This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of Dealer Magazine. Article by Kathi Kruse, Founder/CEO of Kruse Control Inc.

The pandemic gave rise to changes in consumer car shopping habits, and many of those preferences will be with us for the foreseeable future. Switching between various sales channels, the consumer expects a seamless integration across multiple touchpoints and devices. As a result, it’s a new challenge for auto retailers to control the customer experience in this context, and customers are in the driver’s seat. Specific automotive social selling team management tactics can be applied so that salespeople serve customers more effectively.

The average sold lead browses 7.5 dealership pages online but only visits 1.6 dealerships in person. These statistics show if you’re able to engage the buyer online and get them into the dealership, you’ll likely sell them a car.

So, now you need to ask yourself, “How successful is my team at converting online leads into in-store visits?”

A Recent Study Shows the Advancement of Digital Retailing

Highlights from a 2021 study from Cox Automotive on the digitization of auto retailing:

  • 75% of dealers agreed that they would not be able to survive in the long run without adopting digital retailing tools and moving more of their sales process online.
  • 64% of shoppers want more of the purchase process to happen online, compared to the last time they bought a vehicle.
  • 75% of dealers agree that digital retailing provides shoppers a more customized experience, which is key to higher satisfaction with the shopping process.

Today’s digital marketplace provides the information customers seek, and it’s readily available anytime they want. The key here is choice. Consumers are in the driver’s seat, and if they choose to research their purchase online, wouldn’t it be advantageous to train salespeople to meet car buyers’ needs where they are, in the place they prefer?

Car Shoppers Spend Less Time Online in the Pre-Purchase Stage

According to KBB data, buying online speeds up the car shopping process and leaves buyers happier with their experience.

  • Consumers spent about 7 hours and 14 minutes shopping online for a car in 2020. That’s down from 9 hours and 29 minutes in 2019.
  • Buyers of new cars spent even less time, at 5 hours and 34 minutes in 2020, down from 6 hours 44 minutes in 2019.

Consumer expectations for a personalized shopping experience are at an all-time high (thanks, COVID). So the digitization of everything isn’t so much a trend as it is the new reality of retail.

Customers expect accuracy, and they demand content and products specific to them. And they’re willing to give auto retailers more personal information for that desired experience. Additional data from Cox/Autotrader shows that 63% of new-vehicle shoppers say they’ll provide more information online if it results in a more personalized offer and less time spent at the dealership.

Car Shoppers’ Journeys Must Be Personalized

The evidence points to the fact that we’ve entered an age where the car buyers’ purchase journey must be personalized. Consumers are telling us this not by their words but by their actions. They go to great lengths to find out everything they can from anyone they know/like/trust before interacting with the dealership.

The more you require in-person interaction during the research process, the more boundaries you create closing the sale.

Many retailers and their salespeople are still not providing these expected dialogue capabilities, especially when it comes to the eventual closing of the sale. As a result, the traditional one-way sales approach is not matching today’s customers’ needs.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your sales channel or retail presence perishes, but there’s a compelling reason to shift your process to accommodate this new digital buyer. An essential part of this new way to reach customers involves automotive social selling.

What is Social Selling?

Social selling is a sales technique that allows car salespeople to laser-target their prospecting and establish rapport through existing connections. They develop referrals, leads, and sales using social media. It’s the merging of online tools with traditional in-person customer service to better serve today’s consumers.

3 Essential Social Selling Team Management Tactics

A sales manager has a lot going on these days – working deals with a myriad of the newest software and being attentive to the ever-evolving customer preferences to name only two. When salespeople are given the opportunity to interact with customers online, they establish rapport early in the deal process. That makes for higher closing ratios, happier salespeople, and delighted customers.

1. Make automotive social selling part of your sales management process.

Integrate automotive social selling techniques throughout the purchase cycle, especially in the lead-up to the sale.

  • Make sure each salesperson can articulate their unique value before taking to social media. What does each team member bring to the table to ensure the customer receives a 5-star experience?
  • About 90% of your employees tend to be completely new to your brand, leaving a new untapped audience unfamiliar with your company. Ensure salespeople can clearly express the organization’s value over its competitors.
  • Help salespeople choose the right social media channels to use and how to look their best.
  • Train them on how to listen for buying signals. Customers will say what they want, need, or desire. It’s up to the salesperson to listen and act.
  • Encourage salespeople’s participation in creating unique, helpful content for the store (examples: pictures of deliveries, video customer round-up, and day-to-day happenings in the store).

2. Encourage salespeople to make and use introduction videos.

Introduction videos help your salespeople stand out from their competition, engage customers quickly, and build rapport.

It’s ideal to record a video for each specific customer response. We live in a world of personalization, and when you mention the prospect’s name, the chances are pretty good that you’ll get a positive reaction.

In an introduction video, the goal is to let your potential buyer put a face to a name and begin to feel like they know you.

  • If the prospect has asked a specific question, answer it and be as transparent as possible.
  • Don’t forget to compliment the customer’s choice in the dealership, vehicle selection, or even the timing of their contact.
  • Remember to invite them to come over and see the vehicles for themselves.
  • Let them know you are there for them if they have any questions or need assistance.

Pro-Tip: Imagine you have 15 seconds to record a video explaining to your customers who you are and how you can help. Once you’ve got that outlined, create a one-minute-long video introducing yourself.

3. Recognize online influence.

An employee influencer is someone within your organization that can positively impact the way external or internal audiences view, interact, or form opinions about your store. No matter their network size, an employee influencer can influence the behavior of car buyers.

To simplify, an employee influencer is someone whose insights and influence can drive results in various profitable ways.

Employees are the trusted face and source of information (and they should be if they are not currently). People can build a more emotional connection when there is an actual human behind the content.

Customers are Googling salespeople. What will they find?

In a digital retail world, an element of managing a sales team includes determining each team member’s online influence.

Begin by having each salesperson Google themselves and report to you on what they find. Positive or negative, you and your team members must learn what car buyers are seeing.

If you have a team member who stands out in a positive way, recognize them for a job well done.

If other team members don’t have a good online presence or don’t appear anywhere online, that’s a solid opportunity for improvement.

Reward tenacity and accomplishments. It’s always been true that a great hire is a salesperson who brings a network with them. Today, that network extends via social media. So, if you’ve got a superstar (or anything close to that), make sure they’re recognized during sales meetings.

Don’t forget about the art of networking.

Automotive social selling includes being proactive with finding leads. I use the term, “Social prospecting,” but at its heart, we’re talking about effective networking – we’re just using social media as a conduit.

The key to effective networking is forming relationships based on trust in an atmosphere of generosity and selflessness. I encourage salespeople to set up a system to generate the largest possible number of high-quality referrals from as many sources as possible (it’s a numbers game, after all). Track your progress to discover your wins and identify where you can improve your process.

“Giver’s Gain” is the world’s most successful organizational principle, and it’s a cornerstone in automotive social selling. Providing value to relationships allows you to leverage them for sales and referrals. With social media, personal and commercial relationships have merged. When business is slow, use that time to cultivate relationships.

About the Contributor

Kathi Kruse is an automotive digital retail advisor, dealership profitability expert, author, speaker, and founder/CEO of Kruse Control Inc. Born in the heart of Los Angeles to a family of “car people,” Kathi’s passion for business spans a 25-year automotive retail career, managing $100 million+ stores in Southern California.

View More Content from Dealer Magazine

This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of Dealer Magazine. You can view the latest digital edition as well as past issues of Dealer Magazine here.

Author: Alissa Frey

Digital Dealer