Change in 2022: How to Play the Long Game

There has been a significant shift in the automotive industry to a digital customer experience and letting customers tell us how they want to buy a vehicle. There is a disruption in the sales channel with the Carvana’s and Vroom’s of the world, inventory challenges, increasing data complexities, and many OEMs moving to electrification models.

All this uncertainty and the speed and breadth of change are unprecedented. We’ve become accustomed to making short-term decisions – the kind you make when you don’t know what it will be like next week, month, year, or even tomorrow!

To get ahead, dealers need to consider the long game, which includes being adaptable and open to change. Profits are higher than they’ve ever been, and budgets are not as lean as they’d usually be at this time of year. Now is the time to consider the impacts on your cost structure, staffing, systems, and processes. 

Prepare for the upcoming change ahead of time versus sitting back and waiting for it to happen.

What the “Long Game” Means for Dealers

Consumers are ultimately going to determine what direction the market takes. While there’s a lot of speculation about what that might be, nobody knows for sure.

A mantra of being open to everything and attached to nothing best supports what playing the long game means. Adaptability is key. You don’t need to know what’s going to happen; you need to be ready to move in the right direction once it’s here. 

The idea of one-size-fits-all solutions isn’t practical. As dealers, you need to narrow your focus. Be good at fewer things because, at some point, you must put your stake in the ground about what you think is going to drive your business forward and concentrate on that.

Regardless of what that might be for you, all dealers must focus on their internal teams to support a successful long game. If you don’t have good people, you’re not going to have good marketing and sales efforts, you’re not going to have as many customers, and the same is valid for service. You don’t need more people – you need the right people. 

Needing the right people also goes for vendor partners because you don’t need more of them and certainly not more lead providers. Once you get into the marketing side, it’s all about your owner base.

A Powerful Owner-Based Communication Strategy

The best quality leads are the customers you already have. They’re organic, you don’t have to rely on third parties, and they cost less to acquire.

It doesn’t always start with sales, either. You don’t want a customer to get an oil change, get an automated thank you, maybe a survey from the OEM, and then not hear from you for another six months until it’s, “Hey, do you want to spend more money with us?” 

Follow-up needs to happen more thoughtfully, which means much more than chasing leads. Focusing on your owner base means everything from what it’s like in the service drive to whether you’re going to drop a new customer’s car off at home because the practices started during the pandemic are here to stay. 

Dealers need to be intentional about consumer relationships throughout the lifecycle, not just when someone is in equity, and tweak their messaging and processes to fit each consumers’ needs. 

Adapting to the Needs of Every Customer

The old way of marketing was telling people what you wanted them to know with the intent to sell them something. Consumers need to drive the conversation in today’s market because that’s what they now expect.

Everyone is hyper-connected online these days, but they’re isolated from in-person connections. Anything dealers can contribute to a sense of trust through online communications helps foster loyalty, whether by investing in your community or simply by not trying to sell consumers something at every turn but responding to what matters to them. 

Each customer is unique, so the idea of a single process for everyone goes out the window. Again, you must be adaptable since everyone wants something different at any given time. This isn’t easy without an automated system based on artificial intelligence that can make complicated decisions for you.

One solution, particularly for dealer groups, is to take all your data, clean it, and put it into a consolidated data platform. Doing so will allow you to send value-added communications relevant to the vehicle or service each consumer is interested in at any stage of their lifecycle. 

It’s time for dealers to liberate the customer experience, responding to what’s important to them by allowing their needs to dictate the information they receive.

Now is Not the Time to Stop Investing in Marketing

It should never be about slashing budgets regardless of whether you’re doing well but spending your money wisely at every single connection point with a customer – whether it’s an email, a text, an ad, or anything else. 

Wisely spending money means measuring what’s working and what’s not and adapting accordingly. Reallocate your marketing dollars to the vendor partners who can identify what consumers will do or want next and automatically respond.

When other people aren’t advertising, and you are, you stand out. Despite inventory shortages, there’s no reason to stop advertising because consumers service and buy cars year-round.

Ask yourself – what’s the real reason for not spending? Is it that you’re not willing to, or that you can’t? And if it’s that you can’t, what are you going to do moving forward? How will you get people to come into your store if you’ve decided not to spend the money to attract them? 

What it comes down to is five introductory courses of action for the long game to work for you:

  1. Focus on your owner base by staying top of mind in a relevant way. 
  2. Go back to basics and enact internal changes where it makes the most sense.
  3. Implement a process for harnessing and acting on your data.
  4. Focus on your trusted vendor partners who complement the entire customer lifecycle.
  5. Consolidate your data to learn from it and optimize appropriately, especially dealer groups.