What Does Modern Retailing Mean and Why Should You Care?

I’ve read a lot of articles lately about how dealers took a digital leap forward in 2020 due to the pandemic. In the majority of cases, this means they added digital retailing tools to their websites. Did anything else change?


I’d argue, no. In most cases, dealerships have not changed their sales processes to adapt to technology and changing customer behavior. We’re still pushing the in-store appointment, ignoring online leads and offers (yes, an online offer is a legitimate offer!), and trying to get customers to follow the path we want them to take.


Why do we make it so hard for customers to do business with us? The fact is, the way it’s been done for 50 years is pushing customers away. The day OEMs get the green light to sell cars, dealers who don’t adapt will be out of business just like that.  


Our business has completely changed; dealers have to change with it. Plugging in digital retailing tools and marketing your “digital sales process” doesn’t cut it. There also has to be a shift in mindset and processes towards serving customers in a virtual world and following their lead for how they want to purchase a vehicle.   


Industry expert Ron Frey calls this marriage of technology and process “modern retailing.” As he explained in an Auto News article, a dealer using the modern retailing approach would envision the type of customer experience he or she wants to offer, install the technology to support that experience, and change the organizational structure as necessary to implement it.   


There’s a lot to unpack there, so in this blog I’m going to talk about changing internal sales processes to implement the customer experience you want.


First, let’s look at the traditional road to a sale. The customer comes in, salesperson does the meet and greet, qualifies the customer, takes the test drive, haggles over price, then maybe makes the sale. The goal is to make the sale, at whatever cost. Cram that family of 5 into a 4x4 room, take away distractions, and get it done.


Today, the road has to start sooner. The salesperson needs to be involved from the very beginning of the internet lead, with all the customer information in front of him or her so the customer never has to repeat details. Every lead has to be worked as a deal because in reality it may be.


The attitude also must be different. Instead of a sale at any cost, salespeople must have a customer-centric attitude that’s about “I’m here to help, no matter the outcome.” Remember, customers can find all the vehicle details online. They know the price, they know what your competition is offering, they won’t stand for the hard-sell.


What they want is a consultant. A salesperson who can answer every question (online, over the phone, in-store), has a great personality, and is completely focused on helping customers answer every question and find the best solution – whether that means they buy a car today or not. A customer in the market is going to buy a car. Becoming a trusted consultant makes it 100x more likely they will buy from you.


Changing expectations from making the sale at any cost to delivering a great customer experience is a huge shift. The fastest way to get salespeople on-board the new road to a sale is by changing pay plans. Tweak pay plans to base part of pay on CSI, customer surveys, and customer retention (notice I am not including social media reviews which are notoriously unreliable and heavily weighted toward the negative. People just can’t help sharing bad news!). 


I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it will be awful. You will lose good people. But with buy-in from owners and managers, salespeople will either adapt and enjoy the ride or go somewhere else.


I know some of you reading this just thought, “That can’t happen. What if the customer won’t take a survey? What if I lose all my salespeople?” There are a ton of ‘what ifs,” but the alternative is you continue to make it hard for people to do business with you so they simply don’t.


Your competition is a click away. Beginning the shift toward modern retailing by changing the sales process from sale-at-any-cost to trusted consultant is the way to win today’s customers. Keep doing business the way we have for 50 years, and why wouldn’t customers go somewhere else?



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