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To Pre-Qualify or Not to Pre-Qualify Customers?

Since more than 80% of your customers are likely to finance or lease a vehicle, when is the right time to bring up this potentially touchy subject? Is it better to pre-qualify or not to pre-qualify your Internet leads? Josh Vajda, Director of Inside Sales for AutoUSA, shares some tips.

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Comment by Jerry Thompson on March 13, 2013 at 8:33pm

Great Video Josh.  I, of course, agree completely with your premise regarding dealers providing payments on their vehicle inventory listings as that is one of the services we provide dealers and I am engaged in that conversation with dealers on a daily basis.  This payment transparency on the part of the dealer not only gives the customer the opportunity to shop by payment without having to provide any information but it also lets them start the qualification conversation with themselves, in the privacy and comfort of their home, office or mobile environment.

I think that there are two very different "conversations" to consider here.  The first one is the communication between the sales consultant and the customer and the second one is the communication between the dealer's website and the customer that doesn't want to exchange information verbally, by data input or by email.

You covered the role of the sales person in earning the right and as Phil commented "isn't that the role of a professional sales consultant in today's Internet powered marketplace?"  There is no substitute for a professional sales person that can frame the questions as you did, earn the trust of the customer and then prequalify them.  

So, a well staffed dealership with trained sales people should know how to earn the right and move a customer along.  This is also true for the internet department or BDC whether they are doing it by phone or by email.  There are also various "PreScreen" or "PreQualification" tools that dealership staff can use to prequalify customers with minimal information and a soft credit pull.  

On the website it is a different story.  Recent studies indicate that the majority of customers are not calling in, they are not filling out forms or creating leads; they are selecting/deselecting a dealership based on the information they find during their research, and on the dealer's website, and then they are walking in the showroom.  How do we qualify them?

For these customers, I think that Josh hit the nail on the head, the dealer needs to provide them with real payments on the vehicle listings to help them prequalify themselves and also to provide transparency and convenience.  This payment information can be the tipping point in the customer's decision to select that dealer and visit their store.  

There should also be calls to action, credit prequalification tools, and other opportunities for that small percentage of customers that do want to communicate with the dealer by email, chat or text.  This allows the customer to prequalify themselves or opens the door for the internet dept or BDC to ask appropriate questions to gather qualifying information.

By covering all of these bases, the dealer is able to provide its customers with an information rich environment in which to make an informed decision.  And, the good news is you do not have to give up all your gross in the process.

Comment by Philip Zelinger on March 13, 2013 at 3:50pm
Perhaps shifting the question from the dealer's to the customer's perspective would provide the best answer to this question. If you were a customer would you prefer to find a vehicle that fits your needs or simply the one that you landed on yourself before you knew what you didn't know? If a sales consultant offered to provide you relevant information in a transparent manner to insure that you didn't waste your time or money would you want to do business with them?

Certainly the true agenda must be to benefit the customer for a sales consultant to be able to earn the trust necessary to properly pre-qualify the vehicle vs. the customer to fit their needs but isn't that the role of a professional sales consultant in today's Internet powered marketplace? Hopefully that answers the question.
Comment by Ralph Paglia on March 13, 2013 at 2:04pm

I appreciate it when Josh Vajda challenges long standing auto industry beliefs that drive our sales process... He is right on target about the age old question about "Qualifying Customers". Now, don't get me wrong, there is always a risk of "Over-Qualifying" prospective new and used vehicle buyers, but as Josh describes, a "just right" amount of prospect qualifying is not only in the customer's best interest, it is what they expect and will respond to in a more positive manner than if you do no qualifying investigation.

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