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The Elephant in the Digital Showroom: The Sales Process Evolution

Each modification to your sales process can be tested and fine-tuned one at a time to meet your needs. The important thing to keep in mind is that buy-in is an absolute requirement.

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In my latest blog post, you will remember my Starbucks analogy. What if you ordered your coffee on the Starbucks app, just to find out that you still had to get in line when you got to the store? Wouldn’t that be frustrating?

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While there are elements of the online purchase that still need to be perfected, there is a large elephant in the room as it relates to truly modernizing the car-buying process — the current sales process.

If you commerce-enable your website and do not prepare your team to provide a streamlined experience at every touch point (internet, BDC, showroom, F&I), you may unnecessarily lose many valuable customers.

Most car buyers want to do at least some part of the buying process online before coming into the store, so it is vital that you equip dealership personnel with the right information to pick up where the customer left off, as well as the tools to make it as efficient as possible to seal the deal — whether the customer is an internet shopper, a phone-up or a walk-in.

Change is under foot and thanks to omnichannel commerce solutions, there are examples of this happening all over the country. The two mistakes people make on their path to digitizing the transaction are A) not thinking through how their stores need to evolve and B) Not getting everyone on the team bought into the vision.

Buy-in requires you to answer this simple question for each member of your team:

How does this impact me and my ability to be successful?
Explaining how roles will change for the better and then training on the skills they will need, are the most important steps to ensure success. But don’t worry. It isn’t as onerous as you may think. We are talking evolution, not complete transformation. There are small tweaks to your process that you can begin testing right away.

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To give you a jump-start, here are five examples from our dealer partners to get your juices flowing.

1. The Business Development Center (BDC)
Appointment Setting → Deal Concierge

The traditional BDC’s job is to make appointments for customers to come into the store. But in a world where the customer is completing several steps of the purchase process online, should the No. 1 priority be to get them in the store or to help them complete as much as possible themselves first?

The appointment will come as the “deal concierge” walks the consumer through the buy flow and then self selects their appointment time. This team can improve close rates by helping customers become more committed to the car and the dealership before walking in the door. It not only saves everyone involved time, but it puts the customer at ease, leading to improved CSI scores across the entire sales process.

At Lexus of Lehigh Valley — one of the fastest growing Lexus stores in the country and the first to be Lexus Plus certified — eight out of 10 people who call the dealership reference a VIN-specific stock number. Since stock numbers for new cars can only be found on their search results and vehicle detail pages, the BDC knows that these customers are looking at deal terms. Instead of jumping immediately to the appointment, they explain what can be done online and answer any questions the customer has about payment options, trade-ins and service plans before inviting them into the store.

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“It’s the experience overall that makes it powerful,” said Mike Price, Lexus of Lehigh Valley, “Customers say, ‘I was on so and so Lexus store website and then went on yours. I like your website so much better so I thought I would come see you guys and buy a car from you.’”

2. The Internet Team
Static Price Quotes → Interactive Deal Sheets

The Internet Team is masterful at following up with price quote requests from around the web. Sending estimates to customers is not a new phenomenon, but how many times do internet teams go back and forth with a customer who wants to see dealer-specific options with lower rates, more money down, etc. Today, dealerships like Longo Toyota are using interactive deal sheets to respond to all of their internet leads, allowing customers to adjust deal terms based on what they can afford. Not only does this stop the back and forth, saving everyone time, but it empowers customers to structure their deals on their own time, often after hours.

“Our Internet Sales Team can more quickly respond to a guest’s questions, and provide a meaningful product/price quote that enables the guest to continue to research on their own time and pace, so our team can handle more leads per person,” said Brendan Harrington of Longo Toyota. “We have seen our closing ratio almost double.”

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3. The Showroom
First Point of Contact → Only Point of Contact

Empowering your front-line sales team with the information they need to finalize the sale, means keeping them in front of the customer, which builds trust and saves everyone time. When the first pencil (and second or third pencil) can be done without thsalesperson leaving the customer’s side, everyone wins.

At Audi Rocklin, every salesperson runs their first pencil from their desktop app while sitting side by side with the customer. For the sales team, it is an empowerment tool, and the customers are thrilled to see the transparency of the information. Both their gross profit and CSI scores have gone up after deploying commerce tools in-store.

“We live in an information era and can get access to anything from our phones,” said Luke Smith of Audi Rocklin. “This can be dangerous as not all information is accurate. Keeping the salesperson at the desk with the customer reduces the likelihood of a customer getting on their phone to start questioning the deal. We keep them engaged with the salesperson without separation.”

4. The Sales Manager
Desking → Sales Coach

At Grappone Automotive, they call their sales managers “Team Leaders,” and rightfully so. By empowering the sales team as mentioned above, they have freed up the sales managers to focus on coaching best practices for how to treat customers and make them a guest for life.

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An example of this can be seen in their new trade-in process. Sales managers used to take the car for inspection and then disappear to put the valuation together. Now, the salesperson can stay with the customer and take pictures together of the car using an iPad, logging damages that get the customer over the “my car is perfect” thought process. This also allows the salesperson to introduce any F&I products that may be useful for the new car purchase.

All of this is collected and sent to a centralized trade team that then values the vehicle within minutes and pushes the estimate directly to the salesperson via text message. All the while, Team Leaders are available to do higher value tasks, such as helping a salesperson close a customer, hold training sessions or evaluate and update process and procedures.

5. The F&I Manager
The Closer → Product Educator

Perhaps one of the most controversial changes in the industry is the move to more transparency and online education as it relates to F&I products. Most people fear that transparency and online selection will reduce product penetration and profit levels due to the lack of control. We see quite the opposite.

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Customers who have their options available to review online are more prepared for the decisions they need to make when finalizing the deal. We see dealerships every day not only maintaining F&I profits with this level of transparency, but some are seeing significant increases when they embrace their role as educator. These new models are about more than empowering the customer; it is about educating the salespeople to have conversations about F&I products as early as the needs assessment stage.

Take Cavalier Mazda as an example. Their F&I director saw online commerce tools as a way to expand his reach by educating customers and product specialists on their available products. Not only does this empower the sales team to have conversations early in the process, but it dramatically helps the conversation once the customer gets to F&I as they are already primed with the products that could help them maintain their new car.

Cavalier Mazda didn’t see this as an opportunity to eliminate F&I. They saw it as a way to expand the number of people selling F&I.

“It’s all about reputation, transparency, communication and relationship,” said Rob Voigt of Cavalier Mazda. “Putting a tablet in front of a customer and having them interact with it through you is a much better experience. Not only does it empower our product specialists to move the conversation forward when I’m not available, but it acts as the initial touch point. Customers want control, but still want to be sold to in a respectful manner. Technology allows us to collect information on their interests up front and puts the customer at ease and more open to hearing us out once they get into the store.”

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Reimagining roles is what motivates and excites everyone involved. People get to learn new skill sets that they didn’t have before, working some new muscles that will help them grow in their career.

So, whether you are exploring “digital retailing” solutions or omnichannel commerce solutions, I encourage you to think about the entire customer journey and evaluate your sales process in that context in order to handle today’s buyer.

These changes are not radical in nature. Each modification to your sales process can be tested and fine-tuned one at a time to meet your needs. The important thing to keep in mind is that buy-in is an absolute requirement. Painting a picture on how someone’s role may change for the better is the first step in evolving together as a team.

T.E.A.M =Together Everyone Achieves More

Happy selling!

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