The adoption of digital retailing tools by dealerships during the pandemic was something to see. We were forced to disrupt our normal business model, and technology gave us the tools to keep pace with that disruption. But that’s only part of the equation. Sorry, but digital retailing tools are still not plug-and-play. Success comes from implementing new technology and new business practices – specifically sales tactics.
Without a change in mindset and processes, the tools are just tools. On their own, they won’t increase sales or CSI or gross profit. In fact, having the tools without a solid back-end process can do more harm than good.
Consider the customer who spends time on your website, configures a vehicle, calculates payment, etc. That customer picks up the phone (after hours of research) to ask a question. But your salesperson reverts to the old process; he or she pressures the customer to undergo a needs analysis, gets cagey with pricing, and pushes hard for the appointment.
That’s like arriving to pick-up your curb-side dinner order and being told you need to come inside, look at the menu, and re-order. Talk about frustrating! Why would that customer buy from you when you’ve just wasted hours of their time?
In the past, withholding information (like pricing) from prospects was a common lead management tactic. Information was used as leverage to move customers down the funnel. Today’s customers have access to far more information than ever before. Controlling them doesn’t work anymore, and it definitely doesn’t build trust in your dealership.
Moving away from “lead capture” and towards customer interactions is often the most difficult mindset and culture change for dealers and staff. But it also illustrates why it’s so important to align processes and people with technology. Today’s buyers want to work with capable people that demonstrate a high level of integrity and expertise. The goal of a salesperson shouldn’t be to close the customer, but to consult with them.
You have to train and encourage employees to adapt to a new digital process where they are consultants. The first step is a strong knowledge of the digital retailing tools. One practice I’ve seen is dealers who require salespeople to use in-store the same tools customers use online. This is effective because everyone is accessing the same information, following the same steps, and speaking the same language. It breeds trust in the tools when customers see there’s no distinction between online and in-person interactions.
Requiring staff as a first step to review what prospects have done online means better intelligence and a path to a more personalized experience. Salespeople will know what vehicles prospects and customers have viewed and even potentially how they are penciling their own deals in real-time. This is the perfect set-up for personalized, meaningful interactions that advance the customer to the next stage.
For example, a salesperson can say: “Now that I understand why you’re interested in that model, I’d like to send you a list of similar vehicles that you might want to consider. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in taking a look at?” This type of response communicates the customer was listened to and understood, and offers a next step that delivers the perfect message at the perfect time.
Employees should also be trained on transparency. Transparently answering the customer’s questions and giving them access to information builds trust and demonstrates good character. When you build trust with customers, you gain a competitive advantage because the sale isn’t just about the car you’re selling. It’s just as much about the value you bring and the relationships you build.
Consulting isn’t about closing the sale at any cost. It’s about being the vehicle expert who is there as a knowledgeable guide. Abandon antiquated sales tactics including teaser pricing and bait-and-switch! Here’s how a consultative approach looks with the three stages of the buying cycle:
Awareness – Customers realize they have a need but they are still at the top of the funnel. A consultant is a valuable resource by being up to speed on inventory, able to answer specific vehicle questions, and able to help the customer navigate your online store. Maintain a “serve don’t sell” mindset. Everyone wants to sell more cars, but in this moment, customers need information.
A consultant should share helpful information that’s popular among other customers based on his or her experience. Phrases such as, "A lot of our customers find value in...." or “Our online store is a great way to narrow down options," or “X model is a very popular choice,” work well to move the process along and provide value. Customers do tend to do more self-guided research in the awareness stage. But, if they do reach out, ensure salespeople are equipped to help them.
Remember: you don’t have to wait for customers to contact your store. Consultants can proactively reach out to customers who are using your digital tools. They can record quick 30-second videos introducing themselves as vehicle experts here to help narrow down vehicle choices. They can provide vehicle test drive videos, offer live streaming walk-arounds, provide video reviews, and more. Whatever you want to know about a vehicle, assume your customers do too, and make a video about it. Videos humanize the experience, grab attention, and make it easy to digest information.
Consideration – Customers know the specific makes and models they like. A consultant needs to be able to ask the right questions and help narrow down choices to move them further down the funnel. Positioning digital retailing tools as an option to narrow down choice is effective. Customers are empowered to calculate payment scenarios, review incentives, and research F&I options. These shoppers will have very specific questions, so product knowledge is key.
Decision – Customers have made up their minds on a vehicle and are now price comparing. A consultant stands out by communicating messages and brand promises to make your store more attractive than the competition. Be transparent about online tools that will save time in the store. Look for opportunities to show savings, including applicable incentives and F&I options that meet the buyer’s lifestyle needs.
The auto industry is slow to change and antiquated in many ways – but we’ve proven that we can get on the digital bandwagon by adopting new tools. But you can’t stop there. If you do, I can pretty much guarantee you will frustrate, irritate, and push away customers. The only way to give customers the experience they want is by pairing digital tools with new sales practices. More sales and gross will follow.
Lawson Owen is the founder and CEO at Proactive Dealer Solutions. He is a thought leader in lead and process management and has been inspiring management teams for over 20 years. Lawson has helped to implement more than 4,000 business development centers throughout the US and Canada.