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The Ultimate Online Automotive Sales Process for Your Website

The sales process hasn’t changed, but the way customers shop for a car has.  Make sure your online sales process matches your on-lot sales process.

Your Online Meet and Greet

The sales process we all know and love starts with that initial handshake and introduction.  It establishes rapport, trust, and most importantly your first impression.  We all know that customers shop online first, and Autotrader says that they spend an average of 11.5 hours online before they visit your lot.  So technically, your meet and greet happens well before the customer ever steps foot out of their decade old trade-in.


  • What is your Meet and Greet process online?
  • Do you list your awards and accomplishments on the home page?
  • Is your brand clearly identified and differentiated from the competition?
  • Do you have your featured vehicles (see aged inventory) clearly displayed on the homepage for easy access?
  • Do you have an up–to-date staff page with pictures, biographies, contact information, and their corresponding DealerRater reviews accessible from the home page?

You most likely spend a lot of time helping your sales team learn how to greet a customer effectively and earn their trust, so why do you not spend the same amount of time making sure your online Meet and Greet is up to the same standard?

Your Online Needs Assessment

How many customers buy the exact vehicle they originally look at and want?  One of the amazing talents of sales professionals is their ability to land the customer on the right car.  A true sales artist can perform a needs assessment and know exactly what car to land them on.

Let’s face it…customers do not always know what vehicle is within their budget, what color they like, what features they want, how much performance they “need”, etc.  When your customer pulls in with two kids, a dog bowl, ski rack, hitch bicycle mount, and soccer gear in their trade, are you going to show them a 2 door coupe?  The customer is attempting to do a personal needs assessment online before coming your dealership.  Is your website designed to help them with this process?

  • Do you have a research tab on your home page that allows your customer to browse the vehicles that actually matter to them?
  • Do you have a payment calculator that is configured to an appropriate APR rate, down payment, and an available lease payment option?
  • For snowy climates, do you have a page devoted to your All Wheel Drive vehicle offerings?
  • Do you have a page that utilizes the gas savings calculator?

Most websites aren’t helping the customer determine what car is right for them.

Your Online Product Presentation

We have all lifted the hood on a brand new car and seen that shiny plastic covered motor.  It’s the psychology of the sales process that allows us to de-value their trade, and it offers a talking point as to the reliability of the vehicle they are looking at.  When the customer comes on the lot, how often do they know more than your sales person about the vehicle they are looking at?  I have seen customers list the trim and engine lineup for the entire Ford F-series line of trucks without taking the mandatory OEM training your sales staff goes through.  If the customer is spending 11.5 hours online learning about ONE vehicle, you should spend the same effort making sure your website provides them relevant information.  If you are not providing what your customer is searching for, they are going elsewhere for that information.

  • Are you taking New Vehicle pictures of your inventory and publishing them online?
  • It pains me that I have to say this, but are your cars detailed immediately before the pictures are taken?
  • Are your vehicle pictures in the order of an actual vehicle walk-around?
  • Are your vehicle descriptions full of “cheese” (sorry vAuto), and lacking actual relevant content about the car.  “One owner, low miles trade-in that has never seen snow, with regular service visits”.
  • Are you explaining the difference between new vehicle trim models clearly on your listings page?
  • Do you have manufacturer incentives clearly labeled on your new inventory listings?

The product presentation is arguably the most important part of the sales process, and it is the one we ignore the most online.

Your Online Test Drive

The test drive is where the emotion happens.  Car buying is an emotional experience!  When the customer test drives a vehicle, they are imagining themselves driving to work, taking kids to school, pulling into Starbucks, etc.  How the car feels, smells, sounds, shifts, drives, parks, locks, and honks are all part of this emotional process.  Your sales process on the lot includes letting every customer test drive ANY vehicle they want.  Can your customer do the same thing online?

  • Does your online presence replicate the emotional test drive the customer takes?
  • Do you have live human voice video of all your vehicles?  Do you have walk-around videos of all your new models?
  • Do you have a vehicle configurator on your website that allows the customer to select what colors and options they desire?
  • Do you have dash facing interior driver seat photos for every model on your lot?

The more you replicate the emotional buying process online, the higher chance you have to convert a shopper into a buyer.

Your Online Trade Evaluation

One of the biggest profit centers in your dealership is your used car department.  Buying 70% of your used inventory at auction is not profitable or an effective use of your used car managers time.  The perception of undervalued appraisals is money walking out your door.  The silent walk-around and ranking the trade are vital steps towards increasing gross and fueling your used car retail operations, yet we do not replicate any of these processes online.

  • Do you have a trade-in valuation utility embedded on your website that allows the customer to get a realistic (slightly optimistic) value on their trade in?
  • Are you explaining the tax benefits of trading in vs. selling private party on your website?
  • Does your website blatantly offer to purchase any customer’s vehicle regardless of their intent to purchase a new one?
  • Does the service page on your website offer an option to get a trade valuation while they are servicing their vehicle?

Your Online Negotiation

Negotiation of a vehicle price is part of our business whether we like it or not.  It is one of the last forms of commodity negotiation save for the housing market (which is becoming more of a single price model due to the lending and appraisal market).  When is the last time you bargained with the teenage grocery store bagger on the price of milk?   Despite all the four squares, pencils, desking tools, and TrueCar, customers still enjoy negotiating on the price of their car, and expect to negotiate when they come on your lot.  Make your website negotiation friendly and offer the customer ways to trust you MORE, not less.

  • Does your website have a “Make an Offer” button on every vehicle?
  • Do you have a “Buy it Now” option?
  • Do you have a page devoted to the benefits of putting cash down when purchasing a vehicle?
  • Do you have a page devoted to the benefit of financing, leasing, or buying cash?
  • Are you showing your transparency for how the vehicle buying process should be and what to expect?

Your Online Delivery

Owning a vehicle can be just as stressful and confusing as buying a vehicle.  After a customer has spent over 4 hours buying a car, we spend another hour showing them the complex electronics and phone pairing steps they need to know about their car.  We also expect them to remember everything we showed them, or hand them a manual written in four languages.  One of the biggest reasons your CSI can drop when a customer purchases a vehicle is when they do not understand the electronics after 30 days of ownership.  When the customer enjoys the delivery process, they are more likely to visit you in service and purchase their subsequent vehicles from you.  What are you doing on your website to promote happy vehicle ownership?

  • Do you have a link to “Owners Page” on your OEM’s website?
  • Do you have a page showing where the customer can make a payment, or contact the finance department with questions?
  • Are you actively advertising and promoting your new owner clinics on your website every month?
  • Do you have videos made for how to operate the vehicle’s electronics, including simple items like “How to set up your garage door opener?” or “How to pair your phone’s Bluetooth”?
  • Do you have a website page showing the recommended service intervals and maintenance schedule?

Final Thoughts:

Your sales process has been refined over 50 years.  Unfortunately, your online process does not match the dedication and effort you place into making sure every potential opportunity chooses you to do business with.  Car buying is still an extremely emotional and psychological experience and most dealers believe the internet has taken that away from them.  I would argue that the internet can enhance and compliment that experience, thus making the car buying experience more enjoyable.


Brad Hampton

KPA Marketing Manager

Views: 708

Tags: Automotive, Dealer, KPA, Process, SEO, Sales, Websites


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Comment by Matthew Smolik on March 7, 2013 at 5:55pm
Can you send me a couple of links to pages that are set up like this?
Comment by Matthew Smolik on March 7, 2013 at 6:06am
Thanks great read, I bookmarked this as a reference when setting up my conversion goals
Comment by fernando poniente on March 1, 2013 at 9:35pm

nice and meaty... 

Comment by Marcus Wiesner on February 28, 2013 at 10:01pm

Super good stuff. Thanks, I actually bookmarked this so I can refer back to it again. :)

Comment by David Hartley on February 27, 2013 at 7:10am

Great content Brad, thanks for sharing.

Comment by Rob Pearson on February 27, 2013 at 5:48am
So the consumer that visited 4-5 dealerships to purchase a vehicle back in 2006, that today on average visits 1.4 different stores to make that same purchase, is a good indicator that the sales process has changed. With 90% of consumers starting their vehicle search online, we feel the first two steps of the sales process are now: Brand Identity and Brand Preference.

There's a powerful trend that's driving shoppers online today. People logon to gather information, conduct research, read reviews, etc... It's clear that consumer shopping behavior has changed, and with that a quickly changing customer loyalty landscape. There's reliability across all brands today. And the biggest opportunity for dealerships may be outside their brand.

I enjoyed your post!

Comment by Thomas Reidy on February 27, 2013 at 4:38am

Well done checklist for optimizing a dealer's online presence.

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