Opinions & Advice

Automotive Digital Retail is missing something: YOU

Every car deal involves numbers, the dollars and cents of the deal. When numbers are presented, customers react. This has been happening since the first car was sold. With current automotive digital retail tools, we lose the rudimentary act of gauging a customer’s reactions. Essentially guaranteeing that we will start off on the wrong foot every time. Inaccuracy in the tools ensures that, when the customer arrives at the showroom, we end up with our foot in our mouth. And, with the clunky, linear "step one, step two, step three.. " interface, most customers simply give up, resulting in massive abandonment rates. We shot ourselves in the foot. All undesirable outcomes. Really bad day for feet.

About reactions; often a customer’s first reaction to the numbers is negative. No surprise there. This is why the good Lord invented professional car sales people. When the buyer has a negative reaction to the numbers, the sales job truly begins. We have gotten really good at this over the last 100 years.

  • Sometimes the reaction is unexpected: They lay down and buy the car.
  • Sometimes the reaction is predictable: They want a lower payment and more for their trade.
  • Sometimes the reaction is controlled: They require a gurney and CPR, or at least help peeling them off the ceiling

A great sales person monitors the nuances of his customer’s body language, tone of voice, behavior, and demeanor along every step of the interaction. With this insight, he is better prepared to predict which type of reaction is forthcoming – and how to control it. That’s a talented individual who is playing chess; not checkers!

Previously, car dealers performed this silent psych evaluation during the walk around, the test drive, and service walk. This gave us time to chit chat, shoot the shit, and acclimate to the customer’s unique demeanor. Well before numbers were presented, we knew how the customer would likely react. It’s salesman science. Seriously, we deserve some letters after our names. Tank Henderson M.B.D (Master Bullshit Detector), or something classier. Whatever.

Back to the first pass. The “he who speaks first loses” pass. Have you ever kicked a green pea under the desk for breaking that awkward silence? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re the green pea and you should probably invest in some shin guards – or shut the hell up.

But, BREAKING NEWS, it actually isn’t all about the first pass.

Your likelihood of winning the deal hinges on the second pass presentation. Whether they buy or fly, subsequent passes are like extra credit you earn based on how well the second pass was presented.

We’re masters at this art. We were trained for this. Once we sit a customer down the chances are high we’re closing them!

Now let’s throw a wrench in the cogs. What about online?

With most digital retailing tools we can’t see shit. There’s no arm crossing, eye contact avoidance, feet shuffling, or stuttering. We have no idea what the customer is thinking and feeling.

  • Are they struggling with the money down, with their credit, or is it the payment?
  • Are we not giving them enough for their trade or did we show them more than they expected?
  • Are they nervous about the price?
  • Are they even on the right vehicle?

These are questions that need exploration. It’s nearly impossible to set a customer down the road-to-sale without discovering their wants/needs/desires/fears. The customer also still desperately needs the encouragement from an informed third party, the “pat on that ass” that reassures them, "Yes, this is a great vehicle for you and your family. Yes! Now is the best time to buy it. Yes! You are a smart, informed shopper and are making a wise choice. Yes! You’re getting top dollar for your trade. Yes! You did a great job buying this car!"

We are only human, after all, and encouragement goes a long way. Never underestimate the importance of relationship in sales. People need people. Even now. Especially now!

None of this can be accomplished when we send the customer, ALONE, down a tunnel of linear and sterile processes. The stagnant number on the screen is uninspiring. The vehicle of interest may or may not be right for them. The monthly payment might make no sense to them. It’s probably not even accurate!

And while the customer is braving the icy tundra that is your website digital retail "solution," the sales team is entirely IN THE DARK. We are NOT privy to their thoughts and feelings. We have no body language to evaluate. We can’t see the stink face or beaming smile when they see the monthly payment and trade value. The reactions which traditionally inform our path forward are masked behind a screen.

We are using tools that take away the oldest most important part of the car buying process. Then, we are blaming you the dealer, saying that YOUR process is broken and needs to be changed.

We don’t FRIKIN think so.


Tim is the VP of Sales for FRIKINtech and takes no prisoners! His forward-thinking perspective has made him a massive value to companies like Cox, De...
Hi Ron,
Thanks for the feedback and great question. I believe we need Transparency in pricing. Be willing to show all payment options available. We need 2 way Communication. We need to be able to have that back and forth I wrote about and I think we need Visability. If we are going to give consumers the ability to price cars online we need to know what they did, what they saw and how they reacted. I would love to hear your ideas and show you more on how we are doing these things. Best Regards.
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Really interesting article! So you are talking about missing the human element of the sales interaction but figures have shown that, slowly but steadily, digital sales are the trend of the future. Is video chat the answer? I find it unlikely because if I'm buying a car online I'm in my sweatpants at home with no makeup on. The exception to that may be a vehicle I'm passionate about that I cannot find locally. Millenials and Gen Z don't like to talk on the phone so you miss that opportunity as well. Texting is an option but you lose warmth and inflection in texts and it would be hard to gauge the customer's reaction. On the digital side, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the transparency in pricing. Dealerships keep their internet prices vague in order to drive foot traffic but I think this only frustrates a generation that is used to instant gratification and the internet having all the answers. There doesn't seem to be a clear cut solution at this time and honestly it looks like every dealership is coming at it from a different angle and experimenting with a variety of systems and tools in order to figure what best works for them. It's an industry wide brainstorm at this point.
Hi Jordan. Yes, I am talking about the human element. You are correct Dealerships keep their internet prices vague to get you in the showroom. It is the old "just get them in". I believe in being transparent. Digital Retail tools are not that transparent. They have very little visibility into what the consumer is doing and there is very little interaction. But back to the human element, it does not have to be in person and we see lots of success with Chat and Text. We arm our dealers with a took that can be texted or chatted and gives the dealer the visibility into how the consumer reacts and that gives them insights that allow them to work side by side whether that is in the showroom or over chat, text and anywhere else you can put a link.