There’s a movement underway in automotive retailing from selling in-stock vehicles to selling special orders. This new sales model may be here to stay. Experts think new cars will be in short supply well into 2024. Even when inventory rebounds, the build-to-order model may appeal to buyers who can wait for delivery.
Ford reported one-third of new Ford sales between September 2021 and March 2022 came from customer orders. Customers get exactly what they want, and dealers save on floor expenses – it’s a win-win.
Yet, this new model is a big shift for most sales teams. Selling build-to-order is a whole new ballgame that requires new tools and training. These targeted strategies for each customer touchpoint can increase buyer satisfaction.
Salespeople need to have a plan for responding to build-to-order leads. Without it, they may falter and fall back on the old-school practice of pressuring the customer to come in and see what else is in stock. Train salespeople on the ordering process, including a time frame, deposit and points of no return, such as when changing color or options is no longer possible.
It’s a good idea to create build-to-order email and text lead response templates, as well as phone scripts. Salespeople can use these as points of reference when speaking with leads. An overall FAQ document – perhaps even one that can be shared with customers – can go a long way toward explaining and normalizing the process.
Configuring the Order
The customer is ready to pull the trigger. Salespeople must explain that customers can configure a vehicle on the manufacturer’s website and submit the order through your dealership or negotiate and order directly with your store.
I would argue it’s better for salespeople to sit with customers and configure the order. In this way, they can start building relationships and cultivating loyal customers. However, the salesperson must be prepared to be the expert consultant, well-versed in ordering and able to explain vehicle trim levels and all available options.
During this process, the salesperson must also give an estimated delivery date, clarify the points of no return and explain what happens to the deposit if a customer backs out. The customer must also receive a buyer’s order spelling out the agreed-upon price, including options, dealer fees, tax, title and license. There should be no surprises when the customer arrives to take delivery.
Appraising the Trade
Unless a customer can be without a vehicle for a few months, you’ll most likely take the trade at new-vehicle delivery. However, quality used inventory is worth its weight in gold these days. If you really want the trade, offer to appraise it at time of order and sweeten the pot with a cash incentive, so the customer follows through with the trade when the new vehicle is delivered.
It’s essential this is presented as an option, not a hard sell. Customers also can choose to forgo the appraisal until vehicle delivery.
Waiting for Delivery
A car is the second-biggest purchase people make after a home – so it’s an exciting time! Customers will want details of what’s happening while they’re waiting for the brand-new vehicle that is being built just for them. A great buying experience hinges on salespeople reaching out at important milestones and keeping customers apprised of progress.
Create email and text templates that salespeople can personalize for when the vehicle goes into production, when it leaves the factory, when it’s at the port and when it arrives. Include estimates of how long each stage will take. Remember to under-promise and over-deliver. It’s better to tack on a few extra days upfront than to disappoint customers with delays. That being said, delays may happen. Proactively reach out and explain the situation; never make the customer call. Don’t turn an exciting time into a service recovery situation.
This is a big day for the customer, so make it special. Create a VIP parking space for customers picking up vehicles and prominently display the customer’s name on the vehicle. Inspect the vehicle with the customer to make sure it matches the order and hasn’t been damaged in transit.
Walk with the customer to the F&I office and introduce your service manager. Finally, don’t forget to commemorate the day. Ask the customer if you can take a photo or video of them in the new vehicle. Post to social media along with a blurb about how easy it is to order the exact vehicle a customer wants from your dealership.
Selling special orders is a natural addition to current sales models. Make it a success by giving salespeople the tools and training they need to create a great customer experience at every touchpoint.
Tiffany Peeler (pictured, left) is vice president of sales and operations at Proactive Dealer Solutions, a provider of training, software and BDC solutions for the automotive industry.