In the movie “Moneyball,” Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics general manager, was trying to reinvent an archaic system that had been in use for years. This movie includes many scenes that apply to the automobile business, specifically retail sales. The automotive sales game being played (the game we think we know so well) has changed.
Take the scene where Oakland’s assistant general manager, Paul DePodesta, approaches Mr. Beane and says, “Baseball owners’ thinking is medieval. They think in terms of buying players to win games, but players don’t win baseball games…runs do.” The same in true in the auto business: leads don’t sell cars, relationships and conversations do.
But, it’s how we’ve always done it
Despite this reality, the entire automotive internet economy is built upon lead generation, lead capture, and follow up. It’s a generally accepted practice to route internet shoppers’ calls to voice mail or outsource their chat conversations to an answering service that takes the shopper’s information and uploads it into the CRM. The ‘we’ll get back to you when it’s convenient for us’ mentality is reducing your dealership’s opportunities and limiting your sales.
What the old strategy does, in essence, is to take a live, hot Up and turn it into a colder lead—someone to chase down with five or six callbacks, crossing your fingers that he hasn’t already begun working with another dealership. How many dealers do you know shake hands with live Ups, direct them over to the receptionist to load their personal information into the CRM and then send them on their way to be contacted later? It’s unheard of! Yet this is what happens to internet shoppers. For some reason, adding the “follow” to the “Up” gives dealers a false sense of security, keeping them busy counting leads and leaving voice mails.
Today’s shopper doesn’t fit that old model.
In a November 2013 Google auto shopper study entitled, Digital Drives Auto Shopping, Google reports that 95% of vehicle shoppers today use digital channels to research. Let me emphasize that number again…95%! In other words, your in-person shoppers are pretty much all internet shoppers! Plus, 35% of those shoppers use their smart device to conduct online research. And with 82% of auto shoppers now in market for three months or less (not six months anymore), you have even less time to influence them.
Do the numbers I just shared with you leave the impression that today’s shopper is the type to submit a lead form and wait around for you to call them back? Not to me. In fact, according to a recent Dataium live chat study, 49.8% of shoppers who completed a lead form on a dealership website also chatted within 30 minutes. It’s not surprising—this is the Information Age (AKA the Impatient Age)! When consumers have questions, they expect answers now or they’ll move on.
It’s time for a game change.
I bet we all agree that we would never take a live Up and send them home to follow up with later. We’d never force a phone call into an email. We don’t have newspaper or billboard departments at dealerships to handle shoppers from those sources, so why are online shoppers treated so differently? Too often, we literally take a live person with a question (the point when their interest is highest) and turn the opportunity into a cold lead simply because that’s how our systems work, that’s how “success” is measured…and that’s how we’ve always done it. It’s time for a game change.
Last Thursday, I was in northern Virginia visiting a customer. The corporate trainer for the dealership explained their customer-focused approach to showroom visitors this way: “It doesn’t matter who you are or your reason for walking into our store, you will be greeted quickly and treated respectfully as a VIP.” This store works extremely hard to carry that philosophy across all touch points—in-person, phone, email, chat and text. Speedy, rapport-building conversations is the name of the game at this dealership. They aren’t selling anything; they are building relationships and helping people resolve their automotive concerns. And they focus on optimizing every one of those interactions.
That is what I call adapting to today’s real-time shopper. It’s treating the internet shopper the same way you treat an in-person shopper. Welcoming a conversation and connecting at the precise point in time when the consumer’s interest is highest is as old as baseball and will always be the shortest path to the sale. Why leave a sales opportunity on the base path when you can just bring it home right now?
Ed Parkinson began selling and coaching auto dealers on Contact At Once! services in 2006, finally joining the company as VP of Sales in April 2007. He holds a B.B.A in Marketing and Management from Temple University.