How will the 4Ps of Automotive Marketing™ affect the way dealers operate in 2018?

Our advantage as an industry is our people. What’s unique about the automotive industry is that virtually all consumers shop online, but the vast majority of transactions happen offline between the shopper and the dealer. Consumers today want the shopping experience to be more personal and easier, which is what a dealership’s people can provide. They don’t want generic ads screaming at them.

But dealers need to unlearn some legacy behaviors as the industry shifts its emphasis from promotion to people. For example, consumers want to shop anonymously yet they want a transparent experience from the dealer, with the dealer providing complete information to help consumers shop on their own terms. But to give consumers what they want, dealers need to change the mindset of blasting advertisements while withholding useful information to maintain profitability. Profitability will come with the overt and transparent sharing of information to help the consumer do all the research they want to do online before coming to your lot to make the purchase.

How do you think the relationship between the consumer and the salesperson will change in 2018?

The relationship will need to become more about salespeople being useful and trustful. I love what Best Buy did with its Geek Squad. With the Geek Squad, Best Buy started to build a relationship based on a service. The Geek Squad is all about Best Buy making available people who are not trying to sell something. They are simply answering your questions and making the purchase easier to the point of coming to your home to install the product. The car business needs to foster relationships built on that kind of usefulness.

The trust part of the relationship comes partly from more dealerships making more salesperson profiles available online, complete with consumer reviews. The more a person can read about you and know who you are, the more that person will trust you and your dealership. But trust also comes from salespeople getting to know consumers better. Trust will come from the dealership reading the consumer, understanding their unique needs – whether for financing, product preference, or other personal need – and then meeting those needs on the consumer’s terms.

As an industry, we’re closing the trust gap by providing more information about salespeople upfront — especially when you consider that 97 percent of buyers prefer selecting their salesperson ahead of time[i]. But identifying the consumer’s needs and meeting them is the biggest gap in trust that needs to get addressed. The one-size fits all sales process needs to go away.

Dealerships are still stuck in an ingrained process: bring the customer in, provide a test drive, and negotiate price regardless of the consumer’s need. But every single purchase experience should be unique and cater to the needs of each consumer. We talk about a personalized search experience. How come we don’t have a personalized buying experience?

What’s the biggest change you see in the way consumers shop for cars?

More consumers will continue to shop across multiple devices including mobile. It’s paramount that dealers be mobile centric with the information they provide online. But dealers need to remember that there’s a big difference between providing mobile centric information and asking for information from the consumer on a mobile device just so that the dealer can collect a lead. When’s the last time you ever filled out a form for anything on your mobile phone?

As I have said before, there is no such thing as an Internet customer or walk-in customer. Everyone has gone online prior to going into your dealership.

The biggest change in the shopping process that needs to happen in 2018 is not on the consumer side – it’s on the dealer side. Consumers will continue to go online and research what they need to know before going to the lot to make a purchase. In 2018, dealers need to align the sales process with the same tools consumers use to research and shop.

The buying experience needs to align with the shopping experience in the first place. It’s the biggest disconnect in the industry. People are researching what they want on their own and then are stuffed into a legacy buying process once they contact a dealer.

Other predictions?

2018 is about shifting our notions of digital retailing. I don’t think the rise of digital retailing means that consumers are going to buy cars online. Consumers will want to get all the paperwork for buying a car done online, but they still want to talk with someone at the dealership to ensure that the shopper gets the best deal possible. Dealers need to embrace digital retailing by facilitating online research and paperwork while completing the transaction and delivery offline. The notion of a consumer thinking, “I’m just going to go to a dealer’s website and make the entire purchase online” sounds premature.  But when a shopper does research online and then talks to the sales rep on the phone or on the lot to complete a purchase – that’s digital retailing!


[i] DealerRater, Care Shoppers Are Judging You, January 2017.