The entire history of auto sales has been defined by the dealer’s quest to control the selling process. Pre-Internet, that was straightforward: the customer walked in the door, the music started, and the Four Square Dance began.
Today, the customer has taken control. As opposed to you pre-qualifying the customer, the tables have turned: the customer is pre-qualifying you. As you’re figuring out her creditworthiness, she’s evaluating your trustworthiness. As you’re determining her ability to buy now, she’s evaluating your ability to serve her well. She wants to know price, availability and service quality, and she will keep you at arm’s length until she’s satisfied she has the answers and has decided you’re the one.
There are four steps along the trust continuum. Before she will move to the next step with you, she must be convinced you’ve earned it. The savvy dealer understands this trust continuum, and is expert at building confidence at every step.
Step #1: The lead
The submission of an Internet lead is the first step along the trust continuum. Here, the customer is at the most arm’s length. She has submitted her lead to multiple dealers and is in a position to evaluate the response “from a distance.” That’s especially true if she hasn’t included a valid phone number.
Since there is no real engagement yet, she’s free to ignore an unsatisfactory dealer response. No interpersonal norms have been broken.
I call this stage the “Moment of Truth.” If a dealer responds with speed, authenticity and transparency at this stage, and does so in a way that competitively advantages him vs. his competitors, he goes a long way towards winning the right to a deeper dialogue with the customer.
Specifically, the customer has asked for a price quote. Give one! Execute a multi-vehicle price quote in 10 minutes. That’s best practice. Then get on the phone in 10 minutes as well (if the phone number is present), or email a request for the phone number (in 10 minutes) if it’s not. That kind of quick, comprehensive response sets you dramatically apart from your competitors, who (on average) don’t even respond to 25% of all leads and whose average response time on those that are responded to is over five hours.
Step #2: The chat
If the submission of a lead is the most distant stage of customer engagement, chat is next. At this stage of the trust continuum, the customer has decided to engage in a real dialogue, in real time. But it’s the type of dialogue that still enables the customer to easily walk away if she doesn’t like where the dialogue is going. There are no social norms broken if the customer stops chatting.
Here again, the dealer builds trust by speed, authenticity and transparency. The ante to any chat session, of course, is that you have to be available when the customer starts chatting. Too often, no one’s home when the customer knocks.
Once you find yourself in a chat session with a customer, be responsive to her information requests. Did she ask for a price quote? Send one right away! In fact, best practice is to send the quote while your chat is in session. You can even embed a link to the quote in the chat itself, if you possess the right tools. Use the chat session to cover the key issues (vehicle preferences, purchase timeframe, financing requirements, trade-in status, etc.), get the phone number, and propose an appointment.
Step #3: The phone call
When the customer accepts a phone call from you, or makes a call to you, she has signaled that she’s built enough trust in you to give you a full hearing. She is ready for you to prove to her that you can best serve her needs. If you’re the one calling her, make that call right after you’ve sent your quote—best practice is within 10 minutes of lead arrival. Then you can use the quote as the focus of your conversation—“I sent you three new vehicles and four pre-owned vehicles surrounding your trim-level request—which of those do you find the most interesting?” The first call is your opportunity to demonstrate your product knowledge, to cover the “key issues” (noted above), and to set the appointment.
Step #4: The in-store visit
The moment the customer walks through the showroom door, she is communicating, “This is your deal to lose.” She has done her research, she has pre-qualified you and she is ready to buy — if you treat her as she has come to expect from you. Now you must follow through with an in-store experience that reinforces the reputation you have begun to establish — authenticity, transparency, service, product knowledge, fairness, efficiency. Now the Four Square Dance can indeed begin. And when the dance is over, more times than not, you will be handing her the keys.