Autobytel has helped tens of millions of automotive consumers research vehicles, connected thousands of dealers nationwide with motivated car buyers, and helped every major automaker market its brand online.1
Since 1995, Autobytel has revolutionized the automotive marketplace by pioneering Internet innovations to enhance the vehicle shopping process. The launch of www.Autobytel.com gave auto dealers and manufacturers a faster, easier, more effective way to connect with consumers and help them find the right vehicle to meet their needs. Since then, the company has continued to provide consumers with a comprehensive and positive automotive research experience, while offering auto dealers, dealer groups and auto manufacturers one of the industry's most productive and cost-effective customer referral and marketing programs.
As a result, Autobytel has maintained its strong market leadership position and generated outstanding financial results for its investors. In 2014, the company achieved a series of record-breaking revenue goals, including a 39 percent annual gross margin and 84 percent growth in non-GAAP income.2
"We founded this industry 20 years ago, and since that time it's evolved quite a bit," said Jeff Coats president and CEO of Autobytel. "Our goal is to continue to be recognized as the market leader and provide in-market consumers to our dealer and OEM partners to help them sell more cars. We began working with IHS Markit many years ago as an internal quality measurement and four years ago expanded our relationship to include valuable insight for our clients. Today, IHS Markit is a trusted partner."
Measuring Success: Credibility, Consistency
Autobytel previously lacked a consistent and sustainable method of measuring the effectiveness of its efforts to connect consumers to dealers and auto manufacturers. "We started working with IHS Markit because we had little visibility into the 'closed' results. We'd put a consumer in touch with one of the over 4,000 dealers we work with, but we didn't know what happened next. Or if we did get sales reporting from our clients, the methodology would be inconsistent. We wouldn't know if the consumer had bought a car or not. The evidence of our lead quality was anecdotal at best," said Rich Shugg, Director Strategic Accounts, Autobytel.
Using IHS Markit automotive vehicle registration information to determine the number of retail vehicle sales of consumers submitting leads through the Autobytel network made sense to company leaders. "We have a direct relationship with more than 20 OEMs so using IHS Markit data, with consistent measurement results is important," said Shugg. It was important for our data to be procured by an independent third party industry expert like IHS Markit. We compare close to100 percent of our leads against an IHS Markit unique data set so this is not a "snapshot in time or a small survey."
On our earnings call, our President and CEO Jeff Coats spoke about how IHS Markit aggregated vehicle registration information helps drive our success by giving us key metrics to assist in developing our plans going forward.
Converting Leads into Proven Sales
Now Autobytel can prove to its customers if consumers submitting purchase requests through the Autobytel network resulted in sales of a new or used vehicle from a specific dealer (in non-restricted states).
"Leveraging IHS Markit aggregated vehicle registration information in the lead-to-sale process helps Autobytel quantify and optimize the value and impact of our solution to our customers," said John Steerman, Senior Vice President of Mobile, Lead Operations and Product Development. "We also find a lot of value in being able to tell dealers they are losing sales. In the industry, for example, there's a perception that a Honda dealer's primary competition is the Honda dealer down the street. But, the reality is that many people are still considering multiple brands, so the competition is really every dealer in the area."
Automotive dealers access their own IHS Markit results from Autobytel's dealer extranet to better understand how they can position themselves against the competition and actually see who their competition is. Specifically, they can see "who they are losing sales to; which store location (in non-restricted states); which make; and which financing source," said Shugg. Armed with these insights, dealers can work with Autobytel to improve their marketing and sales processes to turn more leads into sales. Both dealers and OEMs are able to optimize their online marketing strategies.
Enhancing Lead Quality, Marketing and Sales
With the help of IHS Markit, Autobytel now has a consistent, accurate, data-driven approach to help their customers develop more effective digital marketing programs. In addition, the company continually leverages IHS Markit data to determine which lead sources and destinations generate the best results.
"In the past, we had no real way of understanding if something worked or didn't work," said Shugg."Now, we have a closed-loop process.We have an efficient, reliable way to test new approaches so we can easily turn campaigns on - or off - if they don't deliver the expected results. And we can do so at a faster pace than before."
Gaining fresh insights into consumer vehicle shopping behaviors has led Autobytel to work with dealers to change their internet sales process," said Steerman."What we've seen from the information that IHS Markit shows us is that many people submit a lead for a new car but then buy a used car, and vice-versa. So, we coach dealers to present used car options to new car shoppers and new car options to used car shoppers."
Autobytel actively leverages its quantified lead performance evidence during dealer presentations "We use data from IHS Markit as a sales tool with individual dealers, and with the entire industry," said Steerman.
Delivering Bottom-Line Results
In 2014, Autobytel generated 6.6 million leads, up 30 percent from the previous year.Consumers submitting leads through the Autobytel network accounted for 4.35 percent of all U.S. new vehicle retail sales.3 Autobytel's leadership team feels that its partnership with IHS Markit helps the company maintain its market leadership position."On our earnings call, our President and CEO Jeff Coats spoke about how the IHS Markit unique data sethelps drive our success by giving us key metrics to assist in developing our plans going forward," said Steerman.
For many dealers, the investment in working with Autobytel delivers a positive ROI starting with their first sale. With an estimated close rate of 18 percent, for internally generated leads, Autobytel's leads close at three times the rate of the estimated industry average and, that is a point of company pride and market leadership cited by Jeff Coats in Autobytel's latest earnings call: "Our lead quality and close rate is superior to anyone else in the market."
"Everyone in this industry is data-driven, and now we are able to work with our clients to provide insights they otherwise wouldn't have. So, it's a great story for us as we have earnings calls and follow-up calls with individual investors and analysts that follow our stock because they see this capability as a real differentiator for us," said Steerman.
Over time, Autobytel's strategic goals have evolved significantly."What started as a way to gauge the quality of our leads has essentially turned into a key metric contributing to how we run our business," Shugg concluded."IHS Markit has become part of our DNA.We know we can count on IHS Markit to support our objectives as we continue to evolve."
1 Autobytel United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K Feb 26, 2015 - http://investor.autobytel.com/secfiling.cfm?filingID=1415889-15-724&CIK=1023364
2 Autobytel earnings call, February 15, 2015: http://investor.autobytel.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=898723
3 Sales number from Automotive/Autobytel Collaborative Study based on consumers that submitted a lead through the Autobytel network. Automotive is part of IHS Markit Inc. IHS Markit acquired R.L. Polk in 2013