Nearly 20% of the used vehicles listed for sale online have no photos. Most vehicles have no video demonstration, and many have vehicle descriptions that are nothing more than a list of features. Fewer than one in four used vehicles for sale online are well merchandised, and very few give any indication of why a shopper should choose to buy from that store. In talking to dealers across the country, the most common explanation for not dedicating more resources to online content generation is that selling takes priority over advertising. Understanding that these are sales activities will help your team consistently put its efforts into the activities that best sell cars.
The Internet did not change what selling is, but it radically changed where the sales process takes place. When I began selling cars in 1979, the sales process took place entirely at the store. We listened to the shopper, matched them up with the right product, demonstrated the product, closed the deal, and delivered it. Better sales people than me kept file cards on their customers and kept in touch with them.
Today, much of the sales process begins online. Consumers bounce back and forth across various automotive sites, and then contact the store by phone, email, chat, or walking in. Most sales are closed and delivered at the store, although there are experiments with home or office sales and delivery.
Through the Listening, Match-Making, and the beginning of the Demonstration process, this looks a lot like the path shoppers take when shopping for other products online. Shoppers learn how to shop online from ecommerce sites, like Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, which they use more frequently than they buy cars. All major ecommerce sites use Search Results Pages (SRPs) and Details Pages. They operate much the same way as auto dealer sites and listings sites, like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com. Ecommerce sites most certainly sell, many billions of dollars worth, in a manner that involves no direct human contact. All the interactions occur with websites. In the auto business, the shopper can’t or shouldn’t complete the shopping process without human interaction. Nonetheless, the online interactive touch points are a vital part of the sales process. Most shoppers never interact with humans at the dealership until they engage information about the store or its inventory online.
The thing holding many managers and sales people back is the inability to accept every interactive touch point – human or technological – as part of the sales process. Advertising is shouting. Selling is listening and responding. Websites have ears; they listen to shoppers and respond to their clicks. The sales messages you send in response to those clicks are pre-determined, but they are part of the sales process nonetheless. Photos, videos, and text about your vehicles and your store are not produced for advertising; they are for selling. You don’t have to shove your vehicle information down shopper’s throats – they ask to see it. When they do, it needs to sell the vehicle well enough to get the shopper to contact the store.
The concept that selling occurs at every interactive touch point delivers multiple impacts on auto dealer marketing:
The interaction between the shopper and your website is selling. Your site should be designed to maximize the shopper’s preference for your inventory and your store.
The interaction between the shopper and your inventory on listings sites like Cars.com and AutoTrader.com is selling. You pay to receive a high number of Search Results Pages (SRPs) and Vehicle Details Pages (VDPs). Whether or not those VDPs convert into phone calls, emails, chats, and walk-in traffic depends on how well you sell the vehicle on those sites. Seller’s notes, photos, and videos are for maximizing preference for the vehicle and your store.
The background and quality of your photos can say as much about your store as they do the featured vehicle. Is your store more like Nordstrom or The Dollar Store?
The tone of voice in your videos can say a great deal about your store, especially to the 25% of shoppers who are primarily auditory learners.
Seller’s notes cannot be a rehash of vehicle features. They must sell the benefits of your vehicles and explain why your store is the right place to buy.
The reputation of your store online can foster or diminish preference for your store.
Don’t underestimate the results. Knowing how many phone calls, emails, and chats are produced by your website is important. The conversion ratio – total store contacts divided by the number of site visitors – is a key performance metric. However, the amount of walk-in traffic generated by your website may be more than all the phone calls, emails, and chats combined.
Shortcuts, like avatars designed to increase the number of traceable leads, may have negative consequences. If your website pushes people who were going to walk into the store to first perform a traceable act, then your conversion metric is improved, but your sales are not. The objective of the website is to maximize the total amount of store traffic with the highest percentage of ready-to-buy shoppers possible. Lead metrics indicate some of the quantity of store traffic, but with no accounting for quality. If your website does everything it can to meet the information needs of your shoppers, then more of them will approach your store with a more ready-to-buy disposition.