By Desiree Homer
And Other Old School Tactics Dealers Are Abandoning
In today’s digital car-buying age and post-pandemic economy, dealers are embracing new methods of engagement. And let’s face it, you have to in order to sell cars these days. But as masters of vehicle sales, you likely have strong beliefs about how to close deals. Those of you who have been doing it for decades probably have sales ingrained in your process. It’s muscle memory to you when you see someone drive onto the lot. You grab your business cards and don your confident demeanor before heading out to greet the latest “up.”
But are any of those traditional sales methods keeping you from selling cars right now? Are the old ways four-squares and the be-back bus long gone? Many dealers are discovering that it’s time to shed the old school rules of the desk. And more specifically, it means giving those customers a price over the phone or via email when they ask for it. Just the thought of showing all your cards in the initial conversation might make you shudder. But the experts say that’s how you sell today’s consumers. And the dealers who are able to embrace the new transparency in sales are seeing significant results.
‘I Just Want Your Best Price’
Twenty years ago, when a customer called and asked for your best price, it was because he or she was hoping to avoid that three-hour, in-person process. Hoping to find a quicker means to an end, customers would try to just ask for the rock-bottom, out-the-door number. And rookie salespeople would get so jazzed about an interested car buyer that they’d offer up a lower price. Those rookies would likely then get a stern talking-to, as well. Management and all the sales training gurus would emphasize the need to get the customer into the dealership, into the car, and into the office before even talking about official numbers.
It’s important to remember, too, back then, consumers didn’t have access to all the information and data they do today. It made sense for dealership salespeople to be strategic about releasing certain car deal details. Get the customer in the dealership first. Sell them on the car. Sell them on your first round of pricing. Find their pain points and only address those, whether it be financing, trade-in, or sticker price. It was a process that worked. At least, it did back then.
In response to the “best price” customer, veterans of auto sales knew to never reveal such information immediately. But today’s car buyers are different. The entire environment and ecosystem of sales is different. The flow of information nowadays is robust. Withholding information for strategic negotiation will only seem dishonest, not transparent, and downright sketchy to some customers. The old tactics of getting people into the showroom likely won’t work. And in many cases, not offering the vehicle price over the phone during the first conversation will cost you the sale.
Car Deals Aren’t Three-Hour Tours Anymore
Right now, if you wanted to buy a car, you could easily find a way from shopping to execution without leaving your couch. Now, if your dealership can’t cater to that experience, you might be missing out on a sale. Sure, you still want to try and get customers into your dealership. After all, your service and customer service experience will keep them engaged and loyal to your brand. But you likely won’t get that far unless you’re first able to meet their preferences during the sales process.
Patrick Janes, the Senior Business Development Director for vAuto, talks about today’s fast-selling environment in a recent Dealer News Today podcast episode. It’s a must-listen show as Janes lends his 27-years of industry experience to the conversation about sales tactics. Janes reminds dealers that right now, “we’ve got to be students of the market” to make the most of tax season, stimulus check time, and increased contactless sales preferences.
Today’s car deals aren’t three to four hours long. And with the increased need for digital engagement strategies, consumers won’t likely go back to the traditional dealership experience entirely. They want quick, efficient, and seamless transactions. Denying those preferences will cost deals, plain and simple. Your competitors are embracing these new digital business models, and the landscape now includes eCommerce auto sales giants like Carvana vending machines and others.
What Your Answer Can’t Be
When a customer calls or emails asking for your best price, your rookies might be inclined to answer with, “that advertised price is our best price.” Another terrible response might be, “we’re willing to negotiate if you had a reasonable offer in mind.” Neither of these responses will result in a sale, nor would they inspire a customer to want to visit your dealership. And if you respond with, “I’m not authorized to give you a price, but my manager can call you back,” you’ll lose that customer the second you hang up with him or her.
Your sales teams might be keen to try to collect contact information about each caller. But today’s savvy consumer isn’t going to give up their details if the salesperson doesn’t give them a reason to do so. And even if they do get a call back number, the days of the sales manager returning a call to play the “price range game” won’t be fortuitous either. Those “best price” calls and emails might be dropping as missed opportunities.
How Successful Dealers Are Handling These Price Questions
The old-school methods of engagement may be out the window. Today’s dealers are seeing success by providing the short answers to those short questions straight away, including vehicle pricing. But getting the customer into the dealership is still a viable goal and strategy. Just getting them there may require a different conversational sales method.
Ask about the trade and make the customer aware of your ability to offer the best trade-in value. Get them to discuss their old car, sharing their situation with it, and maybe even what kind of research they’ve done about determining its value. You can then continue to build the relationship by reinforcing their efforts and explaining your dealership’s valuation process. Even if you offer a remote method of assigning trade-in pricing, invite them to bring their old ride in and see the vehicle they want to buy in person. If executed well, these conversations can transition to discussing any payoff amounts, financing, and next steps in getting the customer to the dealership.
Invite the customer to your dealership after you’ve shared vehicle pricing over the phone. Ask about availability to bring in their trade for evaluation. Invite them to stop in and meet your expert service department. Offer additional images and catered walkthrough videos of the vehicle they want. And extend the offer to deliver the vehicle to them at home or at work for a test drive if they’re not interested in stopping in today to see it in person.
Sell the dealership, the team of friendly people, and the warranties. And don’t be afraid to use incentives to get people to the showroom. Maybe dangle the carrot of another similar vehicle that might be of interest to them. Offer a prepaid gas card for in-house test drives. And even if the call ends abruptly, make the walkthrough video anyway. Sending a video with a conversational and more personalized view of the vehicle will provide another reason to follow up with the customer.
Customer expectations have changed. To keep up with that shift, dealership sales strategies need to be innovative. The tactics of yesterday won’t work in today’s one-click environment. It’s time to let go of the old-school way of engagement. Buyers today are tech-savvy with access to more information than ever before. They want quick details and answers that allow them to make just as quick decisions. And if all they need from you is a price, don’t be afraid to give it to them.