The “Holy Grail” of automotive retail should be to grow beyond the “Internet Department” or “BDC” and become what we’ll call here a “Digital Dealership”. Our industry has been implementing these departments since the late nineties and still is up to now. These departments evolved out of necessity to capture a consumers interests via the internet in a more efficient manner than they had been doing up until then.
Ironically what we did was insert a sub culture into the dealership because we didn’t believe that the floor was capable of handling the ever increasing flow of traffic from the web. We branded it the Internet Department and have worked to build the perfect beast ever since. We all know that hindsight is 20/20 and I really believe that we as an industry swung and missed on that one. The simple truth is that there was just not enough information and talent to steer it any other way. We were behind the consumer curve and did not see the need or a way to take and apply what the most forward thinking retailers were doing at the time.
While dealers are still hard at work perfecting their lead response and follow up processes, consumers are once again leaping ahead, leaving their digital fingerprints in every corner of cyberspace. The biggest problem that dealers face is that there is a great deal of disparity between the customers online and showroom shopping experiences.
At the OEM level they are presented with dynamic web sites that enable the consumer to build and equip their dream ride to their exact specifications. The vehicle that the customer builds is not necessarily the vehicle they truly want or can afford, but the information is there for them so that they can choose a vehicle that best suits their needs and budget and yes at times these virtual cars are unattainable.
Third party sites are even more informative minus the “glitz and glamor” provided by the manufacturer. Here consumers can not only build their vehicle, but they can read reviews, get pricing and are prompted to connect with a local dealer. If the consumer submits a lead, they are hopefully engaged by an experienced internet sales professional, who understands that the customer has done their due diligence and has a significant amount of information about the desired make, model and even the dealership at their fingertips.
The disconnect occurs when this same consumer decides to bypass the lead submission and go directly to the store; a behavior that has become more and more prevalent in the last few years. They are then greeted by a sales person as a “floor up” and become subject to the stores sales process. The sales person is trained to apply the steps to the sale as mandated by the dealers policy, while missing the opportunity to capitalize on the “Zero Moment Of Truth” that led the customer their dealership in the first place.
We have all heard the phrase “They’re all internet customers” said within a dealers walls, but what we have not seen is the training that should be applied to support it. Before any dealership can make the transition to becoming a “Digital Dealer” offering a true eCommerce sales experience, they must first understand that their dedicated internet departments have little to do with this becoming a reality.Â
An attempt to accomplish this by bringing the BDC or Internet Department culture to the floor will fail. Most managers and sales people do not see those departments as an eCommerce culture or mind set, they see them as a mechanism of the dealership, necessary due to the prevalence of consumers shopping online.
The steps to attaining the “Holy Grail” begin with training your sales team to fully understand how consumers behave online and what their expectations are. This training should begin with your management team and be as comprehensive as possible. Your BDC director and leadership should be a big part of this training, but you should also consider looking outside of your store for knowledgeable resources. Any resistance from management or sales will be a telling indicator of that persons willingness to adapt and grow with your dealership.
These are baby steps indeed, but very vital if the goal of your store is to become a place where the well researched consumer doesn’t come to “start all over”. The transformation can only begin once you have achieved an enthusiastic buy in from your managers Only then can you move on to training your sales team. Your goal should be to make this question as comfortable as “Welcome to ABC Motors….”
“Mr/Mrs Customer, roughly how much time have you spent online researching (your next) or (this) vehicle?”
You will know that you are moving in the right direction when you can work this word track into your needs assessment with complete confidence.