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Why Internet and Showroom Customers are Different- And How to Treat Them Differently

Internet customers are similar to showroom customers in that they are looking for information at all times in the buying process. We all know how to sell cars using a consultative approach, so in this way any experienced lot salesperson with writing abilities should have no problem dealing with internet customers.

However, too often dealers believe the equation stops there. Unfortunately there are several key differences all dealers must consider when developing an internet sales strategy. While all customers are different, the extent that a customer shops on the internet can tell us a lot about their buying habits.

Internet ups are different from showroom ups in the following ways:

They often are not ready to buy. They might not even be ready to test drive.
They are afraid of car salespeople. They want to deal with us as little as possible, at first.
It is more difficult to tell where they are in the buying process and their interest level in the product.
They are generally more educated on the product and pricing, or will become such before visiting the showroom.

While these points are all true, there is one difference that is most dynamic and important to understand: control. While some showroom customers will “fight” the process, many will roll with you. On the other hand, internet customers want control over their own buying process from the start. This is the biggest and most important difference to consider when dealing specifically with these customers. This is also the main reason internet deals increase each year as a percentage of total sales.

Lets put ourselves into a customer's shoes. As a customer, I can pick from the following situations:

Spend hours at a dealership trying to find the right car for me. Hopefully I get a knowledgeable salesperson who can tell me about the product and who can understand my needs. Then sit there and rely on my poor negotiation skills to try and wrestle myself the best deal. If I cannot do so, fight to get my keys back so I can go to another dealer and try and do the whole thing all over again.

OR

Spend some time on Edmunds, KBB, etc to get a general idea of what cars fit my needs and budget. Submit quote/information requests to several dealers. Call the dealer that seems to offer the best all around deal and experience to confirm details and schedule test drive appointment. If I like the car, I will sign up and drive home in my new car. If I don't, at least I didn't have to waste a day at the dealership.

Cars.com has a great ad that capitalizes on this mentality. Take a look:


Once we understand a buyer's motivations for going online, we can create the most impressive buying experience for them. They will work with the dealership which they perceive to be the easiest, most pleasant, and most professional. The dealership that does the best job of this will get the most deals.

Here are some tips on developing your dealership's customer experience:

Keep email templates short and to the point. Let your customers know that you will provide them with all the tools they need to make the best choice for themselves.
Don't be afraid to offer a quote. The customer won't be afraid to ignore you otherwise.
Make it personal. Find a way to connect with them beyond the carbuying experience. If you can engage the customer on some level, you can start to show that you are just a hardworking, honest person just like them.
Focus on professionalism. I can't tell you how many times I have caught template emails with grammatical errors, quotes for the wrong car, etc. Don't lose the customer before you have a chance!
Confidence is contagious. The customer will feed off your confidence. Once they've made a decision to write back to you, they want to be reassured that they are dealing with the best dealer. Tell them why its yours and then prove it.

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Comment by Susan Burgess on December 4, 2009 at 3:08pm
Quit with the "differences" rather than the "similarities"!!!! A shopper is a shopper, is a customer is a customer, is a buyer is a buyer....whether they research online, in a magazine, by fax or whatever...tell me- how is your fax and magazine department handling the customers that shop and research that way?????

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