Last week, I joined in on an interesting forum discussion with DrivingSales’ own Adam Shiflett regarding the relevancy of leads. According to Shiflett, many dealers he had talked to have recently noticed a significant decline in lead volume and conversion rate.

One thing that Shiflett mentioned that was particularly interesting was that he had seen a steady increase in younger consumers visiting these dealership websites. In addition to seeing increased traffic from younger consumers, there was also a swift increase in mobile visits to their websites — which can be rightfully concluded as a direct correlation.

If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that younger consumers aren’t as willing to relinquish their information as some older consumers — especially in a mobile format that isn’t particularly convenient to fill information out on.

As we continue to see a steady increase in newer, more tech-savvy car drivers, Adam Schiflett asks a bold but not completely logical question: Are lead forms (and leads) “going the way of the Dodo?”

When you’re seemingly doing everything right and you’re not seeing any results, then yeah, it sure might seem that way. But what if it just so happens that the definition of a “lead” is simply changing or evolving?

As I’ve mentioned time and time again, the industry standard for lead capture is evolving. However, there are still quite a few dealerships who rely heavily on static lead forms to create opportunities. While static lead forms captured lots of leads back in the day, consumer engagement technology has become far more effective at nabbing a consumer’s attention and getting them to convert.

Although part of the older generations (Generation X-ers & Baby Boomers, more specifically) might still prefer to interact with a salesperson vs. using online technology, the large majority of those younger generations that Shiflett refers to have historically preferred to do research on their own until they’re much closer to completing a transaction with the dealership. And let’s be honest with ourselves: this new generation of tech-savvy, smartphone-toting drivers is only continuing to grow. These are just young kids anymore, they’re in their 30’s now and slowly taking over the consumer market.

Instead of filling out a lead form to request information from a salesperson, younger consumers prefer to seek out the information on their own. Before speaking with a live person that will no doubt act as a salesperson more than a resource, consumers like to make use of self-service tools on dealership websites that provide them with everything they need: calculators, assessments, shopping guides, utilities to configure shopping preferences, etc. Of course, the tricky part is determining the best way to capture their information after they’ve leveraged your tools or have gone through assessments.

In the majority of self-service website tools, a consumer needs to submitting their contact information while receiving any sort of additional information (ex: trade appraisal, assessment answers, e-guides, etc.). It’s really not all that surprising when you think about the fact that most of these consumers are use to using sites like Amazon, Yelp, Google, etc. They regularly carry out the complete consumer journey online in a way that is optimized to help them, help themselves.

It’s my belief that the dealer will remain a vital part of the consumer journey in the foreseeable future because it’s a large purchase. The transaction itself for most people(not all) will likely still feel much more comfortable to complete at the physical showroom, face to face. It’s easy to make sense of collecting a name and email for the sake of the consumer but not so much when it comes to their phone number.

As this trend continues to become more prominent, it’s becoming clear that dealerships need to reevaluate what the heck a lead actually is. Is a lead just someone that fills out a form and provides their contact information; or is a lead an opportunity? Do all leads need to be responded by a live person? Maybe it’s that some leads need nurturing by your automated marketing tools while others justify the dedicated of your staff resources.

Instead of immediately enticing consumers to give up their contact information, why not warm them up to the idea of volunteering their information. In this self-service age, consumers feel a need to have complete control over every aspect of their purchasing journey before they even think of speaking with someone who could help them. Forcing information to be submitted can easily be hacked and even if it is accurate, it did nothing to get them to respond when you reach out.

Collect information about them beyond contact details. Build a profile on who they are, how they want to shop and the best way to earn their business. This consumer profile can be used in real-time on your site, by your CRM or a number of other powerful AND automated tools, instead of your staff.

This new generation of consumers doesn’t want to be swayed from their initial research and they don’t want their opinions changed by someone who really wants to sell them a car. It’s simply not in the consumer’s best interest, and they know that for a fact. Give your consumers whatever resources you feel might genuinely help them along their purchasing journey — and don’t immediately expect anything in return for that information… at least not for a whole lot.

Enhanced calculators, assessments and shopping guides are all great examples of resources that consumers find extremely useful and that don’t necessarily require that they submit specific contact information (like phone numbers). The more free resources you provide, the more it incentivizes consumers to actually speak with someone from your dealership directly. One great way to do this is by providing your consumers with choices. After a consumer has done some research on your website, they might feel more confident about moving forward (or down) the purchasing the funnel.

So, let’s say a consumer has determined that after a month or so of research, they’re finally ready to speak with a representative. While doing a bit more research, a consumer fills out a “what car is best for your lifestyle?” assessment and they’re provided contact preference choices. One is a checkbox that says “Are you ready to speak with a dealer representative?” Another is a drop-down that allows consumers to indicate how they want to be contacted. Once again, this is something that gives consumers the feeling of complete control. It gives me a say in how they want to conduct research during every step of the purchasing funnel. It doesn’t get more self-service than that!

In a nutshell, the moral of the story is that consumers nowadays don’t like having someone “helicopter” over them. Car shopping isn’t taking up 100% of a consumer’s time just as selling isn’t taking up 100% of your time. Consumers have nearly complete control over most of their purchases and a high standard of being able to do it themselves. This doesn’t mean we can’t still drive more leads and higher conversion rates. We may just want to think about taking a different approach.

Instead of only capturing leads by forcing consumers to talk to a salesperson, capture lead data while consumers help themselves on your website and then leverage that data with the automated systems you have in place. Nurture the customer, warming them up until they actually want to talk to someone at the dealership.

That being said, it’s NEVER a good idea to assume that consumer who has interacted with your dealership’s website is ready to speak with a salesperson. The absolute best way to figure that out is to ask them — and you can do this with your dealership’s website. Not only should you give them room to make decisions about what they want from a car or what they want from their financing, but let them decide when the best time is to talk to someone or make a purchase. There’s no need to rush the process — especially when buying a car can be such a long, drawn-out process. Sit back, observe their behavior, and when they’re ready to come to you, they’ll let you know — and they’ll be able to arm YOU with the information you need to help them out!

Let us know! Has your dealership tried branding its price? Tell us about it in the comments!