The automotive world is one that remains sheltered to innovation. Many things about cars and the way they’re sold to us have been done the same way for decades. It’s an industry which, on the whole, seems resistant to innovation or change all together. Considering the first hybrid drive car was invented and produced over 100 years ago, it’s a shame we’re only now seeing electric cars slowly start to come to the mainstay. Sure, there have been improvements in the existing technology, but internal combustion has remained the same technology, albeit more efficient, for decades.
This reluctance to embrace change seems to happen in the social media world as well. While some car manufacturers have established a great presence online, others seem to have created them but allow them to languish. It may be a good time to read a past post of mine about using social media well, and how a dangerous a stagnating social media account really can be. But head offices aren’t the only ones who should be utilizing this powerful tool. Boots on the ground dealerships are company’s direct interaction with potential, current and past customers. Sadly the buying experience at dealerships hasn’t changed much either, and many seem to have a very poor understanding of social media. While there are a few, very exceptional, exceptions, dealerships in general are missing out on massive potential simply by ignoring these powerful tools.
This isn’t just for new car dealerships either. Used car dealerships often have a negative stigma attached to them as well. Sales experiences at many used car lots can be so poor that they only support the unfortunate stereotype that plagues them. Engaging and building relationships with your community through social media is a great way to draw people onto your lot and disarm them before they arrive. Customers will arrive curious, happy and devoid of the traditional “used car lot” ideals.
So, how are you missing out on customers by doing social media poorly, or not at all?
Sales leads through interaction
Social media’s very nature is give and take. Simply posting things to Facebook and Twitter like you would a pin board or website isn’t enough. Social media is designed to be a conversation, a form of interaction. People post, publicly, their needs and their wants. The citizenship of your community waits to be engaged through social media. You can get involved with local charity events, talk to brand supporters – and detractors – in real time. You can see what the people of your sales area are saying about your dealership, about your brand. Find people who are interested in cars, buying cars or having issues with cars. By building these interactions you’re creating potential customers.
Having this kind of interaction also creates a sense of connection and authenticity with your potential clients. Buyers under 30 especially are far more likely to drive a bit to a dealership that took the time to chat with them on Facebook or Twitter than visit the local shop. While loyalty and return business means something to an older generation of buyers, it doesn’t to younger, more active buyers. Dealerships who rely on family loyalty for sales leads will find themselves with sales shrinking fast. By engaging with your community online – for free – you’re tapping into a massive pool of customer leads. You can get basic sales information- name, email, location, wants – without the pressure of a showroom or the obligation of a call back. Stash it away somewhere and keep the dialogue open. You’ll likely find that person show up at your location. Remember; social media interactions shouldn’t be about sales tactics, they should be about building leads through relationships. Keep the conversation like you would one with friends or colleagues. This leads nicely into…
Breaking away from traditional sales mentality
There is a very typical way that customers seem to be approached at dealerships. My experience has shown that you can tie very clearly a dealership experience with how well, or not well, social media is used. Many dealer owners who understand and value social media have altered their mindset of how sales should be handled. A visit to one of their dealerships is often a pleasant, fruitful one. You leave feeling informed and empowered to make your decision, your way. Many people chose the dealership – and the vehicle – they buy based on this experience. Actively making social media an important part of your sales environment forces you to change how sales happen at your dealership. Customers get used to a kind of interaction on social media and come to your dealership with those expectations. If your experience on site is anything different, that customer will shut down and likely leave.
Sales floor interactions will soon mimic the relational driven, low pressure candidacy of your social media accounts. Customers will find a fluid experience from online interactions to sales floor. Today’s customers are intelligent, engaged and entitled. They know what they want, they have an idea of how they want to buy it and they want it now. Making the decision to have social media be a key component to your sales toolbox is an instrumental step in changing how your dealership does sales. I would submit it’s an essential one.
Potential to engage bloggers/SM influencers
One of the great benefits of social media is engaging blogging/tweeting influencers. These people often have engaged and large followings, they know how to draw attention to their tweets and engage audiences around their subjects. My personal Twitter Test Drive program is a very small example of that. By using social media actively you will find yourself engaging and attracting influencers from your community. Using these influencers to drive business and traffic to your site is a great, and often free (or cheap), way of advertising. Social media influencers are seen as “real people” and unbiased by their followers with a level of authenticity no company can recreate. People take what they say to heart or consider them authorities in their area. By engaging with these influencers you gain respect from the community simply by being vouched for.
When you partner with one of these influencers, it acts like a third party review of your dealership. People will suddenly become curious about your dealership. It will become the topic of online conversation or, better still, offline conversation. All lead to your dealership name being talked about outside of conventional advertising means. People will start engaging with your dealership’s social media platform and soon, leads will begin to take shape. Companies constantly strive to find ways to get positive, real, reviews of their services into the lime light. Engaging and partnering with social media influences is an easy, quick and cost effective way to get authentic, but controlled, reviews of your brand and your dealership.
A “real” relationship with your customers
Engagement through social media goes beyond building customer leads. Once someone has made the decision to purchase and become a customer, social media still plays an important role. In today’s world, people gravitate more towards companies that feel more “real”, or companies that they can relate too and with. By building a relationship with your customers through interactions, they feel more like your friend than just someone you can extract money from. Social media lets you get to know them as they use your products. Check up on how kids are liking the new car, family road trips, etc. Use social media to continue an engaged conversation with your current customers and they, in turn, will make their respective social circles aware of you.
A social media team can make your dealership a friend of the community, not just a business in the community.
Increased loyalty, return business
Remember how I said up there that traditional loyalty and generation to generation loyalty was dead? Well, it isn’t really. The loyalty of today’s customer is far more fickle than in days past. Far more emotional. By using social media to engage, lead and then build a relationship with a customer, you leave them feeling like a value person. People are naturally drawn to others who value them. Customers will be far more likely to return for dealer service. When the time comes for a new car, or to make a suggestion to a friend or family member, you can be sure your dealership will come up. Customers may even overlook brand bias because of the relationship you have grown with them. Ultimately, using and engaging through social media will build return customers of the most loyal kind.
Hi Dan – great article! We are changing through engaging car dealers in Australia with our Virtual Tyre Kicker program.