A Conversation with Ashley Mabery, Director of Retail Performance at ZMOT


Ashley Mabery ZMOT HeadshotAshley Marbery, Director of Retail Performance at ZMOT, works with dealerships across the United States, Mexico, and Canada to bring them integrated digital marketing and retail sale solutions and strategies to increase ROI and profit. Ashley has distinguished herself as an expert in sales processes, and has helped countless dealerships achieve more. We sat down with Ashley to discuss the role of BDCs, how dealers can get the most out of their BDC, and best practices in dealership management.

How did you end up working in the auto industry?

Like so many people in the industry, accidentally. I was 17 years old, and I had just moved to Orange County. I had no job, no car, and no phone. I needed a job, and was willing to do anything really. I saw an ad that said, “Sell cars– no experience preferred.” I thought– hey, I don’t have any experience. I had never even been to a dealership before.

To be honest, I had no real intention of staying at that job. I always wanted to go into the publishing industry, and become an acquisition editor. I wanted to go to school and study creative writing. I figured I’d just work at this dealership until I found something better.

Well, once I started, that changed. I fell in love with the job. I was naturally good at it, and I loved that every new person that I met presented a new challenge. I was really lucky that the dealership was small, the kind where everyone has to do everything. The finance manager was fired about two months after I started working there, so rather than hiring a new finance manager, they taught us all how to do his job– we would call in our own financing, and structure our own deals. We got to learn every aspect of the business.

As time progressed and I began managing others, I found myself creating processes, digging into our CRM, and building automation. That’s when I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my career. At the same time, e-books were coming out, and the publishing industry was in a tailspin. I had to make a decision– was I going to give up this career that I was starting to love, or move to New York and try to work as an intern for two years in an industry that might not even exist anymore? As they say, the rest is history.

Can you tell us a bit about ZMOT and what you do for them?

Absolutely. ZMOT is a digital marketing and consulting company for auto dealers. We’re actually part of a much larger group of companies that includes the Cardinale Automotive Group, which has 19 stores mostly in the Western region. ZMOT was originally created to support those dealerships; because of this, it was built with the idea of helping dealerships focus on both the generation and conversion side of digital. In terms of my specific role– I wear a lot of hats. My main focus is to lead our retail performance department. Simply put, we serve as account managers for our clients. Our retail performance managers have all been handpicked. They all have extensive retail automotive background, so they truly understand the unique challenges inside a dealership and can communicate with them in a way most vendors can’t. Our department works with clients to optimize their marketing strategy and opportunity generation tactics, and follows-up by conducting weekly calls to see how these opportunities are converting. It’s important to us that the same person that speaks with you every day about generating opportunities is also helping to determine the best way to turn those opportunities into what the dealer is looking for: a sale.

At the end of the day, dealerships care about how many units they’re selling and how much gross they are making. For us, we want our dealers to succeed in getting an ROI from the money that they’re investing; I think this approach is why dealers choose us. We point things out that they don’t notice. Not every store is fortunate enough to be able to afford a marketing director that looks at everything from every angle, to see how leads are being handled by the BDC down the line. We offer that type of insight, as a partner.

While we’re on that topic, let’s dive into BDCs. You consult on a lot of BDCs, and have probably seen the best and worst. What are some of the key characteristics that makes a BDC successful?

I think it’s actually really simple. The two factors that are going to make or break your department are having a really solid BDC director, and continued training and education.

Interesting. Our follow-up question to that would obviously be, what do you look for in a BDC director?

A BDC director is a hard position to fill. You’re looking for a lot of different things in that person. I think most importantly they need to be organized and detail-oriented, because they’re going to be handling a lot of different things. They need to be an expert on your CRM, and if they’re not, they need to have the ability to learn it quickly and thoroughly.

In addition, they have to be a great coach. Training should take place daily, weekly, and monthly. The department can’t succeed without it. Just as importantly, they should be familiar with areas outside of the BDC– they need to understand how financing works, how to structure a deal, how the sales floor functions. A lot of the communication issues that I see between the floor and the BDC happen because each department doesn’t understand the other. When BDC agents need to escalate a client call, they should really be going to the BDC Director for help instead of going straight to the Sales Manager. I hear a lot of stories about BDC agents becoming frustrated because they needed help, and the Sales Manager didn’t call the client back for three hours. Obviously, this is unacceptable– no one should wait three hours for a call. What the BDC agent might not realize is that the Manager is also desking five deals at once and has a customer waiting for them on the showroom floor. If a BDC Director is of sales manager-caliber, though, they can handle these opportunities themselves, and only hand off the customer to the Sales Manager when they actually come in for an appointment. The Director can use these types of interactions as training opportunities for the rest of their team. The BDC Director needs to be fantastic on the phone– they can’t be afraid to actually take calls if they hear some that are going downhill. If they’re going to coach others, they need to be the best themselves.

So aside from hiring the wrong BDC Director, what are some of the most common mistakes dealerships make when setting up a BDC?

The biggest issue that I see is understaffing. It’s scary for dealerships to add expenses to the bottom line. Many dealers pay their salespeople based 100% on commission, so paying a base salary to BDC reps (in addition to commission) can lead dealers to hold back when hiring. Some want to start with only one person in the BDC, but that’s really setting up the department for failure from the get-go. With one person, you have what I call a “sometimes process.” When that person is out, the BDC shuts down. Your process should be in place all the time. With more people choosing the digital path, your BDC will likely be the first impression of your dealership, and you need to invest in it accordingly.

The other mistake I see, as we discussed, is not investing in the right person to lead the department. If you want someone of a certain caliber, you need to invest in them according to their caliber. The BDC Director should be a leader in the dealership– they should report to the GM and owner, and should be seen as a GSM-level employee. The BDC Director should be at all meetings and should have a say in the store’s future. If the GM or Owner doesn’t feel like they can trust them, they should either coach up or coach out: get that person to a place where you can trust them, or find someone that you do. It’s just too important of a position.

With so much research being conducted online and most leads coming in from digital sources, it does seem that the BDC is only going to become even more important.

Every BDC is set up differently, but most of them handle internet leads. So many dealerships are shifting their focus from traditional to digital marketing, and are spending 50-60% of their overall marketing budget on digital– it only makes sense then to invest accordingly in the BDC. You work so hard to drive people to convert, that, of course, you should find the very best people to represent your dealership on the other side.

How do you think a BDC should be educated in terms of how they approach different types of leads?

Personalization is key. Whenever I speak to a BDC, I have them do the following exercise: think of a time when you had to call a bank. You are asked for your name, account number, PIN number, the last four digits of your social security number, and probably your first-born child. You provide them with this information and tell them about the problem you’re having. They then transfer you to someone else, and the next person asks you the exact questions you just spent ten minutes answering. Thinking about this experience elicits the emotion and frustration that we’ve all experienced so many times. I then tell the BDC reps that this what customers feel when they aren’t given personalized attention. Imagine the frustration they feel when you have no idea where they came from, and you do not answer their questions.

Your BDC reps should understand the whole process of how a customer got to you, and experience it for themselves. They should actually visit your site and pretend to be a customer, so they know what the client goes through before submitting their information. The BDC rep then also understands what to look for in a lead’s details so that the follow-up conversation is educated and personalized. Further, BDC Directors should build a lead persona for each lead type that comes in– a buyer who converted on “Get ePrice” is not going to get the same response as someone who wants a test drive.

It does seem like the name of the game in today’s market is personalization.

Think about it– if someone actually took the time to type “Does this car come with leather seats,” they are probably going to be pretty annoyed if you call and don’t answer the question. They don’t want you to tell them to come in and check it out– they would like to know if it comes with leather seats. Don’t simply add them to an email campaign and send them messages about how you are family-owned for 50 years– they don’t really care about that right now, because they just want to know if the car comes in leather. In this case, the best case scenario is that they get agitated and respond by asking their question again. More likely, they move on and reach out to other dealerships who will give them a better experience.

And that is what we’re all trying to do– give customers the best experience possible.

Exactly. The crazy thing is is that it’s not so hard to do– and not many people are doing it. Right now, if you can do this well, you will really stand out amongst your competition. As a dealership, you should think of how you can be of service to the client, instead of having them be of service to you. If you approach them in this way and treat them like real people, you’re so much more likely to get an appointment, and eventually a sale. You’ll also get a better return on all of the investment dollars that you’re spending on digital marketing.

So if a dealer wants to see how well their BDC is performing, what types of metrics should they look at?

BDCs are all set up differently, and a lot of this will depend on what types of opportunities they handle, but I think one of the major metrics to look at is the volume of leads per rep, to see if you are understaffed or overstaffed. You want to be sure that your reps are able to handle the volume that they are being given. You should also look at each rep’s activity– how many calls they are making, how many texts or emails they are sending, etc. The easiest way to do so is to break it down per hour– when we sit down with a BDC, they will generally tell me that they’re making 45 outbound engagements per day per rep, which is pretty dismal when you think about it in terms of hours. When you ask a rep if they think they can make 15 calls an hour, they usually do. The same question phrased in terms of per day (125 calls per day) sounds overwhelming, but the result is the same!

Another important metric to look at is your contact-to-appointment ratio. This number will allow you to determine if your reps need more training on the phone, or if they simply need more people to speak to. If they get a hold of 85% of their leads but only set an appointment with 10% of them, they need to get better on the phone. Likewise, if a rep sets an appointment 75% of the time but they are not setting so many appointments, you need to make sure they make more outbound calls, because they’re very successful once they’re actually on the phone.

There are a few other important numbers to look at. For one, your show ratio. This number can show you how qualified your leads are, and can inform your strategy accordingly. I also like to look at the average amount of time between appointment date and appointment creation. Your reps should be trained to create a sense of urgency and bring customers in quickly. People’s lives get busy, and, to be honest, you’re not the most important thing to them when their kid reminds them about parent-teacher conferences.

A final metric that I don’t see very many BDCs tracking is profitability. How much are you paying for each unit that is sold from the BDC? You should be looking at the total cost of running your BDC, and how many units were sold as a result of it. I’ve seen dealerships shut down their BDC because of a lack of profitability– they don’t see ROI from the department. The BDC Director should be able to prove the profitability of their department. They should focus on how much money their team is generating for the dealership, how much it is costing, and what is its net gross. Every department in the dealership needs to be profitable, and being able to prove that a BDC is will make a GM and owner believe in the department and invest in it accordingly.

Well if I was a BDC Director I would definitely think more about the way my department is run after hearing all of this. On a lighter note, if you could give your car one super power, what would it be?

I’m not sure if it would still be considered a car, but teleportation for sure. I always want to save time– I love to drive, but being able to get from Point A to Point B in the blink of an eye would be incredible. I would love to be able to see my family back in California and still be back in Detroit for my 9AM meeting.

If you ever do find that car, please let us know.

If any of the readers out there are working on teleportation, I have a group of people who would definitely be interested in investing, so be in touch!