What is the “new normal” anyways?

Upon reading an article in Auto Finance News titled Inside Dealers’ New Normal, which was based on an interview with Rick Ricart, the Dealer Principal for the Ricart Automotive Group, I started to contemplate the so-called “new normal”. Ricart, who also owns a Harley-Davidson dealership, says “We’re never going back to normal.’” He’s right.

Within the retail transportation industry, it has always taken major event for dealerships to make change. In the 1970s, we had the gas prices which caused consumers to shy away from high fuel consumption vehicles. In the 1980s, we saw the introduction of new OEMs bringing more competition to the table. In the 1990s, every manufacturer lowballed each other with crazy incentives which created the “race-to-the-bottom” that every dealership hates to this day. And, in the early 2000s, a financial crisis forced dealerships to embrace the Internet for advertising and marketing. For the past 18 months, the pandemic has even further increased dealerships to embrace digital marketing to acquire customers but also to increasingly adopt operational technology (digital retailing, anyone?) to actually make the sale but also to create the customer experience that consumers desire.

The bottom line is that there will always be something that is going to make dealers recognize and adopt changes in order to stay in business. Regardless of whether its an automotive, powersports, marine or RV dealer, dealers will have to make this change in order to stay competitive and in business. Is this phenomenon something new? No, it is not.

Past behavior predicts future behavior. What is new (if anything) is the speed at which these changes are happening. Because of the rapid evolution of technology combined with the societal circumstances we are experiencing, consumer expectations have increased at an increasingly rapid pace, similar to Moore’s law on microchips. In the past, consumer expectations have always been seen as a desire, not a necessity. Now, however, society has given the consumer the upper-hand and has forced dealers of all types to understand that these “desires” are not only things that consumers have always wanted, but also that if they don’t acquiesce, they will lose business.

What are these “things?”

  • Responsiveness
  • Transparency – honesty and trust
  • Convenience – Make it easy for me to buy

These things are not new. Consumers have always wanted them. One great example is Amazon. How many Amazon boxes are on your porch every day and how frequently? Chances are great that you even love Amazon and buy from them frequently. Why? Because they simply gave consumers what they were asking for.

Dealerships should understand that to be successful, they also need to figure out how to fill the gaps, and deliver like Amazon does. How do they do that? By making it easy for salespeople and managers to provide these experiences. By breaking free from the status quo. Stop losing sales because they are worried about losing profit. You can’t lose profit if you never make the sale in the first place.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that price is not a deterrent but only a consideration. Consumers still want to buy things. They also want businesses to be responsive, transparent and make it convenient. Most dealerships think that they are in the product business, but it is actually the opposite. Dealerships are in the service business with a product to sell. Successful dealerships are not Wal-Mart. Consumers aren’t coming into your dealership to save $.10 cents on a bottle of detergent. They are spending thousands of dollars!

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do I expect my salespeople to connect with customer when they reach out? What technology have I provided them in order for the consumer to have a better customer experience?
  2. When a consumer does reach out to the salespeople, what does the dealership expect their salespeople to do? How quickly should they do it and are they able to accomplish the standard set, or does the dealership need the assistance of more advanced technology?

Ultimately, it boils down to knowing what is actually happening in these engagements and how they translate into sales. Do you even know?

The easy start is to address what processes exist currently in the dealership’s sales department, how those processes align with what customers want along with the tools provided to the salespeople and their buy-in and use of those tools. Can a dealership make it easier for both the sales department and the consumer? By addressing the “easy” part and providing the tools that they need, the salespeople are more likely to follow the process. This will result in a better consumer experience that will ultimately lead to more profit. By executing a responsive, transparent and convenient sales process, you influence consumers to buy from your dealership rather than your competition. And, for now, consumers are not only spending more than ever to get what they want expediently (think Amazon, again) but they are also willing to pay more to companies that can provide it.

Admittedly, the only easy part is the start. To truly succeed in streamlining the sales process from initial contact to purchase, introspection is an absolute necessity. Dealerships need to discover their vulnerabilities which will enlighten them on potential threats by their competition. Once found, dealerships should take immediate action to stop those leaks through a change in either process, technology, training or all of these.

In summary:

  1. Stop thinking about the “New Normal”
  2. Stop thinking about “When will we get back to Normal” (whatever that is)
  3. Start thinking about your existing sales and customer service experience versus what they actually want
  4. Start thinking about how you can make it easy for the dealership to deliver on that experience to the consumer through adopting technology that makes it easier for the sales team to use, buy-in on and comply with

Dealerships may not think that they need help now. At the moment, sales are all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… (you know the rest) but all of this will change, and dealerships will need help. Those brown paper packages tied up with strings are absolutely your favorite things… right now. Eventually, however, those brown paper packages will show up with no strings, then there won’t be any brown paper and, last but not least, the packages will just… go away altogether.

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