How to Reinvent the Road to the Sale for 2020

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The Road to the Sale (RTTS) has been the preferred sales strategy of car dealers for decades. It’s a 10-step process that helps dealers control the car-buying process. The steps are:

  1. Meet and Greet
  2. Interview
  3. Vehicle Selection
  4. Walk-Around
  5. Test Drive
  6. Trade Evaluation
  7. Present Numbers and Ask for the Sale
  8. Close
  9. F&I Turn
  10. Delivery and Service Drive Intro

RTTS was developed in a time when dealerships were the gatekeepers of vehicle information. They had expensive subscriptions to Kelley Blue Book and NADAguides, and customers relied on them for education. Customers had little insight into what was fair pricing and what other options were available.

My, how times have changed.

Thanks to the internet, customers have more information than ever. They no longer rely on dealers for vehicle research. In some cases, they choose not to work with dealers at all and buy directly online.

If dealerships are going to survive the wave of new buying options, the Road to the Sale must change. Dealers have to adjust to the new way customers shop for vehicles.

Be a Consultant, not a Salesperson

The shift in sales strategy can be summed up with a single commandment: “Be a consultant, not a salesperson.”

Consultants and customer are on the same team. Consultants help customers make the best possible decision, even if it hurts the consultant’s commission check. They don’t try to trick the customer into making a purchase; they prioritize long-term relationships and trust.

Salespeople are in it to win. Every sale is a competition between them and the customer. They are not genuinely interested in what the customer needs; their goal is to manipulate the customer into buying their product.

RTTS was built for salespeople. You can see this clearly in Step 7: “Present Numbers and Ask for the Sale.” You aren’t even supposed to mention price until the very end of the process. This was to give salespeople maximum leverage over customers.

The problem? Customers today already know the prices of vehicles, and they have no patience for salespeople trying to play coy with information.

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That’s why consultants are needed in dealerships today, not salespeople. Consultants are product experts who help customers navigate the complicated buying process, including F&I. Salespeople are trying to make a buck.

Customers like consultants. They don’t like salespeople.

Note: For the sake of clarity, we’ll continue using the term salesperson, but remember: salespeople need to think like consultants!

4 Tactics for Updating Road to the Sales

So, what changes can we make to update the Road to the Sale? Here are 4 tactics:

1. Assume the customer has done their research

Customers are no longer starved of information and ignorant of how the auto industry works. In fact, they’re just getting smarter.

Reports in years past found that car-buyers were doing more and more online research – up to 10 hours. However, in Deloitte’s 2018 Global Automotive Consumer Study, they found that car-buyers in the United States were now spending less time researching vehicles.

The reason? Consumers are simply better at doing research.

Most customers start on 3rd party websites like Cars.com or AutoTrader. From there they move to OEM websites (especially for new vehicle purchases), and finally dealership websites. In between, they stop at independent sources like KBB, Consumers Reports, and NADA.

Customers today know what they want and how much they should pay for it. They have researched your competitors, which means you should probably do the same.

2. Be transparent

The most outdated step in RTTS is Step 7: “Present Numbers and Ask for the Sale.” Customers will not wait until the end of the process to talk numbers. Price is the first thing they want to know.

Salespeople need to be transparent with pricing and vehicle information. Imagine the first interaction with a customer going something like this:

“Hi Ms. Johnson, thanks for stopping in today. You said you were interested in used Buick Enclaves, so I pulled the KBB and Carfax reports for each vehicle in our selection. I also included pricing information of similar vehicles in the area. You’ll notice we aren’t the cheapest, but we do offer free maintenance for the first year. Feel free to read through everything on this iPad while we pull the cars around.”

In this scenario, the salesperson helps the customer conduct her own research. By being this transparent, the salesperson is proving they are trustworthy and want the best for the customer.

Salespeople must assume that customers have done their research. Why not position yourself as another resource (aka, a consultant), instead of an information barrier?

3. Don’t overprice vehicles or undervalue trade-ins

Even if you are open and transparent about pricing, you will still lose customers if your prices are grossly higher than other dealers in the area.

In the past, dealers could sneak a higher price past an ignorant customer. Not today. It is critical that your prices are market-rate. That’s why it’s so important to have a real-time pricing and appraisal tool that gives you the most up-to-date market data.

This doesn’t mean that dealerships have to have the lowest price. AutoTrader found that 54% of car-buyers would buy from a dealership with the best customer experience, even if it meant paying more.

Still, customers never want to feel like you’re taking advantage of them, so you need to justify the price you’re asking.

4. Minimize the time customers spend at the dealership

Dealers need to make sure customers spend as little time as possible at the dealership.

Cox Automotive found that “time spent at the dealership” is the least satisfactory part of the car-buying process. Customers spend an average of three hours at the dealership during purchase, half of that time negotiating the price and completing paperwork.

The poor dealership experience is why online car-buying platforms like Carvana are so popular. But dealers shouldn’t lose hope. DrivingSales found that 59% of consumers would buy more cars if the process were easier.

Here are a few things dealers can do to speed up the car-buying process:

  1. Share more information online. Dealers should share as much information on their websites as possible– especially about F&I products– so customers can do their own research before stopping in.
  2. Improve your Digital Showroom (aka, your website). Dealers need to streamline the in-store experience. One way is by letting customers pre-qualify themselves with an online application.
  3. Don’t make customers fill out forms twice. If a customer fills out your online application, have that information in hand when they visit the dealership. Don’t make them give you their information twice; it’s annoying and lengthens the process.

Are your sales tactics ready for 2020 and beyond?

The car-buying process has changed, which means the Road to the Sale must change with it.

Customers today don’t need salespeople to educate them, nor do they have the patience for a long sales process. Dealers should assume customers have done their research and make the buying process as easy as possible.

The Road to the Sale isn’t dead, it just needs updating. Implement these four tactics to start experiencing better sales and happier customers.

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