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So--it is almost 2015. Another year past and a new future approaching. As I follow the news in the automotive industry, it reminds me much of Y2K. I remember waiting for the clock to turn to 12:00 am on January 1, 2000 and worrying that all of the electricity would go out, that banking as we knew it would end, and it would be slightly reminiscent of one of those dystopian novels where civilization had to re-organize and reinvent itself.
Of course, none of that happened in 2000. Y2K did not destroy life as we knew it and my New Year’s party continued on while Dick Clark spoke through our television.
In the same fashion, there are major changes on the horizon with how we sell cars, but everything previously known will not disappear. There are some trends that need to be watched, though. It is only the foolish who pretend change is not happening. However, the change does not mean erasing past practices. It just means that you need to meld the two together.
Companies such as Beepi, Carvana, and Sonic have reduced the face to face interactions with customers to a bare minimum. Beepi (a very interesting concept) entirely removes the dealership from any purchasing transaction while still providing thorough inspections and customer satisfaction promises--but no test drives. They do have a 14 day return policy, though. Carava offers the same 100% online experience with delivery to the door, but does have a 7 day test drive. Both remove the dealership and sales people from the equation and focus solely on the power of the purchase.
Sonic (and others soon to join this digital experiment) still have a brick and mortar dealership where the customer will land to finish paperwork and receive their new vehicle, but still the majority of the purchase is done digitally.
These experiences are seller driven. There are people who will guide and help you through the process, but they are not selling--they are facilitators. The customer drives the interaction, the research, and the purchase. They are essentially driving the sale.
This is a very subjective question--but one that must be discussed. This CAN be good, if leveraged in the right fashion. Consumers drive the industry. Experiments and inventions come from the necessity and desire of the buyer. Obviously buyers want a more independent online experience with less interaction. Old school would say that this will never work--that people buy from people. I agree with this statement to a point. Relationships do sell--but so does the internet. Successful dealerships will be able to utilize old school practices while integrating an online approach. You must make sure that you are competitive when searched online. If you can marry the ideas of selling online and and a strong customer service presence, you will not only be able to manage this new area of the car dealership, but thrive as well.
There are some initial things you can do to help you transition from completely on-lot selling to a hybrid of online and on-lot. You should never forget all the methods that have made you successful in the past--but you SHOULD follow industry trends and introduce some new techniques.
Be relevant. Keep your responses as up-to-date and timely as possible. Do not use an auto-responder to try and connect with your potential customer. Answer their inquiry with a relevant, informative e-mail. And then call them as soon as you can or as soon as it is an appropriate time.
Customers Matter. Very few customers are going to just walk onto your lot or into your showroom without having researched make, model and pricing. They are in your dealership because they know what they want. It is now up to you to keep the sale. Treat them as respected customers--odds are they know more about that specific vehicle than anyone else in the room
I had a professor in college who used to always say “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I always thought that was an odd statement, but it is true. New ideas should never erase old practices. They should enhance and re-energize. Here is to the re-energization of 2015 and the melding of the old and the new.