“I would argue that only 5% of today’s car sales professionals are able to accommodate the changing buyer segmentation."

How the in-vehicle technologies of the future will change the 100-year-old-plus dealer model of selling cars

I wrote an article in 2003 for the German-American Wochenpost (Weekly Post) paper about a new technology being built into Mercedes-Benz vehicles. It was called Distronic—an adaptive cruise control that measured the distance and speed of the vehicle in front of you, using a radar sensor. When the driver slowed down, so would your Mercedes-Benz, keeping a safe distance between you and the other car. In 2003, this was mind-blowing! I remember writing my closing sentence like this: “…now I am wondering, when will the day arrive that our car will allow you to nap or read on your way to the office, and gently inform you upon arrival. ‘Wake up, Volker, we reached your destination.’”

Time warp
In recent months, automotive news has become overrun with discussion about self-driving cars. Audi is experimenting with an Audi A7 that drops its passengers off at the office, then self-parks in the parking garage, only to restart at 5 p.m. for pickup in front of the office to return home.

BMW is allowing you to control stereo volume, accept calls and switch radio stations by gesture control (Hello Samsung phones). Mercedes-Benz is experimenting with vital-sign sensors in the seats, to detect whether the driver is too drowsy to operate a vehicle or even more serious health issues, like a potential heart attack.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s also fascinating. The future is here, and what are we—the dealerships—doing with it?

Still inflating colored balloons every Saturday and tagging them on each of the 163 cars on the sales lot? Popping hoods and jamming oversized S-A-L-E signage in the open engine? Handing out brochures with our business cards pinned to them?

You are so 2008
The flashy embedded tech features we assumed would never have any impact (like 4G Internet connectivity, social apps and real-time parking guidance) are doing just that, making an impact and creating a shift. I would argue that only five percent of today’s car sales professionals are able to accommodate the changing buyer segmentation, yet remain familiar with what is feasible today and what will be
the required skill set to sell cars
in the future.

My advice is to look across the pond to prepare for what the future will be in North America. In London, located at 75 Piccadilly, near the Underground station Green Park, there exists one of the dealerships of the future: Audi City London. Since 2012, Audi is luring consumers with a new dimension of brand experience. Audi salespeople are called relationship managers, and they’re trained to assist their clients—you see what I did here; stop calling your clients “customers”—with real-time customization on digitalized and interactive video walls and oversized iPads. This 4,520-square-foot storefront accumulated more than 50,000 visitors in its first year, resulting in more than 60 percent new car sales, where 75 percent were first-time Audi buyers. Also notable: 50 percent of the buyers ordered the vehicles without a physical test-drive.

Think Apple
BMW in the U.S. was spearheading this kind of concept. With 500 BMW Geniuses employed at their stores, they are back on track—and back to the future. Dealers and OEMs are discovering that, with the evolving technology, a salesperson will not be able to do it all. The antiquated concept “from cradle to grave” on handling car sales won’t be feasible much longer. At BMW, 500 additional Geniuses are being hired to work with sales staff to explain the technology that’s appearing in their cars.

The revolution is fast-approaching. With nine out of 10 consumers starting their car purchase online, we all need to rethink our strategy: What will make your dealership, franchise and brand different? With more cars having the same embedded technologies, the differentiator will be your crew and how they educate and manage their clients’ demands.

The know-it-all car sales format will soon meet its fate. Remember when the dinosaurs saw a “bright light” flash across the sky? We all know how that ended.

This article was published in the Winter 2016 issue of Strategy Mob.

We asked automotive professionals across the continent for their thoughts on how intuitive toys are going to affect the next generation of car buyers, and what strategies need to begin now, to keep their salespeople abreast of technology. Weigh in on their discussion here.

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2 Responses to “Tomorrow Started Yesterday”
  1. Great read, Volker. Sometimes I think the automotive world in Europe or Germany is not that different from the U.S. as we often think. I assume it’s more the customers (or clients 😉 than the dealers that make this difference.

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