Get your approach in gear! Why car dealerships are not ready for disruption

Blog post by Mark Satov

Car shopping is fun. You get to go to dealerships, look around at cool cars, take some test drives and be seduced into over-spending on something less than practical. At least that is what it should be. If I were a car dealer, I would focus first on ensuring the experience of the customers entering my dealership was as amazing as it could possibly be. Then I would be embodying Alec Baldwin: “Always Be Closing”. Lastly, I would do what my colleague Dan Resnick suggests in this article: capture their data. My recent shopping experience shopping for cars in Toronto would suggest that many did not get that memo.

As background, my Tesla sedan is coming off lease. I have one more child now, and my drives to the cottage require all-wheel-drive. I need something bigger.

I started at Tesla…why not? They would probably give me favourable terms to upgrade. And my recent positive service experience made me positively inclined toward the brand. I spoke to a pleasant rep who showed me a few options on his computer, and we agreed to follow up in the next few days. He emailed me as promised, which was the last professional thing he did. I was confused by the information, which should have a been a trigger to call me, rather than text me (I am not his buddy). When I asked him to include the buyout of my current car in the proposal, he suggested I get in touch with his finance department. My slightly snarky email back suggesting he should do that for me did not yield a reply, so I emailed his boss who agreed to be my point of contact. We spoke about some options, he corrected some errors on the original quote and said he would look for the car that would meet my needs. That was three weeks ago; no reply yet!

Then I went to the Volvo dealership near my office to check out their Plug-in Hybrid SUV I had heard so much about.   The representative was friendly enough, and quickly arranged a test drive. I told him how much I liked the car.  I handed him my business card and asked him to follow up with a quote. Three days later I left him a voice mail asking him where my quote was. He send me a text telling me he just found my business card in his other jacket and would email me a quote when he could. Two more days have gone by. This morning I got an automated email from the manager asking me about my experience. I replied saying I was still waiting for a quote. No call yet.

Then I went to Porsche to have a look at the Cayenne. I was greeted by friendly staff including the service manager who remembered me from 10 years ago! Jean the sales rep spent time with me, showing me a bunch of cars of various types, and had followed up by the time I walked back to my office with a clear quote. I had a question on the quote which was answered instantaneously. Finally, a dealer who actually wanted to sell something and knew how!

My last stop so far was at a dealership that sells Jaguar, Land Rover and Asten Marten along with some Lamborghinis.  It took me about eight minutes to find the front door to this newly built mausoleum. The security guard looked me up and down and then reluctantly directed me to an elevator which would probably take me somewhere. After that I bumped into three people, all of whom have been surgically altered so as to be unable to smile but had clearly been trained to suggest I drink some of their coffee. From a plastic pod. I digress.  When I finally found a rep he was pleasant enough, but had no Range Rovers on the lot to show me, and when I inquired about pre-owned, he said there was nothing much out there, save for one that had been in an accident. He did not ask for my contact information.  On my way out I stopped to ogle a green lambo, next to which was seated another rep in a fancy suit. The written word cannot adequately describe the sneer on his face when I asked a question about it. Does he know how interested I actually am, or the last time I made a large impulse purchase? Is he assuming that I can’t afford one? Does he care? He should.

Every second article we read today is about the death of retail. Amazon is killing everyone! The internet has changed everything! When asked I remind people that retailers who die are usually killing themselves. They don’t train their staff, they don’t provide the right experience, they don’t know how to manage information and they fail to remain relevant.  I also call out that in every sector there are many that survive the threat by being GREAT RETAILERS.  There are many great auto dealerships out there. But it seems that many are focused on pouring untold millions into beautiful locations and smart suits for their employees, rather than training them to talk to customers, let alone sell to them.  I am a guy looking for car. I have 100K or so to spend, and the right experience would have probably sold me by now (Porsche is close).  When I do buy my car, I will be tempted to drive by all these fools and tell them what they lost.  But I will probably wait until they go bust and blame it on the internet so I can remind them how wrong they are!