Select Digital Disruptors That Keep Your Best Interests in Mind

Change that disintermediates dealers should be viewed with caution at the very least

I won’t reveal my personal politics, but trust has been at the core of this election season, and much of what you believe to be true is in the eye of the beholder.

For instance, my son and I are a lot alike, and agree on most things. But we were near-polar opposites on which presidential candidate deserved our respective votes.

Though we had some differences of opinion on the issues, the main area where we differed was on the trustworthiness of the candidates. Namely, who would act in the best interests of our country versus his or her own interests?

Much of the same analysis can be applied to the many “digital disruptors” that are rapidly cropping up in the automotive space.

What are digital disruptors? They’re companies—often start-ups, but not always—that attempt to drive the consumer experience of buying and financing cars in new ways. These companies range from offering new types of leases to making more of the sales process possible to do by phone, from playing matchmaker between dealers and consumers to generating leads, and everything in between.

We all know that consumers now expect greater control of the sales process. Their preferences are being influenced by their everyday experiences with home banking, shopping online, booking travel, or getting a ride to the airport.

These preferences, in many cases, are evolving faster than some in the industry can respond. That’s where digital disruptors are coming in. They’re trying to fill those gaps. They are new and exciting, and offer great promise to help you move into the future now, and grow your sales.

At the macro level, the disruptors are helping to push innovation, and developing new ways of thinking about how business can be done. But at a micro level, the question of trust comes into play.

Namely, who is acting in the best interests of dealers versus the disruptors’ own interests? Are they trying to enable the future of dealers? Or are they trying to disintermediate them?

The answer to that question is often hard to get at, but it matters because at some point you may be trusting one or more of them with your customers and profits. To a degree, whether it’s with a disruptor or an established provider, you have to rely on partners.

The world is simply too complex to go it alone, but you have to be able to trust those that you choose to work with. Fortunately, there are some great partners out there for dealers to choose from.

How do you evaluate the trustworthiness of disruptors? It comes down to what they do with four things, your:

  1. Customer relationships
  2. Financing
  3. Inventory (including aftermarket)
  4. Data

As a dealer, you play an integral part of the consumer sales process and provide meaningful value in it, making these four elements the crown jewels in your ability to deliver now and in the future. As the crown jewels, care should be taken with who they are shared with, and how.

For example, in customers’ user experience, how visible and present are you in it? While consumers are going through the process, are they able to select you as their dealer, look at your inventory, and select aftermarket products of your choosing?

Are you configuring the financing options presented to the consumer? When the deal is structured and after it is done, who owns and has access to the data, and for what purpose?

In the end, whether it’s perception or reality, do customers feel you sold them the car, or was it the disruptor? If it is the latter, you may have been disintermediated.

Despite how virtualized and automated sales might become in the future, the vehicle itself is obviously something that is real, and so is the customer relationship. Both are squarely in the province of you as the dealer—or should be.

That’s what leads to profitable sales, ongoing business in the service lane, and repeat customers. If you’re minimized or squeezed out of that, the value of your role and your business may also be squeezed.

Change is good and is needed. Consumers are demanding it. But change that disintermediates dealers should be viewed with caution at the very least.

Just as has been true of this election season, it becomes a question of trustworthiness.

Todd Mason is chief product and marketing officer (CPMO) for RouteOne, a joint venture created by Ally Financial, Ford Motor Credit, TD Auto Finance, and Toyota Financial Services. He is responsible for managing product conception, development, and strategy, as well as implementation of all marketing-related strategy and tactics for RouteOne.

Todd Mason


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