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Amanda Acio

Sell on Experience vs. Brand to Beat the Car Inventory Shortage

With the current car inventory shortages, you’re likely stocking competitive used brands just to have something to sell. But how do you sell if you’re not selling your brand? You sell your dealership experience and how easy you make it to buy a vehicle.

We know brand loyalty measurements are fleeting. For example, the recent J.D Power 2021 US Automotive Brand Loyalty Study showed that between June 2020 and May 2021, brand loyalty improved across the board. People were hesitant to visit showrooms, so they relied on their relationship with their current dealer.

However, analysis from HIS Markit showed that brand loyalty fell 1.7 percentage points in June 2021 from June 2020. The pandemic bump in loyalty flattened when the microchip shortage curtailed new inventory. A brand’s existing owners were more likely to defect to another brand than they had been in years because there were — and still are — so few new vehicles on the ground. Not necessarily another dealership, but another brand.

We know customers buy vehicles other than those they originally intended. We also know today’s customers visit on average only 1.5 dealerships before buying. If you give consumers a path to purchase that’s easy and seamless, you’re going to begin forming relationships that will more than likely result in vehicle sales, regardless of brand.

The industry is seeing a shift from brand loyalty to experience loyalty, and this is your chance to take advantage of that opportunity. Here are some things you should consider when creating a customer experience that leads to loyalty:

Make it easy to engage on your dealership website. Dealerships across the country embraced digital sales — like using online car-buying platforms, virtual financing tools, and remote delivery — to stay afloat during the pandemic. But are you really promoting digital processes? Simply having the tools available isn’t enough. Are you marketing them to your customers? Have you shopped your own site to see how easy they are to use? Are they integrated with your CRM for seamless data flow?

Transfer information collected online to the showroom floor.Too often, salespeople ask customers to repeat steps on the showroom floor that they’ve already completed online. That’s a big disconnect that will irritate and ultimately turn off customers. What’s the point of having the digital retailing tools if you’re not using them to improve the experience and shorten the sales process?

Use technology to meet the customer where they are in the process. A connected process where digital retailing tools integrate with your CRM and mobile devices means your salespeople only have to ask a customer’s name to pick up exactly where they left off. Imagine how wonderful it would be as a customer to have a salesperson check an iPad right in front of you, pull up all the information you’ve already entered and lead you right into a test drive. That’s a game-changing experience.

Be an informed sales consultant. These days, the new vehicle a customer researched online may be many months away from hitting the ground. Use the information provided to segue into other available and comparable vehicles — perhaps even used. Consider this conversation: “Hello Mr. Jones, I see you were looking at the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee. That vehicle is on backorder, but I have others that are similar right here on my iPad that I can show you, or you’re welcome to scroll through yourself.” That experience takes your dealership to the next level and shows that you’re meeting the customer’s needs, not just trying to sell a particular vehicle.

Know your used inventory. I sold cars for 12 years and there’s an old-school practice that fits right into offering a better experience: touch and feel your used inventory at the start of every shift. Your customers are looking for a high-ticket item and they want to work with a sales professional. That means knowing what you’re selling off the top of your head. Where is the car in the detailing process? What features does it have? Does it have a compelling history like only one driver? Never be surprised by the condition or history of a used vehicle. Your customers will know if you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

There’s no more important road to success in this market than an easy, seamless buying journey. Take these considerations into account and you’ll create experience loyalty that trumps brand loyalty any day.

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