Defining Your Dealership’s Digital Road to the Sale

The Road to the Sale has been the blueprint for sales success in the car biz since…well…forever. However, there’s one little problem with this process — it can’t start until you have a customer standing right there with you in your showroom.

The last few years have put the dealership experience under a spotlight, as the pandemic and inventory shortage forced you to fundamentally adapt your approach to customer service. As more people than ever look to complete most of their car shopping process on your website — not in your showroom — how do you ensure that you are giving the same great customer experience that leads a shopper to making a purchase decision without ever actually speaking to them?

The great news is that it’s not as tricky as it sounds. You can meet your customers where they are by harnessing your digital ecosystem to create a modern retail experience that seamlessly moves people further down the path to purchase. Having the right tools and tech on your website is just the first step. To truly turn your platform into a deal closing machine, you’ll need to define your Digital Road to the Sale.

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that while we’re aligning each step of the in-store Road to the Sale process with its digital counterpart, we must acknowledge than in no way is the Digital Road to the Sale linear, so please keep that in mind.


Step 1: The Meet & Greet

As you probably know, the first step to the in-store sales process is the Meet & Greet. This is pretty simple right? This is moment when a salesperson and customer meet for the first time on the lot or in the showroom and engage in some small talk (what brought you in today?).

What you may not realize is the online version of the Meet & Greet begins with your dealership’s advertising and digital marketing efforts, and continues on your website through your related content and tools that effectively becomes your “why buy” message that encourages a shopper to choose you as their dealership.

You can also make digital introductions to your team by showcasing your top-rated salespeople on your VDPs using Salesperson Connect from DealerRater®. This allows shoppers to choose who they want to work with at your dealership when they’re ready to make the transition from online to in-store.


Step 2: The Needs Analysis

After the Meet & Greet, the next step is the Needs Analysis. But with the online version of this step, the customer isn’t answering a salesperson’s questions — instead they’re on your website engaging with your inventory, answering their “Can I Afford It?” question with Online Shopper, or maybe even customizing a specific vehicle they want to order.

While all the steps to the sale are important, this one is crucial because if a visitor can’t quickly and easily answer their own most important questions about pricing, options and availability, then they’re just going to bounce from your website and continue their search with a competitor.


Step 3: The Walk Around

As you’ve seen so far, there is a 1:1 offline to online correlation for each step of the Road to the Sale, including the Walkaround. This time tested step is still recommended by sales managers all across the country, and you don’t have to retire it simply because much of the process has moved online.

Instead, just take advantage of the technology you already at your disposal here, such as engaging shoppers in a live video chat using Conversations, or texting your leads pre-recorded videos via Automatic. Whether you’re showing them a fresh new vehicle that just hit the lot, or you’re reviewing the ordering process for a similar unit, you can show off the vehicle while providing an unexpected level of customer service all at the same time.


For the in-store process, The Walkaround is important because it’s meant to ensure that the salesperson has selected the proper vehicle for the customer that meets their stated needs, wants, and desires before taking it out for a test drive. And today you can accomplish the same thing with video.

The typical modern car shopper now watches 19 videos prior to making a vehicle purchase — the vast majority of which are review style videos. So you can easily accomplish this step online by sending your prospects test drive and review videos — or simply follow the path of many forward thinking dealerships and offer at-home test drives whenever possible. Because more often than not, a shopper needs to actually get behind the wheel of a car before they commit to the purchase.


With the digital version of the Road to the Sale, the Trade-In Offer is self-guided by the consumer on your website and is often the first thing they’ll do prior to engaging with your inventory.

Just like how the car shopping experience in general has changed over the past few years, so has the way you’re able to handle trade-ins on your website. For nearly two decades dealers relied on an assortment of trade-in “widgets” embedded on their website to collect information about a shopper’s vehicle, and then return a ballpark estimated value based on the data entered.

While giving your shopper an “idea” of what their car “might” be worth on your website used to be the best you could do, the trade-in tech now available from Accu-Trade allows you to go beyond the guess and present your website visitors with the exact amount you’ll give them for their vehicle, guaranteed!

When you present your shoppers with a firm number for their trade-in that they can count on, that’ll build the confidence needed to continue shopping with you, and not your competitors.


Step 6: The Numbers Presentation

The digital equivalent of the Numbers Presentation — which normally follows the test drive during the in-store process — probably already happened on your website before you even connected with your customer via chat, text or email.

It’s important that we don’t understate how the vast majority of car shoppers need to understand if they can afford their vehicle of interest in a meaningful and relevant way prior to contacting a dealership.

Your modern retailing experience is positioned to facilitate the Numbers Presentation in the Digital Road to the Sale process. Giving your customers the ability to be in control of the experience, and manipulate the terms and numbers to their liking is critical to converting shoppers into buyers.

STEP 7: F & I

Step 7: F& I

There are two parts to the traditional, in-store F&I process: The credit approval, and the product presentation. With the technology that’s available to dealers today, you can extend the capabilities of your F&I office onto your digital platform to incorporate both experiences.

What once was accomplished with pen and paper during the in-store Road to the Sale process can now can take place online with our (no-cost) instant financing technology, powered by your preferred lenders to accelerate the buying experience and increase profitability.

Also, take advantage of the opportunity to make your F&I products available as upgrades within your modern retailing solution. Giving customers the ability to discover what those additional warranties and coverages are, why they’re important, and how for just a few dollars more a month they can add valuable layers of protection to their vehicle, provides the affordability transparency that shoppers want.


Step 8: Delivery

When it comes time to finalize purchase and take delivery, there are going to be a few docs that require a wet signature, so the digital version of this step would be allowing your customers to schedule a convenient at-home delivery experience.

Remember, the goal of a modern retailing experience isn’t just to “get a lead”, it’s to make your entire digital platform more transactional. Recent consumer sentiment is also showing that this is exactly the type of experience they want when buying a car.

61% of recent car buyers said they would want their newly purchased car delivered at home from their local dealership.

DealerRater consumer survey Sept. 2020

And let’s face it, as car dealers you rely on word of mouth advertising, and what could be better than you happy customers telling telling their neighbors, friends, and co-workers. “I just bought a car totally online. Never had to visit the dealership, and they just made it so easy!”. It’s priceless, right?


Step 9: Follow-Up

Effectively following up with your customers during and after the sale is a critical piece of the Digital Road to the Sale. Not only will it help you close more deals, but it can also lead to higher customer satisfaction scores and long term loyalty.

When it comes to your follow up strategy, if you want to maintain regular contact with your customers, sending text messages is going to be much more effective compared to emailing or calling. The reality is that 94% of people won’t answer a phone call coming from a number they don’t recognize1, and 74% of people say they want to receive more text messages from businesses2.

Whether you’re actively engaged with in-market shoppers helping them narrow down their choices, or you’re checking in with your sold customers to make sure they’re loving their new ride — you can use Automatic to follow up with all of your hottest leads at once via text.

Of course when you’re texting your sold customers, don’t forget to ask them to leave a review for your dealership. Fresh reviews that show other shoppers how your personalized, helpful, and convenient online car buying experience is so great, is often times all it takes to win them over.

1 Hiya State of the Phone Call Report, 2021
2 20 Texting Stats That Prove Businesses Should Use SMS, Zipwhip May 2021


Want to learn more about creating your Digital Road to the Sale process, along with tips to making the entire experience easy for both you and your customers? Check out our Online to the Sale on Inspire+ where you’ll get all that and more.

Also, if you’re ready to talk about how our website, modern retailing, and messaging platforms can work for you — just drop us a line!

Let’s Talk Strategy

Darren Haygood
Darren brings 20+ years of automotive experience from vendor, OEM, and dealer levels to Dealer Inspire and is recognized as an industry leader who pushes for continuous progress in the digital marketplace. An avid speaker at automotive events across North America, Darren passionately advocates for innovation and real-world solutions in the automotive industry, aiming to enhance experiences for dealers and customers alike. Outside of the office he loves to run, golf, and spend time with his four children.

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