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A Customer-Inspired Sales Strategy


Customers; we’ve certainly been talking about them for decades.  What’s different today?  Anything?  Nothing?

In today’s customer-centric society we’re seeing that for many, “experience trumps product*”.  What you sell is very important however how you sell it is becoming increasingly  critical to your organization’s future success.  (*Deloitte University Press – The Future of Auto Retailing)


We can look back our journey to Customer-centricity in 4 stages.

  1. First, we targeted customers.  We went after specific demographics like men, age 35-54 or college educated women for example.
  2. Then came the age of CSI surveys.  We tried to be responsive to our customers’ feedback and instituted continuous improvement plans and programs.
  3. More recently with the proliferation of the internet and social media we became engaged with our customers beyond the times and places they were with us.  We set up Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts. Liking, following, friending, rating and reviewing.
  4. Now we are finally truly listening to our customers and being inspired by how they are choosing to do their business.  How they interact and make purchase decisions with other retail and service providers.


It’s interesting to note that many major retailers are closing hundreds of brick and mortar stores as they go fishing where the fish are.


Of course many car dealers maintained throughout this journey that auto retail was different.  “Cars will never be sold online.” said more than one, … and some still think it.  Used vehicle retailers like VROOM and CARVANA are disproving that thought, both are on rapid growth pace and have new competitors springing up to take a share of that exploding market.


The forces remolding auto retail are many.  Some we already can feel very strongly.  Margin-compression for example is now even squeezing luxury brands front-end profitability.  Transparency Is reshaping the way we price, negotiate and finance our vehicles.  And what’s coming in the not to distant future will be even more disruptive.  Remaining profitable in this challenging, ever changing, transparent and margin-compressed marketplace is only going to get tougher.


At the same time google keeps telling us how buyers are changing their shopping and buying habits and preferences.


Major players are scrambling to keep up with these emerging customer expectations.   AutoNation has enabled 90% of the transaction to be done online, The Walser group eliminated the traditional F&I department and went to one-person selling in 13 stores, training 125 sales professionals to complete the sale front to back.  Showrooms are becoming digital spaces looking more like internet cafés.  Even the OEMs are trying to get their dealers in the game, Lexus one price and one person selling, GM shop click drive.  These are just a few examples, other retailers, OEMs and 3rd part vendors are racing to not only use technology to reshape the process but also re-engineering the vehicle sales process itself, including looking at alternative organizational and staffing structures.


So what’s the end game?  The promised land?  Can the grass really be greener on the other side?

Yes, streamlining the sales process will bring huge efficiencies, reducing comp and overall costs, saving time and reducing stress for both your customers and employees.  This will result in greatly increased productivity raising your volume per person and overall which will lead to more loyal associates.  That retention of knowledge and expertise with the reduction in offsetting turnover and the drain that has on your bottom line will create higher profits and loyal customers.  If it sounds too good to be true, take a closer look at the results from the Walser group and others, it is being done right now by several visionary dealers.


So how do we get to this promised land?  We’ll there’s this old saying in the car business; “the customers will tell you how to sell them, … if you just listen.”  Stop treating customers the way you want to be treated and treat customers the way they want to be treated.


Here’s what some customers are saying when asked “Why did you buy from that dealership?”


Let’s put a little meat on the bone.  What would a customer inspired sales process be like?


We start out by engaging with our customers wherever they are, listening not only to the vehicle needs but also how they want to go through the buying process.  Recognizing vehicle selection may have already happened virtually and not making them start over when they get to the store.  Giving them their trade-value or payments options whenever they ask; online, over the phone or as one of the first things when they come to the store.  And even using technology which empowers them to figure it out on their own.  Starting the finance process before they visit and soon being able to complete it entirely online.  Enabling and even encouraging home deliveries and virtual introductions to service.

When I’ve shared this with dealers and GMs around the country, most know this is where they need to go or at least they know they need to head in this direction but they general tell me two things.

  • First, they’re not sure exactly how to get there
  • Second, they’re not sure if their current team can make the journey with them.


So how do we bridge the gap between the past and the future, between strategy and execution, learning and actual behavior change, new processes and performance improvement?  Well you’re going to have to make some tough choices along the way; we’ll discuss those next.


Let’s start with pricing strategy, do you even have one?  We can no longer succeed just doing the best we can with each customer, one at a time.  The margins are too tight.  A well defined pricing strategy will help you control, forecast and deliver more consistent margin performance.  But is market-based pricing for new vehicles or one-price better for your situation; do you want to position yourselves for success as a high volume dealer or high value high touch?   Inventory, pricing, processes and maybe even people will be totally different depending on which you choose.

Who is the best technology partner for what you want to accomplish and what you’re willing to invest.  Do you want to have digital retailing capabilities for just your internet department or all channels?  What can you do to streamline the showroom process and reduce wasted time?

With these margins it doesn’t make sense to keep paying so many people on each sale.  What’s the right organizational structure for your sales department; one-person selling or team selling; product specialists with one manager who both negotiates the deal and does the financing, or a sales professional who can do their own deal with a finance specialist to sell the protection products and complete the paperwork.  One size does not fit all.  There’s many things to consider in choosing which is best for your store.

Finally how are you going to document and train to this new customer-driven flexible and adaptive personalized sales process?  Are you going to have one sales process for all channels or three different processes?


Next Level Automotive Group brings together partners who have been a part of the design, development and implementation of these strategies for America’s largest automotive retailer as well as other premier dealers across the country.

Picking and executing the right strategy, best practice processes across both sales and service, helping your leadership team build high performing teams that outperform their own highest expectations and facilitating training that sticks.  Taking a bit of our own medicine and delivering learning the way your learners want to learn.  Digitally, online, on their smartphones and from each other.


When you partner with Next Level Automotive Group you not only get leaders with decades of experience and expertise both in small private cap dealers and America’s largest automotive retailers you also can leverage what they’ve learned from literally hundreds of General Managers and their management teams across the country.


With our managing partner and Fixed Operations division leader, Dean Estep we cover both sides of the house.


Here’s just a sample of outside validation.  There’s many more testimonials on our website.