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All You Know About Providing Car-Buying Experiences Must Change

All You Know About Providing Car-Buying Experiences Must Change

Small changes in improving customer experience can make a big difference to the bottom line.

The sales model for the automobile dealership has remained static for a long time.

While tactics might have worked well decades ago when there were far fewer products to choose from and far less information available to consumers, a heavy-handed sales approach doesn’t mesh well with today’s buyers.

This is the conclusion BMW reached last year – a revelation that has caused the brand to radically re-engineer its sales process and introduce “product geniuses” to their sales floors.

Geniuses are non-commissioned, and their sole job is to answer questions and educate buyers about the many available options, allowing sales reps to focus on what they do best: managing trade-ins and financing and completing transactions.

As product geniuses have helped boost close rates, BMW dealers have seen the value and even begun to replace some of their sales staff with product geniuses.

BMW also is creating a more seamless transition between its digital and physical presence by allowing buyers to configure cars on its website. A product genius can call up the configuration and continue a conversation on the showroom floor.

So what exactly does this mean for the rest of the industry? BMW clearly has caught on to a key consumer trend: Education, accessibility and convenience create a meaningful experience.

I have worked with automotive dealerships for more than 25 years and have seen how even seemingly small changes in improving customer experience can make a big difference to the bottom line. Let’s look at a few key strategies any dealership – not just a BMW store – can implement.

Deepen Relationships With Customer-Centric Direct Mail

According to Melissa Data, the response rate for blanket saturation mailings (that go out to everyone within a zip code) is typically about 2%. That rate increases dramatically when mailings are highly personalized and printed in color – up to 6.5%.

It boils down to the No.1 rule of marketing: know your audience.

Data that can be segmented is widely available for direct-mail marketing, and variable data can be used to personalize messaging. Customizing direct-mail can be as simple as addressing the recipient by name and can go as far as creating unique direct mail pieces that target demographic segments.

For example, a promotion on a specific vehicle make and model could be sent to an audience segment that owns an older version of the same make and model.

The more closely the direct-mail messaging relates to the individual recipient, the higher the conversion rate.

Focus Strategy on Listening, Educating, Not Selling

Why have BMW’s product geniuses been so successful? Because their sole function is to listen and educate. Today’s customers are more informed than ever. To build trust, dealerships need to provide transparency, not a sales pitch.

Rather than focusing on the sale, train your staff to listen to customers, ask clarifying questions and provide valuable information. Make it clear the goal is to meet customer needs in the best way possible and provide the best value, not to make the biggest sale.

Forward-thinking dealers may even consider restructuring commission rates to push sales staff into thinking of themselves as problem solvers or automotive counselors, rather than strictly sales people.

For this to succeed, the staff needs deep product knowledge and training, and they must be able to help customers with the hardest part of the transaction: financing.

Make Delivery Experience Customers Will Remember

If first impressions are the most important, parting impressions are a close second. Car purchases are emotional even for the most calculated buyer, and your dealership can capitalize on this opportunity to celebrate with the customer.

Most dealerships simply will give the car a final wash, then hand off the keys anticlimactically. But a few simple additional touches can make this a celebratory moment. Surprise customers with a big reveal and giant car bow when they come to pick up their vehicle. Ring a celebration bell, play music and have the entire showroom floor celebrate. Leave a bottle of champagne or a gift basket in the passenger seat.

Even better, allow the customer to choose the way he or she would like to celebrate from several different available options.

Educate Customers Before They Exit

A customer is far more likely to become a repeat buyer and a brand ambassador if they consider your dealership an authority, not only on the sale of the car but also on how to maintain it. Sales reps and staff can build that trust and authority by being an educational resource for customers.

Before new customers leave, they should know everything about how to care for their specific vehicle, what warranties and value-added services are available and, most importantly, how the dealership can provide the best service and support in the future.

A printed recommended maintenance schedule and a dealer rewards program all are excellent ways to educate customers and turn them into brand loyalists for years to come.

Dodson Group founder Jeff Dodson has been supporting car dealerships for the past 25 years and shares strategies and insights at his LinkedIn community Sales, Marketing & Management Forum for Car Dealers.

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