Smart Dealers Know Today’s Customer Calls Shots

A customer ready to buy should be treated differently than someone who is at the beginning of the process. To improve the customer experience, dealers must learn how to meet customers where they are.

Rob Volatile

December 1, 2022

3 Min Read
Dealer-car salesman, customer with Maybach (Getty)
Dealers profit by embracing shift to digital retailing.Getty Images

One of the biggest challenges with transitioning to a digital retail sales model is understanding that customers now drive the sales process. When a customer visits a dealership, they often arrive knowing the vehicle they want, the price they expect to pay, the trade-in value of their current vehicle, finance and leasing options, and the F&I products they’re interested in.

But dealers still tend to treat every customer who walks onto their lot the same way: Greet the customer and ask if they need help finding a vehicle. The traditional meet-and-greet is less than optimum for a shopper who is farther down the road to the sale. 

A customer ready to buy should be treated differently than someone who is at the beginning of the process. To improve the customer experience, dealers must figure out how to meet customers where they are.

Some dealers prefer the traditional road to the sale because they can maintain control. The reality is, today’s customer has total control over the buying process. When a customer interacts with your dealership online, they follow their own path.

Meeting customers where they are is a challenge that each dealership has to figure out for itself, within its culture and process. Here are a couple of tips that might help.

Create a universal sales process. Most dealers have two sales processes: one they follow for online customers and one for customers who are physically present. Ideally, merge these into a single, universal process for every customer.

If you have a digital retail platform on your website, make sure all of your customers go through that process, regardless of whether the customer is online or in your showroom. Your salespeople should know how to use these tools to quickly and efficiently guide every customer through the online sales process.

Your digital retail platform should also be tied into your CRM so that all customer transactions can be tracked. With an integrated platform, if a customer puts a vehicle into a shopping cart and uses the estimated-payments calculator, a salesperson will know exactly where that customer is in the process as soon as they look up their name in the CRM.

Be transparent. The more transparent we are with customers, the more inclined the customer is to share their information with us before visiting the dealership.

Imagine a customer calling to ask for the price on a vehicle. When the salesperson refuses to give the price over the phone, do you think that potential customer will give the salesperson their name and contact information? Chances are very low. To get this information, salespeople need to be willing to reciprocate with the information the customer desires. If there is no exchange of information, and the customer decides to show up at the dealership, the salesperson will have no idea who they are or which vehicle they’re interested in.

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However, if the salesperson had given the price upfront, that customer would be more likely to share their contact information, making it easier for the salesperson to be prepared when they come to the dealership.

Consumers have been demanding digital tools and transparency for years. But dealerships have withheld information from the consumer for multiple reasons: fear of losing profits, fear of giving too much information, or fear that the consumer will make decisions not beneficial to the dealer.

It may feel counterintuitive, but the more information you can provide, the better. Dealers who accept that their customers now have control over the process and far deeper knowledge prior to coming to the dealership will attract more buyers while gaining trust and long-term loyalty.

Rob Volatile (pictured, above left) is Senior Vice President and Managing Director, EasyCare at APCO Holdings, home of the GWC Warranty and EasyCare brands.

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