Dealership MarketingOpinions & Advice

Smart Phones Will Be Their Weapon of Choice!

image of Salesmen under desk

The year is 2035. The scene, a ramshackle car dealership with cracked asphalt, a few dim fluorescent lighting fixtures swinging on thin chains and empty jars of Folgers crystals where the keurig machine once brewed single servings of cinnamon vanilla dark roast.

The cars are still perfectly aligned in rows, but no one is hovering over them, buffing out the handprints. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of nervous breathing beneath the shuffle of paper. It must be the sales staff, but why are they all hidden, crouching behind desks and lingering in the lavatory?

Who has instilled such fear in a once fearless sales force?

The Customers. That’s right – the very people that car dealerships went to great lengths to court. They rose up to become a well-armed citizen militia bent on forcing the automotive industry to run leaner and meaner.

Their micro-technology weapon of choice? Smart phones.

That hellish scenario is only a mere 20 years away, but signs of its impending realization are everywhere. It turns out that a stunning 92% of adults in the U.S. own smart phones – a mini computer right in their pocket. Technology has continued to do the same things it has always done – get smaller and cheaper. This accounts for the fact that 1 in 4 people on the continent of Africa have a mobile device- just digest that for a moment.

Done? Ok, now let’s examine the recent state of affairs in the northern, more sophisticated portion of the continent. Revolution, turmoil, people casting aside years of oppression…Listen, I’m not making any direct comparisons here, but would it be a stretch to imagine the General Manager of your corner dealership delivering a pre-taped address, fist in the air and a tear sneaking out from behind his oversized sunglasses while declaring that the world hasn’t heard the end of Jones Motors?

Alright, perhaps I exaggerate, but the facts are simple; for purchases exceeding $300 in value, 84% of consumers will do some manner of research online and half of those people will revisit the issue on their mobile device. Do you think the average consumer is going to do a little digging when it comes to the second largest investment most of them will ever make? By the way, is buying a car still second to home ownership? Anyone else ever have student loans? But I digress.

Lunch time, standing in line for coffee, sitting in a really boring meeting, all of these are now opportunities for people to inform themselves on the things that matter to them. It has been well documented that the car and the self-image have a strong bond. People care. Car purchases are one of things that people research to the point of exhaustion. In fact, it is estimated that individuals will spend a total of 19 hours researching a car purchase and 11 ½ of those will be done online. And now, customers carry with them a little device containing everything that they could ever want to know about anything, including automotive products and pricing. Not an easy time for the automotive sales associate.

Let’s rewind a few decades. During the latter part of the twentieth century, the dealership in the aforementioned horror movie scenario was gleaming in its brilliance. Well-dressed, confident sales professionals adorned a state of the art facility that was hustling and bustling; industry lexicon slashing it’s way through countless objections, resulting in people reaching for credit cards, or check books and driving off in cars that they weren’t sure they even wanted or couldn’t necessarily afford.

It didn’t matter that everyone brought his or her dad, uncle, or any other domestic support associate to this deal. The dealership held all the cards. They knew exactly what the customer knew and more importantly what they didn’t know. The balance of power was in the sales person’s favor. Uncle Joe who wasn’t going to let his nephew Skippy, get roughed up on rust proofing left happy even when the dealership sold Skippy his car at full sticker- because he just didn’t know. Perception was 9/10ths of the battle and more often than not, the dealership was victorious.

So how did we arrive at this post apocalyptic auto hell-scape a mere twenty years later?

As with anything, there are many factors. Economy, domestic manufacturing costs, trade deficit… In fact up until 2007, the real demon hadn’t even emerged in a significant way. Micro-technology in the guise of Smart phones. They seem relatively innocuous, even helpful in most situations and always a lot of fun. I have this one app where you can say anything and it turns your voice…well we’ll do that at another time.

But yes, smart phones are the latest enemy in a string of micro-technological advancements that have chipped away at the advantage of the average sales staff. Once, there was a time when people would have to plan their visit to the dealership. The day before, they would print the critical stats from websites and head to battle with a few folded, coffee stained pages tucked in purses or pockets.

Today, people drive by your dealership, stop if they have the time, pull up alongside a vehicle they find appealing, slip a free hand inside their pocket and draw their weapon. In a comparative instant, they are given access to reams of pertinent information that may include but are not limited to: customer reviews of the vehicle and your store, cost of ownership per mile, insurance info, the amount your dealership paid for the car and in some cases, even a virtual test drive.

Today 1 in 8 people visit your dealership through a mobile device compared to 6 months ago, when it was 1 in 50.

Progress? More like Armageddon. The percentage of overall site visits attributed to mobile devices has doubled in the last 7 months; the usual visit being an average of almost 5 pages and 5 minutes per visit. Think about it, while you’re watching some rookie sales person mutter motivational slogans to themselves in order to build up the courage to confront this well armed customer in the parking lot, the customer has digested 5 pages of valuable information. Scary.

And just as young Willie Loman is nearing his prospect, panting from his 70-yard jog with tie flapping in the breeze, the customer belts out a demonic laugh, sheaths her weapon and speeds off toward home where she intends to get an internet quote before ever speaking to anyone in person.

How can we combat this? I have some ideas, although they may not be conventional. I assume most of you have been to an Apple store. The store associates are pushing the envelope in the area of man and machine becoming one. A little team of uniformed, laid back twenty-somethings with headsets and these magical wrist devices that allow them to move freely through the store. The fact that they’re usually grinning suggests that there is a higher level of communication going on in that headset than their customers are aware of, but it’s nice to see them having fun either way.

So I got to thinking, why can’t we do that with sales associates in auto dealerships? Of course, the wrist devices would need to be a bit more aesthetically refined, come in a variety of finishes and have enough room to be monogrammed, (at least where I work), but it could work, couldn’t it?

I especially love the headset idea. It’s like a coach quarterback thing. You could say things like “don’t just hand the ball to the customer, make them take it!” Or, “if they mention holdback, run for your life!” But mostly, you maybe able to prevent mistakes before they happen.

I would personally take this one step further. How about cutting a circle 6 inches in diameter and color it in like a rainbow pinwheel. Tape it to a tongue depressor and every time your sales associate runs into a problem, they could just hold it up and pause like your iphone does when you press that little button fourteen times in a second. It just may buy them the precious seconds they need to rebound from the bombardment of facts – spewing from the mouths of the customer team in stereo; because remember – you’ll probably be up against two people, each with their own device.

This brings me full circle to my last and best idea regarding our new sales associate versus the well-armed customer. Bring your dad to work! I’m not suggesting everyday, because the way things are going, all of our parents will be retiring to Wal-Mart, where your assisted living comes with a certain level of responsibility and a nice wad of mart bucks to spend on enormous tubs of precooked bacon, but they should be able to shake free twice a week right? Doesn’t that level the playing field? A customer team each armed with smart phones versus a sales team, of sorts, with one headset, a wrist thingy and an elderly gentleman that may hopefully say things like “can’t you put your phone away for ten minutes while we conduct business!”

If we arm ourselves against our common enemy, we may be able to prevent the post apocalyptic future that has haunted my dreams. After all, we know who’s coming and we know what they’re bringing with them. It isn’t too late to prevent the horror. Isn’t Steve Jobs working on a computerized contact lens that allows the user to surf with a series of blinks and head tilting?

Perhaps we’re already screwed?

K
  • K
    Kevin Frye
  • March 15, 2011
Good article, but I would add that the power of smart phones does not just lie in the hands of the consumer. The modern day car salesman utilizes the smart phone as his primary selling tool as well. Whether it is calling back the prospects that contact him via the website, responding with an email from his phone, or even texting one of his prospects through his mobile CRM site, the smart phone allows the salesman to communicate quickly and with the medium that the customer prefers to communicate with.

We also take this a step further on the lot. Window stickers with QR codes allow the salesman to use his smart phone to do a quick scan of the window sticker, and show the shopper the CarFax report right at the vehicle within seconds, as well as more details on the vehicle. Static cling stickers on the window can be scanned to show the shopper our positive reviews. A quick photo taken with the phone and sent to the customer allows them to email the pic to their spouse for their approval...

If you take just a minute to visit your service department, take a look at what you find. Your service reps spend a LOT of money on buying the best tools to complete their job - do your sales people do the same? I emphasize all of the time with our sales teams that their primary tool as a professional is a smart phone - and that it is a wise investment in being a professional salesman in today's market....
J
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • March 15, 2011
Good point Kevin. Dealers and sales professional have all the same opportunities as the consumer to help "combat" the micro-technology consumer. The concerning part is, most would rather complain about it than do something about it.

Not to pat my own back but when I was on the floor selling, I would invest in myself. I bought my own laptop, had How to build a website audio CD piping through my headphones into the left ear and a Paul Cummings audio CD on the right. I allocated a percentage of each paycheck to personal training and technology that would make me that much better. Heck - I still do this.

Problem is, we're exceptions. But I hear you, with time it should naturally evolve. Maybe someday a majority of dealers will invest in more technology and tools for their sales and service team.

@Erin - great article. Love'd it. Where will technology take us? How will it change the dealers landscape?
A
Here you go Erin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hr4z7faCWw
E
Erin,

Hilarious and frightening all at the same time. There absolutely has been a shift in knowledge and power. Customers today walk in armed to the teeth with information. There are two choices; fight it or embrace it. I'm of the belief that dealers who choose to fight will end up losing - not necessarily to individual customers in the short run, but to their competition in the long run.

Some dealers have and will continue to embrace the transparency the internet has brought to our business, while others will spend their energy trying to stuff the digital genie back into his bottle. My money is on the folks that embrace the change.

On a lighter note, as for pulling Dad out of the Wal-Mart to assist in the negotiation and even the playing field; Do we really need another old curmudgeon in the mix? Most salesmen already have one (maybe not so old). He's sitting in the tower on the showroom floor! :-)
E
  • E
    Erintouponse
  • March 15, 2011
Love it! Funny and true.... This senario is unfortunately more the norm still than the exception.
E
  • E
    Erintouponse
  • March 15, 2011
I agree that we do have a handful of progressive sales professionals and dealers in the business, but they are the exception right now- not the rule. The industry as a whole is behind the times- we have several generations of salespeople, managers and dealers all playing in the same sand box- and many of our dealership leaders still don't grasp the importance of the technology. I can't find blame with them either, necessarily.... Our business still has a foot in the industrial age.... It is hard for someone who came up in a dealership- made their bones in an environment where you could hit someone for 5k over sticker and have them be none the wiser for it- to understand. Many dealers still feel that just selling more cars cures everything.... You and I know that it is just not that easy anymore. At any rate, glad you enjoyed the article.... Thanks for your thoughts.
V
Here's an article that was published today on Mobile Marketer which echoes brick-to-mobile is where consumers want the online and offline experience.

http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/opinion/columns/9358.html

This article focuses on the consumer experience - shopping, buying and in-store purchases (example: what are dealers doing with mobile from a service perspective to engage and create return visitors?). We will see an increase use of text codes (opt in list, ongoing infrequent communication, service specials, reminders), QR codes (vehicle information), mobile banner ads (create awareness and increase website traffic) and LBSs, i.e. Foursquare or SCVNGR (check-in, badges, mayorships, honors, discounts, one of multiple scavenger hunt locations for a weekend event). So many exciting opportunities with mobile!!

Now insert the sales team....they need to be educated on options, on demand engagement with shoppers and excited about the new technologies. Creating and keeping the experience will involve the social "people" as well.
T
  • T
    TerryH
  • March 15, 2011
I would have never guess 92% of all US adults. WOW, I would not even have thought 92% of US adults had a cell phone yet.

I agree:
http://blog.liquidmotors.com/2011/01/31/customers-are-going-mobile-are-you-ready/
D
Auto Retail Future Erin;

Oh, how I can relate to your spoof on the staleness of auto retail processes...

At the hands of change, it may soon come to fruition that the first line of defense (and the last) for a dealer is his professional sales consultant. In fact, it is the savvy sales consultant who is likely to recognize the value of starting the conversation earlier, and it is sure to happen before 2035.

Access to information has turned auto retail on its head only because the value proposition had been dysfunctional from inception. After all, if I am only able to make my profits based upon what I know that you don't in an Information Age, then the odds say I am in big trouble.

As soon as the conversation is corrected in auto retail, the playing field will level and the smartphone will lose its leverage. At the beginning the auto retail sales channel was based upon consumers' relationships to their respective communities. Auto Retail Future is based upon auto retail sales channels relationships to the communities. And often, the community is and shall be virtual.

Thank you, Erin, your virtuality is appreciated!

Your able professional,

D. Rawls
C
  • C
    Craig
  • March 22, 2011
I agree with Kevin and D. Rawls. The smart phone can also be leveraged by the sales consultant. And your customer still has to 'like' You before they will buy. It's still a relationship between you and them and by getting into their contact database in their own cellphone will give you leverage. Use the channels the smartphone gives you access to, social media, camera, video (all on a smart phone) to help build that relationship.

Agree? Disagree?
http://www.emmaactive.com/blog/chinese-social-media.html
J
  • J
    Jasen Rice
  • March 28, 2011
Get proactive with your marketing with the smart phones, add QR codes to your photos on sites like Autotrader and cars.com
I started doing Internet sales in 1997 and since then I have always tried to
stay ahead of the next dealership, doing things that no other dealer is doing.
So one of my biggest challenge that I never got resolved, until now, was to find
a way to include a hyper link into my listings on Autotrader and Cars.com to
direct customers back to my site or any where else I would like for them to go.
To be up front, I am a vAuto rep for the store Moberly Motors in Moberly MO, and
they gave me the permission to test an idea I had to include a QR code into
their photos to see if it would work on sites like Autotrader and cars.com. So I
took the url address that they had on their site for a video they did on market
based pricing then created a QR code to link to the video. They do their photo
management in our tool so I put the code as the second photo and it WORKED!!! I
think this is huge!!! You can link customers to any site or just have it give
them a text message about the car.
Click here to see the listing on Autotrader and try it yourself and let me know
what your thoughts are:
http://www.autotrader.com/fyc/vdp.jsp?ct=u&car_id=294517787&dealer_id=1147610&car_year=2007&systime=&doors=&model=300&search_lang=en&start_year=2007&keywordsfyc=&keywordsrep=&highlightFirstMakeModel=&search_type=both&distance=10&min_price=&rdm=1301083622989&drive=&marketZipError=false&advanced=&fuel=&keywords_display=&lastBeginningStartYear=1981&end_year=2007&showZipError=y&make2=&certified=&engine=&page_location=findacar%3A%3Aispsearchform&body_code=0&transmission=&default_sort=newsortbyprice_DESC&max_mileage=&color=&address=65270&sort_type=priceDESC&max_price=&awsp=false&make=CHRY&seller_type=b&num_records=25&cardist=1&standard=false
E
@Erin,

Love this as well.

Here's a glance of what it may be like: Imagine a contact lens that is also a PC. A viewable lens which pics up augmented reality content tagged with the specific information a consumer is seeking. (By this time search engines will get the same responses from children as "record player" does now)

Check this out - wild stuff currently being worked on apparently:

http://seattlest.com/2011/04/06/the_future_is_now_uw_working_on_com.php

  • Anonymous
  • April 16, 2011
As a consumer myself, as an active participant in our information based society, as an HTC G2 owner, and as someone who started selling cars to people over the internet beginning in the late 1990's - this is great news for all of us! Even as I work with what I think are savvy internet shoppers, many people are still clue-less on many areas of the car business. What I find myself telling many customers I have with all these smart devices - is that we are a "for-profit business", and you're getting our best deal on the vehicle you want, and remember why we are the #1 volume new Nissan dealer in the district. Regardless, you still have to do a solid product presentation, sell yourself as a consumer advocate whether they buy from you or not, present numbers always, and if they say no - simply ask for an offer and the business. It usually works, and results in a sale. You can't win them all. I've found people hate sales people who say "we're not making anything on this sale", and the information a customer brings in, is to your benefit. From my perspective, it'll be nice that customers know we only have so much mark-up, and I know for a fact, my local competitor isn't going to give their cars away. It's how it is, and you just stay the coarse.
  • Anonymous
  • April 16, 2011
As a consumer myself, as an active participant in our information based society, as an HTC G2 owner, and as someone who started selling cars to people over the internet beginning in the late 1990's - this is great news for all of us! Even as I work with what I think are savvy internet shoppers, many people are still clue-less on many areas of the car business. What I find myself telling many customers I have with all these smart devices - is that we are a "for-profit business", and you're getting our best deal on the vehicle you want, and remember why we are the #1 volume new Nissan dealer in the district. Regardless, you still have to do a solid product presentation, sell yourself as a consumer advocate whether they buy from you or not, present numbers always, and if they say no - simply ask for an offer and the business. It usually works, and results in a sale. You can't win them all. I've found people hate sales people who say "we're not making anything on this sale", and the information a customer brings in, is to your benefit. From my perspective, it'll be nice that customers know we only have so much mark-up, and I know for a fact, my local competitor isn't going to give their cars away. It's how it is, and you just stay the coarse.
  • Anonymous
  • April 16, 2011
As a consumer myself, as an active participant in our information based society, as an HTC G2 owner, and as someone who started selling cars to people over the internet beginning in the late 1990's - this is great news for all of us! Even as I work with what I think are savvy internet shoppers, many people are still clue-less on many areas of the car business. What I find myself telling many customers I have with all these smart devices - is that we are a "for-profit business", and you're getting our best deal on the vehicle you want, and remember why we are the #1 volume new Nissan dealer in the district. Regardless, you still have to do a solid product presentation, sell yourself as a consumer advocate whether they buy from you or not, present numbers always, and if they say no - simply ask for an offer and the business. It usually works, and results in a sale. You can't win them all. I've found people hate sales people who say "we're not making anything on this sale", and the information a customer brings in, is to your benefit. From my perspective, it'll be nice that customers know we only have so much mark-up, and I know for a fact, my local competitor isn't going to give their cars away. It's how it is, and you just stay the coarse.
S
  • S
    Steve peacock
  • May 16, 2011
Great read. I recently left the auto industry after being a General Manager of numerous dealership for the better part of 37 years. You made some great points and I look forward to sharing your article.
G
it's never ceases to amaze me how our greatest strengths continue to be our greatest weaknesses......
G