the lead capturing and nurturing process frees up your staff’s resources, so they can spend more quality time taking care of the customers who walk in the door ready to buy right now. It’s more efficient and effective than doing everything manually, and sure to be more consistent than any human.
Home Inspirations Thomasville in New Jersey automated its email nurturing campaign in late 2018, sending emails to website registrants that are personal, geared toward their interests, and scheduled and designed around the buying timeline the customer submits on the website.
“Our goal is to let the customer know we are there to assist them in any way, whether that be with design and we invite them into the store to work with our design team for a complimentary consultation or whatever else they require,” says Ed Massood, owner of Home Inspirations Thomasville.
With the right technological solutions, implementing an online customer service experience that converts online leads can be both affordable and easy. It also makes marketing decisions more effective, saving businesses additional time and resources.
More data and analysis mean more insights and better tracking of leads, ROI and results. That empowers your company to make smarter, data-driven decisions on what exactly your customers are looking for and how to best give them that shopping experience online.
Interactive website technology captures detailed lead data on each person who engages with it and entices online shoppers to submit contact information. Companies can leverage consumer data to target their sales approach, change the lead management process, improve business amenities, and gain insight into what consumers want in their market.
“It gives us better information on what prospects are most interested in when looking to rent and makes it much easier for us to get the information to contact them,” says Sandy Carmin, Director of Property Management at Englert Management Corporation.
Consumer data collected on the Englert websites also led its property managers to readjust their lead follow-up process. “We have evolved in how we contact prospects. Previously, it was mainly phone. Now, we constantly monitor email to return inquiries promptly in the way they prefer to be contacted,” Carmin says. “Most inquiries ask for email returns and we like to honor that request. We prefer phone calls so we can actually talk to a prospect, but email seems to be the preferred contact method.”
Improve Your Business Based on Customer Data
Prospective renters who took the Community Fit Assessment on websites that use the PERQ Online Guided Shopping solution rank socializing with friends, being outdoors and shopping as their top three priorities when looking for a new place to live, according to PERQ’s Consumer Insights. Englert capitalized on these trends by adding renter social events at their Indiana and Illinois multifamily communities.
“We’ve increased our resident functions, such as wine tastings, smores around the fire pit, ice cream socials, garage sales, and a pet pool party,” Carmin says. “We have a property with an older demographic and they love coffee hours in our office.”
Capture Consumer Data to Customize Communications
Getting specific customer data from each website visitor enhances communication, says Sandra Dellolio, BDC Manager at Atlantic Automall in West Islip, N.Y. The dealership created website lead follow-up templates that are customizable based on information captured through online interactive experiences as well as tracking consumer data that shows where the online visitor clicked and which pages they spent time on.
“We can see they have a vehicle valued between $2,500 and $3,000 based on the trade-in tool, so we’ll mention that specific range and invite them to come into the showroom because our manager thinks we might be able to get them an even better deal,” Dellolio says. “If they looked at specific Toyota models online, we’ll use that information when we contact them.”
Use Consumer Data to Track Lead-to-Sale Conversion
Ed Massood, owner of Home Inspirations Thomasville, says his company converts close to 20% of its website leads by nurturing those consumers through the buying process with the detailed lead data captured on his home furnishings website. His New Jersey retail stores plug that consumer data into automated email drip campaigns to keep leads engaged, personalizing both the timing and messaging.
Massood also uses customer data to backtrack and see when a website lead comes into the store and spends money, or when a shopper visits the showroom and then goes home to browse the store website.
“It’s a good way of tracking the dollars these leads are generating and how those leads convert in the store,” Massood says. “The insights we’re gathering online are invaluable, from seeing what customers are looking for and making sure if we see a trend that we represent it in the store, to learning that some customers are shopping purely for price and standardizing how to respond to those pricing requests.”
Website visitors who hand over their personal information in exchange for helpful guidance tend to be more qualified, engaged buyers who are serious about making a purchase, so make the most of the details they volunteer consumer data.
“We try to understand the customers who are participating in our process,” Massood says. “They take the time to engage, so it’s valuable data from people already interacting with your brand.”