Balancing the Scales –A strategic response to the Internet’s impact on the dealership’s sales process, profits and customer experience

The Business Case
In 1989 the Internet came online and disrupted the car buying and selling process by tipping the scales heavily in the consumer’s favor. The easy access to pricing and product information made shoppers better researchers and negotiators, and to an unprepared industry this shift was unsettling. Since then, manufacturers and their dealers have been constantly on the lookout to find strategies to counterbalance the scales back in their favor. It seems that as soon as they believe that they are on the verge of having the problem solved, it somehow shifts and morphs! As proof, take a look at the various programs that dealerships have engaged in since the launch of the Internet to generate traffic and improve the customer experience. From SEO and reputation management, to programs like BDCs and Internet departments, all were sold as another layer of response and supported by data that in most cases the buyer (dealerships) did not fully understand, but agreed seemed plausible. What’s even worse is that most vendors never account for how their product will be utilized by the sales person, the one constant in the sales process; meaning, how salespeople will be taught to use and integrate the solution in their business development, sales or customer relationship management processes.

 Misdirection – Deflecting the Questions
So what do you do if you are a dealership that is suddenly faced with the reality that neither you nor those in your employ have any idea how to respond to this shift in consumer behavior? What do you do when your clients use the Internet to change their definition of how they define a local dealer, to as far as they are willing to travel to get a better deal? In other words, how do you re-balance the scales to go on the offense & regain some sense of equal footing when the customer seems to have all the advantage? You call in the experts, right?  But what do you do if the ‘experts’ are also your vendors and have a vested interest in keeping you ignorant and dependent on them?

Over the past few decades a lot has been said about the importance of data and social media and their ability to allow dealers to tap into the social sphere of their clients to listen for their opportunity to sell.  Additionally, a lot has also been written about the customer experience, along with the importance of correctly interpreting the KPI’s that are being tracked as a tool for developing action plans to entice clients to buy more. However little has been written or said about upgrading the skill sets of the workforce to mirror the changes happening in the marketplace. Meanwhile, a lot has been said and spent on technology in hopes of circumventing the sales force that is ultimately necessary for the transaction to occur. It is a fact that sales people are the last ones to touch the paying customer and if they are not competent enough, then all of the investment in R&D, facilities, marketing, incentives, and so on was for nothing!  So in the autopsy of many failed dealerships, the one constant is that in the absence of a workforce capable of proactively getting and keeping customers, the business will have to expend a ridiculous amount of their annual budget in lead generation, just trying to keep and outpace attrition happening on multiple levels.   

The Challenge:
Most dealerships operate as microcosms, and in the absence of standards that define the job descriptions, they make up their own rules to hide flaws and weaknesses under layers of ancillary departments, managers and support staff. Consequently when the Internet disrupted the dealerships processes, all the hidden flaws and weaknesses were placed on display for all to see. The business practices that became visible were inconceivable, when compared to traditional businesses where standards and certifications are requirements for employment. So for relevance and practical application, answer the following: What do you do if you are a struggling dealer with your lot full of inventory and a staff of individuals that are inadvertently trained to react? How do you leverage the data to rebalance the scales and intentionally put your people to work in lieu of them just standing around and waiting for the next ‘Up’? 

The Solution:
You update the job description to reflect the behavior and outcomes you want to see!

If you step away from the table and examine the current sales process, what you will see is that it is a linear process, consisting of a start and a stop. This linear approach is the reason why salespeople are struggling and why the Internet has disrupted the dealership’s sales process to the extent that it has. Stay with me…because most sales managers focus on this traditional sales process,  the road to the sale,  their vision of accountability is limited to what they can physically see; like a prospect coming onto the sales lot as an opportunity to close a sale today. However, when it comes to other activities that would cause a client to return or send referrals, in most cases, they are silent because these activities are ambiguous and cannot be measured by managers currently, in order to be duplicated.

This is really important because when strategies like Business Development and Customer Relationship Management are introduced, it will be easier to see how they close the loop by acting as book ends to the road to the sale thus making the new sales process circular. Furthermore, by seeing the process as circular the activities that make up these additional strategies will add definition and specificity to the current unknowns about what happens before a client comes into the dealership and what happens after they leave to bring them back again. This approach would ensure that there are always defined next steps to prevent clients from ever getting lost resulting in missed opportunities.

An Example:
So by redefining the role of the selling professional, as Building, Maintaining and Managing the dealership’s book of business, we will have guidelines for developing the learning objectives for evaluating training providers and content to meet the requirements of the job description.

For example, if the learning objective is to Build a book of business, then the professional will need to learn how to generate their own leads, engage in relationship building activities, expand their sphere of influence and connect with past clients to ensure that they remain in the fold.  If the learning objective is to Maintain a book of business, then the professional will need to learn how to actively engage with clients to sustain the relationships during long and short selling cycles as well as throughout the entire relationship life cycle. And finally, if the learning objective is to Manage a book of business, then the professional will need to learn how to leverage the use of technology such as CRM software to sustain all the activities that are needed to grow a vibrant and profitable book of business.

But even more important than all these, is that in lieu of trying to manage the person, managers will finally have processes in place to manage to produce measureable results in areas that they are being held accountable, thus making everyone’s results more predictable, repeatable and track-able.  

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