Road to the Sale: Selling in the Age of COVID

road to the sale

Why Talk about the Road to the Sale?

We (three) have been in the auto business long enough to cultivate a lot of gray hairs (David began as a kid at our family dealership but professionally in 1982).  Tom has been an owner in a dealership and consulting company while Adam has owned two tech companies that serve auto dealers.  David has been a dealership GM and currently a Dealer Partner, previously COO of FordDirect, and now owns a training company. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of automotive mileage between us.

Since February we’ve been talking about all the same things that many of you have. How infectious is COVID-19?  What do we do to protect ourselves?  How will this affect my work and the country?  Now that the country is reopening, what changes will dealers need to make to accommodate buyer and vehicle owners? You know the drill.

Today many of those questions have been answered.  COVID-19 is highly infectious so, from coast to coast, we three now sit in our home offices at work every day.  Our families are in lockdown learning how to get along and find creative ways to have fun.  Our business colleagues are either in lock down too or are just now venturing back to their offices as are many of you.

Our dealer community has been massively disrupted by COVID-19.  Of course, you all know this, but what you might not know is all the different ways that dealers have been adapting and how that might help you.  This is the one question that now occupies our minds after all the others were given voice: “How do we work together to survive? Or perhaps more optimistically, how can you innovate your business to perhaps even thrive?”.

We’ve been asking that question of our dealer clients and anyone else to whom we can speak.  The answers vary.  We have dealers who are still selling without many restrictions while others have been totally or partially closed.  Many may end up closed forever depending on their cash flow and ability to obtain assistance with the CARES Act.  It’s heartbreaking, really, given most dealers have their heart and souls invested in their dealerships.  What we’ve found in this patchwork of personal crises is a lot of pain, but also a lot of creative thinking about how to survive, still get sales, and keep the lights on even if they are not quite as bright as they used to be.  This is what has led us to talk about the Road to the Sale and how it is changing to adapt to the pressures of the new world we live in.

The car business has likely changed forever and most certainly, buyer’s attitudes about purchasing cars like before has changed, meaning dealers will need to adapt.

We have put our heads together in an effort to help the community at large.  

road to the sale

The Typical Road to the Sale

You all know what the Road to the Sale (aka R2S) is and that it can vary from dealership to dealership.

We would like this series of articles to be interactive.  Yes, we have a lot of experience, but you are the owners and managers..  You know.  Collectively, let’s talk through the R2S to look for, and share, ways we might be able to still manage a R2S in this new age where our showroom (and service bay) are likely to be impracted in operation due to COVID-19.

Your willingness to share at this point in time is critical.  The only way our forefathers (and mothers) built this country was by overcoming challenges and working together.  This is what made America great and defined our character as a nation.  When we work together we rise above all crises stronger and smarter than before.

So, let’s get down to business.  A typical R2S includes these steps in one form or another, perhaps in this order, but maybe not:

  1. Lead submitted/Call received/Customer walks-in
  2. Telephone, text or email contact by DBC or in-person greeting
  3. Meet and Greet
  4. Needs Assessment
  5. Financing Assessment
  6. Specific Vehicle Selection 
  7. Vehicle Presentation
  8. Vehicle Test Drive
  9. Trade-In Evaluation
  10. Write Up
  11. Manager T/O and Numbers
  12. Aftermarket/Finance T/O 
  13. Stipulations (if secondary financing)
  14. Delivery Process

Some R2Ss are shorter than this and might combine various stages (such as Vehicle Selection and Presentation), but you get the point…  There are a series of stages that a dealer goes through in order to sell a vehicle to a customer.  What we are going to do today is look at very cost effective techniques you can use to cover those stages of the process where you historically had to do a face-to-face pitch and delivery.

Technology is Your Friend and Cheap Tech can be Your BFF

What do you do if you get to work and discover an email request for a vehicle on your lot, say a 2020 Honda Accord?

In the past, you might have called the customer and invited them to meet you at your dealership.  However,  some customers aren’t as open to this approach as they were pre-COVID and yet, are open to more “touchless” ideas to learn more about their vehicle of choice.

We have a number of dealers who solved this problem pretty simply.  They’ll take their phone, go to the vehicle under consideration, and then do a walk around to show the customer the car.  They jump over several steps to bond with the customer and try to have the customer feel invested in their dealership.  One client teaches their team members the CAR – FACE – PLACE video strategy to show the car, the salesperson’s face and the dealership so the customer can feel more connected.

Let’s look at a few low tech options that can be used to capture and send video to a customer:

  • Cell phone or Tablet Camera: Can be used to take photos and videos.  There is a catch, however.  In order to make sure you get clear and crisp images, you should use a late model device with good camera technology.  Examples include an iPhone 10 or 11, an iPad Pro, or a Samsung S, Galaxy Z Flip, or Note 10.  All of these devices are reasonably priced and easy to use.
  • YouTube: YouTube is free and allows you to upload your videos to your own Dealership Channel and then share the video in a text or email. You’ll even get the benefit of your vehicles being found on Search and stirring up more interest with prospects.
  • DropBox: Dropbox is free to start.  Ain’t that grand?  Since some files might be very large, you can just drop the file to DropBox and then share the file’s DropBox link.  It is quick especially if you load Dropbox on your phone so you don’t have to transfer the files to your computer.

road to the saleThe COVID Era Meet and Greet

Ok, so let’s say that you followed our advice, you did your walk around and captured some video, and sent it to the customer.  What do you do now?  If your dealership has limited walk-in traffic due to COVID, you might be stuck.  However, since technology is your low cost friend, let’s put that friendship to work and look at some options.

Video conferencing, for many, is now a way of life… especially if you are a millennial or younger.  Some would say it is even more of a reality to those generations than a simple face-to-face, but that’s just age talking.

Your best bet as a next step, and this may become the new norm after COVID passes, is to do a video call with the prospect.  How do you do this?  Just do what’s easy.  Ask the customer what they use to communicate and see if you can match up with what they use.  This will require you to be flexible, but making things as easy as possible for the customer increases the likelihood that you’ll get the sale.  You have the following free options that are likely to be used by your customers:

  1. Facetime: Close to 200 million Americans use an iPhone and around 64% of Americans own at least 2 Apple devices, so Apple Facetime is a good place to start when setting up a video Meet and Greet.
  2. Facebook Messenger: Over 100 million Americans use Messenger.  Like Facetime and the other apps listed here, it is easy to use and free.  Facebook is expanding its functionality so you are likely to see it become even more popular as time passes.
  3. WhatsApp: WhatsApp is not as popular in the US as it is overseas.  Only about 20% of the public uses it, but it is common enough to have it available as an option.
  4. Google Meet: Google Meet is relatively new and has less users than the other three apps listed above, but it is growing fast so it is worthy to note.   That said, like all the others, it is easy to use, can be downloaded to a phone and is free.

If none of these apps are available to your customer, then you might want to use Zoom, or a similar app, on such occasions.  Zoom starts with a free plan, but the paid options remain reasonable when compared with competitors such as GoToMeeting which lacks a free option.

Don’t forget training.  You will need to train your sales staff and/or DBC on how to use these technologies.  Unless they are comfortable with it, the R2S will die as soon as the lead hits their desk.

Arranging Your Video Meetings

All of you are likely to be using some type of CRM or calendar tool so scheduling will be easy for you.  The one thing you will need to do is be very clear when you set up your meetings to indicate what app you will be using to communicate and what the contact information is for the app.  You can also do instant meetings with clients you reach by phone, text or email.  Some dealerships are even creating pages for clients to arrange their own Virtual Appointments.  Calendly is a tool many businesses use to allow customers to arrange their own appointments based on availability at the dealership.

Knowing the contact info for the app you’ll use is critical!  Some tools, such as Facebook Messenger require you to have the contact name of the customer while others might just require their phone number.  Get all this worked out via email when you send that first message with the video.  Ask the customer what app they use to do video chat and request their contact information.  It is a simple step but that action will avoid confusion, when you’re trying to make a sale.   Frustration in communication is your enemy.

Video Chat is Not Just for the Meet and Greet

If you look at the rough hewn R2S that I listed above, you can see where you can use video chat during other steps in the sales process.  Simply put, use it in any situation where you would historically have done a face-to-face.  It is no more complicated than that.

Time to Get to Work!

That’s it for today’s tech talk.  We hope you find this information to be useful. As stated, we purposely presented free or low cost tech that your customers are likely to use or be familiar with so that you can talk with them on their level as much as possible.

Americans are always strongest when they unite to overcome challenges.  Please share your ideas about creative techniques you’re using to sell during this pandemic by posting them here.  We want to learn from you so that we can help other dealers identify easy ways to adapt to these tough times.  


Jointly authored by

David Kain – President, Kain Automotive Inc.

Adam Dennis – CEO, SurgeMetrix

Tom Kline – Lead Consultant & Founder, Better Vantage Point