Car dealers should move from selling to marketing

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of ticking off a couple of those classic ‘milestone’ purchases: a car and a house, and here I’d like reflect on my car buying experience.

Traditionally, car dealers have focused heavily on selling. As soon as a potential customer walked in the showroom, the aim was to persuade them to commit to buying – and out came a plethora of tried and tested sales techniques.

But the role of the dealer – and the dealer salesperson – is changing. Now, customers are largely ‘selling themselves’.

A car buyer typically spends ten hours researching online before walking into the showroom. And this aligns with the broader stats on how much of the sales cycle happens before a customer speaks to a sales person. Depending on the industry, it’s around 60-80%. So it’s a bit like the iceberg principle. When the customer walks into the showroom, you are seeing the tip of the iceberg, but you need to understand what’s below the water.

So now, the role of the salesperson is not to sell to a cold prospect but facilitate the purchase for a well researched and ‘warm’ prospect. The buyer has done extensive research and comparisons and has a preference for your brand, which is why they are in your dealership. So a large part of the sales job is done. But the customer is in your showroom for specific reasons. They want to touch and feel the upholstery, they want to look at the quality of the finishes and select accessories. And they want to construct a competitive deal. They also want confidence that they are dealing with the right people. People whom they can trust and people who will look after them after the ‘transaction’ is completed.

Dealers need to focus more on marketing than selling, and more specifically, digital marketing and how to connect the online world with the physical space of the showroom.

When I order my morning coffee from the cafe downstairs, I get a friendly greeting from the barista “Morning Henry, how are you going? The usual?” It’s a warm, genuine greeting from somebody who knows me and my preferences. This is how I want to feel when I walk into a car dealership.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience.

I’d like to focus on three opportunities for car dealerships. Three digital engagement solutions that will help drive conversions, customer satisfaction and increased sales value.

Firstly, dealers need to seamlessly connect the online world with their dealership – the physical world. Customers who have been on your website and walk into your dealership want to be greeted like my friendly barista.

A visitor management system allows the dealer rep, armed with a tablet, to personally greet customers who have booked a test drive. They have knowledge of the customer’s preferences and requirements. The customer feels valued and understood and doesn’t have to start the conversation from scratch. It’s a seamless experience.

I was also surprised at how many physical, static – printed – posters were in the dealership. Not only are they expensive to print and distribute, they can become redundant quickly if information or specs change.

Digital signage – LCD screens or digital displays – are far more engaging. They are dynamic because they can show videos and animations and can be updated easily by a central content management system. The LED displays available now are very impressive and dramatic, can be built to any size and can be curved or even transparent.

Digital signage has a number of benefits for dealerships. It promotes the brand and creates an emotional connection with customers by showing lifestyle videos of people driving and enjoying your vehicles. In fact, through the use of cameras and software, the videos shown can be tailored to the particular customer. So you can feature different models and showcase different lifestyle situations such as a coastal drive, family holiday, packing the groceries, Saturday night socialising, etc.

Margins are definitely being squeezed, so accessories are a way to increase the value of a sale while personalising the car for your customer.

Most brands offer some sort of 3D configurator online but bringing this capability into the showroom on a large kiosk, allows the salesperson to guide the customer, provide advice and tailor the vehicle. And it’s easy for the customer to visualise the accessorised car and make a decision. Different combinations of accessories can lead to complexity in pricing, but some 3D car configurators can provide instant pricing for the car and associated accessories. So closing the deal is easy.

Customers expectations of service are increasing – even for a $3 coffee! So car dealers need to make sure they are using all the digital tools available to them to engage with their customers in a more personal way.