Dealerships can still build loyalty, but only if they give consumers what they want.
Compared to other fields, the automobile industry has been historically slow to adapt to changes in consumer behavior and trends in the marketplace. While this has been begrudgingly accepted by the customers in the past — if you wanted a car, after all, you had to go to the dealership — that mindset of toleration is crumbling with today’s consumers. In building for the future, there are three facets that dealerships must master today.
The age of the “one size fits all” marketing approach is well and truly behind us. Some believe the shift started as the Millennial generation came of age in the marketplace; in general, they were raised to value their individualism over the need to fit in with the crowd. As a result, they tended to ignore advertisements aimed at the masses. Effectively marketing to this group required developing methods and technology to connect with their individual needs and create targeted messages that were relevant to them.
A funny thing happened, then: Some of this targeted messaging strategy slipped into marketing for older generations, and they found that they, too, liked being treated as individuals. No matter their age, once people are exposed to that kind of marketing, there’s no going back.
The first job of a dealership is to get the prospective customer’s attention when they enter the market for a vehicle. Technology now exists that allows dealerships to reach these customers earlier and earlier with the offers and products that they want. In fact, artificial intelligence is getting so good that often dealerships can reach these consumers before they’re even aware they’re in the market. The message itself might give them the idea that this would be a good time for a new vehicle. This is a great place to be, because your dealership can reach them before they’ve had a chance to shop around, when it’s easiest to maintain profit margins.
To achieve this, however, the marketing message must be relevant to their needs. Sending a mailer about new car deals to someone who purchased a car last month is worse than ineffective; they’re more likely to disregard anything else you have to say in the future. An oil change deal to a customer who’s just had it done? Same effect. Your marketing must take into account the customer’s needs. Are they adding to the family? Are they retiring? Would they be rejected for a new car deal because of credit issues? If you craft a message taking everything there is to know about individual consumers into account — and through A.I. and big data, there’s a lot to know — you can put your dealership at the top of their mind when it comes time to step into a showroom.
But then you have to be ready for them.
Your staff has to be better informed than the customer, which is not an easy goal to reach these days. The modern consumer has rapid access to information — they are easily some of the most informed and educated customers in any field of sales — and they are motivated to learn. Since this is a huge purchase for them, they have a vested interest in educating themselves about the vehicles they are thinking about buying.
To be effective, the salesperson has to be seen as the professional in the relationship. That’s almost impossible to accomplish if the customer is able to tell the salesperson details about the vehicle that the salesperson didn’t know or, worse, stumps them with a question they should be able to answer.
Still, while they might know all about the vehicle, it’s still the salesperson’s job to walk them through the process of making the purchase. Even if they have gathered all the information they believe they need through websites, publications and other means, there’s nothing like seeing the vehicle with their own eyes. Being led through a comprehensive walk-through by a salesperson who can demonstrate all the great features that vehicle has to offer leads naturally to the sale; taking them on a test drive and letting them experience the vehicle first hand can change them from a potential customer to a buyer.
And, once the vehicle is selected, customers need to feel that they are in the hands of a trained expert and advocate.
THE FIRST JOB OF A DEALERSHIP IS TO GET THE PROSPECTIVE CUSTOMER’S ATTENTION WHEN THEY ENTER THE MARKET FOR A VEHICLE.
Part of being the customer’s advocate is not springing surprises on them. Many “done” deals are wrecked when the salesperson brings an “oh, by the way” expense out from nowhere. No matter how much they like the vehicle they’ve chosen, they are most likely apprehensive about paying that much money for an item. It doesn’t take much for them to put their shields up and rethink the entire transaction.
Again, these are educated consumers who have many online resources — TrueCar, KBB.com, Edmunds to name just a few — that tell them what the deal should be. Most customers, especially younger customers, don’t want to haggle. In fact, they won’t. If you lose their trust, there’s another dealership or, increasingly, an online outlet who’ll be happy to pick up where you left off. Today’s consumers are much more “point and click” than “grind it out” when it comes to transactions.
Be upfront about the details that go into the price you’re asking. Let them know why the price is what it is. If you can’t beat the price they believe they can get elsewhere, let them know that you’re selling more than the vehicle. The customer will often be willing to pay a little more if you give them a reason to do business with you. You must sell your dealership.
This is a big investment for the buyer; let them know that you’ll be there after the transaction is complete. If there’s a problem, you’ll be there to fix it. Your job is to make sure they are comfortable before, during and after the sale. Can the online sellers say that? Can you beat the service your competition provides?
Is this a one-time sale, or is the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the customer? Be the dealership the customer demands and deserves.