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How to Start Selling Cars Online (For Real) In 6 Steps

For many of us, the last few months have already changed the way we work forever. For dealers, it’s become clear just how essential digital retailing tools are for adapting to this new, digital-first normal. But tools don’t just do the job by themselves — someone needs to hold the nail and swing the hammer.

Adding the right solution to your website is a great first step, but to truly adapt your business to maximize revenue and scale efficiently you have to fully connect the tool with your marketing and sales strategy.

As so many dealers across the country unwrap their first digital retailing tools and give this online car buying thing a shot, we wanted to put together a starter guide to help you check the most important boxes for maximizing the ROI of yours. Let’s break it down.

ABOUT DEALER INSPIRE (THAT’S US!)

While all of the following tips should apply to any digital retailing solution, I can’t not point out that Dealer Inspire is best equipped to execute on these best practices by being the only website, digital retailing, messaging, connected marketing, and reporting provider — partnering with you to create one seamless online to in-store experience.

Step 1: Clear The Path To Purchase

If you don’t clear the way for the customer journey on your website, the new tool you’re paying for can get lost in the weeds of too many other CTAs — wasting countless opportunities on shoppers who give up trying to find the answers and experience they’re looking for.

Not all buttons have the same value for you or the customer, so funnel your traffic to the buttons that drive the best outcomes. An easy way to start this spring cleaning is by identifying the buttons that are redundant or create dead-ends for the user, including links off-site and lead forms that ask for information but give no immediate answers in return. 


A lead from a shopper who quickly filled out an [Unlock Extra Savings] form to see how it affected the price (someone will be in touch to tell them later) is not as valuable as the shopper who clicked [Explore Payment Options] and instantly personalized their payment, valued their trade, saved an account on your website, and started to add accessories and insurance products — so send more shoppers that way. 

It’s (understandably) tempting to want to add more paths to generate more leads, and removing buttons can feel like you’re removing opportunities — but the opposite is true. Our dealers who see the most dramatic increases in the volume and quality of their leads are the ones that commit to providing the best shopping experience and then focus their traffic to it.

Having your website and digital retailing provider be one in the same is key so they can seamlessly sync the experience from one tool to the other, and optimize your UX based on performance without any restrictions of you needing to coordinate between vendors.

Step 2: Treat Every Lead Like A Walk-In

This is the biggest step, because leads don’t keep the lights on. For dealers to grow sales (at lower labor and advertising costs) we need to fundamentally shift our thinking around leads as an industry. Now more than ever, we need to view websites as your digital storefront (even your primary storefront), and take the same level of customer service you expect in-store, online. 

So, imagine if a customer walked into your physical store interested to browse your inventory and discuss financing — and you gave them a clipboard with a form, asked them to fill it out, and then told them you’d be in touch sometime soon to answer their questions. Letting that shopper walk out of your physical store without trying to help them in the moment would be crazy, and yet hundreds of shoppers are likely having that same exact experience on your website every single day.


Bob in your digital showroom is just as real as he would be in your physical showroom, so you need to engage him just like you would there. That’s why it’s critical to seamlessly pair your digital retailing tool with an advanced messaging platform like Conversations™ that can simulate your helpful customer service with instant answers, helpful materials (vehicle details, brochures, videos), and live video chat to talk face-to-face and show the customer around the vehicle. Just like you would in-store, you need to be able to sit down with him and talk through the specific financing options he’s looking at and collaborate to close the deal. Basically, you just need the tools to be available to help customers online, the same way you wouldn’t leave your physical dealership completely unstaffed during business hours.

If you don’t catch the online shopper in the moment, you should still treat them like a walk-in. That means not using the old lead form follow-up process. These shoppers have saved and customized specific vehicles and explored payment options, so your follow-up needs to acknowledge that specific progress they made and seamlessly pick-up where they left off — just like they had an appointment with you yesterday and are now back in your showroom. Automated emails and uninformed phone calls will cause a total disconnect in their customer experience — making them feel like they need to start over — so it’s critical for you to treat them like walk-ins you already know.

While it’s worth a whole other blog to talk about, texting is the best way to follow-up with these customers for a personalized experience that actually starts a conversation, because 76% of follow-up phone calls will go unanswered (likely far more now that iPhones block unknown numbers). Your paired messaging platform can make this follow-up process seamless so your team isn’t texting from their personal numbers.

Step 3: Plug In Your Showroom

Now that you’ve set-up the ideal online car buying experience, you need to make sure it doesn’t break when a customer actually walks into your physical store. Just like follow-ups, you need to make sure your dealership and team are greeting these customers as previous walk-ins who have already worked with you.

Like everything else, there’s a technology and a people aspect to perfecting this — but they can both be powerfully simple.



From the people side: all you should need to do is make sure your sales team is familiar with the tool on your website. If a customer walks in and says they’ve nailed down their perfect deal based on their credit, trade, and preferences — and your team doesn’t know they could do that on your website — then you’re setting up some awkward conversations unlikely to sell cars. As long as they know about the tool and can pull up that customer’s progress with it, your team should be in position to have a good day.


From the technology side: you should set-up devices with welcome screens (or even just print signage) that immediately validates to your walk-ins that the progress they made online allows them to ”skip the line”, like a Disney FastPass+. Instead of feeling like they need to re-introduce themselves and start over, they can instantly jump ahead to buying time. This is the kind of experience that customers will write home about, building your review reputation while increasing your close rate.


With our solution, for example, you can accomplish this by simply pulling up your website on any internet-connected device — customers just need to type in their phone number or email address to instantly pull up their personalized Online Shopper™ “Garage” and seamlessly continue their deal. Check it out.


 

 

Step 4: Connect Your Marketing

Ok, now that you’ve created an amazing experience for customers online and offline, you need to make sure they know about it. By incorporating “online car buying” throughout you website and marketing messaging you can expect to increase the high-intent traffic you’re driving to your platform.

  • Landing Page. Every campaign needs to start with a good destination. Add a landing page to show website visitors that your dealership offers online car buying, how they can get started, and most importantly why it makes their shopping experience better.

  • Website Creative. From homepage sliders and personalizers to VRP banners, make sure your visitors know from the moment they hit your website that they can go the distance online. It could make all the difference between a bounce and a buyer.

  • Search Advertising. Digital Retailing functions as both a strong USP and a fresh CTA, meaning your PPC strategy can get a boost as well. Update your ad copy to highlight your online experience, add “Buy Online” as a sitelink extension, and create campaigns related keywords.

  • Email Marketing. Being able to shop online is also a great message to re-engage your existing customers nearing their next vehicle. Once you’ve got your platform rocking, set-up a drip email campaign to drive your customers directly into your buying experience.

  • Display Advertising. The ability to complete the whole process in your pajamas is going to turn heads today, especially for consumers actively in the process of shopping. Using Cars.com Display gets you in front of local car shoppers as they’re shopping, putting your brand in front of the best audience, at the best time, with the most powerful message.

  • Video Advertising. With people stuck at home streaming twice as much video*, and you set-up to offer the ideal home car buying experience, it’s the perfect time to capitalize on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and OTT advertising to drive more shoppers to your website and digital retailing tool.

By having all of your technology and marketing managed by one provider you can keep your entire digital presence in sync to maximize conversions and ROI. If one piece is updated before the other, or your website doesn’t fulfill your marketing message, you can create disconnects in the customer journey that will cause them to bounce along the way, which would be a bummer.


Step 5: Grow Your Reputation

Updating your marketing messaging for online car buying will make a big difference, but that message is no longer quite as unique as it was even a few months ago. Every competitor can say they offer online car buying — because they have to right now — even if they just have a lead form button that says [Buy Now]. You need to back up your claims with the experience and your most important proof point: your happy customers.

97% of shoppers use reviews to choose the right local dealership*, and now more than ever, reviews that mention online car buying, home delivery, and general convenience and speed are going to make all the difference. Make sure you’re soliciting feedback on your great customer experience across platforms to grow your most powerful differentiator in the market: your reputation.

*BrightLocal 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey, December 2019

#ProTip
DealerRater®’s ReviewBuilder™ solution can automatically solicit these reviews from your sold customers and post them across all the platforms that matter.

 

Step 6: Connect Your DMS

If you follow each of these steps so far, should you expect to see significant results that impact your bottom line? Yeah, I definitely think so — but the only way to know is to actually look at your bottom line. Connect your sales data into your reporting platform to see the sales generated specifically from your digital retailing solution. If you’re not driving real sales from it then there’s something wrong with your tool or your process and you need that reporting to make informed decisions for your business. 


Recap: Have A Platform Partner

Bottom line, you can’t add a widget to your website and expect your business to adapt. You need your team using a tool to build a seamless end-to-end experience that drives sales, and the only way to do that is to have a partner that can connect every part of it for you. We built our company and our platform to do exactly that, and we’re here to help. Put us to work.

Let’s Connect!


Mark McCarthy
Mark is VP, Marketing at Dealer Inspire. He was born and raised in Boston, MA where he failed to develop a fun accent, but inexplicably developed a superstition to eat oyster crackers for good luck. Mark is a Butler University Bulldog with a degree in Digital Media Production, and became one of Dealer Inspire's first employees as a SEO copywriter working out of his parent's attic (Thanks Mom and Pop!)

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