Industry News

Are You Meeting Car Buyers Too Late?


It’s the car buyer your team may hate to see. He comes in with a glint in his eye and a fist full of papers. He looks around, essentially daring a sales associate to approach him.

(We know that the “he” may well be a “she,” but for this example, he’s a “he.”)

He’s been doing his research for weeks or months. He’s checked prices on a half-dozen web sites. He’s spent hours in front of the computer getting ready for this visit.

His only question is “price,” and, so far as he’s concerned, the only correct answer is “lower.”

It’s now or never. If he doesn’t become a customer now, he’ll probably just move on to another dealership.

Not the greatest position to be in. You’ve spent thousands of dollars on sales training. You’ve adjusted your service hours for the customers’ convenience. You even give them doughnuts and coffee. And now none of this matters, because this first—and possibly only—encounter with this customer is way too far down the purchase model. The good news is that this armed and obstinate buyer wasn’t always that way.

Several years ago McKinsey & Company described the model for buying a car. It begins in a relatively low-key mode: the initial consideration where the buyer is absorbing dozens or hundreds of messages aimed at him; the active evaluation phase where the buyer seeks out information for specific brands; and then closure. That’s when he’s ready to pull the trigger and isn’t really open to new ideas.

However, the first two phases—initial consideration and active evaluation—are all about information and persuasion. He’s passively, then actively absorbing what he needs to make an informed decision.

The problem is that you met him much too far down the purchase model. In their white paper on ways to deal with this kind of customer, Booz & Company offered four suggestions. They are:

  1. Build marketing strategies and tactics that address where and why consumers shop.
  2. Identify differences in consumer behavior across product categories, and off-line vs. on-line shopping occasions.
  3. Differentiate marketing messages and promotional offers between price-conscious consumers and those who place greater value on brand and convenience.
  4. Engage the shopper along the full path to the purchase.

All of these are important, but undoubtedly the most important one is number four. You can’t do anything to influence this future customer if you don’t know who he is—or if you meet him when his mind is already made up. Ideally, as soon as he begins to consider a car and long before he knows he’s a customer, you’ve already identified him and know enough about him to speak to him on a one-to-one basis.

This helps to level the playing field. He has all sorts of information about you: your advertising, what your customers say in online reviews, and what anybody who’s ever been through your doors tells him. If you can identify him and reach him at the appropriate times, you get to be a part of this conversation.

Advancements in technology in the 21st century give us tools for unprecedented precision in marketing. No longer do dealers have to send scattergun messages into the marketplace and hope that some of the anonymous recipients show up at their doors. We’ve come into the world of data-driven marketing. It takes what the techies call “robust data sets,” turns that data into information, and then into messages that resonate with the customer, providing bits of influence along the way that result in a sale.

It is, as Booz & Company said, a matter of engaging the shopper along the full path to the purchase. And it’s the most effective way to prepare this shopper to meet his dealer.

And that, in turn, is the most effective way for the dealer to make the sale and some profit.

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