By Lawson Owen, Founder & CEO, Proactive Dealer Solutions
Auto retail is moving away from “lead capture” and toward customer interaction because car shoppers are more educated and want more control over the buying process. As a result, the goal of the salesperson should not be to immediately close customers but to consult with them so they continue down the purchase path. These dynamics require a fundamental change in the way today’s sales teams interact with shoppers.
Sometimes new concepts are hard for old car dogs to embrace. But that’s not always the only problem. A lack of knowledge about where to begin may leave salespeople frozen and falling back on what they’ve always done. Here are 8 practical lead engagement strategies to help sales pivot from a “hard sell” mentality to that of a trusted advisor:
1. Answer questions. Tell customers what they want to know before asking for an appointment. Give detailed pricing information, tell them about available rebates or specials, and answer every question. There are still dealers who refuse to give pricing information and then complain when they don’t get a response from the consumer. Often that prospective buyer has moved on to another dealer and has already ruled out the dealer whose response lacked pricing information.
2. Quality responses trump fast ones. Customers care more about service quality and attitude than about service speed. Make sure lead responses are personal and that they align with the information the customer requested. Resist sending email templates just to get a response out the door. Templates feel like a brush-off and many people will simply move on to the next dealership.
3. Personalize with video. Video creates an immediate connection and helps to convey more information that consumers can easily understand. In fact, 95 percent of a message people see in a video stays with them. An email or text can’t do that. Best practice is to keep videos short – 30 to 60 seconds, longer than that and attention will wander.
4. Create less friction. A Driving Sales study reports that 99 of 100 vehicle shoppers expect buying a car to be a “hassle.” To create more engagement, create less friction. How is your dealership making it easy for customers to do business with you? Brainstorm what makes your store different and ensure every salesperson is up to speed with what you offer that your competitors don’t.
5. Give back time. Most of the pain points in the car buying journey come down to time spent in the dealership. A big time-waster, and source of frustration with customers, is asking them to re-hash in-store the work they have already done online with your digital retailing tools. Mandate that salespeople do their homework before customers walk through the doors so they are prepared to pick up the process where customers left off.
6. Rethink the test drive. Commit to no-pressure test drives. Salespeople should position themselves as product specialists who are there to answer questions – not to deliver a sales pitch. Salespeople should know the product inside and out before the vehicle leaves the lot. Test drive time is best spent pointing out unique features and offering useful comparisons to similar makes and models.
7. Minimize alone time. Salespeople should never leave the customer at the desk alone. That’s when the excitement wears off and doubts set in. Absences, often unexplained, create distrust around the entire car buying process. Leverage text and email to communicate internally with managers and F&I.
8. Personalize appreciation…even if the customer didn’t buy. A video personally thanking the customer for coming in for a test drive, delivered via email or text, is a great way to show gratitude and appreciation. Bonus points for filming the video next to, or from inside, the vehicle they test drove. Remember that just because a customer didn’t buy this time, they will be in the market again. Leave them with a great last impression so they want to work with your dealership again.
A word about payment plans:
Asking sales staff to prioritize the interaction over the hard close is a fundamental shift that requires a parallel shift in compensation to achieve success. How you decide to reward your team for quality engagements will depend on your culture and specific goals. Some points to consider:
• Incentivize the number of quality engagements, such as when a salesperson proactively reaches out to customers, shares vehicle links, and conducts follow-up activities that drive customers through the buying stages. Proper use of the CRM is key for this plan to work, which will also motivate staff to use it consistently.
• Consider paying more per hour to build a quality team that will execute on your new vision.
• Pay bonuses for high CSI scores related to the sales experience.
• Use review collection software to track and incentivize employees mentioned by name in positive online reviews.
The most effective salespeople today understand consumers want to control their experience – with expert guidance along the way. Employ these 8 practical strategies for more effective customer conversations, and consider new pay plans to motivate sales to enact them. The payoff will be more customers continuing down the purchase path with your dealership.
About the Author
Lawson Owen is CEO & Founder of Proactive Dealer Solutions, a leader in lead and process management for auto dealerships.