Car dealerships aren’t exactly like other businesses. The product being sold is much more valuable, much more practical, and much more caught up in desire than something simple like a pair of jeans, a tube of lipstick, or even a smartphone or computer. This means, in order to maximize sales, marketing for car dealerships have to include nuance and special strategy that doesn’t apply to the general e-commerce and retail environment. These strategies account for the unique position car dealerships find themselves in while focusing on fundamental truths that draw from universal aspects of the consumer experience.
Target the Individual
Long gone is the dodgy car salesman who you just can’t trust. Individualization is a growing trend in marketing and there are some aspects of individualization that car dealers can use to make their web presence more effective and increase sales potential in terms of vehicles. For example, one of the most effective marketing individualization strategies that successful businesses use is to leverage user data to provide a more effective browsing experience. These individualization techniques aren’t always applicable to car dealerships—for example, you probably aren’t going to be able to display a row of suggested products based on a consumers and their recent purchases. However, you can use browser data to display different opportunities and information on your website.
Under this strategy, instead of showing each and every website visitor the same banner when they arrive at your homepage, your website will automatically push a different offer, image or vehicle option based on discernible demographic information such as age, location, and gender. So, if a user is visiting from an area where people tend to want to buy all-wheel-drive cars, your site can display a graphic touting a current promotional deal on one of your AWD options. This kind of data-driven marketing automation requires specialized technology. It’s not just something you can do on your own unless you happen to understand the basics of developing data-driven marketing automation programs. But in the end, it’s a worthwhile investment because it avoids wasting the customer’s time on something they aren’t going to like.
You can take a similar strategy in your in-person marketing approach as well. Efficiency is a major concern not only for your employees but also for the customers you serve. No one wants to feel that their time is being wasted. We can’t automatically collect data from a visitor in person the way we can from a website, and thought you might be able to discern some immediate facts about the shopper (a man who comes in pushing a double stroller can be assumed to be a parent, for example), it’s better to let the customer tell you what they need so you don’t accidentally waste time showing them a car that’s totally unsuited for their needs. It could be that stroller-pushing father is actually looking for a compact car to use for business trips during the week while the kids stay at home with their other parent who can ferry them around in a van.
Some dealerships get around this by having customers fill out a survey when they come in and while there is some benefit to this, it’s not a very personal and welcoming activity. Instead, your staff should be ready to ask a series of pre-defined questions designed to guide the staff member to the most effective vehicle model suggestions based on the customer’s needs. This streamlines the buying process by allowing the customer to have some control and avoiding the potential for incorrect assumptions.
Provide a Digital and Physical Open Door
Because most car shoppers start out wary of dealership hassles, delays and tricks, it’s important to establish yourself as trustworthy and helpful as soon as you possibly can. Online chat services can be a great way of presenting your dealership as an open, honest place where shoppers can get answers even if they aren’t physically in the same space as you. There are a few reasons why this is a smart idea, but retention is near the top of the list. If a prospective customer is browsing around your site and can’t find an answer to a specific question, they will probably navigate away, potentially to a competitor’s site to get the answer they need.
While having thorough online content can be a helpful way of avoiding this issue, some people have truly unique situations that are nearly impossible to anticipate. These people are the ones who will be most grateful to you if you can provide them with a specific and direct answer without taking a lot of time. Integrating a chat widget into your website can be helpful, as can setting up a channel on a chat service like Slack or turning on and regularly responding to your dealership’s Facebook Messenger account. Use the digital space to make yourself available. This will allow you to establish a relationship with a customer, find out more about what they need and get lead contact information while also providing a useful service.
It’s important to avoid underestimating the importance of helpful friendliness in the physical space as well. In-person visits remain essential to dealerships and while most car shoppers tend to make in-person visits before they’re even ready to buy, dealerships still somehow have a fairly low favorability with most shoppers, who assume they’re going to have to deal with a lot of delays, dishonesty, and manipulation. Showing your customers a different side of the car buying experience from the moment they walk through your door will be a valuable way to ensure that first visit is one that nearly guarantees a return. Combine this with an individualized approach both online and in person and you’ll be putting yourself head and shoulders above the competition.
Gather Positive Feedback From Users
Often, a personal appeal is the best way to achieve this. Customers who feel strongly tend to be the ones who leave reviews. This means that if you’re providing a mildly satisfying experience for 98% of your customers and a bad experience for 2%, your online reviews are probably going to be terrible. If, on the other hand, you manage to provide a once-in-a-lifetime fantastic service for even 5% of your customers, your potential for profit is good.
There are a few ways to go about this. Actively soliciting or bribing customers for good reviews is a bad idea for several reasons, not least of all because you’re not likely to keep this practice a secret for long, and this kind of deception can absolutely destroy a good reputation. Instead, you can send out a customer satisfaction survey along with a personalized check-in shortly after the purchase is made. Ask customers for permission to use their positive feedback on their website, and ask directly for a one-on-one communication such as a personal email thread or a phone call whether the customer might be willing to share their good opinion on an online review site.
You can also use social media as a tool to promote strongly positive customer opinions. Some people just love having the opportunity to get some extra exposure on social sites like Instagram or Twitter, so make it a habit to repost and share positive feedback from customers. Monitor your mentions and create a branded hashtag for your customers to use when they have something nice to say. When those mentions aren’t so positive, you can immediately step in and try to make it right. Whatever you do, don’t argue with a customer. You can refute what they say if it isn’t accurate but don’t get in the habit of doing this too often. Businesses that seem defensive and unable to take criticism online don’t do their brand any favors.
Sean Cassy is the Digital Marketing Specialist and Co-Owner of Turbo Marketing Solutions. You can contact him by email here or reach him by phone every weekday at Turbo Marketing’s head office.