In numerous speeches, seminars, and interviews over the last decade, I’ve repeated a central theme that resonates at the core of my personal and business philosophy: Technology doesn’t sell; it has neither soul nor personality.
Over the last few decades we’ve witnessed a revolution that never actually happened. An army of purists and programmers assaulted the foundations of our industry with alleged technology solutions designed to eliminate the human element and create a robotic, non-humanized, commoditized car sale. Still, I contend, we’re selling as many cars as we would have sold anyway, regardless of vendor involvement and interference in the process.
The challenge dealerships face is to capture the sale over your competitor from the finite pool of customers who are in the market at any given time. There is no technology creating additional customers; there is only the redirecting of those customers toward a particular dealership. It’s also important to realize that customers today come in and out of the market very quickly—they have a short shelf life.
When a customer hits your website or submits a lead, the ‘cosmic stopwatch’ begins the countdown as they are besieged with messages and offers.
In the evolution of technology, web 1.0 was flat text into the early 1990’s. That technology evolved into web 2.0: pictures, video, and sound. Now, arguably, web 3.0 has arrived. If there is indeed a third generation of the internet, it has resulted in our ability to interact and communicate in real-time with our customers and prospects. The downside, perhaps, is that those customers can now communicate with each other through reviews and ratings. Every contact, every sale, and every interaction, generates a report card.
In one of my keynote speeches a few years back, I coined a term that fathered a concept. It was the idea of ‘Technology-Enabled Sales and Marketing’.
In other words, technology is an accelerated communication conduit—a productivity multiplier—but, it is not the complete sale. Even though many have tried to get consumers to pull the trigger and complete the entire transaction online, only a limited number of customers, so far, have demonstrated they are willing to make such a major purchase without human interaction, trust, and personal assurances.
In the end, selling a car still requires a personality and that is the relationship sales approach I have advocated for decades. The only thing that has really changed is how people communicate. That’s why the dealers I work with respond to provider leads by sending a personalized video message, calling the prospect by name and personally addressing their inquiry. It adds a face and a personality that the consumer can relate to, as opposed to the ten auto-responder messages they received from ten other dealerships, each worded the same, because they are cookie-cutter messages provided by a programmer.
There’s a lot of discussion, in virtually every industry that communicates with consumers online, about the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). Conceptually, ZMOT is the moment when an interested consumer begins gathering information. Marketing wisdom today says you have to be aware of this moment in time and be present when it occurs.
I was speaking to a friend of mine, Ed Parkinson of Contact At Once!, the online chat people who serve the automobile industry. Ed was a speaker at several of my Internet Battle Plan seminars (www.InternetBattlePlan.com). Ed Parkinson is an expert on the mechanics of the concept of being present at every moment of Truth.
Of course, Ed is biased (as he should be). But, Contact At Once! has very few serious competitors in the automotive dealer-chat business and his company’s track record for results lends credibility to what he says. He quoted some impressive statistics about the increased percentage of consumers who bought from dealers and closed the sale when they were able to chat on the website with a live representative of the dealership, in real-time. I have to admit, I am now consulting many dealerships, virtually nationwide, letting them know that those who use live chat have a documented edge in closing the sale.
So, social mediums like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter collectively have several billion adult subscribers primarily, because the public wants personalized human interaction online. While technology cannot offer a viable way for the closing of deals, it does provide the enabler with the ability to create a dealership personality and connect with customers in this third generation of the internet.
James A. Ziegler, CSP, HSG is a world-class professional speaker and an internationally recognized expert in automobile sales, management, marketing and advertising in the retail automobile industry and nationally recognized magazine columnist. For more information, visit his website www.ZieglerSeminars.com.0