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Dennis Galbraith

Dennis Galbraith Chief Marketing Officer

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Forget Old-School, Get Back To Really-Old-School

Selling does not start at the curb. When I started selling cars in 1979, I stood by laser focused on the curb. That is where my hunt began. Like a chained dog my operative range was limited to the edge of the curb. Cross the line, and you were mine. My grandfather before me had knocked on doors and gone into barns to talk to people about his new Chryslers and DeSotos. But that sort of outreach was not part of the program for dealerships in my day. The hunt started at the curb.

In 1995, Autobytel began reaching past the curb via the internet. They lured customers online and packaged them up as leads. AutoTrader.com followed closely behind with an online listings model that was a huge improvement over newspaper classified ads. The ads were interactive. They went back and forth with the shopper. Most dealerships viewed this as advertising. My grandfather, had he still been alive, would have quickly recognized it as sales.

After all, the internet offers two-way communication. One-way devices (radio, television, print, and outdoor) were advertising, meant to stimulate the customer into coming to the store for a two-way conversation we called the sales process. The telephone, a two-way communication device, was clearly recognized as a sales tool in my grandfather's day, but by my time the approach to the phone was "just get them in." After all, everyone knew sales started at the curb. No wonder the internet was quickly misunderstood as an advertising medium rather than a sales tool.

Today, selling cars starts with price, photos, video, and text descriptions. Vehicles not online are not offered to the more than 80% of car buyers who use the internet in their automotive shopping process. Vehicles online without pricing or complete merchandising are generally dismissed by consumers as not really for sale either. Shoppers engage in a two-way conversation with the internet. The shopper clicks or types and the internet responds with content. If your vehicle has little or nothing to say for itself, the conversation quickly dries up and moves to another vehicle that is for sale and ready for an online conversation.

My grandfather would have been amazed at this modern sales tool. The notion that he could put everything he knew about the vehicle into an online listing and dozens of people would interact and converse with that information until one of them was sold enough to contact him would have seemed amazing. It also would have saved a great deal of shoe leather. He might have been intimidated by the first fifteen years of technology surrounding automotive internet. But now merchandising a vehicle is literally as easy as turning on an iPhone application and following the built-in steps (e.g. cDemo's Mobile Inspector App). Any eight year old can do it. No second device, no cables, no moving files around. My grandfather would have been able to pick it up without any training, and he would have recognized that he was selling cars, not just advertising them.

We have come full circle over the past four generations. During the depression and late 1940's sales efforts went out to where the customers were. As television advertising took hold, sales efforts were chained down. But the internet set those sales efforts free, going back out to shopper's homes, places of work, or wherever they want us, whenever they want us. The chain and collar are off. Take your price and rich content beyond the curb and get some new sales started!

Allan Cooper
Great article Dennis! Just as the emergence of the online sales processes back in 1995 revolutionized consumer engagement so to has mobile connectivity through the iPhone and others. Those that get it and jump immediately will prosper, those that sit on the sidelines will go the way of the dinosaur.
Dennis Galbraith
Thanks Allan. I fully agree with your comments regarding mobile connectivity. Nearly everything it represents is sales related: two-way communication with either human or technological touchpoints at any time in any place. The consumer is in control of the sales process, and they rarely start it at the curb. See you at DrivingSales Executive Summit!
Bryan Armstrong
Awesome perspective. That "conversation over the fence" is now triggered by and conducted via online mediums and the 800 "ball and chain" cell phone we are all linked to. Can't wait to meet you at DSES.

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