In my recent post The Demise And Rise Of The Car Dealership
, I examined the changing face of the new car buyer and stressed the importance of automotive retailers building online communities to engage with their customers, if they expect to still be in existence in years to come.
The retail experience, at the majority of car dealerships, has changed little in decades and falls well short of customers’ expectations. It’s little wonder then, that so many customers prefer going to the dentist than entering a car showroom
. Something has to change and the industry has a tool at its disposal that will go a considerable way to winning over new customers and securing the future of the car dealership.
The future of retail is not going to be about simply selling more products, instead it will come from encouraging customers to engage with the buying process because they know, like and trust your brand and your dealership’s employees – you must first make them ‘ raving fans’
Imagine a future, where your salespeople keep in touch with their customers, throughout their ownership cycle, even becoming friends with them and your customers become your best ambassadors, regularly sharing your news, offers and product launches with their friends and families. What would happen if your customers bought into ‘Brand You’, as much, if not more than they do with the manufacturers’ you represent?
Embrace Change And Secure Your Future
Back in 1992, I was franchise manager for a subsidiary of General Motors called Saturn. We sold new cars at full ‘sticker price’ and gave customers ‘market value’ for their part exchange. We befriended customers in a way that no other dealerships were able and on one occasion our 2 retail sites experienced more than 300 Saturn owners converging at Winnipeg airport to join us for a barbeque and to watch the Apollo 13 movie in an aircraft hanger – it was Field Of Dreams stuff without the baseball players.
If you are of a certain age, then you will be familiar with the story of a this wholly owned but autonomous GM venture, which revolutionised the car buying experience in North America but which ultimately, was always destined to fail because senior GM leaders couldn’t see the benefits of new ways of doing things
and a new kind of organizational culture.
Will you and your automotive business follow a similar pathway or are you prepared to embrace change in a way that GM’s leaders were unable and recognise that your business needs to become social first, sales focused second?
Embrace The Social Revolution
79% of car buyers research their new car online before visiting a retailer. 84% of buyers will use their smart phones to locate their local car dealership. 70% of Twitter users expect a response from a dealership within an hour and sooner if they have a complaint. Facebook users exceed 1.8 billion, with more than 70% of the company’s revenue coming from mobile advertising and by 2018 it is estimated that there will be more than 2.8 billion social media users globally
Whether you choose to embrace social media as a key influential marketing channel for your dealership, make no mistake that your customers are already making this decision for you and whether they’re aged 15 or 115 they are using social media in their millions.
How do you build a community of raving fans online? Well, you don’t do it by regularly posting images of cars displaying For Sale prices. This is old school, neolithic marketing and relies on 2 main strategies; he who shouts loudest or/and who can give away the best deal (discount).
Business today has to be competitive, your customers still want and expect a good deal but the discount they receive today will soon be forgotten if it’s replaced by average or poor service tomorrow. Your customers need to know you care. People buy from people, nothing has changed in this respect – they need to know who you are and what you stand for, they want to like you and above all else they need to know they can trust you. These traits have been engrained in great salespeople for centuries.
Consider Joe Gerard
, arguably one of the most successful car salespeople of this generation, who sold more than 13000 cars, at a Chevrolet dealership, between 1963 and 1978 and was recognised by the Guinness Book Of World Records. Joe generated huge amounts of customer loyalty, with greetings cards being one of his key secrets to success. He knew the importance of being social.
In more recent years and although not inducted into any hall of fame (as yet), is the story of Laura Madison
, a salesperson at a Toyota retailer in the US. Laura regularly handed out her own personal mobile number and not the dealership’s to prospects and customers and used unorthodox techniques on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest to build referrals and huge amounts of customer loyalty.
Laura would spend $200 per month to host her own website, to which she downloaded the dealership’s car inventory. She would post blogs and useful and helpful advice for her customers. When she started at the dealership in 2011, her approach was considered so out there that she did not meet with much approval from her team mates or management either. However, as her results began to speak for themselves and the dealership saw significant increases in its monthly sales and customer retention rates, attitudes soon changed and management began to adopt some of Laura’s approaches into the rest of the team. Laura has since left the dealership to take up a position as National Director of Sales for a very successful automotive training company.
Reassessing Your Social Media Culture
Your dealership has probably been using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms for a while now. You perhaps have a marketing person or two, who dutifully post the manufacturer’s or your group’s content on these sites. The reality however, is that you see very little in return; engagement levels are at best pitiful and no one in marketing has provided you with any evidence that it’s worth you spending time and money on social media.
You must reassess your social media strategy and do so now! You need to stop posting images of cars with prices on and photos of Mr & Mrs Smith, standing next to a salesperson, as they take delivery of their new car, whilst maintaining an awkward pose, knowing they’re about to become famous on Facebook. Sadly, Mr & Mrs Smith are not on Facebook, so you can’t tag them and the rest of your Facebook fans don’t really care who Mr & Mrs Smith are!
Before you start changing your social media content, you need to alter your culture. You need to embrace a social first, sales second attitude to this ‘new’ technology. Competitions, quizzes, helpful driving guides, video pitch walks, customer stories, all have a place to play in your social revolution but more importantly will be your decision to open up the use of social media to your individual sales and aftersales team members. You need to trust them, through good guidance and a clear social media policy and training to promote your brand in a way that would historically have cost you thousands in advertising fees.
What will social media enable you to achieve if it’s done well? You will be able to promote your brand, your culture and your business to your customers' friends and families and build Joe Gerard and Laura Madison type loyalty on a viral scale. The challenge is, are you prepared to begin to lay these foundations now and in doing so, secure your future or will you wake up one day and wonder what happened?!
In my next post, I will be sharing with you how you begin to lay the foundations of cultural change that will enable you to build a secure social media marketing foundation for the future. This post will be of interest if you want to be one of those dealerships that rises above the rest, whilst others seal their own demise by sticking with old school ways of promoting their brand. Many thanks for viewing my post. Please share it with anyone you feel would benefit from the information provided.
If you have any private questions on the subject matter you can connect with me on LinkedIn and send me a message, or else you’ll find my contact details on my LinkedIn profile uk.linkedin.com/in/stevephillip
. You can also follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Linked2Steve
Steve Steve Phillip spent more than 18 years in the retail automotive sector, in the UK and the North America, running new car dealerships and almost 10 years in automotive consultancy roles, working with manufacturers such as Austin Rover, Saab, Volvo, Honda, General Motors/Saturn and various dealer groups.