On the Road to a Sale, It’s Not Who You Know—It’s Who Knows You

If you’re not on car buyers’ list before they start shopping, you’re not going to make the cut

Ten years ago, the smartphone and Facebook came into the world within a few months of each other.


This combination of having fingertip access to the sum total of all human knowledge and a rapidly expanding network of “friends” from all around the globe fundamentally changed human communication.

And it changed the way people buy cars.

Ten years ago, the road to the sale looked pretty much the same as it had since the dawn of trade. If you were a silk merchant in an ancient bazaar, you would set up your stand with your most colorful cloth prominently displayed, blowing in the wind, and you would stand nearby engaging passersby in conversation.

Once you had them talking, you had all the power. They didn’t know the first thing about thread count, or exotic dyes, or the seven brave camels that gave their lives to bring your silk across the Himalayas from the farthest reaches of the East.

They sure didn’t know how much silk like yours cost anywhere else. They probably didn’t know anywhere else they could even buy silk like yours.

After that, it was just a numbers game. Talk to enough people, and you’d find enough prospects and close plenty of deals.

Voila! The world’s first sales funnel. Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

And 10 years ago, that’s really all you had to do to sell cars. Get them in the store. Get them behind the wheel. Get them talking.

But you don’t have a monopoly on information now. And the power dynamic between car buyers and sellers has been irrevocably altered.

Today’s buyers have access to the sum total of all human knowledge about the silk trade at the tips of their fingers. They can find 100 other vendors selling similar fabrics.

And it’s the same with cars. They can research your competition. They can research your prices. They can research your quality. They can research your reputation.

And they can do all of this without ever bothering to put on pants and leave the house, much less contact you to get the information.

The sales funnel is broken because they only need you for the final step: action.

Just a few years ago, people would visit six or seven dealerships before they decided which car to buy. They needed information and there was only one place to get it—from you.

But today’s car buyers don’t need information, and they visit just one or two dealerships, at best, before they make a deal.

If you’re not on their shopping list before they start shopping, you’re not going to make the cut.

More often than not, they don’t even know who you are until they’ve already reached the bottom of the sales funnel, after they’ve visited every third-party website, after they’ve made all the important decisions, and after every Tom, Dick, and Harry dot-com on the internet has told them how much they should pay for your car.

Your cars are turned into a commodity. You’re also turned into a commodity, and the only thing you can do is smile and hope they like you.

The ironic part is that people are still people, and people still prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust.

According to NADA, even though more than 90% of all vehicle purchases begin with an online search, at least 70% of people who buy a new vehicle say they decided on the car they bought because they liked and trusted their salesperson.

Your customers don’t need you for access to information anymore. Information is everywhere.

But this is the second-largest financial decision they’ll ever make. They still need someone they know, like, and trust to hold their hand, look them in the eye, and let them know that they’re making the right decision—that everything is going to be OK.

So you’ve got a choice. You can pounce on them at the finish line, and hope that you magically gain their friendship and trust.

Or you can meet them before they ever even decide they’re in the race, shower them with helpful information, guide their decision-making process without actually trying to sell them anything, and simply be a friend until the time comes for them to be a customer.

If you sell cars for a living, you’re in the business of making friends.That’s the way it’s always been.

That’s why the ad execs on Mad Men had three-martini lunches with clients every day. That’s the reason half the people on the golf course ever picked up a club. That’s why we sit through horrible, overcooked chicken lunches every week at the Rotary Club.

But 10 years ago, the world changed. And today you have, in your pocket, on your desk, or possibly in your hand, the greatest tool in the history of the universe for making friends, for forming human bonds and connections, for building an army of people who know, like, and trust you before they’ve ever even met you.

Your phone allows you to create an unimaginably large network of friends who all drive cars who all have friends who drive cars and who all know that you—their friend—just happens to sell cars.

Boom! You’re on the shopping list.

It’s not what you know anymore. It’s not even who you know. It’s who knows you. But they have to know you before they need you.

Terry Lancaster (TerryLancaster.co) helps car dealers and salespeople create armies of buyers who know, like, and trust you before they’ve ever even met you.

Terry Lancaster

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