Digital Dealer 21 Takeaways: Delivering a Digital - and Human - Car Buying Experience

Few things go together as nicely as digital retailing and the Digital Dealer Conference. This is where automotive professionals go to learn about the practical application of technology, after all, and there are few solutions as practical or effective as digital retailing when it comes to connecting the online and in-store buyer's journey. And sure enough, a standing room-only audience of dealer principals, managers and sales associates crowded into the Cox Automotive Digital Retailing session at this week’s Digital Dealer 21 Conference in Las Vegas, ready to snap pics of screens, ask questions and jot down tips from speaker Mike Burgiss -- Cox Automotive’s Vice President of Digital Retailing.

From the start, they wanted solid application strategies they could take back to their dealerships. Theory simply seemed uninteresting, compared to discussions about executable techniques they could apply to their workflows. Indeed, questions after the session revolved around how to apply sales techniques into this emerging digital world of retail. Burgiss could have spoken for another hour about ways to establish that all important connection with the customer, and how to optimize the experience. At the end of the session, however, three topics emerged as key to the conversation:

“Computers Don’t Sell Cars. You Sell Cars.”

It’s a simple fact of automotive retail, yet one that seems overlooked amid all the talk about the changing face of the business. “There’s a lot of energy around the idea of buying a car online,” said Burgiss. “You know – click a button and put a car in a shopping cart. But it just doesn’t make sense. The idea of skipping the dealership to buy online – that may be okay for a very small percentage of people, but the reality is that for the vast majority, the actual showroom is just as much a part of the experience as online.” The point? Tools may become refined, new solutions may be more powerful, but the relationship between salesperson and consumer must be as strong or stronger than ever. As efficient as technology makes the process, it lacks the human touch on which credibility, loyalty and the actual sale is built. Technology helps shift the emphasis of the experience away from the hassle and toward the founding of a positive relationship.

“Connect the Strategy: Start Deals, Make Deals, Transact Deals.”

What’s the biggest problem in auto retail? According to Burgiss, the four square represents the biggest problem because it’s the least favorite part of the car buyer’s experience. “Turn it into an online process and conversation,” said Burgiss. “Start and make the deal online. The simple idea that a person can go on a website and pencil a deal themselves…that attracts buyers from across the credit spectrum. They’re more comfortable, and more realistic on price and trade, which really maps out how the customer wants to be treated.” By connecting the three core points of the sales strategy – engaging the customer, getting them to yes, and easing the transaction path through automation, an effective salesperson uses digital retailing to create a more relaxed and efficient experience. Instead of spending 3 hours getting to the “yes,” that time is spent on building a relationship that translates into additional profit and a stronger connection.

“What Works Best in the Showroom…Works Best Online.”

Effective digital retailing tools transfer proven sales strategies and techniques into the online environment. “It’s not about ‘when can you come in,’” said Burgiss. “It’s about the numbers. It’s about what happens at the desk every day. Instead of the in-store experience being a negotiation, it’s a confirmation. If you’re real with me online, I will sign when I come to the store.” That creates an entirely different experience inside the dealership, and results in significant improvements along the lines of communication with dealership personnel and time spent in the showroom.

It also opens the door to more effective F&I product sales, online and in-store. According to a recent study by Cox Automotive, in fact, 83% of customers are interested in learning about F&I products before entering the dealership – and they’re more likely to buy if they understand the product features from a website, versus stuck inside an F&I office. Indeed, 63% are more likely to buy F&I products if they can learn about them on their own time. That’s the key – using time and technology effectively to create the best possible sales experience. By leveraging the online space with proven showroom strategies, dealership sales teams can focus more on the relationship and less on a routine that bogs down and frustrates buyers. That’s the power of technology and the effectiveness of digital retailing.