“We don’t really want to be speaking to more customers and prospects than we absolutely have to at the moment. What have we got to say to them? We’ve certainly got nothing to sell to them!”

We’re pretty sure that these words, (or something like them) will be heard in retailer sales and marketing meetings up and down the UK right now, and given everything that’s been going on recently in the topsy-turvy world of automotive retail we wouldn’t be surprised, particularly when you take into account the revenue short-fall attached to the lack of new car sales…

We can understand the sentiment but that doesn’t mean that we agree with what was said.

Far from it.

We believe at the moment talking to customers and prospects is absolutely the best thing to do. For a number of reasons.
There’s always something to sell – even if it’s just you and your service.

There are always particular models and derivatives in every manufacturer’s range that present more of an “opportunity” than other faster-moving offerings and we have long known that when consumers have made their mind up, they’re going to buy something – they really are going to buy something… Even if it’s not what they set out to buy in the first place.
A lot of the time the journey to purchase is linear and the short listing or “whittling” process is clear – particularly when times are normal and the fundamentals of vehicle supply are unaffected.

But even in normal times the path to purchase can be more random and the destination can be very different from the starting point as the buyer journey unfolds – particularly when the options a buyer is now faced with are more complex and confusing than ever, the closer they get to purchase, (PHEV, BEV, REX, mild hybrid etc, etc) But we’re not in normal times – so buying journeys can and will look even more chaotic than usual. Never has that old phrase “sell what’s in front of you” had more resonance! But why should that be exactly?

Well, throw in all the variables like nearly new cars, demonstrators and approved used cars, (not to mention all the powertrain and tech options) and there’s every likelihood that the consumer, when in the buying zone will be just looking for an excuse to purchase – particularly at the moment. Thanks to sky-rocketing used car values, the canny consumer will want to maximise the return from their current vehicle, because they’ll know what goes up has to inevitably come down. So why not strike now? What’s more, there are also some other external factors. For example, in London from October 2021 there’s the ULEZ extension, forcing many Londoners out of EU5 cars who want to avoid the daily surcharge.

We’ve not even touched on the market disruptors and the potential impact they might have on consumer attitudes, behaviour and knowledge. Used car valuations are certainly one area where consumers are now better informed than ever before thanks to services from We Buy Any Car and Wizzle for example. Even looking at the sales disruptors like Cinch and Cazoo, they are still restricted by the fundamentals of supply and now more than ever it gives franchised retailers the opportunity to focus on their key advantages that come through detailed knowledge of the specific brands they represent; namely service, infrastructure, NSC support and product expertise.

So, the bottom line is: If you’re not speaking to prospects, someone else probably will be and without that communication you simply can’t be on the receiving end of all of that positive kinetic buying energy that is going to go somewhere, (and it will – it tends not to go away). Don’t believe us? Well, we record our in-bound contacts –  that’s consumers phoning us on the back of our sales call to them and the stats are remarkable:

We also think there’s an opportunity for Brands and NSCs to get on the front foot with customer communication. We understand that brands don’t want to do anything to stop prospective purchasers coming into their showrooms – although there’s an argument that a bit of refreshing honesty about the new car situation coupled to messages about there still being lots of other reasons to visit, could cut through with consumers and in the long run be a good move…

But even if some brands aren’t ready for a dose of naked honesty when it comes to prospects – we do still believe that proactive customer communication has to be better than what’s happening in a lot of instances at the moment. We’re hearing of customers being told that their new car they’d been expecting in the next couple of weeks has now been pushed back 6 months, or they’ll need to reorder it. This strategy of “say nothing until the last minute” can’t be good for that brand – consumers have long memories. Surely, it’s better to take a pro-active view and look to manage the waiting process for those with vehicles on order with regular updates and honest timelines? Sticking heads in the sand is never a defence against customer dissatisfaction, cancelled orders and demands for deposits to be repaid. If anything, avoidance is likely to simply make that situation worse.

So, keep in contact, keep talking and more importantly keep listening.

In view of the supply hiatus we’re seeing at the moment, there are other messages customers and prospects will want to hear about too; from contract extension and refinancing options in the sales space, through to aftersales messages that can reassure them in their choice of current vehicle, the brand behind it and the retailer they’re buying from. Here we’re thinking of MOT Protect, service and warranty packages and follow-up for amber work. All services that are useful and of genuine benefit to the customer.

And this is where we think we get to the nub of the matter. There’s been a lot of discussion around strategies to ensure that the customer sits at the heart of the business, but this is the point at which that really should now happen and it will be those businesses that genuinely do put the needs of the customer first and foremost that will prosper. This pivot or shift in focus can perhaps best be thought of as moving from

ABC (ALWAYS BE CLOSING)

To

ABH (ALWAYS BE HELPING)

This should be a strategic move but at the moment there’s a compelling tactical reason to change – because simply everyone is in the same boat, no brand or retailing group is unaffected. As such if you’ve tried and exhausted all of the alternative sales routes and territories with a prospect and they’ve decided to sit on their hands for weeks or months and wait it out for that Audi A3 40 TFSI in Phantom black with half leather and 18” Avus wheels  the only way to retain his or her deferred business is to stand out from the crowd in terms of SERVICE. The retailer might get lucky and this particular buyer might be happy to wait but normally patience isn’t endless and at some point, there’s likely to be a cancelled order involved, so why take that chance?

So, you need to stay in touch with a purpose and that is:

TO BE MORE HELPFUL.

And that means listening to what consumers want to know and then providing them with that information and most of all they just want you to care.

And the first thing you can do to show that you do care is to answer the phone (or an email) when they need you (even if it is at 8:30pm) and to get back to them, because the pendulum will swing back and supply will meet, (and let’s face it probably ending up exceeding) demand again. At that point when there’s a shortage of customers rather than cars, it’ll be the retailers and brands that did care enough to stay in touch that will benefit, because as we say:

PEOPLE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU KNOW UNTIL THEY KNOW YOU CARE.

If you want to find out how Direct Affinity Europe can help you and your business with all of the issues and opportunities raised here– just let us know <insert data capture device>.

We’d love to hear from you!