Best Practices

The New Playing Field at the Dealership – Are You Playing?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Actually it was 1996.

A few memories:

  • Yasser Arafat is re-elected president of the Palestinian Authority.
  • The Nintendo 64 video game system is released in Japan.
  • Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell, is born at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, Scotland.
  • The O.J. Simpson civil trial begins in Santa Monica, California.
  • General Motors EV1 (the first electric car to go into mass production) is launched.

Last and definitely least, ‘Yours Truly’ started selling Honda’s in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Turns out, it was a very interesting time to enter the car business. I was hired into and taught the “old ways” of selling cars. Back then, going to the dealership was the best way to get information about cars. Just like going to the library..

[highlight color=”#E8E8E8″ font=”black”] li·brar·y [lahy-brer-ee, -bruh-ree, -bree]

noun, plural li·brar·ies.

a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed[/highlight]

…was the best way to research a given topic.

Our challenges included how to set an appointment for a Phone Up without divulging price and how to handle “THOSE PEOPLE” who dared walk through the door armed with the latest edition of Consumer Reports (remember the magazine version?).

A few technology-forward people with disposable income actually had a PC at their house: dialing-up America Online to enter Cyberspace and Surf the Internet. Some cool stuff there… I can actually still hear that computer buzzerbouncebeepscreech in my head. At the dealership, we had some phone connections to the manufacturers to transmit our green screen data. Big Shots.

But within a year of my start date, we were approached by a new company called Auto-by-Tel. They promised to deliver qualified leads from cyberspace to the dealership for a price – by Fax — as long as we (the dealer) agreed to provide a no-hassle experience to the buyer.

We the dealer defined “no hassle.”

We jumped on-board. Before too long, because I had received a lap-top computer for Christmas and was therefore the defacto computer genius in the dealership, I quickly ascended to the moniker of Internet Manager. On a semi-serious note, I am kinda proud to be one of the country’s first Internet Sales Managers. Not so noteworthy was the fact that our first Internet Sales Process consisted of me passing-by the fax machine once or twice a week to grab our ‘leads.’ I would then call them to tell them to come-in to get a price.

That’s the truth – any of you around ’96 to ’98 probably have a similar story. We would to hear more about in the comments below.

One nice thing about working for a group with a bunch of OEM’s was that as the Internet Manager, I was afforded the opportunity to attend virtually every OEM training on the topic for years. As fast as everything was evolving, there was a training session, an instructional gathering, a roundtable almost every month. I remember Microsoft CarPoint offering regional training sessions on how to work with “Internet Leads.” And there was a TON of trial and error. Much error. More error than trial it seemed. It was a GREAT time to learn and experiment.   It was cool to make it up as you went along.

But here we are, 17 years later. If you’ve paid attention, you’ve learned. You’ve evolved. You’ve improved. And if you haven’t – chances are you have a child getting set to run your business that knows exactly what I’m about to describe.

The Game Has Changed. Or at least, we play it on a different field.

It’s ironic how much the OEM’s are currently concentrating on your infrastructure façade. Because your front door is no longer attached to your building with that signage you are required to purchase and install. Let’s face it: the customers that come to the dealership for information are most-certainly a dying breed.

In the old school, our entire process was set-up to compel shoppers (people who came to the dealership to browse, look, peruse, etc) to buy NOW. Everything we were taught revolved around how to turn Floor Ups into a buyer – NOW. We didn’t envision a time where we, as the Sales Professionals, would cease to be the authority on the product and therefore have virtually no ability to control the conversation and process. We were taught and have been left with a process that no longer applies to the marketplace.

We didn’t see it coming. But it’s here. How will you adapt?

Try this line of thought:

Where is your front door?  Where do people “walk in” to your dealership today?

Answer: Your website. Whether you speak to them or not, they are there.

Where is the Meet and Greet occurring?

Answer: Your CRM.

Your focus has always been on Floor Traffic; managers manage what they can see – on the floor, on the lot, in the booth. If we agree that our Website is the new Floor, and that our Process is managed in CRM, as long as we can “see” what is happening in CRM, we can really blend the “old” with the “new” without all this bugaboo and fear of new process and technology – without all this fear of change.

Visibility is the key. Managers sit in glass offices and in raised towers for a reason – so they can see what’s going-on and manage behaviors accordingly! Seeing is the first step – we have to be able to see so we can react. But how do we track? What do we measure?

Does our traditional Road to the Sale still apply?

No. And yes. Yes and no.

Is there a road to the sale? Of course! Does it start when a customer physically comes to the dealership?  (Where is your front door again?).

Why are you still concerned with marking a checkbox that says “Took a Test Drive?” Realistically – why else do customers come to the store anymore?

Don’t like that last statement? Let me ask you this: How often, when a BDC Agent or a Salesperson sets an appointment that shows as scheduled does that customer not buy a car?  If you are like me and most of the dealers with whom I speak, your answer is “Not Often!”  Of course not – done right, people who actually come to your store are ready to buy a car. Knowing this, what should we as managers be concerned with when evaluating our opportunity for the first time?

Should we be checking-off the ‘Meet N Greet’ box or would it be more useful to already know the customer has been on your website and that she’s been in contact with a salesperson?  answer in the comments below

Is it more pertinent today to know that the person in front of you has had a full Features and Benefits walk-around or that this person in front of you was a Set and Confirmed appointment?

Right now, is it more important to know if the customer has actually physically been here or if, while they were here, they had a test drive?

It’s hard to argue that today we play the game on a different field. It’s only natural that the tools and strategies that we use to manage and measure this game evolve. I mean, there’s a reason they no longer wear leather helmets in the NFL, right?

Challenge yourself and your people to think outside the box and re-evaluate what is important in today’s automotive landscape. Think Big Picture, and think small details:

  • What do you need to SEE to really know your dealership?
  • What do you need to MEASURE and TRACK to put yourself in the best position to earn your customers’ business?

Provide your comments and answers below the post

It’s hard to let go of the assumptions under which you were indoctrinated to the business. But when you do, and you adopt the new tools of the trade, you just might find yourself 1st and Goal from the one, ready to score.

Welcome to the New Playing Field!

Also – if you too have a fun dealer story around 1996 – 99, please share in the comments below!

15+ years front-line, battle-hardened automotive vet, foreshadowing 7 years in automotive software construction, production, training, sales, and supp...
John, I believe many of our readers might recognize "StoneAge Leads - from the fax,  before AutoBytel acquired them not long after. Internet leads sources fresh from the fax machine. It was quite "stone-age" IMO. 
At this time Cobalt was putting on regional "training sessions" for their Volkswagen dealers. I attended several. Training those days consisted around NOT calling the customer and communicating by email until the customer eventually invited you to call them. Until then, you were encouraged to keep your communication by the customer preferred method of email. 
I followed the process that VW/Cobalt had trained on for several weeks. I even WON 1st place with their sneaky mystery shop. Time of response, quality of response, did I answer the questions and did I try and make a phone call, when the lead said to NOT call them by phone. I did everything right (wrong).  My lead to show dropped, I lost opportunities to dealers that were picking up the phone and having a conversation with the customer and obtaining a solid appointment. Buy HEY - I had a nice little VW trophy!
  • B
    Benjamin Freedman
  • September 8, 2013
Positive testimonials and referral business are the best two indicators of a job well done.
  • B
    Benjamin Freedman
  • September 8, 2013
Oh and service retention. No sense in selling cars if you don't plan to service them.
  • M
  • September 11, 2013
That are good thing like as at this time Cobalt was putting on regional "training sessions" for their Volkswagen dealers. I attended several. Training those days consisted around NOT calling the customer and communicating by email until the customer will be listed as a success story and best practice in the publishing and fashion industry for years to come. I wish you all well and much success in your future endeavors.
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