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ONE of the great paradoxes of the auto online age is that the more information that is available to buyers searching websites, the more complex the buying decision has become and the more important a sales professional at a dealership is to sort out any confusion.

Getting in early as the customer starts researching online is important to fill in the gaps in their understanding of their options.

That is why it is so important for sales professionals armed with answers to invest quality time reaching out, making a personal connection, and using the appointment process as an opportunity to “go to the customer” virtually in order to earn a showroom visit.

Your sales team has this kind of opportunity every time they connect promptly with a customer. They add value by answering buyers’ questions and sharing information. As they serve the customer, they can gain a better understanding of the customer’s needs by asking questions, providing new options and sharing product stories.

When this process is done well, the sales team then earns the privilege of recommending a showroom appointment for the customer or, in some cases, even securing the next step in an online transaction.

THE BENEFITS OF THIS APPROACH

This approach benefits your sales team as the conversion rate on these showroom appointments is often as high as 70 per cent.

Your customers have the benefit of a more efficient and personalised experience. For dealers, the benefit of this approach is that they begin to “crack the code” of one of the biggest customer-service gaps in the retail auto industry – the disconnect between the online/offline customer experience.

THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE GAP

As automotive online shopping tools continue to rise in popularity, consumers are frustrated by this online/offline disconnect.

So much information is available online, yet with the growing complexity of selection – new models with new technology and limited availability; combined with the complexity of finalising the price, terms, and trade-in value, etc – there comes a point in the shopping process where most customers will need help from a product specialist.

They will likely need information to complete their “virtual shopping”, and then they will likely want to see and test drive the vehicle before they finalise their selection and purchase.

Too often, however, after a customer gathers a significant amount of information online, and arrives at a dealership they are confronted with the frustrating reality of “having to start over” and re-explain themselves to a sales professional.

These “walk-in customers” often are met by a well-meaning sales professional who tries to take the customer back into the customer needs analysis and discovery part of the selling process.

The sales professional is “just doing their job” and following the traditional linear selling steps; but the reality is that they are stepping into the middle of the customer’s buying process.

Customers resent being forced to backtrack by explaining all the research they have done and their reasons for considering a specific product as the price of getting a test drive and getting a drive-home price.

This frustrating reality is in stark contrast to the customer who arrives with a pre-arranged showroom appointment. The sales professional has previously engaged with the customer through a combination of phone calls, emails, and digital interactions.

In this case, the sales professional has added value to the customer, by confirming selection, guiding the conversation and earning their trust.

The sales professional has also prepared in advance for the customer appointment by ensuring that a vehicle is ready for a test drive, a pre-appraisal has been completed, and enough time is set aside to assist with the customer’s unique needs. The sales manager can work with the sales team to ensure that the showroom appointment is efficient, personalised and memorable.

WHAT IT TAKES

Let’s discuss the ‘appointment culture’ approach of “going to your customer” and what is required from both the sales team and the sales management in more detail.

Sales teams that adopt this appointment-focused approach need to be comfortable engaging with customers both over the phone and digitally. They need to have strong discovery skills – the ability to ask good questions about the customer’s driving needs in order to develop rapport and connection – and they need to be willing to “work for the customer” before trying to commit the customer to a showroom appointment.

All of these skills can be learned and developed by most salespeople, but education alone won’t change process and behaviour; that’s the job of the leadership team.

This approach involves the sales management doing more than just developing the skills of the sales team. It requires full buy-in, engagement, and leadership from sales management.

Even more than the sales team, they need to shift how they think about the appointment process, how they engage with the sales team, and how they interact with the customers.

For example, instead of saying to the sales team “get the customer to make an appointment, and I’ll get you a number on the trade when they’re here”, you should be asking how you can help to earn the appointment. The answer: “Ask the customer to send you some pictures of their vehicle and I’ll do a pre-appraisal”.

Sales managers need to be available to coach the sales team’s telephone skills to be sure that they are asking the right questions to determine the customers’ needs. They need to be available to coach the appointment-making process, to ensure that pictures and videos are being sent to the customers, and they need to be available to make “preparation calls” (a.k.a. confirmation calls) to help their sales team prepare for each showroom appointment.

THE NEW REALITY

In the old, pre-pandemic world, the best sales managers were active on the physical showroom floor interacting with customers and coaching the sales team.

In the new online/offline reality, the best sales managers will be just as active in the digital showroom coaching the sales team and taking a virtual turn customer over “TO- turn over” as they help their sales team “go to the customer” online.

When the sales management fully embraces this appointment-focused approach, not only does the sales team succeed, but the dealership takes a crucial step by creating a bridge and narrowing the service gap in their customer’s online and offline shopping experience.

This is a key part of Absolute Results’ vision of an appointment culture that helps dealers to sell cars today and tomorrow.

Jeff Williams is president and CEO of Absolute Results

By Jeff Williams

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