Automotive B2B – Part A – Breaking Down the Sales Funnel

Breaking Down the Automotive B2B Sales Funnel

Companies in the automotive space that have product for dealers are facing tough challenges today growing their dealer base. Dealership leaders and decision makers are bombarded with emails, phone calls, and unannounced visits from people vying for their attention in hopes to present their product. Without an effective vendor protocol, many dealers wind up frustrated and tune out vendors.

Having been on the “vendor side” for more nearly 15 years now, I’ve had the fortune of seeing the automotive B2B sales funnel change over time as an overabundance of new products and solutions continue to hit the market each year, and with digital marketing tactics such as blogging, social media, and video, selling techniques continue to evolve as well.

Over the last few years, I’ve put together a basic framework for building on your sales funnel with dealers. It’s not rocket science, but if you approach these fundamental ideas methodically and persistently then you will find your funnel filling up quickly, providing you and your sales team a steady flow of prospects.

First Things First: Defining a Lead

If you’ve been in sales long enough, you know that the idea of a “lead” can vary from person to person, organization to organization, and system to system.

For instance, Salesforce and Insightly distinguish between a Lead and a Contact. You can import lists of people into these systems as a “lead” which you would then pursue and convert into a Contact once the Lead has met specific criteria defined by the organization.

But not all systems take this approach. I use InfusionSoft and a Contact is a Contact where you apply a Contact Type. These “types” can be defined by the organization. In my system I have Suspects, Prospects, Customers, Partners, and Vendors.

Tip: Define what a “lead” is for your organization and then build your pipeline around that definition.

Suspects, Prospects, and Hand Raisers

My funnel begins with Suspects, which are people I’ve been able to identify in some way or another, and I don’t necessarily have all of their contact information. They haven’t inquired about my product, that would be a Hand Raiser, but I’ve been able to identify them due to an action such as engaging with content in an email or in social media, or the person meets some specified criteria such as a target role within the organization.

Effectively, a Suspect is somebody I plan to begin researching to make a determination if they might be a good prospect. I call Suspects “Level 1 Leads.”

Finding Suspects

Keeping in mind that a Suspect is not a Hand Raiser, that would be a “Level 2 Lead,” what are some ways you can build on your list of suspects?

If you already have a list of emails, that could be a good starting point. Group email is tricky business and beyond the scope of this article, but it can be effective if done intelligently. Your initial goal with group email is to engage folks with your content, not your pitch.

Social media is another useful tactic. Like group email, your goal should be to engage, not pitch.

People that begin to engage with your content become your suspects. At this point, sending personalized individual emails is good. You still want to avoid being pitchy. Keep the focus on engaging them around topics, news, and ideas. The more you refrain from promoting your agenda, the more likely your suspects are to continue engaging and the less likely they are to reject you and tune you out.

Of course, you could go straight in for the pitch. This is akin to cold calling, which does yield fruit. By putting your cards on the table at the onset, you spend less time on your targets and pop out hand raisers more quickly, but over time you create a funnel that requires more and more new suspects to burn through, and you’ll probably have a difficult time differentiating yourself from others in the field.

Relationships Are Key – Get Referrals

This might sound cliche, but in this business, relationships are key, particularly when approaching influencers and decision makers at multi-franchise, multi-store groups. These “A” level entities are typically well guarded behind a fortress, so accessing them requires cleverness and patience.

Tip: Reach out to people you know that might know the person you’re attempting to contact. Also reach out to the people above them. If you can get their boss to tell you to reach out to them, this can be a useful segue when attempting to contact your target.

Step 1: Break the Ice

The first thing I do with a new Suspect is look for them on LinkedIn so I can capture their profile URL, role or title, and company name. If the person does not appear to be highly active on LinkedIn, I don’t waste time sending an InMail. When I do send one, I keep it short and never pitchy. Ideally I can reference a person or something in their profile to help “break the ice.”

Breaking the ice is a technique I learned recently from sales maverick Brian Burns. If you don’t know Brian and take your sales career seriously, he’s a good guy to know if.

The idea is simple: You don’t approach somebody on the street, at the store, or even at a networking event and immediately dive into a sales pitch. You introduce yourself, you ask questions and try to find something in common you can talk about. During your conversation, you seek to find a natural segue into your product or business.

Tip: Invert YOUR agenda: Assume your Suspect is not a good prospect right now, but that he could be sometime in the future. Focus on your Suspect’s interests and motivations. Find out what they are looking to accomplish. See how you can be of value to them before you attempt to do any sort of pitch.

Step 2: Engage with Content

Content is highly useful for creating engagement with your suspects. When crafting personalized emails you can link to your content. When in social media you can share your content. On the web, content can be good for SEO. The benefits are plentiful.

Content can be in the form of a video, a blog article, and image, an e-book, a case study, a podcast, etc. There really is no restriction to what medium content must be in. The important thing is to have it, ideally your own.

Creating content is time consuming and challenging. Assuming you do not have unlimited resources, you will want to have a content strategy designed around what you can realistically achieve. If you aren’t good at writing or don’t enjoy it, then find somebody you can afford to help write. If you aren’t comfortable being on camera, come up with video ideas that do not require you to be on camera. If you aren’t good with technology, then find a provider that can alleviate the technology burden.

The important thing is to have a content strategy, stick with it, and build on it. The dividends might not be obvious at the start, but you will see them quickly and over time.


  1. Does your organization have a defined sales process that identifies your target audience and leads targets down a path to the sale?
  2. Does your sales process distinguish between Suspects, Leads, and Prospects?
  3. How does your company bridge the gap between?

Like this series? Text ‘acb2b’ to 555888 to receive more Automotive B2B Sales & Marketing tips from AutoConversion.

About the Author

Ryan Gerardi
Creative, resourceful, and resilient B2B sales and marketing technologist who works with people and businesses on a variety of levels to help elevate their game, their brand, and their businesses.
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