On the surface, automotive sales appear to be booming. In fact, according to an article on Business Insider, U.S. car sales have risen for the seventh straight year – with 2016 topping the charts at an unprecedented 17.55 million.1 But despite continued sales growth year to year, analysts have warned that the increase in sales may not continue in 2017. Interest rates are rising and gas prices are increasing, which never bodes well for the automotive industry.2 Ford and Fiat Chrysler have temporarily paused production. General Motors announced plans to lay off 3,300 employees.
To counter this potential slowdown, industry insiders are leading dealerships towards the latest trends in digital marketing, where 88% of consumers go to begin their car buying journey. In fact, a recent study showed that the internet is the #1 information source for vehicle buyers in 2016.3 Google is where the majority of sales began last year – not at a dealership and not on a dealership’s website. A recent study by Google showed that online availability and being useful in a customers’ initial auto search leads directly to dealership visits. Digital interactions influence auto shoppers’ decisions just as much as the salesperson on the lot.4 Over 75% of consumers who research cars online, spend most of their time on third-party sites and use multiple devices.
Before you can influence more car buyers to your showroom you need to know what’s keeping them from showing up in the first place.
The question isn’t why people are turning to the internet (that’s been trending for years), but why are consumers turning to third-party sites to find the information they need? The answer is consumer experience. A recent Forbes article titled, “Why is it so painful to buy a new car?” answers the question. Consumer experiences with a dealership are painful! Customers are confused while comparing vehicles and payments, disappointed during their trade-in appraisal, anxious while negotiating deal terms, bored while finalizing financing, and frustrated while reviewing purchase add-ons. Consumers avoid dealerships because they don’t want to deal with the distrust they have for salesmen/dealer websites and the overall time it takes to do the research, make the purchase, and drive away. Dealers have come a long way to address the claims the Forbes article lists. However, perception is reality and consumers are more demanding than ever, especially when it comes to time and convenience.
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Frustration and trust are what leads consumers to third-party sites.
Interactions with sales people and with the finance department consistently score low with consumers, but these are interactions that must be had at some point (at least for now). In fact, the lowest satisfaction rate for any car-buying process is time. A 2016 AutoTrader study showed that 44% of buyers are dissatisfied with the length of their purchase process.5 Because of this, the buying process for most customers begins online.
Consumers are searching the internet daily seeking information about their next vehicle, their trade-in, and possible savings opportunities. Third-party websites have been able to offer this information with little effort on the consumer. Now, dealers face more competition than ever. Between constantly trying to out-sell the competition, fighting all-time low brand loyalty numbers, AND informative third-party sites, the struggle to hit weekly, monthly, and yearly sales goals has never been more daunting. Dealerships must reach potential customers with the information they want before the customer gets caught up in their 14+ hour of research.
Dealerships must provide more information and do it easily. Transparency builds trust.
Fifteen to twenty years ago, car buyers drove around from dealer to dealer to decide what they wanted to buy and then from whom. Because this took up so much time and was inconvenient, we limited our choices to a few brands. If a person owned a Toyota and was shopping for a new vehicle… they may have limited their research to visiting Honda, Nissan and other Toyota dealers. Today, car buyers are more willing to switch brands and bounce from new to used and back because it is so easy to find exactly what they want. Google says digital interactions have as much influence on a customer as a salesman on the lot. Digital marketing MUST be a large part of a dealership’s marketing strategy - these interactions lead directly to showroom traffic. While paid search/display and social media advertising are essential marketing techniques in today’s world, dealerships must also go deeper into the digital world and learn how to address customer pain points ahead of time and provide a trustworthy, positive, and speedy customer experience.
Consumers can still be influenced on what and where to buy because they’re shopping a larger range of makes/models and purchase options. To influence car buyers to the showroom a dealer must reach them before they do all their research and sell themselves.
Dealers have more data, marketing channels, tools and more effective methods to reach car buyers than ever before. More consumers are switching brands which means there are a higher number of conquest opportunity. So why is showroom traffic and conquest sales still difficult to produce a steady return on investment?
Marketing experts either intentionally or unintentionally make things so complicated that the average person can’t keep up.
Dealers who take advantage of very advanced marketing strategies – but keep it simple are experiencing insane traffic and conversions. The #1 reason some marketers don’t hit a strong ROI with digital or direct response marketing is because they can’t convert leads into customers. For a marketer, converting a lead means delivering traffic to a site, then the visitor enrolls and is moved into the sales funnel. For the dealer, conversions means they bought a car. Marketers must drastically increase conversions to impact sales. Traffic is the easy part. To convert you have to make it easy and create the right experience.
There is a big difference between advertising and marketing. The last thing a dealer wants while car buyers start looking around the Internet is to appear as just another dealership. Car buyers demand more. We are trained by companies like Amazon on how our buying experience should be. The biggest contributor to self-sabotage is doing things incrementally better. Dealers who are experiencing major breakthroughs are shattering the trust barrier most car buyers have with them.
To influence car buyers, you must create good will in the market place and create positive expectancy.
Dealers who are separating themselves from the pack are doing things other dealers just aren’t doing. They are applying a proven process that engineers a never-ending stream of traffic that converts.
Truecar has tapped into a market challenge or problem by reducing the amount of time it takes to research the deals that are taking place. Getting a great “deal” or knowing what that is – Is no longer the challenge it once was. Consumers want more control – Highly successful dealers are giving it to them.
Give, give, and give! Give consumers everything they’ve been looking for on third-party sites – and more. Get your share of the plethora of car buyers leaving your competitors. Market to these conquest buyers in their inbox, Facebook feed, or mailbox so you’re able to catch their attention at the earliest moments of their shopping process. Lead people to a place they can trust and where they can find your dealership’s incentives, trade-in values, the equity of their current vehicle, and down payment amount for the vehicle they’re interested in purchasing. Separating all these functions doesn’t save anyone time – It must be in one place. You must make it easy and reduce the fear of “how long will this take?” This alleviates the confusion, disappointment, and anxiety the customer faces during these same negotiations at other dealerships. You want car buyers browsing your inventory and getting all the information they want and need. Customers should see your entire inventory, sorted perfectly in line with their ideal monthly payment so they don’t have to deal with the confusion and boredom of comparing vehicles and finance options. This builds trust and creates a great customer experience.
They will be shocked to learn that many new vehicles have lower payments than their current car, which is always a good feeling! Whether customers are interested in scheduling a private showing at a dealership or wanting to request a lower payment, they feel in control of each quick step – all while moving further down your marketing funnel and into the showroom. This resolves the pain points every customer faces and allows a dealership to improve the entire consumer experience - which increases traffic and dramatically increases conversions. Remember… online availability and being useful in a customers’ initial auto search leads directly to dealership visits.