Like any great automotive marketer, I pelt everyone I know with 101 questions about their purchase experience when I see they have a new vehicle. Recently, two of my aunts purchased new SUVs. They’re 75 and 77 respectively, and in this two-part post, I am going to share their experiences and my analysis of them.
Keep your eyes peeled for each piece of their journey that ties directly to the sales team and the impact!
Why? In a changing automotive landscape that’s full of fresh competition, new digital trends, and an aging population with unique car-buying needs, I think it’s important to analyze these types of case studies to identify how dealerships can do better, both digitally and in their daily IRL interactions with customers. Let’s dive in!
What Were Their Needs and Demographics?
My aunt and her husband are 75 and 78, respectively. They are a retired couple living on the outskirts of a small city. This SUV purchase was intended to replace my aunt’s car while her husband kept his truck. They have since sold the truck and are now a one-vehicle household in their retirement. They have perfect credit, pension income, a trade-in, and savings.
They were looking for something that met the below criteria:
Felt safe in, and had positively-reviewed safety features
Had a backup camera, as all new vehicles do
Was new, not used
Had a backseat for the grandkids
Would be fuel efficient
Was small and easy to park
Had big cluster and media buttons
Worked with their phone’s Bluetooth
A pretty easy list to check off, really. Any small or midsize SUV that's of a newer model year could handle these must-haves. Let's see what happened!
First, They Looked Online
Yep, even my boomer aunts and uncles who still send snail mail, collect Royal Doultons, and have fancy Christmas plates still looked online first when buying a vehicle. But this is where the similarities between them and the average consumer of today end.
They looked at brands they already knew, had used, and trusted. For them, that meant GM, Chevrolet, and Dodge. They looked at brands that they had heard of: Kia, Hyundai, and Nissan. This was cursory, and not deeply research-focused. Getting an idea of what the SUVs were, without looking too much into the features of said SUVs.
They found the websites of local dealerships hard to use; so they stopped using them. They strayed away from the dealership websites and opted to visit instead to learn more.
It's common for buyers to evaluate brands both in and out of their consideration sets (the pool of brands they are looking at). This should be expected of all buyers. You can make your brand and dealership's brand stand out by creating SEO-worthy content that answers their questions while providing them with value (think model landing pages, blog posts, and information-focused pages.)
Many buyers (we see the lead quantities!) opt to use dealership websites. According to Google, some users have over 69 online dealership interactions during their car-buying journey. Being less tech-savvy, my aunt and her husband found the dealership websites and inventory confusing. They said things like: “the buttons moved too much,” “there was too much on there for me,” and “I didn’t trust it.”
These feelings aren’t just for the older demographics; many younger generations, myself included, feel this way about common dealership websites. There is often too much happening, too many buttons, and too many moving pieces. Give me value and make it easy! This is a note for us to prospect those dealerships, and a note for dealerships to make their websites easier to navigate for all users.
Next, They Visited Five Dealerships
Five dealerships. Wow.
This one is tough to relate to, as I bought my truck last year completely online and didn’t see a lot until I picked it up. But my aunt and uncle visited five dealerships, completely unannounced and without booking an appointment.
They visited the dealerships from their consideration set (mentioned above), starting with brands that they were more familiar with and straying out to the others they had heard of. Those that they strayed towards, they picked from the recommendations of their family and friends, and narrowed that down by which dealerships were closer to the brands they already knew.
Are you missing out by not being on the auto-mall strip in your city? Maybe!
What did they do at each of the dealerships? They test drove 1-2 SUVs that met their criteria. From there, they went home and left each dealership with a potential opportunity.
They're not unicorns, these buyers still exist! Some members of your sales team probably love them, and others not so much. One thing that the majority of dealerships can agree on though is a love of foot traffic in general.
The opportunity I see here is for salespeople to do a better job at fact-finding to find a vehicle that truly met all of their needs before they put them in SUVs to test drive. Most manufacturers offer something for most market segments (such as older people looking for easy, little compact SUVs). Putting the buyer in the right one first can make or break their purchase decision.
Most salespeople are simply trying to solve a problem for their customers. The solution is the right car for their needs. Do the preliminary work to assure that you’re only putting your customers into the right vehicles, thereby solving their problems.
Then, They Narrowed the Field
They spoke to five salespeople before narrowing their choices down to three (from five) SUVs. The two that fell out of the running had intangible “no’s” for things such as feeling up too high, not driving smoothly, braking too hard, and being too large.
They re-visited the three dealerships that had their top SUVs a second time.
They narrowed their choices down to two. In doing so, they had a mixture of personalities meet them on the sales floor. One dealership had a man of a similar demographic, one had a “young guy” that they guessed was in his late twenties, and one had another younger salesperson.
They felt intimidated by the pressure put on them by the older salesman at the first dealership, which took the SUV out of the running (which had nothing to do with the SUV itself).
They liked the two others, but found that one of them only spoke primarily to the husband, and not the wife, who the vehicle was for. This took the second SUV out of the running, leaving only one.
They narrowed the field based on malleable criteria. It's likely that other brands could have met the mark with a little more fact-finding on the part of the salesperson/dealership.
Some of these issues could be solved with a purchase. For example, some vehicles have hard braking until the brakes are worn in a little. Maybe a factory adjustment could help get them rolling sooner.
The biggest factor here was the approach of the salespeople at the dealerships; and one of the many reasons why marketing shouldn’t all be about just leads, leads, leads. It doesn’t matter how many leads you’re getting if your team is squandering them away. Put a focus on training your team to perform in a way that’s authentic to the experience you wish to provide!
Lastly, They Made a Purchase Decision
They ended up choosing a 2020 Kia Sportage. It suits them well, meets all of their needs listed above, and was a purchase they enjoyed making at the end of the day.
Do I believe that another make/model could have achieved these goals? Absolutely!
Considering that they were willing to flex on brand, there are some important factors to consider that dealerships often leave behind:
1. User experience role in establishing a brand presence online
2. Answering customer questions effectively during online research
3. The impact the salesperson has when interacting with the buyer
I have minimal thoughts to add about digital's impact here, because their experience simply reflects a unique user that was served poorly online. They didn't submit any e-leads because the digital experience was too hard. We need to make it easier, and not just for the older generations.
The salesperson that made the deal did the following:
Applied a customer-centric approach
Didn’t pressure them
Spoke to both buying parties and engaged evenly
Answered the phone and found convenient times to meet with them after the first contact
What do you think? Was the Kia Sportage the right vehicle for them, or did they simply find the right salesperson for the job?
Stay tuned for the next post where I uncover the experience of a 77-year-old also looking for a new car or SUV in the same city, with massively different factors that influenced her purchase decision!