Auto Dealers and Social Media

Since I’ll be speaking this week on a panel about social media and car dealerships, here is a collection of interesting links I’ve collected with the help of friends in my network (& Google!) – how automobile marketing can be enhanced (or damaged!) via the power of social media:

Still wondering if social media is a growth opportunity. Just spend a minute watching this real-time chart update itself. And here are a bunch of infographics showing growth and usage – stunning.

I will say that my experience thus far with automobile dealers has been mostly negative. I’m still waiting to work with a dealer that is:

- more interested in the long-term relationship than the immediate deal,

- pro-actively helpful and friendly even if a sale is not immediate, and

- transparent and up-front about pricing.

None of the above is rocket science, but all of it would earn major points in a socially-networked world. So, how can an auto dealer effectively use social networking to grow business?

1. You have to be good - so customers freely and gladly recommend you (first and foremost in importance!).

2. You need to be “find-able” on-line, with a helpful website and a social presence that makes people feel welcome.

3. You need to be astonishingly responsive.

4. You need to follow through with a positive experience at every level.

Note that the most important factors are those things that have always been most vital in establishing a reputable business. Social media only magnifies – for better or for worse – who you already are.

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The Little Spoilers that Kill a Sale

Last week, I went looking for a new vehicle for our family. We’d narrowed it down to a good-sized “crossover” SUV from one manufacturer, or a minivan from another.

As always, things look great on paper, but you have to test drive these things to see if they feel right.

I got into the crossover for the test drive, and before we went anywhere, I knew it wasn’t going to be the choice. Game over. Eliminated.

Had a similar experience some years back, when I bought a Mazda 626. One of the models I was considering was a Honda Accord – great name, excellent cars, well worth considering. But before turning the key, it was crossed off the list.

Why?

Seat belts. Specifically, the anchor points for the front seat belts could not be adjusted high enough, and therefore the seat belt tugged down on my shoulder. Game over.

I’m of average height – a little under 6 feet tall. A lot of people are my size and bigger. And do you mean to tell me that car manufacturers cannot put people my height into a driver’s seat during the design phase and check on a little thing like this??

That little spoiler has killed two car sales for me so far, and who knows how many others for drivers who have felt the same.

You can have the greatest reputation for reliability, cool design, top-notch features, but if you don’t make me feel comfortable, I walk.

User design matters. Not only in cars, but in software and everywhere else.

What are some of the spoilers you’ve experienced?

Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

Driving Away Customers

The title of this post pretty well sums up how I view the typical auto dealer experience. I think that entire sales/service model is on a downhill slide.

cars.jpgNot that every single experience I have had has been negative. I can think of a couple semi-positive ones, actually. And they were good strictly because the individual I was dealing with was low-pressure, informative, and pretty straightforward.

So, I tried to envision the elements of a radically different car dealership that would make me change my mind. What would it be like?

First, there would be an entirely different view of the role of the dealership, and the dealer-customer relationship. The standard method now in use is The Pressured Immediate Transaction Success model (The PITS), whereby all focus is getting the “victim” to make some kind of transaction decision now. That’s not a customer relationship – it’s manipulation. So that has to go – but with what to replace it?

Here would be my dream car-buying experience. I’d walk in the dealership, and be immediately greeted by someone (very warm, very professional) at a reception desk whose role it is to find out what exactly I need there today. Am I browsing? Am I looking to make a purchase? What kind of car? Do I have serious technical questions? This person sets a friendly, upbeat tone – instead of the typical wandering into a showroom, either ignored by overly busy salespeople hunched over cheesy-looking desks, or descended on by some shark that has marked me out as his personal victim by virtue of having claimed me first when I came in (I’ve experienced both of these first-hand).

I am directed to where the coffee is, and invited to make myself comfortable. There is a corner with literature on all the models, plus touch screen video displays where I can learn more about each car. The receptionist introduces me to the right person who, as a first step, sits down with me on some comfortable furniture and asks basic questions about what my needs and desires are. A real sales consultant, who listens, and even asks me questions that I didn’t think of myself. Someone who assumes that I am a person, not a means to the end of meeting his quota of victims that day.

That person then introduces me to the potential model(s) that might fit my needs. There is always a technical specialist available in the area, so that if my questions go into realms of engine and transmission design, detailed comparisons with other models, and other specifications, instead having to tolerate a babbling salesperson who only wants to avoid such distractions in order to make a sale, I’m treated with respect by interacting with someone knowledgeable.

car-salesman.jpgThen, with a nod of the head to the Saturn approach that went so well in its earlier years, we go over the price. Since dealer cost is now readily available with very little on-line effort, there’s no sense playing the game anymore. The price sheet has a list of all the desired options, and two totals at the bottom – the dealer’s cost, and the selling price. One price, same for all, no haggling. I will pay a reasonable mark-up, if I know it’s fair and I’m not being lied to. And no stupid game of going to the backroom and pretending to convince the mysterious sales manager that we really got to make a deal here today. Whoever came up with that customer-hostile model anyway? The whole “deal” mentality should be thrown overboard.

And how about seeing that customer – that adopter – as a long-term client, whose friends and children and professional colleagues all will become adopters as well? What about providing an entire life-cycle of services in a customer-focused way that will build incredible loyalty?

For instance, the general reputation of auto dealer service departments is that they’re the place to go if you want to overpay. Again, the maximize-revenue-from-each-transaction model. And, although I am certain there are many exceptions, my experience has, unfortunately, reinforced that impression. I go to a dealer as a LAST resort, not as a first choice – and that is exactly backwards. Can’t an innovative dealership seek to provide such good, honest, reliable, and affordable service, that I wouldn’t want to entrust my car to anyone else? And since cars are so reliable now, with maintenance more to the fore than repairs, can dealers become more like the Jiffy Lubes of the world, with rapid, predictable and affordable maintenance services? Why give all that steady business and good-will away?

If I had the luxury of re-inventing the entire automobile distribution business from scratch, here is how I would do it, taking into account the disintermediation of the web that really removes a lot of the necessity of the legacy dealership model:

1. Auto manufacturers have a small number of vast regional inventory centers, where cars are available for distribution. This inventory is owned by the manufacturer, thereby removing that overhang of financial pressure from dealers, and ensuring that manufacturers will make the models and configurations that actually sell.

2. Micro-dealers have a limited number of demo models, along with multimedia kiosks that have the ability to fully display configurations, and place orders. These local outposts are where prospective buyers can actually try out models by test-driving and talking with sales consultants. But rarely do they buy “off-the-lot” – the normal procedure is a delivery from the regional center a day or two later, where a far richer inventory of models, colors, and configurations are available. This removes the pressure to move sheet metal off the dealer’s “lot,” since that is no longer the goal. The goal is to get the customer the model they want.

3. Micro-dealers may also encompass, or be affiliated with, used-car sales, quick-maintenance facilities, and/or full repair services.

For many people, access to the Internet means that information is no longer needed from a traditional dealer. Frankly, I simply don’t need a car salesman. Information on models, pricing, availability, etc. is openly accessible, as are customer reviews. If people really know what they want, they can simply order it on-line, have it delivered from the regional facility to the nearest micro-dealer outpost, and be done with it. Unrealistic? Maybe. But as a customer, I’d move to that model in a heartbeat!

Get more high-voltage ideas from the entire posse at BrandingWire.com.

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff
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