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A recent study from Accenture offers a telling peek at what today’s vehicle buyers want from dealers:

  • 80 percent of the 13,000 study respondents want access to more intuitive, customized online content.
  • Roughly 75 percent want a process that offers more simplified information, particularly when it comes to comparing vehicles.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents want better, mobile-based content delivery options, and would welcome online chats with dealer sales teams.

To me, the survey findings underscore a reality most, if not all, dealers recognize: Today’s buyers want to buy cars like they purchase other goods and services — in a simpler, faster and more transparent fashion than they’ve bought them in the past. Indeed, the amount of time buyers spend online, and the number of sites they visit, are symptoms of a need to temper the distrust they feel toward dealers and the car-buying process.

In many ways, these dynamics represent an opportunity for dealers. Those who can best deliver what today’s buyers want will inevitably make more sales than those who don’t.

The key question then becomes: What exactly do today’s buyers want and need before they say “yes” to a car deal?

I’ll address this question from the perspective of used vehicles — an arguably more difficult sale, given the uncertainties about a vehicle’s condition, history and reliability compared to a new vehicle purchase.

The following are three essential elements of a used vehicle transaction that dealers must effectively address with today’s used vehicle customers — through a combination of market-based transparency and technology — to earn their business:

The vehicle

“Is this vehicle the right one for me?” This is perhaps the most fundamental question for any used vehicle buyer. Today’s customers appreciate when dealers answer this question through a compelling online or in-person presentation of photos, description, equipment / trim / performance specifications, safety ratings, third-party condition reports (e.g., Carfax) and service histories (if available). The presentations should also include expert and owner reviews of the car (drawn from recognized third-party sources when appropriate) to help the would-be buyer answer this question for themself — affirming the information they’ve already found online about the car.

The deal

The last thing a used vehicle buyer wants to find out post-purchase is that they paid too much for a vehicle or, even worse, feel like they got “took” at the dealership. As they say in professional sports, the best defense is a good offense. For dealers, this means addressing a vehicle’s asking price in a more up-front and transparent manner than we’ve done in the past. This challenge is far easier for dealers who base their initial asking prices on the market — that is, their prices reflect a vehicle’s unique value proposition in the context of available, competing vehicles in the marketplace. Today’s technology and tools can help dealers satisfy the ever-important “Is this a good deal?” question every customer brings to the table. It’s increasingly commonplace for dealers to share this type of market-based transparency in mobile and desktop presentations that present comparison vehicles and prices using third-party sources (such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, NADA and Black Book) to validate the rationale behind their asking price. When this occurs, customers are less likely to push back on price because the presentation often validates the reasons they’ve inquired about a specific vehicle at a dealership in the first place.

The dealership

Let’s remind ourselves of the aforementioned study findings: Today’s buyers want dealers to provide a simpler, faster and more transparent process for purchasing vehicles. This strikes me as a clarion call for dealers to deliver an experience to foster customer satisfaction and trust in merchandising and sales processes. Historically, dealers have often sent mixed signals in this regard. They may claim to offer the lowest prices, but the in-showroom reality is something different. I encourage dealers to both “detail and demonstrate” when it comes to distinguishing their dealerships from the competition. That is, their merchandising and customer presentations should detail the positive customer feedback they’ve accrued and reasons they believe the customer has chosen the right place to buy a used vehicle. Beyond that, however, dealers must also proactively demonstrate what they claim to provide, which means consistently delivering simplicity, speed and transparency in every customer engagement. If they don’t, customers will likely sense a disconnect and potentially walk away from a deal, sharing their frustration with family and friends.

A final thought: Dealers and sales teams should seek to satisfy each essential element of a used vehicle deal in equal measure. While it’s true that the significance of a single element may vary from customer to customer, the consistent presentation of all three with every customer ensures you avoid creating potholes in an otherwise sound process — satisfying more customers and selling more vehicles.

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