Industry News & Trends

SALES INTEGRATION: Online Are You Advertising Or Selling?

Sales Integration by Dennis Galbraith

Since “retiring” from JD Power and, Dennis Galbraith has been writing  a book titled, Sales Integration.

The book is about online consumer sales with an emphasis on automotive examples since that is both Dennis’ background and an industry he sees poised on the edge of massive change.

In my experience with him, Dennis has always had a gift in looking past the way things are today and by studying how the rest of the world works, concisely capturing and communicating looming macro-trends into actionable steps any industry can take today.

But don’t take my word for it.  Below are some examples from the book.

Example #1  ADVERTISING is attracting the shopper, SALES is interacting with them.

Always Be Closing

When a shopper interacts with vehicle inventory, a website is listening, matchmaking, and demonstrating, just as a salesperson does in the store. These are sales functions, and those who think about them as advertising mistakenly focus on what they want to tell the shopper rather than how to interact with them.  Telling isn’t selling and “call or email me” is not ecommerce and not what the consumer wants as an online experience with convenience and transparency.

Example #2 We’re not going to take it any more!

The online shopper is in charge of the sales process. Shoppers spend hours online interacting with the computer with no one in the store even knowing they are in market. Only the shopper decides when they are going to transfer from the online sales process to the offline sales process and how they will do it – by phone, email, chat, or walk-in. The shopper steps into the store with more control than ever.  Your competitor’s inventory is on the iPhone in their pocket. The point here is that those who learn to work with Internet empowered shoppers will succeed better than those who fight against it.  Think you are not fighting against it?  Read on.  Dennis thinks the whole industry is and isn’t all that aware that they are even doing it, “since it has always been that way” and “we have showrooms full of salespeople so we use the Internet to get consumers into them” still seems to be the prevalent thinking.

Image of the importance of service retention in a car dealership

Example #3 Customers For Life.

Selling includes delivery and account management. Automotive success is not just a function of how many sales are made today, but how well those sales are managed after delivery. Future sales through parts, service, repeat business, and referral business have always been the sweet spot of profitability in any industry. If it truly is easier and more profitable to keep the customers you already have vs. perpetually prospecting, how does your website stack up in its role of facilitating this?  Is your website so functionally useful that your current customers view that as a reason to keep doing business with you?  Have you asked them?

Example #4 Workflow, workflow, workflow.

Hierarch of Website Usability and EffectivenessGalbraith’s law of website design states, “Every decision asked of the shopper requires the immediate availability of information to facilitate that decision.” For example, sites asking the shopper to select a trim level on a vehicle without providing a method of comparing the available choices are just daring the shopper to abandon the site.

Then of course there is the overall site design question, “Who decided that every Call To Action needed to go on your home page?”  Consumers arrive with a purpose and it isn’t to watch your TV commercial.   Car shoppers want to see what you have, understand what it will cost them, and determine if you are worthy of being on the short list of dealers they will consider doing business with.  Does your home page shove every departmental thought at them at once, plus value your trade, instant online credit approval, a $500 popup coupon, instant chat, and so on?  Other than car dealers, what online retailers allow this to be their website design?  Do you have any idea what the impact on your total conversion rate is vs. structuring your site around the consumer’s purpose with such “Calls To Action” layered in at the appropriate time in the workflow?

Example #5 Your online automotive merchandising sucks.Online Vehicle Window Sticker

Most automotive websites do not do enough to demonstrate vehicles online, new or used. As an example, automotive websites do a fair job of listening to the shopper and matching them with the right model of vehicle, but they fail to provide sufficient online merchandising of the vehicle (i.e. the differences among trim levels or specific vehicle upgrade equipment.  Monroney stickers on new vehicles are a legal requirement on the lot.  How many websites have them?  How many of your used vehicles are not of the correct trim level online (VIN decoders can’t always do it by themselves)?  How do your online customers experience the differences is seat fabrics available?  How do they see what the moonroof looks like or what the upgraded wheels look like?  You can do this for a $200 pair of ladies shoes at Nordstroms, so why not for a car that costs 100+ times as much?  Such a lack of serious online merchandising screams “old-school sales practices.”  Think you’ll get the chance to show them how great you are with your follow up processes when they get to your showroom?  Really?  How many online consumers do you lose before you even know who they are?

Anyway, the book – Sales Integration has just been released and should be a good read for anyone in the industry serious about online vehicle sales success.  Buy it, download it, read it, love it, hate it, blog it, tweet it, post your thoughts.

It is an online world.

TY Brian, I haven't read the book, but it looks like I am traveling down Dennis Galbraith's path. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. This dialogue is waayyy out there; few people will be interested in my findings, but, that's never stopped me before ;-)

IMO, these changes are not going to come from the dealers, they'll come from the vendors. Dealers need Vendors to invest time and resources to produce a product that shoppers want. Once vendors have it producing significant results, they'll offer it as packages/upgrades or as entirely new platforms to offer to the dealers.

Now onto the Vendors...
When it comes to the VIN/Trim/Options SNAFU, it all traces back to the Inventory system that all dealers interface with daily. Every day my team deals with the world’s largest automobile inventory hosting company, Homenet. Thru no fault of HomeNet, the VIN/Options data that HomeNet resells us comes from Chrome and Chrome gathers it verbatim from the manufacturers and the manufactures often pass it right from the factory floor. This VIN/Options data is the so full of noise that it's no wonder no web aggregator can produce a clean match up of 2 used Chevy's and compare prices. It takes a mammoth effort to clean it up for retail merchandising use.

There are several tasks to make this VIN/Options info ready for the next level.

Rename the options.
The option names are a mess. For example, 2010 Chevy Suburban has 100 options, here is ONE:

COOLING, EXTERNAL ENGINE OIL COOLER, HEAVY-DUTY AIR-TO-OIL integral to driver side of radiator (Included and only available with (K5L) Heavy-Duty Trailering Package on 1/2 ton models. Included on all 3/4 ton models.)

Where options are generic (e.g. delayed wipers) set default names for all makes, reduce length of Options descriptions where needed.

Create Trim Maps.
If Unit has trim level "LX", then it comes with option 23, option 24, option 56, option 87, etc... Likewise, when out in the field, the majority of Data Entry Persons (DEP) do not know the trims and if vehicle being recorded has year/make/model with option 23, option 24, option 56, then the collection device should assist the DEP to look for option 87. Although its simple logic, this is NOT an easy task to choreograph.

I am a gigantic fan of HomeNet; there is nothing they won't do if it'll improve the platform. I've been pushing HomeNet since 2002 to build us tools to "tame the Options beast".

After a killer PowerPoint presentation I made for HomeNet about this Options SNAFU many years ago, HomeNet added the "Strikeout and Rename" feature in its inventory management area. They also followed my lead and added a feature where I could assign each option to a custom category (i.e. electronics, safety, comfort) AND they added the weighting system to allow us to assign weights to specific options. Weights are a way to identify or label what options are HOT and which are not (Navigation is HOT, Delayed Wipers are not).

The combination of categories and weights are used for many merchandising tasks. Because each option has a category and weight, and the vehicle itself belongs to a segment (i.e. minivan or sports car), you can use the vehicle segment to prioritize the options (minivan buyers don’t care about engine and tranny specs where as sports car buyers do. Sports car buyers don’t care about number of seats, where are minivan buyers do).

We use these features to self-populate window stickers with the highest weighed options, to run our automatic comment Generator in our highlighting of options in bullet lists and more.

Even though we've seen time and time again, early adopters are rewarded, the dealer body as a whole does not drive change; shoppers are thrusting change upon the dealers. Vendors need to use their singular focus and resources to take dealers to the next level.
All great info from Dennis in this book - and I believe he is right on the future of where we are going. Of course, for those who have been in this industry for a long time, change is difficult and slow at the dealership level, and it will take more time and effort to embrace many of Dennis' observations and recommendations - all the more reason our jobs with eCommerce are so challenging...
Thanks to Brian, Joe, and Kevin for the kind words!

I hope the book can help retailers understand what they need from vendors and help vendors and manufacturers understand what dealers need from them. Most of all, I hope it can help everyone understand the consumer is in charge of the shopping process and what that means to the future of retail.

I needed to go beyond automotive to see the future. Most consumers don't buy vehicles very often, so many shopping expectations will be developed and solidified elsewhere. That said, there is a reason why someone from the auto industry was the first to wright about the very important concept of sales integration. This is a pretty amazing business!
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