The way dealers communicate with their customers requires a rethink when it comes to the dealership sales environment
From traditional to social media, websites and newsletters, the idea behind the different communication platforms available today is that they all appeal to different people. By contrast, at most dealerships, communication and sales methods have remained relatively static. Even with evolving branding and image programs, dealer facilities have not witnessed the same radical changes the rest of the industry has encountered.
Virtually every transaction takes place at a salesperson’s desk in front of a computer. Most of the time, the customer is on the other side of the table from the salesperson. Not exactly a collaborative setup. It can be perceived as an “us vs. them” layout.
While this approach may indeed be comfortable and appropriate for many customers, dealers should consider giving customers more choice.
People are different and want different products and services. Offering only the traditional sales desk simply does not cut it anymore. And it is those dealerships who are adapting to this in their sales environments that are seeing greater customer engagement and building trust.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
Your store has to be flexible and agile enough to make families, performance enthusiasts, first time vehicle buyers and business people comfortable. It is less about them being part of a sales process, than it is making an effort to treat people as the individuals they are. And often the best time to approach it is during the planning stages of a facility renovation or new build. How you organize your space and the consultation options you provide are likely to have a big impact on your customers.
In most cases today, the customer already knows a lot about the vehicle and its purchase price. Showing that you are the best partner for the customer in this process is key to establishing a long-term relationship in both sales and service.
How can you connect? You can start by offering more choices and platforms to get to know customers better.
More and more, when visiting dealerships across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, I observe communication and consultation between salespeople and customers in the following types of non-traditional environments:
THE COUNTER CAFÉ/BAR
The café area can be an ideal space for the salesperson and customer to interact in a comfortable, neutral environment. In fact, café height tables are also well suited in other areas of the showroom. We have seen digital displays incorporated into the table tops, which allows for easy browsing for options and photos in a non-sales atmosphere.
Touch screens and other digital displays are becoming more and more prevalent. These areas allow people to interact with product information with or without a salesperson. These areas can provide a great space for informal discussions about vehicles and their features.
INFORMAL LOUNGE SEATING
Lounge seating is traditionally only used in the service waiting lounge. We are starting to see soft seating scattered throughout showrooms. These areas can be open, but also located in more private areas of the dealership to encourage open and comfortable dialogue.
As bar coding and computer displays continue to communicate more seamlessly, we are seeing configurator areas where colours, samples and accessories are scanned into a computer and displayed in front of the customer in just seconds.
NON-DEDICATED PRIVATE OFFICES
A few years ago, J.D. Power did a study which showed CSI was higher if customers were in a closed office. While it is likely not possible for every salesperson to have a closed office, multiple ‘hoteling’ closed offices that are non-exclusive to salespeople can help bring intimacy to the consultation process when it is required.
These are just some examples of how you can interact with a customer during a transaction process, while remaining outside the traditional desk environment.
There are of course many more approaches which dealerships will figure out as the evolution of digital tools make salespeople more mobile throughout the sales process. The risk associated with creating more mobile customer touch points, however, is where to put your salespeople. No doubt this helps explain why the bullpen concept is making a comeback and evolving. If done effectively, it can be a key element in providing agility and flexibility for salespeople to meet with customers in a neutral setting.
The bullpen also offers dealers a more effective use of square footage in their facilities. Effective and efficient use translates to a better return on investment. Other positives with a bullpen is that they can take away the ‘classroom’ feel of open sales stations and reduce costs by eliminating excess furniture and filing that has to be purchased for the showroom.
Showroom furniture generally tends to be more expensive than back-office furniture, which can be just as appealing and functional, but at a better price.
It is also important to understand that future generations of salespeople are less likely to be wanting to sit at a desk all day. Younger generations are wired to interact in many different environments. The flexibility of providing multiple formats of interaction will continue to be key for both your staff and customers, especially as technology continues to evolve.
As the manner in which you interact with your customers continues to evolve, one thing is certain: As digital sales tools continue to advance, the relevance of the traditional sales desk will continue to decline. By thinking ahead, you can reduce your costs, while at the same time providing more comfortable platforms for your staff and customers to interact.
- Tablet technology may well replace the desktop computer at sales stations
- Traditional sales desks can feel like an “us vs. them” relationship
- Different generations and demographics like to interact in different environments
- New and improved bullpens can open up showroom space to more flexible customer interaction areas
Monte Weis, President of Weis & Associates, shares his design and facility expertise with dealers, via the leading industry journal, Canadian auto dealer magazine. A selection of articles are reposted here with permission.