For car dealers, declining auto industry sales mean more competition for fewer customers. Here are four steps to deal with the situation.
Step 1: Put the customer first.
Through their own experiences, those of family and friends or just buying into the stereotype, many people see dealerships as a battlefield where only the most committed walk away with a “good deal.”
To earn a customer’s business – and for life – be seen as the opposite of what’s expected by these wary consumers.
Instead of being their adversary, be their advocate. This starts at the top of the sales funnel, the initial marketing phase, by reaching consumers with targeted, relevant information.
The good news is there’s a staggering amount of data consumers generate through their online and offline shopping activities to help a dealership accomplish this goal.
To make the most of it, bring tools such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics into play. Send personalized messages at the right stage of each customer’s sales or service cycle. Stay in front of them with relevant offers.
For example, you’ve seen them clicking on and browsing a specific model (there are tools available that can do this for you using buyer detection and other predictive modeling). Contacting that person and using a “soft-sell” approach by mentioning specials for that vehicle type gives them relevant info they likely want, without the creep factor.
To stand apart from the competition, demonstrate an understanding of what the consumer wants and where they are on the path to sale or service.
Send them timely, correct, relevant information about vehicles of interest, your dealership and your process. It allows you to build an offer with an educated customer who’s happy to be there, rather than one who comes in with defenses up.
Step 2: Acquire in-demand inventory and move it quickly.
Something that can often be overlooked is not how the vehicles are sold, but which vehicles are sold. Having an in-demand inventory makes the job of sales easier and can bring customers in with less effort.
It has always been challenging to stock a dealership’s inventory with in-demand vehicles because tastes change, the availability of popular models can be inconsistent and local demand can differ from national trends.
Taking into account the access consumers now have to inventory information, a dealership can’t afford to have low-demand vehicles on the lot.
Top dealer groups only have about 10% of inventory that’s past 60 days old. They understand aging inventory takes up space, eats into profits and becomes harder to sell.
Merchandise inventory to move within 30 days, no more, whenever possible. It can lead to three times as many sales.
Available inventory management tools assist with both stocking and pricing in-demand vehicles. These tools use both dealership and market data to determine the best inventory mix for a dealership’s specific marketplace.
Step 3: Don’t fear the future.
In the automotive field, the idea of change is often resisted far more than in other sales arenas.
Not so long ago, broadcasting blanket marketing messages, launching random email blasts and sending blind mailers in the hopes they’d connect with an in-market buyer were all that was possible.
Today, consumers ignore messages that aren’t relevant to their current situation. Marketing tools help cut through the noise and reach consumers where they are in their individual lifecycle.
If left to busy salespeople, regular communication can be put off and forgotten in favor of making new sales and gaining new customers, which is why automation is so critical.
AI-powered tools, in particular, can help maintain the connection between the dealership and the consumer. Regardless of changes or staff turnover, you retain consistent branding that speaks to each customer.
Step 4: Provide seamless customer experiences.
The modern dealership customer is one of the most educated, engaged and skeptical consumers in any marketplace.
They will spend hours researching vehicles and have a good idea of what the vehicle should cost. They’ve also been conditioned – thanks to Amazon, Apple and other modern retailers – that transactions should be quick and seamless.
For most consumers, a vehicle is the second-most expensive item they purchase. Therefore, this is not a transaction they enter into lightly. The vast majority only come to a dealership when they are ready to buy because they’ve done a lot of shopping online.
As Millennials become the most dominant force in auto sales, price haggling is becoming outdated. They fulfill much of their shopping needs online, where the price is the price.
Marketing should be transparent and complement the in-store experience. No surprises. No baiting and switching. The sales process starts with marketing messages. Best case, it continues because you build rapport and become their dealership for life.
There’s a flow to the successful sales process. There can’t be awkward disconnects or clumsy transitions. Otherwise, consumers start to second-guess their decisions.
Buying a vehicle should be relaxing and exciting, not stressful and confusing. This happens when everyone is properly trained on the tools they’ve been provided. (Wards Industry Voices contributor Valerie Vallencourt, left)
The dealership that provides professionalism and empathy to consumers navigating the sales path will earn their business. A dealership that provides a seamless process and is seen as customers’ advocate rather than as an adversary will become their dealership.
Valerie Vallancourt is vice president-marketing for Outsell, a digital marketer.