Consider the automotive retail environment and the sales process from the time Henry Ford established it in the early 1900’s. What’s changed?
Dealers advertised, people had a growing need and so they purchased. The meet and greet, test drive and seven steps to the sale were pretty darn constant with very little evolution.
The advertising to drive retail traffic started in print form – newspapers and magazines. Then, with the onset of radio in the ‘20s, the OEMs took advantage of the new whiz-bang marketing channel to advertise. And, it worked – incredibly well.
Fast-forward to the 50’s and the height of the nuclear family, when The Bop was sweeping the nation and Americans were still chasing the dream of two cars in every garage. Almost like the atomic bomb that was to come in the next decade, television exploded bold new opportunities for car manufacturers and retailers to reach people in a way that, at the time, seemed almost three dimensional.
TV gave cars personalities, sex appeal, and social status. Cars exponentially grew as an extension of personal style. And, retailers discovered the more people they reached through television, the more volume they could drive.
Despite economic ebbs and flows, wars in Asia, oil embargoes, civil rights and women’s lib, television dominated the next four decades and automotive retailers became fiercely beholden to it. TV became the proverbial wooby. So much so, that many dealers missed the onset of new channels of communication that emerged from the computing era of the late ‘80s.
They also missed (or resisted) the significant signals that Americans were sending about how they wanted to get their information (the fractionalization of audiences) and how they wanted to do business. Dealers failed to see the oncoming Internet wave and the profit potential it brought to the table.
So, the metronome continued: advertise the way we always have, tick, people will most assuredly come to our show room, tick, get them to test drive the car, tick, seven steps to a sale, tick…
I will go so far as to make the argument that had it not been for the financial meltdown in 2008, some of automotive retailers would still have only a static website, little real understanding of search engine optimization, no method for eLead generation and conversion, and they would have gladly run screaming from the huge pink elephant in the room – social media (and its bothersome consumer reviews).
The result? Many dealers missed a massive economic opportunity to leverage the Web to gain market dominance during the recession, and are still somewhat ill-equipped coming out of the recession. In other words, the wave hit and only a few of the most fit could swim..
Those who are currently treading water are only slowly learning the basic strokes. Don’t believe me? Ask any GM to name three salespeople on their team who can handle an eLead as well as a walk-in. Or, better yet, ask the owner the last time he or she personally reviewed their dealership’s online consumer reviews. Both answers will be very telling.
Here’s the bad news (or good news for those of you who are aquatically inclined), there is another wave on the horizon and all the same signs of “doing it the way we always have done it” are pointing to automotive retailers missing another massive economic opportunity. Any guesses?
Here’s a hint. Think about a portion of the American population (over half to be exact) that has gained economic upward mobility faster than any other group in the nation, controls the vast majority of all purchasing decisions in the U.S. today and have become very comfortable with researching and purchasing their own automobiles – as a matter of fact, they purchase approximately half of all vehicles today and represent 65% of service drive traffic. Figure it out yet?
Yes, it’s true. Automotive retailers are about to make the same deadly “business as usual” mistake by missing women as an opportunity.
Yet, other traditionally male-targeted manufacturers and retailers are figuring it out and are scrambling to line up at the cash register. Examples include ESPN, Motorola, Home Depot, Coors – even Trojan.
You are probably asking yourself, “So, what does this mean?” Does it mean we need to overhaul the entire retail automotive space? Paint everything pink and put in a playground? Hire more females as salespeople and service technicians? Send everyone to sensitivity training?
Ironically, there is some low-hanging fruit involving small adjustments that can make a difference in capturing a greater share of wallet from this lucrative audience.
1. Connect with women online. A woman is three times more likely to stay connected with you via her social network, as well as connect you with her friends that are looking to purchase a vehicle.
2. Adjust your website to appeal to both men and women. Remember, you have a split second to capture attention. If you are immediately communicating that you are a boy’s club, don’t ask why women are shopping at the dealership next door.
3. Tell, don’t sell. Women are marksmen by nature, not cowboys. If you rush or push them into a sale, they’ll be out the door.
4. Identify with her frame of mind. Understand that women are not comfortable in dealerships and don’t want to be there. Work to make her experience enjoyable. If she believes you can relate to her and understand this, she will be more open to giving you valuable information about her life that will help you sell her a car that meets her needs.
5. Use common sense. Is the bathroom clean? Is the TV in the waiting area tuned to Bassmasters or something that appeals to both genders? Are your magazines all car and hard-news related or do you have some lifestyle and family magazines, too? Make sure the little things in your dealership make women feel included in what you define as your primary audience.
I believe in natural selection in business as much as I do in nature, and I believe it is healthy for the marketplace overall. The three main contributing factors to those who can’t evolve are apathy, resistance and fear. Any of these fundamentals will cloud the ability to recognize the nature of change and the resulting vision to capitalize on it.
The majority of dealers are playing catch-up right now trying to figure out how to “deal with” the online shopper and prioritize and manage their online marketing and brand. Most will tell you flat out that it is a confusing and daunting experience but they have to do it because they feel like the buffalo at the rear of the pack. What they may not realize right now is that the hunter chasing the pack may actually be wearing pumps.