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By now you've probably heard about Google's "experiment" in online car-shopping in the San Francisco Bay Area. Automotive News broke the story over a month ago and the results have been very mixed from dealerships around the country since. Dynamic Web Solutions took a deeper look including a walkthrough of Google's online car buying process to see just what they are working on.
With more and more prospective buyers going online before they buy, selling cars is increasingly becoming a bidding war to the bottom. Unfortunately, in this scenario no one wins.
Dealerships who are forced to sell on price will face shrinking profits while overhead remains constant or increases. So how will dealerships thrive with increasing competition from the online space?
Auto dealerships have long relied on a handful of web-based solutions (some required or heavily recommended by the OEM) that are sub-standard, boilerplate, and devoid of personality. How do you commodotize yourself? You build a cookie-cutter website and look just like everyone else in your industry. How do you stand out? Build something different. Build something interesting. Get involved online and build a community. If that sounds hard it's because it is. But it is also critical to the future of dealerships. The internet isn't going away, I promise.
Once the website issues are cleared up, you need to ensure that you are positioned well in search. This means hiring a firm that delivers ethical, I repeat, ethical SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and PPC (Pay Per Click) Marketing. Alternately you can attempt to bring these services "in-house". A good place to start would be SEOmoz's Beginner's Guide to SEO. Be warned that bringing in an experienced SEO and PPC team can be more expensive than outsourcing it to a professional firm. Trying to hand off this important work to a secretary or intern is also not a great idea. SEO and PPC are complex and require experience. Done correctly, Search Engine Marketing can dramatically improve visibility and your bottom line.
The internet has tipped the balance of power back to the consumer. It's easy to find prices and narrow down your car search online. However, consumers often choose a different car than they intended to purchase. A professional sales team knows how to persuade customers without being pushy (something the car industry is known for). But that's not enough. Your sales team needs to build trust and relationships with their customers. IBM conducted a great report on Winning Over the Empowered Consumer which is absolutely worth a read.
Take a vested interest in prospects and existing customers. Treat them with respect, and think long term gains not meeting monthly goals. If the extra steps are taken to build a relationship, you'll develop customers who refer friends and family, leave great reviews online, tweet, facebook message, and engage your brand in social media, AND you will stand out from the other dealerships.
Regardless of whether or not Google starts selling cars online in your region, the internet has forever changed the landscape of the auto industry and the dealers that survive will adapt to this new environment.
Image Credit to Josta, Flickr Creative Commons