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Driving Online Sales Growth for your Dealership

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, April Koury, and Alexandra Whittington

Most dealers do not need convincing that online sales are the future. They see the potential to reach bigger audiences and generate exponential sales growth. But it all seems so damn complex. How can dealers succeed online when it appears to be changing by the day? What do we need to do tomorrow? How much should we be spending? What if we get it wrong? Everyone wants answers to the same questions. Here we explore practical tactics for those who sense the opportunity and are willing to invest time and money in pursuit of the prize.

The winners in the online world have embraced the opportunity and developed a “digital mindset”. They continue to evolve this mindset in line with new thinking about how to use the internet as a sales channel. As a result, they are delivering exponential growth in online performance. Others, more ambitiously, are starting with the goal of developing businesses that can create a billion or more customers using the power of the mobile internet. So, whatever your ambitions for your business how do you move forward? Below we outline four elements of help you develop your next steps business plan.

1. Learning What Works

You can’t delegate your own mindset change. You have to invest time reading and networking to learn about what others are doing online. Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions – they can provide very powerful insights. Our top three questions would be:

  • Results – Establish that there’s value to be gained. What proportion of revenues come from online sales, how has that changed since they started selling online, how long did it take to generate meaningful online sales, how much comes from mobile, how does profitability compare to other sales approaches, what have they spent on creating and running their online offering, what are their online targets going forward?
  • Actions – Understand how they got here. How did they start, what are they doing today, what tactics worked and which were abandoned, what external support did they use, how did / do they raise awareness and drive people to their site, what does their ‘conversion’ process look like from interest to purchase, what would they do differently if starting again, and what do the plan to do next?
  • Management – How do they manage online sales. Who’s in charge, how many resources do they have involved, how do they deal with conflicts between the online and physical sales teams, how’s that changed over time, and what’s next?

Next Steps – For dealerships, the key is to get staff and contributors helping you to identify good ideas for your online offering. Possibilities could include a survey amongst customers, staff, and their friends and families to identify the features they like best on other sites and what they’d want from the dealership site to help them. Another approach is encouraging the staff to do regular scanning of both automotive and sites and those of parallel industries. They should be seeking out ideas, trends, potential new financing solutions, and interesting headlines. These can then be shared on a regular basis in team meetings with colleagues to see what resonates and might then be experimented with on the dealership site. Larger players might want to hire external data analysis companies to examine consumer and web usage data to identify where and how best to promote the business to reach potential buyers. Other options include regular online competitions to attract new visitors, and providing targeted advice– e.g. financing and insurance guidance angled to younger buyers.

2. Think Mobile

People’s interactions with the online world are increasingly happening via their mobiles and the trend is likely to continue. Whether they are using apps or accessing the internet – they will be doing it on their devices and the functionality will get ever-smarter. If you know where things are likely to be going, you can bear that in mind when developing your online offering. So, many now start by designing their website and app to work on mobile devices first and then adapt it for the bigger screen. We can expect connectivity speeds to get faster – meaning we can share more video information about our products and services. Devices and apps will also get more intelligent – smart software will increasingly block unwanted ads and calls and screen incoming callers on behalf of the user. What are the critical messages that you want to convey to get you past these electronic guardians?

Next Steps – Dealers need to think about creating mobile ‘buzz’ around their cars and dealership – making it easy for people to share pictures of their cars and encouraging them to do it, and creating fun Facebook friendly and ‘tweetworthy’ activities within the dealership. For example – encouraging potential buyers to have the accompanying salesperson capture their test drives on Facebook Live. More innovative solutions might include providing mobile-friendly 360-degree interior and exterior camera shots of vehicles, catering for mobile payment options such as Apple pay, and accepting digital currencies such as bitcoin. A range of other options could include daily phone only offers, virtual viewing appointments, and a facility to customise your car on your phone.

3. From Research to Action

The key to success is willingness to experiment and try what’s worked for others. This means putting people on the web team that like learning, testing and refining ideas and who don’t mind dumping stuff that isn’t delivering. If step-change is your goal, then make sure you’ve researched companies who’ve done that. Then create a plan of actions that you want to try – from promotions and banner exchanges, to social media campaigns and low-cost sponsorships – have a 3-6 month schedule of what you want to try each week or month, monitor it, measure it, learn from it and refine the strategy. Be willing to adapt plans in the face of evidence from the actions you are taking.

Next Steps – Staff may be motivated to scan for interesting ideas and generate their own. The key is not to dampen their enthusiasm because they are not the “right” ideas. So, it is important to be clear and honest at the outset about what you are worried – e.g. damaging your reputation, irritating customers who see a lower price than the one they paid, or giving too much information away to your competition. The more you share of these concerns, the more your team can think about how to address them when seeking out and generating ideas.

4. Finding Customers – Look for What’s Hiding in Plain Sight

Look for opportunities to present yourself where potential customers are already. Airports, train stations, shopping centres, sporting events, festivals, markets, and other live events all have ready-made audiences. Taking pop-up stalls in these venues gives you an opportunity to try out a different way of meeting and engaging with potential customers and then encouraging them to provide you with their details so you can continue the relationship. I may love the locally made chocolates that I tasted from a pop-up stall in the local rail station, connecting online means I can keep buying the goodies even if I never see the stall again.

There are now countless examples of players who have gone from nothing to exponential growth by capturing customer interest in the online world. There are also many who’ve evolved from a physical presence to a purely online operation because of the efficiencies it can bring. Others have failed spectacularly to crack the online opportunity. The keys to success lie in constant learning, asking the right questions, recognising how the technology is evolving and planning accordingly, and deploying the right people. Success also requires us to be clear on our goals and concerns, and then adopting an iterative, experimental and constantly evolving approach both to what we actually do online and how we go about attracting potential customers.

Next Steps – The key here is putting the dealership where people are and then encouraging them to stay connected with you online until they are ready to buy. This might include taking cars to display at high footfall locations such as sporting events, concerts, trade shows for other sectors, country fairs and shopping malls. Another approach is to create your own events which might attract people in – for example a talk on the sharing economy, bringing people in to showroom to explain it, present your own sharing model, and helping to facilitate car sharing groups. Another option might be to show how 3D printing can help personalise your car – with evening demonstration events in the showroom and then allowing people to order customised 3D products – such as made to measure car seats for them or their kids. There are a range of car interest groups on platforms like Meetup – allowing them to meet in your showroom could increase brand loyalty and drive social media activity featuring your brand.


This article was published in FutureScapes. To subscribe, click here.

A version of this article appeared in Sales Initiative.


Image: by PrettySleepy2


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