Lack of support from the top is holding dealerships back on social selling and marketing.
BY LAURA MADISON
A social media movement is rocking the retail automotive sector, but the people at the top – dealership owners and general managers – seem to be struggling to accept and execute a strong social presence. Beyond sparsely updated Facebook pages, many owners and GMs are failing to take sufficient action to sell as many cars as they could.
There seems to be a very serious disconnect between dealers and the amazing opportunity to use social media to sell cars. At a time when 87 percent of car shoppers are online doing research, any dealer unwilling to try and connect with customers in this online space using is completely missing the bus.
Their salespeople, however, are a group that does understand the power of online visibility. Salespeople seem to be in tune with the reality that the majority of the car shopping process has moved online; they understand it’s crucial you be there when prospective buyers are looking. Salespeople also acknowledge that people buy from people they know, like and trust, and that social media can be an incredible tool to capitalize on this principle.
Trend Numbers Don’t Lie
The statistics behind the power of automotive social media activity are powerful:
- 43 percent of car buyers say they would use Facebook to search for a local dealership.
- 59 percent would trust a review from a Facebook friend more than reviews found at other sites.
- 87 percent of car buyers report that their friends’ comments on social media either extremely or somewhat influence their opinions on car makers and brands.
- 80 percent of consumers say they are more likely to turn to their social network for car buying advice than to the salesperson.
Why Dealers Hold Back
So, with all of this trend information available and being discussed, why do owners and GMs continue to be the last people to see the value in using social media more aggressively to sell cars? In my experience working with and speaking to dealerships, there are three key reasons:
They don’t understand the opportunity. This social movement has erupted so quickly that some owners and GMs have barely noticed it. They continue to dump advertising money into newspaper, television, and radio without having ventured into this unfamiliar (for them) social zone.
Today, many car shoppers are active on social media, taking steps such as watching videos on YouTube to help inform their decision. Again, the statistics are powerful; 69 percent of people who watched YouTube videos while buying a vehicle were influenced by these videos. That’s more than with TV, newspapers or magazines.
Automotive review videos have been watched more than 3 million hours during the first nine months of 2015. When owners understand that the overwhelming majority of their prospective customers are looking to social media to help make their car-buying decisions, they will begin to focus more of their energy on this realm.
They are concerned a salesperson will “go rogue.” Some dealers are concerned that salespeople will move on and take customers, and prospective customers, with them. The reality here is that there are numerous ways for salespeople to participate in social media underneath the umbrella of the dealership – in a controlled and effective manner. Also, many dealerships are enacting a social media policy that can combat any inappropriate online behavior.
They focus too much on the showroom. Many dealership owners and managers are missing the social media bus because they remain extremely focused on showroom activity. While what happens in the showroom remains extremely important to a dealership’s bottom line, salespeople standing around with their faces pressed against the glass waiting for the next customer are not generating visibility or motivating people to walk through the front door.
When you take into consideration that the average car shopper today makes fewer than two dealership visits before purchasing a vehicle, visibility in the online space becomes even more paramount to sales success.
How Social Media Can Drive Sales
What’s perhaps more important than the why behind dealers’ and GMs’ late arrival to the social media realm is how they can move forward to use social media to increase sales.
First, the auto industry must understand that social media is about real connection. Most car dealerships have been using Facebook, if at all, as an advertising platform. They share photos of inventory, rates and specials on cars, an announcement of an upcoming sale and awkward, uncomfortable photos of customers with their new cars.
These dealers are not really engaging with an online community. They are not listening on these platforms, and they are certainly not connecting. Rather than bombard prospective customers with sales messages, dealers would find social media effective if they actually became SOCIAL. For example, they could start a conversation about topics related to the industry that are important to customers: Safety, cost of ownership, tips, advice about buying a car. Or, they acknowledge that YouTube videos influence prospective customers and start creating more videos.
Next, dealers could share their engagement in community events, post compelling pictures of vehicles at favorite local spots, and share behind the scenes dealer happenings to make people more comfortable with the dealership.
Finally, dealers could use social media as a portal where customers connect with salespeople. Creating visibility for salespeople with prospective buyers generates opportunities for the conditions we know lead to a sale – customers knowing, liking and trusting the dealership staff. It was networking guru Bob Burg who said, “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” Social media is the tool that will accomplish this.
How To Get Started
To get the ball rolling at your store, a dealer or GM first needs to encourage this activity within his staff. Highlight the benefits of social media in a morning meeting, and create an environment where business social media use is encouraged. This is a powerful message that needs to come from the top.
Once the interest is there, provide guidance to your staff by implementing a social media policy, and give resources and training to those who are interested. The effort required here is minimal, but the results could be incredible.
Instead of the current situation with many local dealers struggling to understand how social media can help sell cars, we could as an industry decide to be active in the social community in a way that makes sense and boosts sales. If you try some of the simple tips I’ve discussed here, you could begin building a community of raving fans on social media and ultimately be rewarded with many more car deals.