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BEFORE the pandemic, most dealers would define an appointment as a planned showroom visit a customer would make to view a specific product with a sales professional they had already met, either in the showroom, over the phone, or digitally.

Traditionally, sales teams have engaged their customers with a ‘promise’ of customer service, giving them just enough information to entice them into making an appointment at the showroom.

In this traditional model, sales teams offer the ‘service promise’ that they’ll freely provide all the information needed about the product and about making a purchase decision once the customer arrives at the dealership.

In Absolute Results’ Sales-Leadership training, we call this ‘Appointment Strategy 1.0’.

But the world has changed. March 1, 2020 was a lifetime ago.

In our increasingly digital world, withholding, or even appearing to withhold information, erodes both credibility and trust, and this is one of the reasons that Appointment Strategy 1.0 is rapidly becoming ineffective.

But there’s an even deeper reason that this old-school appointment strategy no longer works: consumers today don’t want a ‘service promise’, they want a ‘service experience’.

Of course a customer’s visit to a dealership is still an important part of their purchase experience, even in the new reality, but their dealership visit will likely be in the middle, or even towards the end of their purchase experience rather than at the start, as it once was.

It’s a well-documented statistic that before the average consumer even contacts a dealer, they’ve already spent 17 hours online doing research.

Can we assume that customers are ready to visit a dealership once they’ve investigated online? Sometimes; but more often consumers need further information before taking that step. Usually customers want to connect with a product expert who has access to more information than they could find online: they’re looking for a ‘service experience’.

This gives us the opportunity to re-think our definition of an appointment.

In our Sales Leadership training, we define an appointment as an opportunity to “go to the customer”. We first “go to the customer” virtually when our sales team connects with our customers promptly and adds value to them by answering many of their questions.

At the same time it provides our sales team the opportunity to better understand their customer’s needs by asking questions, providing options, and sharing product stories.

When this is done well, they earn the privilege of recommending a showroom visit, or in some cases they even secure an online purchase transaction. At Absolute Results, we call this Appointment Strategy 2.0.

One way to describe Appointment Strategy 2.0 is that our sales team is willing to earn the appointment before they earn the customer’s business.

The best part of having Sales Teams connect virtually with customers is that once those customers have engaged with the dealership in this way, they’re more likely to show up for their appointments at the dealership.

In fact, customers with whom Sales Teams have met virtually, have an appointment show rate of over 70 per cent and the conversion rate for these customers isn’t far behind. Recently, a sales manager said to me: “We’re doing 50 per cent of the sales process in advance of the showroom visit; and it’s working better than the old way.”

For a sales team to shift their strategy, language and process to an “earn the appointment” mentality, strong leadership from the sales management is paramount.

The entire sales management team needs to be willing to “get their hands dirty” and to engage with customers alongside their team. They need to clearly define their appointment preparation process by asking their team with each new lead “how can we earn this customer’s appointment?”.

Daily one-on-ones, where the sales manager reviews each salesperson’s “hot leads”, portfolio calls, and upcoming appointments are crucial. Daily preparation calls (aka confirmation calls) by the sales manager are also an essential activity.

When the entire sales team is just as focused on preparing for each appointment as it is on making appointments, a true service culture is created.

A ‘service promise’ isn’t needed, because the customer is already fully engaged in the ‘service experience’. Best of all, the showroom visit is elevated and has the potential to become highly efficient, personalised and memorable.

In a true service culture, the showroom appointment isn’t just about “getting the sale”, but also about creating a ‘service experience’ where the customer leaves excited about returning in three years for another great experience. That’s Absolute Result’s vision of an Appointment Culture that sells cars today and tomorrow.

Jeff Williams is president & CEO of Absolute Results Production

By Jeff Williams

AdTorque Edge