If you’re a dealer principal or general manager of a dealership, I can pretty much guarantee that you have heard the following from a handful of people over the years, “Your website IS your dealership!”
For the longest time, it seems, many dealership owners and staff were hesitant to embrace websites. It made sense; this was a shift in how business was done in the automotive world. Instead of customers coming into the dealership to shop and ask questions, these websites were making it so the customer had the power. Websites allowed customers to browse without the aid of a sales consultant.
It took drastic measures to convince owners and management to accept websites and make the most of them. So, some clever marketing-type person thought of the term, “Your website is your dealership” and repeated it so many times that it eventually caught on. For at least the last five years I have heard this echoed throughout the industry - in every showroom, every industry event, every marketing-related conference call.
The Hard Truth
Here’s the thing though, your website isn’t your dealership. Your website is much, much, much more important.
“Blasphemy!” many will shriek. It’s understandable that dealer principals see their brick-and-mortar dealership as the most important piece of their empire. The crown jewel. We’re talking about multi-million dollar buildings that keep important things like staff, vehicles, computers, service equipment and everything else safe and sound.
While all of that is true, it’s also right to say that the average customer doesn’t care. Walk-in traffic seems harder and harder to come by. There is a pretty good chance the customer in question won’t step foot into your dealership until the day they buy/lease the vehicle from you. After all, nine out of 10 of your customers go online to do research before purchasing a vehicle - some may even know MORE than your sales team. Those same customers, in many cases, will have spent more time on your website than they ever will in your dealership - depending on the speed of your delivery process.
Perception is Everything
While you may see your business primarily as a physical place, your customer judges you by your website first. It’s all about perception, and your dealership has a serious flaw: it actually exists. It can never be as perfect or as accessible as your website.
Because they are big, physical buildings, dealerships are affected by things like weather, power outages and other “acts of god”. Your business can’t function without a staff and a staff needs time off. Websites don’t. Websites are available even on stat holidays. Websites are available when a guy can’t sleep and shops for a sports car at 3 a.m.
On a heavy snow day, at most dealerships, it’s all hands on deck to brush the snow off the cars so potential walk-in customers and appointments are impressed by the condition of the lot. Sadly, the same care is rarely taken on dealership websites even though many more people are visiting the website than driving by the dealership - especially on a snow day. If you’re busy brushing snow while your website’s vehicle inventory is missing photos and descriptions, it’s time to reassess your priorities.
If you perceive your dealership in the same way your customers do (website first), you can provide them with all the information and resources they need on your website and then know exactly what to expect when that online shopper does come in for an appointment.
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Let Your Website do the Work
A website can and will do more for your customers than the actual dealership experience. At the click of a button (on a good website) a customer can compare vehicles side-by-side. At a dealership, even if a sales consultant does go to the trouble of lining up two or three vehicles so their customer can compare them - it would take forever. No customer is going to wait for that when they can do it on your website in seconds. Of course, you have to have the right options and content on your website.
If Mr. and Mrs. Customer are trying to decide between buying a Honda Civic and a Hyundai Elantra, they probably aren’t the only ones. As a hypothetical Honda dealer, I would want to have content on my website that compares the two vehicles and highlights the benefits of the Civic. The keeners out there may even include a video explaining the differences to make life that much easier for your customer.
“The internet has become consumers' most-used source for all things car buying. Nine in ten car shoppers use the internet as a source of information while researching and the top resource consumers interact with online is search, followed by OEM and dealer sites, and then review sites.” - Think with Google Report
No one wants to hunt around for the information they want. Customers don’t want to go to review sites if they don’t have to. Provide the customer with the info they are looking for and they’ll never have to leave your site.
Meet the Staff and their Ugly Coats
If a customer walked into your dealership and asked for the entire sales team to line up and talk a bit about themselves, you would likely laugh. That would take a lot of time for little payoff.
Customers are already doing this, they just aren’t telling you about it. Having something as simple as a robust, content-filled staff page that provides quality images of your team along with brief bios will get you and your team sales.
Just ask Joy.
Joy was about 5’2”, 110 lbs soaking wet and had a certain mother goose aura to her. Completely new to the auto industry, selling cars was an uphill battle for Joy, but she worked hard and eventually found some traction. Joy was certainly present on this dealership's staff page; it was hard to miss her in what I would call a “techni-colourful” jacket, but others would simply call ugly.
When I was visiting the dealership one day, Joy brought me aside. A new customer contacted her directly and they got a deal done on a vehicle. The way she told it, the customer had been nervous about buying a car and was browsing various dealership websites in the area. For one reason or another the customer really liked Joy’s jacket. The customer felt a connection with Joy and it’s all thanks to a robust staff page and an ugly jacket.
It’s a “work smart, not hard” approach. With a focus on your dealership website - by providing the customer all the content and resources they want - you’re doing your customers a service while making your own job easier.
Your customers will be coming to sales appointments informed and knowing exactly what they want. Less running around and more quality time closing deals with customers.