There are three types of automotive dealers when it comes to retailing in today’s world.
- Automotive dealers who are thriving in all this disruption and change.
- Automotive dealers who are struggling to adjust.
- Automotive dealers who have not started yet and are still retailing through traditional methods.
More than likely, regardless of the type of dealer you are, there is something you would have done differently if you could start all over again.
For me the answer is simple.
First, let me start by saying that I have the luxury of owning three stores in addition to being the CEO of J&L Marketing.
I say “the luxury” because not only do my stores get to use what I believe to be innovative marketing solutions far in advance but J&L benefits because it gets to test new concepts and approaches before introducing them to the market.
My three stores have been doing “Digital Retailing” for over ten years.
There are many things I would do differently if I could start all over again. In the beginning, there were a few wins and a lot of losses.
I tried to learn from both.
So, I feel like I am very qualified when it comes to helping automotive dealers, general managers and automotive manufacturers on the topic of “Digital Retailing”.
It’s my hope that after reading this article you can learn from my years of mistakes and triumphs and shorten your learning curve and/or optimize the success you are already enjoying.
Top 3 things I wish I did differently with “Digital Retailing” when I first got started…
I’ll start with technology. I wish I had understood that, while technology is needed, it is NOT what increases your traffic and sales. Everyone enjoys the opportunities from the promise that new technology can deliver. New bells and whistles can be fun and exciting. At the same time, new tech can create challenges.
The Internet gives you a more powerful tool to get your offer out to a lot more people and explain your “why” more effectively and efficiently. Take advantage of that.
I would have promoted what the technology really could provide the customer. In other words, you want to explain and educate consumers on why they should engage in what you are offering them.
Technology doesn’t help you sell more cars until there is more traffic using it.
Your goal still needs to be to compel more people to visit your showroom, or website or to call and email you.
Once I figured out the best marketing strategy to do this it was a game-changer for my own stores and our J&L dealer clients. When this is done right, it gives you the power to create much stronger offers and will outperform traditional “common” marketing offers.
One of the biggest challenges automotive dealers face in today’s world is trying to create offers that are different, unique and stronger compared to the dealers they compete against.
If I could start over, once I decided on the technology I would use to be more transparent and make it easier, faster and even fun to shop and buy from me, I would have invested almost all my time in creating better offers to market to my target audience.
I would have set up email sequences that were triggered based on the consumer’s behavior. I would have leveraged the technology investment with digital marketing and social marketing and introduced it to my service customers.
Eventually, this happened but it makes me sick to my stomach to think about the lost opportunities by not doing this immediately.
Your traffic issues can be solved with stronger offers. Give your customers what they want most. They want to save time, effort and money. The technology provides this but your marketing lets them know it’s possible – you must lead them.
#2: Understand What You Really Need to Improve Sales
Leads are great but you need more information in order to really strengthen your relationship and trust with your prospects.
We had a great sales process if the customer was in our showroom because our salespeople could walk the lot with them. We could uncover what motivated them, what they really wanted, and what they were looking to avoid.
One of the biggest challenges we faced as we began getting leads through digital retailing was that our knowledge about them was limited to the Call-To-Actions the prospects completed.
With the new technology, consumers were spending more time looking at our inventory online. However, they were doing it on their own time and creating their own deals.
We attempted to follow up with every lead, but it seemed like the more transparent we became, the more the prospect ignored us. They didn’t need us. We were selling cars, but nowhere close to optimizing the program.
If I could start all over again, I would be more relevant in our follow-up communications.
Eventually, we created a dashboard that updated us in real-time 24/7. It allowed us to “walk the lot” virtually with each person who was looking at our inventory.
I wanted to know how long they stayed on the site and how long they looked at each vehicle. Which vehicle did they spend the most time shopping?
When they were working their deal themselves, what changes did they make to their down payment, did they look at leases, payments, or both?
What did they plan to trade in and how much equity did they have?
By getting all this information upfront we were able to build better relationships because we communicated in a way that connected better with each prospect.
By strengthening our relationships, we were able to build trust and improve our sales.
Without this capability, we were just like everyone else. We were outperforming because the marketing system was generating more traffic, but too many opportunities were slipping through the cracks.
Once we started working with each lead using the dashboard, sales increased, but there were other benefits as well.
We were able to better understand the type of traffic that was shopping our inventory.
These insights continued to improve our technology, but even more importantly the marketing improved.
If I could start all over again, I would have had this dashboard from the beginning because it allowed us to improve on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.
#1: The Number 1 Thing I Would Do Differently…
I would have NEVER thought of or referred to retailing as “digital”, “traditional” or “modern”.
If the large majority of customers start on the Internet, that’s the norm! Why create a different sales process for the overwhelming majority?
If I could start all over again, I would have created a holistic retailing strategy – NOT a digital retailing strategy.
Referring to the Easy Car Buy technology we were using on the Internet to retail our cars as digital retailing was a huge mistake on my part!
If the Internet and new technology allowed us to have a better retail process that aligns and gives consumers the information they want, why should customers who show up in our showroom be treated any differently?
The way I look at it now is, that the customer who shows up in my showroom is the absolute highest quality lead. Why would they get treated differently or not have access to the same info as someone shopping on the Internet?
I made a similar mistake when the Internet first started being used with regularity.
I literally created a different process for an “Internet Customer”. It took several years before I recognized that there were no longer showroom customers and Internet customers.
They were all Internet customers.
My first contact with the customer may not have been from the Internet, but more than likely that is where they started before my team ever started communicating with them.
If I could start all over again, my process would have been all-inclusive… regardless of where the lead came from.
It would have started with the offer because without a strong offer the traffic doesn’t show up.
What can you offer the customer that is perceived to be of high value and give it to them in advance?
I wish back then I had asked that question because I would have built my retail strategy around delivering on that promise and leveraged it with every opportunity possible.
Eventually, this all happened! It just took a lot of hard lessons to get there.
If you’re a dealer who is currently thriving in this new retail world, I hope this article gives you some ideas to continuously improve.
If you are struggling, there’s no need to learn the hard way. There are several people out there who overcame early struggles and are succeeding at high levels today. Listen to the advice they offer!
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Be unique and show up like nobody else!