Saab Finds E-Mail Management System Revs Results

Though it is too early to judge how a new e-mail inquiry management program has affected Saab Cars USA, preliminary findings on prospect activity show promising results.

Since the program started Jan. 1, the automaker has scheduled 320 test drives and built 435 cars to specification. Eighty-two percent of the inquirers opened at least one of the Saab e-mails, and 35 percent visited for more information. The unsubscribe rate of the first e-mail sent is only 0.03 percent.

A Swedish automaker owned by General Motors Corp., Saab's U.S. unit receives about 45,000 inquiries yearly. Company research using Experian Sales Match shows that nearly 20 percent of consumers who inquire about a Saab eventually buy a vehicle. The automaker claims 6 percent of people who inquire each year buy a Saab.

“Our objective is to increase the conversion to 12 percent, prioritize leads and create an ongoing dialogue with prospects,” said Al Fontova, direct marketing manager at Saab, Norcross, GA.

Saab's database includes a 12-month e-mail file of 45,000 addresses, 85 percent of them from visitors to and the rest via consumer calls to a toll-free number. Inquiries mainly are brochure requests specific to a model. These prospects are inquiring on their own, and not responding to advertising.

Saab's e-mail inquiry management system is multi-layered, designed to convert these prospects into buyers efficiently.

Capturing relevant and telling information from prospects at the time of inquiry starts the process. Data include contact information, vehicle the prospects currently drive, when they plan to buy, type of Saab (and other brands) under consideration and vehicle features key to them.

Saab built a zip model that then scores inquiries by geography and the most telling piece of demographic information available.

“Down the road we'll enhance that zip model based on prospects' answers to survey questions,” Fontova said. “This allows us to treat folks differently in terms of e-mail communication, but also in terms of brochure fulfillment.”

To prioritize leads, Saab ranks inquiries as hot, warm and cold. Fulfillment is based on ranking and future initiative, and leads then are sent to dealers based on that. The company is developing another model based on survey information captured at the time of inquiry.

“In our research, we found many manufacturers push the leads directly to the dealer for follow-up,” Fontova said. “Our program doesn't send the lead to the dealer until the prospect has requested a quote or scheduled a test drive. This allows Saab to control the number of communications to the prospect so as not to inundate them with messages, and it also ensures that the lead is appropriately followed up.”

Under a recontact strategy, Saab sends a series of e-mails to establish a dialogue with prospects. E-mails are customized by name, model they are interested in, purchase plans and nearest dealer. The goal also is to lead prospects through the purchase cycle.

The e-mail stream is of two sorts. The first is the mainstream, comprising six possible e-mails. One such message is the thank-you letting inquirers know their information is en route. It is personalized with visuals and copy that identify the Saab vehicle they requested information on. Recipients are urged to schedule a test drive.

The features e-mail highlights the two elements prospects identified as most valuable — safety and performance, for instance. The call to action is to learn more about the Saab the prospect showed interest in.

Another e-mail addresses the self-design preference and quote request. It subtly addresses the vehicle they now drive by asking whether they are ready to upgrade to a Saab if they are not in the luxury class — a Honda Accord owner, for instance. It also can ask them to switch to a Saab if they drive another automaker's luxury vehicle, such as the Audi A4. The call to action in both cases is to request a quote and design a Saab.

The financing options e-mail walks prospects through ways to lease or buy with help from tools like payment calculators. Recipients are asked to take a financing decision quiz.

Visiting a dealer and scheduling a test drive is the subject of another e-mail. It also helps recipients locate a Saab dealer.

Finally, another e-mail introduces prospects to the idea of a certified pre-owned vehicle. Prospects are urged to learn about limited-time offers on such vehicles.

The other stream of Saab e-mails is the triggered sort, based on the response and actions of prospects. One is the test drive follow-up with survey, sent to prospects who schedule a test drive from an earlier e-mail. The survey lets Saab extract more information from the prospect. If prospects indicate they scheduled a test drive but have yet to take it, they get a $25 SuperCertificate from

Another triggered e-mail is for prospects still thinking of a Saab, with a timeframe survey included.

So, if the prospects responded to the mainstream e-mails, but no longer are responding though have not unsubscribed, they are sent a survey to gauge whether they are still in the market for a Saab or already bought one.

“Not only are our e-mails personalized based on our initial information capture,” Fontova said, “but throughout the process we can capture information and use that to better customize our communications — 'Did you take the test drive that you scheduled? Would you prefer lease or buy? Have you selected a different vehicle that you are considering purchasing?'”

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