Special Feature by Dale Pollak, founder of vAuto
Let’s imagine that you’re sitting front and center, as your favorite band takes the stage.
You bought tickets a few weeks ago. You cleared your schedule. You’re pretty excited as the band cranks up the opening tune. The singer steps up to the microphone.
But the first note falls flat, followed by another clunker. You wince, and think: “I didn’t come all the way here for this!”
I share the anecdote because it’s similar to how today’s vehicle buyers feel when they find a vehicle they like online, and contact the dealership by chat, phone or e-mail.
In most cases, the buyers engage the dealership to learn two things—whether the car they like is available, and what it will cost to purchase. In other words, they want to start working the deal without coming to your lot.
But how do most dealers respond? Too often, it’s some variation of “Come on in!” The effect is exactly like the singer’s sour notes. It greatly reduces the buyer’s confidence in the dealer, and his/her interest in completing the deal.
My colleague, Mike Burgiss of Cox Automotive’s MakeMyDeal, says his team sees this dynamic every day. He shared a recent example from a dealer in the Southeast:
A husband sent a chat message to ask about pricing for a Kia Soul, which his wife had recently checked out at the dealership. The sales associate’s first response: “Let’s sit down with my manager and talk numbers. He’s done crazy things when he’s with a customer.”
The buyer politely declined, and the sales associate sent another message that offered a price range and more details about the vehicle and a second invitation to come to the dealership. The buyer’s final response: “I understand. I will keep looking. Thanks for your time.”
Burgiss says the exchange would have gone better if the sales associate answered the inquiry with deal terms personalized for the buyer. “The example highlights a prevailing belief among dealers that customers must be on the lot to negotiate a vehicle’s price or other terms,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s out of step with today’s buyers. They’d prefer to work out deals from their home or office, just as they do with other retailers.”
I asked Burgiss for recommendations to help dealers better today’s vehicle buyer preferences. He shared three:
Recognize the “shopper” vs. “buyer” distinction. When customers find a vehicle they like, and take the time to view a VDP, they have shifted from simply shopping to an active stage of buying, Burgiss says. “The question for dealers is whether the information they present online facilitates the transaction right then and there,” he says. “If it doesn’t, potential buyers won’t see the signs of an easy, efficient purchase they’re looking for.”
Allow buyers to work deal terms online. Burgiss says new technologies give buyers the ability to configure a vehicle deal on a VDP and make an offer—without requiring them to provide personal information, send an e-mail or contact a salesperson. Even though buyers work deals under dealer-set parameters, the process and technology gives them a greater sense of control and self-direction.
“Dealers who adopt this process see higher levels of buyer engagement and improved closing ratios,” he says. “These improvements come because the dealers made the leap to serve buyers in the manner they prefer.”
Be authentic. When buyers take the opportunity to configure deals online, they send a signal that they expect an easy, efficient transaction, just as they would from other retailers. “If you play coy on price with these buyers, you’ll end up like the dealer in the example and lose them to a dealer who isn’t playing the traditional deal-making game,” Burgiss says.
I like this thinking on multiple levels. By working deals online, dealers could achieve greater efficiency and satisfaction on the lot. Customers could essentially show up, test drive a vehicle and, if they like it, take delivery. Less time equals increased customer satisfaction—and more time for you to sell more cars.
Finally, this e-enabled approach to retailing vehicles creates another benefit for dealers. You’ll have less risk of hitting a bad note when it’s your turn to step up to the microphone.