LOS ANGELES – Modern automotive consumers dive deeply into Internet shopping and research before they towel off, head to the dealership and say something like, “My name is Rob, and I want to buy a car.”
So says Rob Armstrong, executive vice president of Tricor Auto Group, a Canadian dealer-owned company that offers auto financing, leasing and F&I protection plans.
Most car shoppers aren’t ready to buy a vehicle entirely online yet, “but we should be ready for that” – as well as streamline the traditional step-selling process to account for their Internet efforts prior to their dealership visit, he says.
“It’s not the same as before,” Armstrong proclaims at Thought Leadership Summits’ annual Automotive Customer Experience Summit here.
Used for decades at many dealerships, the conventional in-store sales-step process goes something like this:
- Meet and greet.
- Develop rapport.
- Do a needs analysis (i.e. “Who will be the primary driver?” “About how many miles do you drive a year?” “What will the vehicle mainly be used for?”
- Perform a walkaround to familiarize the customer with the vehicle of interest.
- Introduce the sales manager.
- Accompany the customer on a test drive.
- Do a trial close and ask for the sale.
But car salespeople essentially need only follow three quick sales steps, considering how much modern customers rely on the Internet, says Armstrong. Here they are:
- Acknowledge what the customer has done online. “They might have spent 17 hours working to the point of getting to you,” he says.
- Ask: “What would you like to do next?”
- Say: “That’s great.”
“Their most important decision is whether they’ll come to you,” he says. “Critical decisions are happening outside the dealership.”
Dealerships should adjust their sales strategies in other ways to keep up with the times, says Armstrong, a Toronto-area resident who says he “grew up in a dealership.” He attended Northwood University in Midland, MI, a school with an extensive dealership management curriculum.
“When customers call a dealership to ask questions about a car they saw online, the standard response is ‘When can you come in?’” he says. That diversion often turns off customers seeking immediate information.
Along the same lines, it’s egregious when a shopper clicks on a dealership website’s “Get-our-best-price-now” button but gets the “come-on-down” pitch instead.
Armstrong says: “They click that button, and what do they expect? The best price now. They aren’t expecting, ‘When can you come in?’”
Knowing the extent of customers’ online shopping helps salespeople understand where they are in the shopping process. Accordingly, “if we put customers in control, it changes everything,” he says.
He adds: “With so many changes in the automotive retail landscape, and the constant change in consumer behavior, understanding how customers want to interact without being ‘sold’ continues to develop, and changes almost daily.”