"I KNOW WE HAVE TO BECOME MORE AGGRESSIVE with our Internet strategy, but I just can't seem to get my management team to cooperate."
Such is the lament I often hear when discussing my company's Internet training program with dealers. Like any good sales consultant, I have been trying to ascertain a strategy for overcoming that objection. There is no one simple answer.
The issue of gaining management buy-in for Internet sales is complicated. Without true management buy-in your organization will not only fall behind the competition regarding Internet sales, but will also lose ground in selling to the "Internet-informed" consumers who visit your showroom.
If your sales management suffers from netphobia, you need to discover a cure. The concerns of your sales management team may be hard for you to appreciate, but they are very real to them. Below find some netphobia symptoms and cures:
"HOW LOW CAN WE GO?" The Symptom: Fear of falling pay. Many sales managers believe that Internet buyers are looking only for a low price - and often on highly desirable vehicles. If a manager's compensation plan is based on gross profit, he assumes he'll take a cut in pay if your organization becomes more aggressive on the Internet. In reality, most Internet shoppers are not paying the lowest prices for the products they purchase. Amazon is not the low-cost leader. Popular Internet auction sites, such as E Bay, actually ensure that consumers pay the highest price for products in demand.
The Cure: Create an on-line sales strategy that builds real value to a pre-determined price point. When you add value to a transaction, you can charge more. If you fix your processes, you don't have to drop your prices.
"MY LEADS SUCK!" The Symptom: Fear of lost sales. "If you think our grosses are low," they say, "wait 'til you see our closing ratio." Contrary to what some on-line buying services might tell you, the national closing average on Internet leads is 8-12%. Not such hot numbers. Because transactions with Internet customers are so easy to track and measure, however, you are probably seeing verifiable closing ratios for the first time. Real numbers on sales to walk-ins are much harder to calculate - and probably much lower than sales managers think.
The Cure: Put the appropriate systems and people in place to improve closing ratios. Rapid response by a quality sales consultant is the price of entry for the Internet game. Advanced contact management systems are equally critical for ongoing communications that will build support and value, increasing the likelihood that you will turn a cyber prospect into a satisfied owner.
"YOU CAN'T SELL A CAR ON THE PHONE." The Symptom: Fear of the phone. This old-time axiom has been spouted by sales managers for years - and may have been true for old-time customers. My, how the selling environment has changed! We're discovering that maybe no one bought a car over the phone because no one allowed them to. Now that they're being given the option, Internet car buyers are being closed using the telephone supported by e- mail.
Moreover, the popular technique of "hooking consumers" into the dealership for a test drive doesn't fly with this new type of buyer. Test drives and vehicle research are frequently completed before the purchase request quote is submitted. Typical "cyber consumers" not only will buy over the phone, they won't come to the dealership unless it is clearly for their benefit.
The Cure: "Re-engineer" the mental sales processes most sales managers have embraced for so many years. It may take a good dose of training.
"DON'T LET ANYBODY LEAVE HERE BEFORE TOUCHING THE DESK." The Symptom: Fear of losing control. Traditional selling processes put the sales manager in a position of command and control. Knowledge was power. They controlled information and could use it as a lever to control the sales process. Customer ignorance was in fact a profit center. No longer true! The Internet turns the information-monger's world topsy-turvy. Detailed information is everywhere. The consumer is in control.
The Cure: Redefine roles and responsibilities. A good manager must become a resource and source of support for empowered Internet sales representatives. Make it a formal part of their job description and compensation. Then be patient.
CREATE A NET GAIN The Internet poses a very real threat to long-held beliefs that are reflected in day-to-day sales processes at dealerships throughout the country.
Part of your role as a leader is to shepherd your team through the challenges of change, to help them understand what's in it for them. Threats from the Net - imagined and real - are only going to magnify in scope and intensity. If you don't address these threats in an open and honest forum, you may concede the right to claim that you are the "digital dealer of choice" in your market. It's a claim, and a position, worth fighting for. Even if the fight begins with your own managers.
Mark Rikess is president of The Rikess Group, an automotive training and consulting firm. To read his previous Ward's Dealer Business articles on-line go to www.rikessgroup.com