Who’s Qualifying who?

When I first started selling cars over fifteen years ago, sales people were always told of the importance of qualifying your customer. This approach to the sales process still holds true in today’s dealerships however you might be surprised to find out who is doing the majority of the qualifying. A recent study was published by Yahoo, Polk and Cobalt gets to the root of the customer’s buying behaviour. The study states that 88% of consumers do online research prior to walking into a dealership, 83% used the internet to research vehicles and 79% used the internet to research auto dealerships.

The average consumer is exposed to much more information than ever before. From customer testimonials to dealer blogs to online reviews, customers are expressing their opinions and it’s open for the world to see. Apart from actually driving past a dealership, searching for information on the internet has surpassed all other sources for consumers to use when looking for a dealership. Consumers are doing as much qualifying of you as you are of them. They are finding out what dealers are in their area, their contact information, their inventory, dealer reviews, special offers and an overall feel for the dealership.

With the average customer willing to drive over 40 km’s to make a purchase, dealer’s need to be willing to extend their reach beyond their immediate market. So the question is how does a dealer find the right marketing mix to reach their customers before their competition does. The answer is you need to go to where your customers are – the internet.

Where has my showroom traffic gone?

More and more dealers are looking for ways to increase traffic into their showrooms.I’m told on a regular basis that walk-in traffic continues to decrease while the sales of automobiles are on the rise. How can this be? Five years ago, a consumer who was interested in researching a particular vehicle was for the most part, encouraged to visit a dealership to either pick up a brochure or speak to a sales representative. This gave the sales rep an opportunity to create a relationship with each potential customer. However, with the increase in popularity of the internet, potential customers now have the added bonus of being able to do their research online from the comfort of their home. Now when a customer visits your showroom, they are much more informed and might have narrowed their search criteria in advance.The above example is only one of many scenarios that are occurring in most dealerships today.

The question is, how do I connect with my customers in the early stages of the sales cycle? The answer is surprisingly simple, the internet.It is very surprising to still hear how much advertising is being spent in newspaper and print yet so many indicators point to the internet as the fastest growing source for information. With potential customers spending so many hours on the internet each week, why do dealers continue to allocate such a large percentage of their advertising budget to print?

I believe the answer lies in how the two media operate. Typically, a dealer has a dedicated representative for each news publication that meets with the dealer to review their accounts and strategies, where the three larger advertising sources on the web, Google, Yahoo and MSN rely on the end user to do the work. Even though it is more challenging to advertise with these sources, the rewards can be extremely fruitful. For example, when you advertise with Google your ad is only seen by your target market thus increasing your conversions and maximizing your ROI. Dealers will need to become familiar with the term search engine marketing and its affects on the automotive landscape. We will talk more about Search Engine Optimization in the weeks to come.