The face of the dealership; as important as the best deal closer

Selling cars has not been plain sailing for some time, the distant memories of 2 million plus units registered in the UK are long behind us. However there continues to be some real pockets of hope such as the £9bn profit made by VW, the increase in exports from Jaguar Land Rover and the fantastic financial results by Inchcape.

This, of course, is tempered by the fact that virtually no one is predicting any real growth this year and margins look set to continue being driven down.

We have often gone into the causes of this (the “downturn”, the shrinking car parc, the lack of quality, a reduction in showroom footfall and increased competition) however there are car dealers who are genuinely bucking the trend by being “different” to the competition and ensuring that they have an edge by having the best staff.

We have often commented on the change in dynamics when it comes to how car showrooms are set up today with far more emphasis put on process and data capture than selling skills which are often inbuilt and cannot always be taught. It is mostly about communication, personality and customer engagement and it is usually these qualities, along with a genuine work ethic, that ensures the cream rises to the top.

It is not just however sales staff that are vital.

I was talking recently to a general manager of a showroom in London who was bemoaning the fact his business sales conversion to lead ratio was still way below where it should be and despite all his efforts he couldn’t see where the leakage was occurring. All his team were being measured and challenged on all their contacts, the management team assured him that customers were being second faced (read all about “second facing” in the Motor Trade Insider Guide To Buying New Cars) and his test drive ratio was high, but there were still too many people waking without buying.

I told him that, in my opinion, apart from the fact that buyers have a wide choice and despite all the help, advice and information available to them, they need to ensure that they get the buying decision right and therefore may not always buy on their first or second contact.

He conceded to this but said that they had carried out some exit surveys on non-buyers to gauge why and were often told that they felt that the process had all been a “bit rushed” and the sales exec took a long time to get to the point of exactly what they wanted and, let’s be honest, why they were there in the first place.

I also have a theory that no matter how pro-active a sales exec may be in organising appointments and preparing for the presentation, there will always be customers who will turn up at a car showroom when it suits them having made no appointment and so they should. However the key to it is not necessarily the ambient surroundings and the 10 different types of coffee – although they play a part to a certain extent with regards the comfort of the customer – but how valued the customer feels by the receptionist or showroom host. These people can make or break a showroom; get a bad one who doesn’t engage with customers or get them to buy into what the dealership is all about and they can genuinely cost you sales. On the other hand get a good one who really takes to customers and is committed to ensuring they get “the treatment”, then they can buy busy execs time if they are all busy and more importantly still make sure the customers are in a receptive frame of mind to want to buy a car.

But perhaps more crucially keep them in the showroom and not walk out having run out of patience by being kept waiting.

These people can add £000s to the bottom line if they are good, so I said to my colleague take time to get the right person, pay them the right money and incentivise them in the same way that sales execs, thus getting them to ‘buy in’ and make them feel a valuable team member, one that is crucial to the process.

We’ll let you know what the outcome is in a few months’ time but my money is on an upturn in their fortunes.

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