For years, in the automotive industry, setting an appointment with a customer and then having the customer show up was the key to success. The sales process began as soon as hands were shaken upon the customer’s arrival. While other industries began moving towards online retail, the process of buying a vehicle still seemed stuck in the past and unwilling to adapt.

Websites have been a part of the shopping process for well over a decade. When they cropped up initially, dealers used them as nothing more than a platform to display their inventory and prices, and unfortunately, nothing has changed. The physical interaction between the consumer and salesperson remains the beginning of the sales process.

Focusing only on the appointment had been a point of frustration for both the employee and the customer. Bits of information were shared over the phone and then over email, for fear of giving too much to the customer for them to turn around and find a better price somewhere else. Even accepting there was friction or frustration, this way of doing business has been successful so the impetus to change the process was nonexistent.

COVID-19 changed the game. In NJ, as in some other states, dealerships were completely closed. First, they began to re-open for service appointments. Then came the decision that dealerships could open for sales but only for online sales. No longer could dealership employees wait for the customer to come to the dealership to begin the sales process. Dealerships quickly adapted the sales process to complete it fully online or over the phone and the appointment now transformed to only pick up the vehicle.

With certain steps of the previous process taken away dealers did what they had to do in order to sell cars. Customers liked the new process, dealers sold cars with less staff, and the appointment became the step where consumers picked up their vehicle, not where they began the process.

As time passes and as restrictions lift, the mistake many dealers could make would be to revert back to their old process. Not every consumer will want to complete their full vehicle purchase online but saving time will be of great importance. The goal of any new process should be to marry the online resources to the in-store process and have the dealership appointment pick up where the customer left off online.

So how can dealerships adapt to this new appointment culture?

First, leaders must decide to embrace the digital or online retailing process fully. Dealers have to be comfortable and flexible with sharing information online they may have not been willing to share previously. They need to be ready to communicate with their customers where and when they want to communicate. The process can no longer rely on, “When you come in, we can discuss.”

A few steps.

  1. Whiteboard out the sales process in place Pre-COVID
  2. Whiteboard out the sales process during COVID
  3. Decide what was beneficial during COVID and what could be continued.
  4. Whiteboard out the new sales process
  5. Document the new process so everyone is doing it the same way
  6. Train all employees on the new process
  7. Inspect and hold the team accountable to the new process
  8. Get feedback and testimonials from satisfied customers

What will happen as the sales team adapts the mindset to engage the customer when they are on the website?  Our clients who have adapted have shared feedback that customers were surprised someone responded so quickly. The customer stayed engaged with this dealership versus moving on to the next dealership hoping to find someone available to answer questions. We have also received feedback that negotiations were significantly easier and price was agreed to quicker. Customer satisfaction was higher and employee enthusiasm increased as well.

There will be dealerships who reverse course and return to the sales process of the past. Other players in the market, such as Carvana and Vroom, have changed the perception of what buying a car online could be.  More importantly, other franchise dealerships will continue to move forward towards an easier sales process, allowing the customer to do as much or as little as they like online and then picking up where they left off when they come in.

This is the new appointment culture. It is time to change. Customers have gotten a taste of what online sales could be when dealers were forced to adapt. It is time to move forward and utilize technology to make it easier, faster and mostly online.

If I can help in any way, please let me know. I am always available for a call. Don’t miss out on the Digital Marketing Strategies Conference which is now Virtual. This July 13-15th. For tickets and information got to http://digitalmarketingstrategies.org/. If you need help implementing a strong Digital Retailing process for your dealership, then please click here for more information on our 60 Day DR Consulting Program. Brian and I personally work with your store to help you create a brand message, marketing assets, streamline your website and create more engaging customer sales processes.

Glenn Pasch

Glenn Pasch is a Partner and CEO of PCG Digital. Glenn continues to author articles for multiple industry publications, blogs and forums as well as continuing his writing online at www.glennpasch.com.

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