For years, automotive dealerships have been calling their websites their “Virtual Showroom”. The thought was to place all of their inventory online along with marketing messages to inspire visitors to submit their phone number or email regarding a vehicle or service. The assumption is that the website should mimic visiting the real showroom and getting the full customer experience from the comfort of the consumer’s couch. Sounds simple enough. Yet, the execution of this premise is failing to meet expectations.

“Do you think the online customer who submits their information is as serious as someone who comes into the dealership in person?”

Surprisingly, over 50% of the salespeople surveyed answered the online customer is NOT as serious, citing reasons such as “If they were really serious they would come in.”

When the discussion goes further, their response is driven by two misunderstandings. First, only 10-15% of automotive website visitors will submit their information. Many consumers are just gathering information and don’t want to interact yet. Many salespeople thought the percentage would be higher.

Secondly, some consumers feel if they submit their information, the dealership will hound them through multiple phone and email messages daily to prompt them to schedule a test drive. Salespeople agreed they focus on the test drive because managers want them to “Get them in.” Despite this, the average dealership is setting appointments for only 15-20% of those who raise their hands online.

If a large number of customers are not interacting, and the salespeople have no real urgency to interact other than to ask for a test drive, what can be done to improve the process? Since the dealership’s website is to be considered their virtual showroom, then the employees who respond should be considered virtual salespeople. By this reasoning, virtual salespeople should interact with online customers in the exact same manner as they would if the customer was standing right in front of them.

Currently, many processes resemble this. A consumer is on the dealership lot and points to a vehicle and asks for information. First, the salesperson would reaffirm the customer’s great choice, and point out one or two key aspects about the vehicle. Second, as the salesperson and customer begin walking over to the vehicle, the salesperson would start asking the customer five or six different questions to narrow down what is important to the customer. Eventually the customer may take a test drive and eventually purchase the vehicle.

However, this is not always the case for the online customer. The interaction begins with an email/call regarding the vehicle of choice. Some salespeople include a photo of the vehicle or a hyperlink to the vehicle on the website. Other salespeople send nothing other than, “I received your inquiry, and your vehicle is available. When do you want to come in for a test drive>” Over the course of the following days, emails and calls follow this same pattern.

“Do you have any questions? Are you free to come in today?”

“Do you need any more information on the car? Are you ready to test drive?”

“Are you still in the market? Let me know.”

There is no discovery or motivating questions, or anything close to resembling the interaction when the consumer is there in person.

If we reversed the process, could you imagine a salesperson saying to a customer who points to a vehicle on the lot, “I can’t tell you anything until you test drive.” Of course not; but this is how online customers are handled in many cases.

For perspective on how ridiculous this is, imagine going to a hotel website because you wanted to take your spouse or significant other away for a vacation and they didn’t have prices listed for the rooms. You call and the response is, “I can’t tell you until you come here.” You would laugh and hang up the phone.

It’s time for dealerships to review their processes for handling online shoppers. A simple way is to ask, “What would I do or say if the customer was right in front of me?” That is a good starting point for building a more efficient process based on customer needs. Make it a project for salespeople to be a part of the creation. It will allow them to design a process which works for them, increasing engagement and customer traffic coming to the dealership.

I would love to hear your feedback. Please share and if I can help in any way, please reach out.

Please join me in November for the Automotive Analytics & Attribution Summit in Florida. I will be sharing specific ways to rethink, install and implement new DR customer interactions with my workshop,

“Updating Your CRM and Showroom Processes to Maximize Digital Retailing” Information and tickets can be found here. http://bit.ly/2LI3ipv

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.