| by David Metter, President of AutoHook powered by Urban Science
In Part I of Lies the Digital Age Told You About Selling Cars, we overturned one of the most blindly accepted industry-wide standards about the current state of consumer car buying behavior. For far too long, the assumption has been vehicle shoppers have everything they need to make a purchase decision online, and they already know what they’re buying before ever stepping foot in a showroom. The common misconception has been that the average consumer in the digital age only visits one dealership before purchasing a vehicle.
What we found after surveying 2,748 U.S. consumers that have purchased a car in the last year is that the above statement couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, not only does the average customer visit at least 2.4 dealerships before making a buying decision, but almost half – 46% – said they visited three or more dealers before purchasing. Over a quarter of our sample size, 26%, said they visited four or more dealerships before buying. All of this data was collected by AutoHook and Urban Science in May of 2018 from people who purchased or leased a vehicle within the last year – not from a published study conducted five years ago.
As a former general manager of a dealership, CMO of a privately-held dealer group and as a marketer in general, I found the fact that roughly 1 in 4 people (26%) in the year 2018 visit four or more dealerships before buying a car to be personally absurd. Though surprising, this statistic solidified a new truth about the state of our industry. Contrary to what dealers have been told, the in-store experience is arguably more important in the digital age than ever before in the history of the car business – and for several reasons.
The most prominent reason being if a customer has a bad experience with one of your salespeople when they come in for a test drive, they will leave and buy from someone else. If they go to two dealerships and have a bad experience at both, they will go to a third and even a fourth dealer to buy from the one that provides them with the experience they expect and deserve.
Just like everything else that has surfaced from the digital age, car shoppers have a LOT of choices when it comes to what they’re going to buy and who they’re going to buy from. Purchase decisions are still made at physical dealerships, most likely following a test drive – NOT exclusively online. Shoppers in-market for a new vehicle don’t have their minds made up about what they’re going to buy by the time they visit their first dealership. Outsell says 6 out of 10 car shoppers enter the market unsure of what they want to buy. Our own research and survey data consistently shows 78% of people are still considering multiple brands by the time they visit their first dealership.
So we as an industry, we HAVE to get this right. Instead of operating based on pure, often biased assumption, dealers need to seriously reconsider their order of priorities in terms of how they run their business and where they spend their money. The digital age has armed us with so much intellectual power, yet at the same time, it’s made us a little lazy. It’s cast a shadow over what’s really important – defining value and personal worth by likes, clicks and follows rather than interpersonal relationship skills.
Part II of Lies the Digital Age Told You About Selling Cars verified the auto industry has become too quick to rely on technology as a crutch to do the work for us, rather than picking up the phone and having a conversation - or dare I suggest having the inventory knowledge and social skills to not only sell a car, but to foster ongoing relationships that lead to repeat, loyal customers. It is officially time for a new dialogue to emerge. The question we as an industry need to be asking is not how can we leverage new technologies to help us sell cars, but how can we leverage new technologies to help our salespeople sell cars?
Rather than answering the above question based on my expertise and years of experience in this business, I’ll share the real-life success stories of how two actual dealerships in the digital age are using great data processed through great technology to help their people sell more cars and lose fewer opportunities.
One of our dealer clients needed an accurate way to measure the true effectiveness of their follow-up process by knowing what was and wasn’t working within their current lead mix as well as how many opportunities their salespeople sold compared to how many they lost to competitors. Using their individual salesperson data, we analyzed each person’s sales and defections and identified who had the most potential to improve. We then pinpointed the time frame during their follow-up process when their people struggled the most, which for this particular store was during days 0-4 after a lead hit their CRM. Lastly, we exposed their highest defecting lead source.
Armed with a roadmap highlighting their greatest areas of opportunity, the owner of this dealership shared this data with his sales staff and reviewed each person’s sales and defection trends with them one-on-one every month. He created an environment of transparency and friendly competition by making this defection analysis technology available to all his salespeople, thus holding them personally accountable for every sale they lost in addition to what they closed.
The dealer then helped his staff implement a more aggressive follow-up strategy for working leads 0-4 days old. He provided additional training on how to better work leads that came from their highest defecting source (especially during this time frame). He took the time to listen to feedback from all his salespeople and found opportunities for peer coaching to help further reduce their collective number of defections. He also implemented a system to reward the people who showed improvement each month.
With a refined follow-up strategy fueled by better prepared, more empowered salespeople, they saw the following results in just 90 days:
Their overall defections decreased by 89%, with a 44% decrease in defections specifically during days 0-4 post-lead.
They increased their number of closed sales tied to their highest defecting lead source by an astounding 242%.
Most importantly, when it came to the salesperson identified as having the highest defection rate, that individual successfully increased their closed sales by 78% and went from being the worst performer on the team to one of their top performers.
This store needed a way to identify any potential problems with their lead mix to see which sources were underperforming and why. Using the same defection analysis technology as Dealer #1, they were able to determine the issues they were having with their highest defecting lead source were due to external factors outside of their control – rather than a lack of effective internal follow-up. They then confidently decided to cancel this lead provider and put those marketing dollars back towards their bottom line.
Ninety days later, they saw a 61% average increase in salesperson performance after removing that lead source – not to mention they were able to free up a total of 40 man-hours per week that were previously devoted to working those high-defecting leads. The best result of all? Four of their salespeople went from being average or below average performers to their TOP FOUR salespeople.
And they didn’t stop there. This dealer applied the same technology to define which model(s) in their inventory represented the most defections specific to their salespeople so they could go after leads tied to underperforming models more aggressively. Model A represented the most opportunity for improvement, and again within 90 days, they increased closed sales specific to Model A by 51% and reduced defections by 30%.
What we can conclude from the examples listed above, is that technology can help your people in a multitude of ways. Technology can help your salespeople close more deals and reduce their defection rates. Technology can help your people free up wasted time chasing leads from a faulty source. Technology can identify which models your people struggle with the most in order to boost specific model performance. Technology can even tell you if your customers are leaving your store to buy the same model somewhere else, or if they’re defecting to another brand entirely.
But the most important thing to take away is that technology in the digital age still doesn’t sell cars. It can do a lot to light up the right track for your people to do just that, but at the end of the day your salespeople need to know your inventory like the back of their hand – what makes it better than competing brands or models, and what makes doing business with you a better option than anywhere else.
The truth in a current landscape littered with lies is that there’s no way for any one dealer to know everything they need to know about their overall market, which models represent the most opportunity for their store, and if their salespeople are doing their jobs and following up with leads appropriately. That’s where the technology and data come into play. With a complete view of who is struggling and exactly what they’re struggling with during the initial contact and follow-up process, dealers can take immediate action to help their salespeople reduce defections and improve their performance across all facets of their sales operations – so they can be one of the 2.4 dealerships (at least) with a shot of winning the sale.
Planet Honda enlisted AutoHook to help improve their overall sales performance by executing the following goals:
Increase sales specific to the models that represented the most opportunity for their store
Re-engage lapsed leads over 90 days old and convert them into showroom visits
Identify and eliminate ineffective lead providers to reduce wasted marketing dollars and focus on the leads most likely to close
Learn how this dealer increased their overall close rate by 60.5% despite a 30% reduction in lead volume!
Click below to see the complete set of results.
| by David Metter, President of AutoHook powered by Urban Science
There is this perpetual echo of the word “disruption” in the car industry. What will be the next big disruption? What do we need to prepare for that will change everything we know about selling cars? The reality is disruption is largely incumbent upon technological advancements and the rate of societal adoption to these new, uncharted territories dominated by things like artificial intelligence and machine learning. These future “disruptors,” such as the rise of alternative online retail formats, subscription services or the transition from gas-powered vehicles to autonomous, connected cars are impossible for any one dealer or OEM to predict, let alone control.
Therefore, I’d like to propose a new approach. What if instead of the next big disruption we focused a little more on what we can control – the constants – the parts of the equation that aren’t powered by data or machines. What I mean by the constants is the people, or more specifically, the relationships that form when a customer goes to look at a car and has a positive interaction with a salesperson while doing so. The value of relationships when it comes to selling cars has been vastly undermined by the shiny new innovations of the digital age.
I think we’ve become so infatuated by the latest technology and the newest cutting-edge solutions to selling cars that we forgot about the fact that technology becomes useless without the people behind it who make it work. Relationships in the digital age still take precedence over technology and despite the advancements we have yet to see, technology in all its glory can’t replace social skills. All this talk about connectivity and connected devices yet I think we’re failing to connect the dots when it comes to knowing what will ultimately yield the highest ROI for dealerships, both in today’s world and in the future – knowing who your best salespeople are and how to keep them.
We as an industry need to stop using technology as a crutch. We’ve become so focused on the next big disruption in digital marketing that we’ve started to rely on the help of digital tools entirely, forgetting that cars are still bought and sold by actual people at actual dealerships. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Automotive Consumer Study reported car shoppers still rate physical interactions with a vehicle as critical to their buying decision – with over 8 out of 10 needing to see the vehicle in person before making a purchase decision. So, if this is the case, why are we spending the majority of our time and money on the minority of the buying public?
It’s all about striking a perfect balance between technology, the right data and the right people. It takes all three to get the job done. Technology is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to enhance or continue existing relationships, but it can’t create them in the first place. When it comes to the right data, we are extremely fortunate because our solutions are powered by the Urban Science® DataHub™, which allows us to be the first to know when a customer buys a car, what car they bought, where they bought and if they didn’t buy from you. And we get that sales data and the equally important defection data within days – not months.
In the same way that technology lacks value without good people, the right data can uncover things about your salespeople you otherwise never would have known. For example, you consistently see all these closed sales opportunities by let’s say, “John,” so naturally you think John is one of your best salespeople. But how many opportunities is John losing every month to one of your competitors? You’d never know without the right data. So it all goes hand-in-hand. The person selling the most cars may be losing more opportunities than he or she is closing, so your “best” salesperson can quickly become your worst salesperson when you can compare what they’re winning to what they’re losing at the same time.
Having that ability to layer sales and defection data on top of your CRM data is critical if you want to operate more efficiently. Without it would be like making decisions for your dealership based on a cost-benefit analysis but forgetting to include the cost part of the equation. It’s the only way to add enough dimension to your CRM data to make it truly actionable – instead of looking like Flat Stanley.
Having the right data combined with great technology can help your operations in a multitude of ways. It can suppress the leads in your CRM that have already purchased so your people can stop wasting time following up with them. It can pinpoint the ideal time and channel to re-engage your lapsed or dormant leads. Technology can help dealerships interrupt a customer while they’re shopping online and grab their attention just long enough to influence their decision-making process. It can also help ensure a customer chooses to visit your showroom instead of your competitors with things like test drive incentives.
The reality is technology will never be able to stop a customer from walking out of your dealership after a negative experience with one of your salespeople. Furthermore, when it comes to closing lead opportunities, your salespeople may already be at a disadvantage. A recent Automotive News dealer training webinar reported that as many as 98% of qualified leads fail to result in closed business. So instead of pouring all your focus into staying ahead of the next big disruption promising more and better leads, maybe we need to shift our focus back to the one thing capable of converting those leads into sales once they hit your showroom – your people.
Great employees are what gives meaning to the capabilities that stem from great technology. Your salespeople are the foundation needed to ensure data-powered solutions work in favor of your dealership. In a word, the future state of our industry’s digital landscape is unpredictable. But there are two things we do know. Change is constant and retaining great salespeople is still paramount. There’s not a lot we can do to control the rate of change, but fortunately for dealers, there’s a lot we can do to help our salespeople and to make sure we're holding on to the good ones.
Stay tuned for Lies the Digital Age Told You About Selling Cars, Chapter 3: Power to the [Sales] People to learn more about the importance of retaining your best salespeople and how to provide a better in-store experience.
by David Metter, Co-Founder and President, AutoHook powered by Urban Science
Dealership employee turnover rates are notorious for being amongst the highest out of all retail sectors. Unfortunately, dealers have been forced to absorb the spiraling costs associated with a lack in salesperson retention, which only appears to be getting worse. NADA’s latest Workforce Study reported salesperson turnover rates are at a record high of 74% - up 7% from last year.
What we don’t often talk about is the broader implications high employee turnover can have both on dealers and on the industry as a whole. Consequences of losing good salespeople can transcend beyond an individual dealership level, as any significant reduction in customer retention or customer loyalty has the potential to damage the reputation of an entire brand.
Dealers aren’t shy about communicating the adverse effects high churn has on their business, both in their operational processes and when it comes down to their bottom line. Wards Auto says, “The impact is significant, causing decreased sales and profits, and diminished customer loyalty,” which we know can be detrimental to the health of any business.
MAXDigital recently surveyed nearly 400 dealers in the U.S. and found 78% struggle with issues related to high staff turnover. The root of the problem is two-fold in that good salespeople aren’t just hard to keep, they’re hard to find in the first place. Ninety percent of dealers surveyed said “Hiring good salespeople is hard,” and finding candidates with previous sales experience let alone automotive sales experience is even harder.
*Source: 2018 MAXDigital Dealership Process and Salesperson Turnover Survey
Over time, chronic retention problems add up and can cost dealers hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year. A study by Driving Sales and Hireology determined the average cost of recruiting, training, and lost productivity for each salesperson is $45,000 (and that was back in 2016). In my last blog, we defined the value of a good salesperson over the course of one year to be more than $325,000 in pure gross profit. Add that to the cost of recruiting and training and dealers are losing out on over $365,000 per salesperson, per year.
The need for dealers to be able to identify their best salespeople in order to retain them is more critical now than ever before.
Why? Because people still heavily rely on face-to-face, personal interaction - especially when it comes to making big purchase decisions. The larger the purchase, the more inclined customers are to buy from someone they trust. Despite the abundance of online vehicle research tools at their disposal at any given micro-moment, relationships will always take precedence. And people naturally gravitate towards both consistency and what is familiar to them. They’re also much more likely to buy a second and a third car from the same person they already know and trust.
So how do we solve this industry-wide employee retention problem? There are three components that we know make up the formula for properly assessing your salespeople in order to help curb the churn:
1. Know What You’re Losing
When it comes to evaluating the true performance of your salespeople, having the ability to view CRM data through a scientific lens is essential. CRM companies do what they do very well, but they only show one dimension of a highly multidimensional story – the wins. But what about the leads your salespeople touched that defected? Without that defection data, it becomes near impossible to properly identify the best performers on your team based on the opportunities they’re working.
In order to see who the real winners and losers are representing your dealership, you need a way to visually compare the number of leads each person sold each month in addition to the ones they lost and who they lost them to. Only then can you see who is really the most effective or ineffective because you have the complete story. You can make much better decisions on who or what needs to change based on a real visual of what you’re losing.
2. Leverage the Right Technology – Rooted in Science
What we’ve never seen before at the dealership level, is science taking a leading role in how we evaluate our sales staff. If science-based technologies can tell you the people that consistently prove to be growing in a positive direction, or reducing their defection rates over time, then science can play a role in helping dealers implement compensation plans that serve and reward only their best people.
Keep in mind, it’s important to give newer technologies or data-driven solutions time to build, learn and improve. The more sales and defection data we can collect over time, the more accurate and actionable the tools that leverage this data will be at identifying your best (and worst) employees.
3. Play to Your Strengths
I’ve been in this business for 27 years. If there is one thing I know without a shadow of a doubt, it’s that the chances of a salesperson closing a sale are greatest when the customer is physically in front of them. So, in addition to leveraging the right technology to evaluate your staff, leverage technology that will support what we know to be the greatest strength of any person that knows how to sell a car… get the customer in the showroom.
If the goal is to improve your lead follow-up process and eliminate inefficiencies in the way you operate (which by the way is always the goal) then it’s absolutely vital to have the tools in place that can pinpoint both the strengths and the weaknesses of your team. When it comes to retention, dealers are much more likely to foster an environment of happy employees if they play into their peoples’ strengths instead of wasting money, time and energy attempting to fix what they’ll never be good at. As stated in the national bestseller, StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”
The takeaway here is to place a heavier focus on solutions that are proven to get people physically in the door, where you have a much higher chance of getting them behind the wheel for a test drive, building a personal relationship, selling them a car, and retaining their business. Test drive incentives are one tactic we know works. Pair that with a bulletproof lead follow-up process and what you’re left with is a prescription for lowering defections tied to your salespeople, higher close rates, and better-rewarded, happier employees.
In summary, everyone wants to retain salespeople and everyone wants to retain the right salespeople for their respective business. So many dealership compensation plans are set up to benefit the underperformers – which is completely counterintuitive to reducing turnover. Until now, it’s been impossible for dealers to adequately compensate their all-stars and overperformers because they’ve had no way to identify them. Moving forward, dealers can take this information and adjust their compensation plans to retain the right salespeople and make the necessary changes to get rid of the rest. After all, it would only make sense to reward the people that are rewarding you.