5 Ways for Dealers to Build Trust With Today’s Savvy, Skeptical Car Shoppers

How dealership staff can connect with today’s customers—and get the sale by being the resource they’re looking for


For many years, the relationship between customer and automotive salesperson could be adversarial. Some car car shoppers believed that salespeople were out to trick them, upsell them on things they didn’t need, or pressure them to make a decision faster than they wanted.

Many shoppers still think they’re in for a bad time when they visit the dealership—in fact, CDK Global reports a full 99% of car shoppers expect a hassle, with the sales rep pushing their dealership’s (or own) agenda.

Add to this the fact that customers are coming into stores after doing more than eight hours of research online, and you have shoppers who are both super-savvy and super-skeptical.

The good news is that car shoppers really do consider dealership staff to be an important asset in their shopping process: 60% report that even if they could complete their entire car purchase online, they would still want help from dealerships.

Given that most shoppers still consider staff an essential part of the buying process, here are five ways to connect to today’s customers—to be that resource they’re looking for, and get the sale.

1. To get the sale, stop worrying about the sale

In New Zealand, Toyota has launched what it’s calling the Drive Happy Project, where haggling and commissions are eliminated in favor of a totally customer-centric experience.

Dealerships are staffed by “product experts” rather than salespeople, customers can take cars home overnight for extended test drives, and there’s a week-long money-back guarantee.

Although this model might be too extreme of an overhaul for many dealerships, the core concept of thinking less about the sale and more about customer needs has some valuable takeaways.

Listening to what customers tell you about their priorities, helping them find a vehicle that suits them, removing the pressure to make a fast decision—these are all great ways to show customers you care about their needs, earn their trust, and in all likelihood, get the sale.

2. Never put down the competition

A car is a big purchase, and customers do their research, so they are likely looking both at comparable models from a different OEM and at your direct competitor down the street. Be aware of this, and highlight all the strengths that set you apart, but never put down the competition.

Accentuate the advantages and outstanding features of your vehicles, tell the stories of customers who switched to your brand for the specific benefits you offer, demonstrate your superior company culture, and provide the best customer experience out there—in short, differentiate your dealership and demonstrate the reasons why someone would choose you.

And if a customer does bring up the competition, point to your strengths while making it clear that you understand you might not be the right choice for everyone in all situations. An outstanding customer experience that includes honesty and humility will often win the sale—and if it doesn’t, it will very likely get you glowing recommendations for your integrity.

3. Embrace negative reviews

BrightLocal reports that 91% of people read reviews online, and 84% trust them as much as they trust their friends. So what happens when a negative one sneaks in there?

Respond to it in a timely and helpful fashion: Apologize for the bad experience, explain why the experience happened without making excuses (“sick team members meant we unfortunately kept visitors waiting longer than we would have liked”), and offer to fix it whenever possible.

Responding to a bad review, especially if you can fix the problem, means you will regain this customer’s trust while demonstrating to others your commitment to service.

4. Let car shoppers shop the way they want

Don’t fight changes in customer shopping behavior as the result of technology; instead, find ways to seamlessly incorporate them into your dealership experience.

Customers want to find your prices online—DrivingSales reports almost 40% will not choose a dealership that doesn’t post them clearly—so post your prices.

They want to do research from your store, so don’t fight it. Instead, make sure your Wi-Fi and cell reception are top-notch, and make sure all your information online is consistent with what shoppers see in-store. They want to shop on mobile, so enable and encourage that with an excellent, responsive mobile site.

5. Know more than your customers

With today’s knowledgeable shoppers, it’s crucial that your entire sales team be able to talk about details, features, and comparisons between models—the sorts of questions the savvy customer will ask.


Keep your staff informed on the latest updates and tech with regular training. Have the guy who loves new gadgets run a session for the rest of the team to get everyone on the same page. Send out regular newsletters. Have “tech days” where everyone takes a few minutes to try out the new technology.

Do whatever you can to get everyone on your staff more knowledgeable than your most-knowledgeable customers.

Getting on your customers’ good side means you’re helping them find a match, rather than hoping they’ll help you meet your quota. The good thing is, though, that when customers see that you are trying to help them, they will very often buy from you.

Customer service is expected to become the most important brand differentiator by 2020, according to Walker, so help your customers get what they want and you’ll set your dealership up for success.

Adrian Colón is the head of New York and Tri-State area sales at AutoLeadStar. With experience in a wide range of industries from professional sports, corporate sales, luxury watches, and automotive (of course), Adrian brings to his sales work both a breadth of knowledge and a passion for connecting people with the right solutions. Adrian loves networking, so reach out at adrian@autoleadstar.com.

Adrian Colon

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