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The Digital Dealer pt. 1 – “First Things First”

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.

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.

This article was originally posted on Rob Fontano's Digital Daily

Views: 183

Tags: 1, automotive, bdc, blog, car, daily", dealer, department, digital, internet, More…pt, rob fontano, , sales, training


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Comment by Michael McPherson on March 30, 2012 at 11:13am


Great conversation!! The customer consumes massive amounts of digital information. I know what our conversion rate is from my website to purchase. Customers have been to a website. Our customers are online, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, all over. What kind of information and experience are these consumers having when connecting with any of my digital footprint? How about the experience when in my store? These are all tools to build on, as Rob says, a lasting relationship. I want to be your life long dealer. At no time has it been easier to reach my customer to tell a story. I get better online every day telling the story of my store. There’s more to my company than the cars in inventory.

Is Apple more than the hardware you hold in your hand? Go hang out in an Apple store for an hour. See what I mean. The hardware is but a small piece. It’s the experience baby.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on March 29, 2012 at 6:25am

I always enjoy Rob Fontano's articles, insights and when he weaves a necklace out of many pearls of wisdom... And, he is quite entertaining when he gets on stage and sings with a rock 'n roll band as well. Besides all the accolades, what Rob is pointing out is something that is an element within the evolution of automotive retail in America.  I have been in so many dealerships that to reveal the number is more embarrassing than a point of pride, and along the way i see dealerships becoming "Digital Dealers".  There is a continuum by which their degree of Digital aptitude resides on, but the overwhelming shift has been that the more "Digital" a dealership becomes, the more successful their business seems to be.

Comment by on March 29, 2012 at 5:15am

Rob not so sure I completely agree with some of your conclusions, this may be due to location, as different sections of the country are at different levels of technology.  First, the BDC/Internet department was created to protect the T O to the master closer, high pressure sales process that has been honed over 90 years.   The reluctant mantra has been," whatever we have to do to get customers in the door."  Hence the development of the BDC.    The irony is that customers flock to the internet to avoid that sales process.   All those over coming any obstacles training for decades has earned a very negative branding to dealership sales.  This is the driving force of customers to the internet. 

Lately, I have also seen a technological equalization of sales staff to customers.  I don't see sales staff that can't use email, text, IM, FB and Twitter anymore.  They are just like our customers and use these communications in their daily life.   Many sales staff have better abilities to communicate with their customers over their own smart phone, then what the dealership provides.

Hence, moving the BDC to the sales floor is simply a matter of breaking the GM/Dealer principle paradigm.  The sales staff is already prepared to handle any lead from wherever it comes. The I.T. request I get the most everyday is can you help me connect my smartphone or tablet into the dealerships router for internet access from the sales staff.     What we need to do is get the GMs out of the way and let all leads be handled by the sales staff.   Manage the quality and timeliness of the lead response and follow ups.  

The obstacle of the BDC hand over to the sales floor is a now a giant stop sign to customers.   In the famous words of Ronald Reagan,  Mr Dealer Principle tear down that BDC wall ! 

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