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Dealer floor traffic has tracked steadily downward since 1995, while Internet shopping has concurrently risen—and that drop in floor traffic and rise in Internet shopping has dramatically sharpened in both directions since 2005. So, in the last six years, shoppers have confirmed that if you’re waiting for the “UP Bus” and watching the glass, you’re just a dinosaur waiting to be encased in rock--and, yet, so many dealerships populate their sales floors and thinking with just that strategy! We no longer get them at the door and take them to the driver’s seat, customers are interacting with us first from their mouse click—and we have to engage them there, where they are, in order to get them into the driver’s seat later. And that takes a lot more “doing” on a dealer’s part than any sales manager’s preparation of whatever ads used to be put in the newspaper.
For example, Social Media is still a new Internet “undiscovered country” for most dealers. I was recently struck by two rather-successful industry consultant icons and their different assessment of the vehicle sales impact of social media: One thinks it’s the next great thing, and one thinks it will never be a lead generator. For the next couple of years, I’d have to say I agree with them both.
The easiest way to currently get direct impact from social media is not in leads, but instead in using it to get attention from interesting content (funny videos to pass around to friends, not still pics of your inventory!) and then also to create back links to your website. That’s not lead generation, that’s shopper direction, and it shows up, for example, in higher organic ranking in search engines—which leads even more shoppers to find you! And shopper direction is all what SEO and PPC (some call SEM) really are, purposed efforts to promote your dealership’s website for shopper inventory review and ultimately lead submission (via forms, email, chat, or phone). In that way, social media is not a lead generator but certainly is “the next great thing” for sales enabling. For now.
And understand that we no longer so easily restrict the information about the vehicle, as with the fuller bloom of the Internet now our shoppers control it—really, the OEMs have made sure of that, and we have followed right along because competition made it necessary. Any efforts online to restrict information (for example, empty email responses) just frustrate shoppers, creating opportunity for competitors. Control of information is another thing altogether, and that has always been a hallmark of good car sales because it means a conversation that is sales enabling and still is. For example, on the phone: “Yes, we have the car, but I have several others to choose from that might save you even more money. And with the differences in options, the ride of each really needs to be evaluated in a test drive. When can you come in, this afternoon or this evening?” This still works very well in a conversation.
And also beware of giving too much information: Internet or phone responses that are full of answers to questions but are without enticements for the customer to write back (or, better yet, call back) do not yield conversations. And conversations are still what lead to visits and sales! So, what dealers need online is their inventory to be easily and quickly found on the Internet, to then provide website motivation for customers to interact (Make an Offer forms, Email Us, Facebook, Chat, etc.), and to then use that interaction to create conversations which provide avenues to sales. Really, the whole conversation part of car sales hasn’t changed—it’s just that the Internet has changed how and when people decide to actually visit your lot. And, you need to get that conversation started to get that visit!
Vehicle shoppers, via the Internet, are maturing their purchase decision on their own much further down the sales funnel than ever before. And every step in that maturation has to include enticements, incentives, and information control (NOT restriction) from the dealer aimed at continuing the maturation to a sale.
Now you can see why the floor and Internet traffic have proceeded in the last sixteen years as they have: How do we get folks from the mouse click to the driver’s seat? We accept the change the Internet has brought us—that shoppers are further along in the sales process and more educated than ever when they contact us or come in!—and we use all the tools, from email to the phone to social media, to get better at what is still as true it has always been: Conversations lead to sales.
So, everybody: Get clicking, get emailing, get calling, get talking--and get selling!
From the Mouse Click to the Driver’s Seat!
By Keith Shetterly, email@example.com
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