Remember the days when internet leads were coming in by fax just like the daily lunch specials from the local pizzeria still do? Those were the days that, sadly, I did not experience as I started selling cars just as CRM tools became popular. I remember the Internet Sales department consisting of salespeople that gave prices, created appointments and sold vehicles directly to the customer. This was without a BDC department. I loved it so much that after two years on the showroom taking ups I switched to the Internet department.
We were considered the “giveaway artists” that made no gross or lost the store money. Management considered us important because we moved units and grew volume. Salespeople on the floor did not like us because in the dead of winter when it was freezing cold and customers were not coming in, we still had customers coming to see us. We were starting to provide the customer with the experience they wanted, and they enjoyed buying vehicles from us. I loved it because it kept me busy on the phone instead of sitting around, waiting for the door to open, and I made a six-figure income.
The internet had officially taken over with the likes of “SEO,” “SEM,” “Social Media,” and everything else that came along. If we add the fact that there was an unfair advantage to having two different types of sales departments, there became a need for the BDC. The mentality of hiring lower-cost customer service agents that had no clue about selling cars seemed like a great idea because all they need to do is “just get them in.” Many dealerships went back to handling phone calls the same way they did in the old days, without giving numbers. The problem is that no one would understand that consumers had every tool available to them thanks to sites like Edmunds, Cars.com, AutoTrader, CarsDirect, and many others.
Now customers have to deal with two layers of people to talk to. First, they speak to a BDC agent, and when they visit the dealership, they get passed over to a salesperson. The experience of this created a longer sales process and constant complaints from customers because the process starts all over again. Even today, salespeople are not prepared to talk to customers because they have no clue about the digital tools that can help sell more efficiently. This problem still exists in the dealership today, even after digital retailing became the modern way of life.
While I remember seeing Digital Retailing tools on dealer’s website’s as long as ten years ago I do not remember seeing a single Sales, BDC or Manager even know how to navigate the website. The dealership website is the digital showroom and I think that only now we truly are starting to get it. While customers are constantly saying that they want to do a complete transaction online they still do not realize that they have this ability. In fact, we as sales professionals need to coach customers to use these tools. Instead of “when can you come in” we shift the conversation intelligently to pressing a few buttons and discussing pricing and payments.
It is important to train people to ask the right questions and work their digital retailing tools. Nowadays, when customers want to negotiate numbers discussed we can start asking for a commitment and getting management involved to structure the deal. Essentially, if we use the digital retailing tool properly we can bring customers in the showrooms with half the deal being already finished and lowering the time it takes to finish a deal. Digital retailing is a culture that is officially forced upon us by the consumer and the software creator. We need to embrace this new way of doing business.
It is sad to see many dealers still not embracing this shift in business. We talk about disruptors like Carvana and even Tesla often being upset about their growth. Yet we forget that this is all about the customer experience. A digital retailing culture is the best way to battle disruptors and give customers a positive buying experience. My suggestion to auto dealers is that they need to rethink how they are training their Sales and BDC teams to work leads and car deals. The future is here! Let’s embrace it!
Stan Sher has over 18 years of experience in the automotive industry. He started as a sales consultant and moved on to management roles including BDC Manager, Internet director, Sales Manager, and General Sales Manager. He is the founder of Dealer eTraining where he provides training and consulting that focuses on helping dealerships improve sales processes. Stan is a student of his craft often reading about the business developing skills in marketing, operations, management, sales, and recruiting.
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