COMMENTARY: The chickens have come home to roost
Finally, we are seeing some action on restarting the economy! The various levels of government are taking a very cautious approach, as they should, in allowing more businesses to open, albeit on a restricted basis and with significant protocols in place to ensure the safety of customers and employees alike.
I’m firmly in the corner that it is time to loosen the constraints and get people back to work as long as it’s in a controlled and secure manner. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of people get the social distancing concept and will be able to shop and stay safe at the same time.
This equally applies to the purchase of a new vehicle. As more and more jurisdictions across the country are allowing car dealerships to open their sales departments, dealers now have to figure out how to make it happen. I’m sure that most dealers have already thought about how to rearrange their dealerships to allow social distancing and have processes in place however the reality of the just HOW to sell a car to someone when in-store activities are so severely restricted is another story altogether.
A vehicle purchase is a big deal for most people and can be a very emotional exercise for some. Almost every buyer wants a deep personal interaction as part of the experience and now that collaboration needs to happen in a different way.
The number of customers allowed in-store and the nature of face-to-face interactions will have to dramatically change and therefore sales strategies need to change as well. The good news is that the tools are available and can be very effective.
The bad news is in the past few dealers embraced the idea of leveraging technology to interact with prospects and now must scramble to train sales staff on effective ways to engage purchasers and enhance their desire to buy a vehicle. We have known for a long time that almost all consumers are using the Internet in some way as part of their car-buying journey.
Some are simply doing research; some are deploying the build capabilities; and a few are completing virtually the entire transaction online. A dealer should assume that every customer is an online customer.
They may end up darkening the dealership doorway but, in all likelihood, they have narrowed their decision to a couple of choices and now want to physically explore the cars before making the final decision. Showroom visits had dropped dramatically even before coronavirus. Years ago, it wasn’t inconceivable to see 10 or 12 dealerships as part of the car-buying process.
Recently that number had dropped to two or three and now it may drop even further. Consumers want and expect to do most of their research online and I believe that the scale has tipped and more and more actual purchase activities will occur from the kitchen table. And do not believe for a minute that this is a short-term phenomenon and that things will go back to the way they were before. Almost nothing in our lives will go back to the pre-COVID-19 normal. We have a new normal and that normal involves even more use of technology.
This is not an all bad news story and it is never too late to get on board and embrace new sales methodologies. I fully understand that over the last number of years dealers have been inundated with different types of new software that promise to revolutionize the way to do business and significant choices needed to be made on where to invest. And now there is tremendous pressure to return the business to a sustainable profit level. The new sales experience is one area that can no longer ignored, and a commitment must be made. It is a shift in mindset.
Equally, an online sales process tool or platform is a critical investment that is required to allow for prospect interaction and eventual sale completion. Do not look at this as an expense, look at it as a revenue generating tool. Once it is are up and running the payback will be huge. And don’t scrimp on the training! Training will allow for a better understanding of the attributes of the platform and how to leverage its power effectively.
There are incredible benefits in embracing technology and by leveraging an interactive tool as part of the sale process you can embed significant efficiencies in the workflow. The sales associate can be working with multiple customers at the same time, the sales cycle will be reduced as all information will be current and at everyone’s fingertips and it opens the opportunity to introduce the prospect to other complimentary and profitable products such as extended warranties and appearance packages.
Most of the platforms also have tracking tools included which make it very easy to track activity in real time. A dealer will have a detailed sense of the sales pipeline which will make things like inventory management and performance monitoring so much easier. The whiteboard in the sales manager’s office may be a good visual and perhaps a motivator but the real operational efficiencies come from having real-time data available 24/7.
We are living in a very scary time with loads of uncertainty, but there is a silver lining.
This pandemic and our response to it has forced all of us to rethink how we get things done and, whether we like it or not, provided the opportunity for most of us to get out of our comfort zone.
In this case, the investment in a new online sales platform now will provide years of return in an environment that isn’t going away. Take advantage of the situation and turn it into a positive! The new normal is going to be okay.
Jeffrey Fallowfield is Senior Executive Consultant at PerformanceSpark.