With the coming of spring, dealerships around the country will be sprucing up their showrooms and getting that lot full of cars to sparkle once again. In hopes of shaking off the winter doldrums and putting some spark into their sales staff, many of them will also be hosting those customer-enticing sales events that have the promise of jumping their sales numbers and ramping up their visibility in their communities.

But some in the industry are wondering if the necessity or even the advantages of those overblown sales weekends have run their course as a standard dealership practice. Now that profit margins have slimmed down to where even standard negotiations on car prices is evaporating, the margins that allowed for those eye-brow raising sales markdowns have all but disappeared.

The cultural shift brought on by the Internet has also dimmed the need for sales event, because customers are now capable of comparison shopping without even leaving their homes, said Ryan Abbot, eMarketing Director of the four-shop Fox Group in central New York.  As such, what’s left for a sales event to accomplish, especially if those hyped up salespersons damage the dealership’s reputation with heavy-handed sales techniques?

Customers these days just want the best price and they want to be in and out of the dealership as quickly as possible, Abbott noted. “They don’t really care if there’s a clown in the showroom,” he said.

But certainly the temptations of a great sales event are still there. You might need to jump start sales in the spring or make some noise to remind those hibernating customers that spring has actually begun. You may have monthly sales targets and need that extra push to get you there. After all, isn’t that worth the price of a hot air balloon and a bounce house?

And what’s the harm in all that?

The harm, of course, is the temptation to turn your friendly sales staff into vultures for the weekend, who start badgering customers when they should be cultivating trust. If the showroom is crowded, the number of minutes your staff can afford to spend with each customer goes down and it will be hard to tell the browsers from the buyers. You could be turning off both by pressuring the former and not spending enough time with the later.

Here are a few sales events suggestions.

  • Consider hosting an off-premises event. Opportunities abound to sponsor Little League or soccer teams or to show up in grand style at a local college or high school sporting event. This allows you to build up trust without focusing on sales, which can be a mixed message.
  • Encourage your sales staff to attend off-premises events.  Sales persons are very people-oriented. Take advantage of that by having them say hello, smile and mingle with future customers.
  • Include marketing goals with your sales goals during sales events. This includes issues such as trust, and building up your dealership as community-spirited.
  • Offer gift merchandize instead of markdowns. There isn’t enough margin on the vehicle and presenting the price of a car as negotiable sets a precedent that can work against you later. A free gift, however, makes a customer feel like a winner.
  • Respect the customer’s time by having handouts ready in advance so they can read about their options at their leisure. They can enjoy the event and consider a purchase when they are in the right mindset to do so.
  • Consider the value of your sales event. Don’t rely on time-wasting gimmicks that may seem like clever attractions at first, but just waste people’s time. Customers are agitated, not amused, by anything that wastes their time.

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