Brent Wees – Idea | Meet | Plan
These were the words a dealer uttered to me over the phone last week as we wrapped up another week of stay-at-home orders, isolation, and tough decisions. He was stressed out, I was stressed out. These feelings are a given right now, as a crisis that our generation has never seen rolls across the continent. Its effect – on our families, customers and friends – is profound. Many are in isolation. Some have lost their job outright, been laid off, contracted the virus or know someone who has.
There’s a lot of fear and anxiety right now. Strangely, not once during our call did we try to figure out what new software to use to help him sell more vehicles or how to radically change his store process to fit into the immediate “new normal”.
Our channels are awash with hourly webinars and podcasts full of immediate solutions to improve profitability and productivity during this genuinely fucked-up time. Marketing and software subject matter experts have quickly turned into crisis counselors, whose unproven simple solution is if we can keep selling cars our overall well-being will improve. It’s retail-therapy heavily reliant on the consumer to come through. While many in the industry are laser-focused on how to help dealers do more business, we may be ignoring the fact unemployment numbers are rising daily. Job loss and layoffs are trending as aggressively as infection counts. Many have been simply pulled out of the market, at no fault of their own. A sales pitch, to them, will sound at best, tone-deaf and at worse, callous. Dealers, many like my friend, have had to lay off staff and figure this out for themselves. We can’t expect everyone to just simply get online and jumpstart their business when quietly – or aloud – we’re all freaking out a little.
“We are going through a collective trauma experience. Anxiety is up, depression is up. From a productivity standpoint, it’s challenging because we’re navigating these huge emotional hurdles with uncertainty that most of us have never really experienced in our lifetime.” Rachael Cook, Productivity Expert
I need to be very clear here, I don’t like seeing businesses closed. I try to support essential local businesses to the best of my ability, but I have to be mindful of what I am spending my money on since tomorrow may bring an entirely new set of circumstances. Everyone wants retailers, restaurants and movie theatres back open. People want to start working again. However, right now, those still in business need to approach the consumer with empathy and support. It’s not just about offering waived payments and lower interest rates. We can strengthen our existing customer relationships in a more mindful manner. The dealership is full of subject matter experts that can provide a customer with a short reprieve from the on-going stresses of this pandemic.
I hope we can all find ways right now to help first, and transact second. How do we find a way to be responsible retailers and be of service to others? I’ve asked three of my closest friends and industry peers to also weigh in. Here are their insights.
Bill Playford – DealerKnows
Timing is everything. And, while this particular crisis may feel like a good time to show off new digital sales capabilities, for car shoppers, it may be too much to handle. Drawing from years of retail experience, the process of purchasing a vehicle sight-unseen is a lot for many customers to wrap their heads around. The majority of North Americans have had their lives turned upside down in March, and are experiencing many things for the very first time. Foisting new digital retailing services upon them maybe too much “new” to handle at once.
This doesn’t imply that dealerships wait idly for life to catch up to reality. What it does mean is for those dealerships, especially those remaining open to sales, to position themselves as a point of stability. Letting customers know that the dealership has handled paperwork through the mail for years, performs remote deliveries all the time, and meticulously kept vehicle clean long before anyone knew what a coronavirus was, will go a long way to making these newer digital processes feel commonplace. Dealerships have been around long enough to help customers through the last pandemic, not to mention two world wars and multiple recessions. That has to count for something.
Come from a place of stability. Come from a place of compassion. A lot of people will be at home submitting requests for quotes because they are bored or laid off from work. Sympathize with them, but remind them what you are there for. Let them know about the payment deferment programs, and how the available incentives can potentially lower their monthly commitments. Customers can take the shock of a dealership letting them know it’s interested in their financial well-being. Those in retail automotive have been integral to communities for decades. The timing is right to show customers what that means.
Eric Miltsch – Dealer Teamwork
Everything we have known has changed. Everything going forward is about to change again, multiple times over. Our first step must be acceptance. We’ll never know if we overreacted, but it’ll be apparent if we under-reacted.
We need to prepare for new versions of normal by understanding what customers truly want, identifying the newest problems, and creating new solutions.
As we move forward, we need to think of the new normal that we will help create. We will all contribute. We also need to understand what we create will be expected of customers again and again.
Think about how you can drive more value. Generate more revenue. Save more money. Increase accountability. Expecting everything to revert to the way it was is a foolish perspective and flies in the face of progress. What are you going to do to help move this forward? It starts with acceptance.
Joe Webb – DealerKnows
I’ll preface this by saying dealerships and their employees are valuable to our communities. These are unfortunate times where people are being laid off or furloughed because of the ramifications of this virus. Yet, some dealers and their personnel are not approaching their ability to continue working with the right mindset. I fear many are waving a flag of superiority because dealerships are being deemed “essential”. It is our arrogance that makes us believe this. We’re confused about thinking our newfound offerings of at-home test drives, contactless vehicle maintenance with delivery and digital retail tools make us a necessity. This is false. Much of the offerings we’re making as a “new way of doing business” are not new at all. It only feels new because now we are marketing those services. Well, plot twist: Shoppers have always needed those services.
Dealerships haven’t been deemed essential by the government because salespeople are desperately needed to conquest new customers. No digital retailing tool or special offer makes you “essential”. The primary reason your sales team needs to be on-site is because of the 1.8 million vehicles coming off lease between now and June (per Axios). These new programs you’re offering don’t make you “essential”. They just make you easier to do business with. You aren’t needed to be there to sell people. You’re needed to be there for people.
Want to be essential? Spend your efforts caring for your past customers rather than trying to conquest new ones. Solve problems for your service guests. Sit in your service waiting area, speak to those willing to be there, and identify ways you can help them during this crisis. Call, connect with and check on your previously sold clients. You’re “essential” because you have a database of loyal people who’ve given you their business, and they may need something from you beyond an offer on a new vehicle.
If you’re still dedicating significant dollars to marketing, consider a reversal of some of that spend and rededicate it to care for the people that have taken care of you. Work within the community (and explore your database) to see how you can serve your past customers, not only sell or service them. I promise the build-up of goodwill will earn you more loyalty in future business than any paid search click will win you, fresh customers. Dealers that repurpose some of their ad dollars into the community as a caregiver or support network of supplies will be looked upon far more favorably than the ones who insist they’re open to selling new customers. Whether it is assisting the elderly with transportation or delivering food to the home of a valuable past client who is struggling economically, you have the means to be an integral part of the lives of those who’ve given you their business in the past. This altruistic mindset will propel your business into the future, and likely improve the morale of your employees as well, as it always feels great to do good for others in need.