Along with people (or “head count” as it’s called these days) probably the next cost saving undertaken during a downturn is in advertising budgets. Ironically just when car dealers need to attract as many potential buyers as possible through their showroom doors, it seems as if the marketing needed to attract these prospects and the sales staff required to take care of them become victims of the quick fix for the bottom-line. These decisions often appear to be made by people hardly qualified to make them and seem to be badly thought out, knee-jerk reactions. So who or what is going to assist in selling more cars in the downturn? As we have been advised repeatedly by many dealers we surveyed, the influx of new customers coming to the market seem eager to spend some of the money they have saved on the reduction of their mortgage payments. These potential customers are also keen to exploit the downturn by negotiating that special deal but the car dealers they visit just don’t have enough staff to deal with them effectively enough.
The success of internet advertising over the last few years, has saved dealers fortunes on their stock advertising spends, and using the money saved on encouraging drivers to spend money in other parts of their business such as servicing, parts and accessories and marketing campaigns for half price servicing or free MOT testing have proved remarkably effective over the years. It is still quite amazing, however that dealers will advertise an event or sales promotion and not even ask whether a potential buyer is there as a result of that advertising. Sales managers just keen to increase footfall in their showrooms often put measuring the effect of a campaign too far down their list of priorities.
There is now be a massive drive to record customer e-mail addresses as it is reckoned that 80% of people will now search on-line before even thinking about going to a showroom, so the simple task of collecting an email address is an easy way of keeping in touch and keeping potential customers up to date with the dealers products, new models and, of course, promotions.
With relatively small outlay dealers can launch a “pay per click” campaign, using search words and phrases relevant to their product and location (“keywords”) and laser target customers. The measuring of the amount, type and origin of traffic to a dealer’s web site will enable them to be effective in the money they spend and be flexible enough to change it if it’s not working.
From a buyers point of view being ‘targeted’ may seem slightly intimidating but they should also consider that if the showroom they visit and the staff they engage with have a better understanding of what their needs are they really have no need to feel put off. The quality of a website is crucial to the success of a modern car business, it can be used to constantly inform customers of different models coming on the market, and entice buyers with special offers and attractive finance packages, all vital parts of the decision making process when choosing the next car to buy, even more so in a “credit crunch”.
However this flexibility is wasted if the offers are complicated and confusing or the browser finds it hard to navigate a web site. Once this has happened and if the next stage of the buying process is not “on the money” all the hard work in getting customers to visit the showroom can ultimately be wasted. If there is not enough staff to deal effectively with customers or the phone is not answered quickly or, worse still, an enquiry is not followed up, it truly is unforgivable. These things should just not happen at any time but in a downturn when new car sales are at record a low, it is commercial suicide.
If the processes in place are not measured efficiently dealers will be powerless to stop buyers going elsewhere to make that purchase or even know what has happened. These dealers are consequently unlikely to see that customer again or get the benefit of a personal recommendation.
The dealers who maximise every opportunity that they can create will be in poll position to take advantage when the sun starts shining again, the others will in all probability not have enough buying customers to continue.
It really is as simple as that.