6 Ways Auto Dealerships Can Prepare to Restart Sales

Chances are good that as a result of the pandemic you’ve had to either furlough or lay off some of your sales team as you figure out what comes next. You’re likely operating with a skeleton crew of high performers and management folks that will be key to your success once the world gets beyond COVID-19.  Industry experts forecast that the annual vehicle sales pace in April will end at around 7.5 million — a historic low and down from 11.4 million in March. Compared to 2019, sales volume is expected to fall more than 50%.

Despite all the gloom and doom, business is out there, and slowly picking up and are ready to restart sales. Many analysts see April as the bottom of the decline, with an uptick in sales expect with the turn of the calendar. People need to buy cars. And dealerships around the U.S. are beginning to open.

But what’s the impact of our “new normal” of social distancing and potentially on-again, off-again lockdowns? If there is one critical change that dealers must make to emerge from the pandemic, restart operations and thrive, it’s the adoption of REAL digital retailing (DR).

COVID-19 has really just accelerated the inevitable – finally pushing dealers who thought they were on board with DR to recognize that they had simply been pursuing an “enhanced lead gen” model.

Here are some tips on how dealerships can prepare to restart sales:

#1. Make Your Websites More Transactional: For obvious reasons, showroom traffic has plunged to historic lows but your virtual showroom traffic has likely never been higher.  Our dealer customers are seeing record traffic to their dealership websites.  This shift has accelerated the demand for digital retailing tools.  You want to sell cars.  If most shoppers want to know what payment and finance terms they qualify for prior to making a buying decision, make it easy and convenient for shoppers to find the information they are looking for – starting with online credit applications offering instant credit decisions and payment calculators quoting qualified finance terms.  It almost goes without saying but live credit score leads are not just ‘clicking’ tires.

#2. Work on Lease Sales and Marketing: Even though most automakers are offering lease extensions, it may still be a good idea to focus on lease ends. It’s also effective to use marketing to entice lease customers to pull forward for the exceptionally good deals available now — especially with those automaker incentives.

#3. Connect Service and Sales: Turn to service-to-sales marketing and relationship building. There’s no better time to strengthen the relationship between sales opportunities and the service drive. As with leases, 0% offers and payment sweeteners make for a compelling enticement. Traditionally, this has been a tactic many salespeople have resisted — but today may offer up a different perspective, with few buyers in the showroom and plenty of automaker cash to toss around.

#4. Make Your Service Center Shine:  No matter the economic conditions, vehicle maintenance is always going to be in demand.   And with the majority of the population working from home during these unprecedented times – there may never be a more convenient time than the present to bring their cars in for service.  Now is the time to take a serious look at how you are marketing your dealerships’ service department.  Make sure your dealership SEO strategy is fully optimized for your service department.  Pay attention to your online reviews.  Promote your service specials and prepaid maintenance programs.  Even consider offering home deliveries.  You may also want to consider a temporary labor and parts discount for used cars.  Doing these is a good place to start making your service center shine.

#5. Be Part of the Community: You are in the business of selling cars AND positively affecting your dealerships reputation.  Consider pulling together a community outreach program focused on providing services for hospital workers and first responders.  Offering loaners, providing detailing services, or complimentary service offers are all powerful ideas to assist the most deserving while also building community awareness and preference for your dealership.

#6. Boost Sales With Virtual Customer Interactions: No matter how you do it (on Zoom, Facetime, etc.), enable video uploads for remote trade-in valuations and offer pre-test drive virtual vehicle walk-arounds.  And of course these same tools can be used to virtually interact with your shoppers. By leveraging easy to use video technology, your sales people can remotely facilitate important steps in the buying process and accelerate the path to purchase.

It’s true that times are hard. And uncertain. But that will change, and, while our “normal” may be different moving forward, those dealers who take advantage of their opportunities today — and prepare for a digital tomorrow — will be positioning to succeed.

Pete brings 40+ years of experience in automotive finance and technology as Founder and CEO of eLEND Solutions™, an automotive FinTech company providing a middleware solution designed to power transactional digital retailing buying experiences. The platform specializes in hybrid credit report, identity verification, and ‘pre-desking’ solutions, accelerating end-to-end purchase experiences - helping dealers sell more cars! Faster! 

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