In the last few years, online shopping has undoubtedly become the “new normal” for dealership customers.

But how do we define “normal” for dealership industries that may not see pre-pandemic levels until as late as 2024?

We’ve found that dealers who embrace changes and adopt a future-focused approach will see more stable quarterly results. But when the bulk of your customer base is shopping online, out of your line of sight, how do you identify the shopping trends that will impact your dealership? How do you make the right decisions for your dealership?

Pursuing every digital trend at once will overwhelm your team. By first taking stock of your dealership’s greatest needs, you can identify the corresponding strategies that will boost your online traffic and sales opportunities.

We’ve listed the most prevalent industry challenges affecting dealerships today. If any of these ring true for you, then we invite you to consider the digital strategies that we’ve outlined to resolve each challenge.


Driving Unit Sales During Supply Chain Disruptions

“I can’t get units on my lot in time to make a sale.”

Ongoing supply chain disruptions mean dealerships everywhere are struggling to fill their lots. Continued market volatility only complicates the matter by making it difficult to gauge inventory demand. Will the next sales season continue to see high inventory sales, or will price increases strike down consumer demand?

Regardless if you currently have inventory to sell, you can keep shoppers engaged with your brand through the following strategies:

Brand Equity
Shoppers who trust your brand are willing to wait for a unit arrival because they’re confident your dealership will deliver. Actively maintaining interactions with potential customers will go a long way in building brand trust.

Consider your dealership’s current digital presence. How active is it? Does it indicate that your brand is reliable and invested in delivering a positive experience?

Prioritize your online customer service by following up on all customer reviews within 24 hours – regardless if the review is positive or critical. Apply this same approach to your website lead submissions and social media messages. Post on your social pages regularly to show shoppers these communication airways are open, and reply to any comments, tags or post shares.

Pre-Order Campaigns
Do you currently offer the opportunity to pre-order inventory? Supply shortages have made many shoppers anxious about finding the unit they want. Giving shoppers the chance to pre-order high-demand units on incoming inventory relieves these fears.

As we mentioned earlier, shoppers are willing to wait if they know the unit they want is coming and they won’t have to settle for another unit that’s in stock. Pre-ordering hot inventory also makes shoppers feel they’re part of an exclusive group, and that goes a long way in building brand loyalty.

Running a pre-order campaign will also help you gauge consumer demand ahead of your next inventory shipment so you can optimize your order placements. This can combat your concerns regarding future market volatility.


Overcoming Online Dealership Competition

“How do I compete with larger competing dealerships to get in front of online shoppers?”

Even before the pandemic expedited digital shopping, dealers have been struggling to beat out other brands in the race to generate online leads. Shoppers will browse several websites before making a purchase, but brands who connect with leads early on are more likely to make a sale.

The internet pits small and mid-sized dealerships against multi-store giants who have excellent resources and are better advantaged to get in front of shoppers. However, dealerships of any size can level the playing field so long as they have a strong digital presence.

The following strategies can help your dealership strengthen your digital presence and outperform larger brands in lead generation:

Keyword-Rich Website Content
When shoppers first launch their online search, they may not know exactly what type of unit they want. They may search for a variety of makes, models, pricing options and new versus used inventory.

To help you capture more of these searches, make sure your inventory listings include rich descriptions of each unit type and always reflect your inventory stock (or identify units that can be pre-ordered). To know what potential customers are looking for, you can view your website analytics and see which webpages are seeing the highest traffic.

When shoppers search online, they’re looking for dealership websites that offer industry expertise, especially if a shopper is researching a brand or model they’re unfamiliar with. This presents an opportunity for your dealership to demonstrate your expertise and target more keywords through informative blogs that pros, cons and must-knows for each unit type.

Lively Social Media
Social media is an active part of the search process because shoppers use it like a search engine to discover products and brands. Therefore, dealerships who have lively and informative social media pages will attract a greater number of shoppers. You don’t have to crank out daily social posts, but sharing a thoughtful, engaging post twice a week will greatly benefit your online presence.

Memorable Customer Care
No doubt you have a fantastic customer service approach for anyone who visits your store. But is your digital customer service just as good? Nowadays, most shoppers spend a large chunk of the shopping process online and only visit the dealership at the very end, which makes your online customer service crucial. Coach your team to monitor your online communication systems and respond in 24 hours or less to online inquiries. Being highly responsive to your online shoppers will create a memorable experience that they’ll share among their social circles.

Consistent Directory Listings
Online shoppers often use digital business directories such as Google business summaries to quickly scope out businesses and cross-reference locations, pricing, business hours and online ratings. Make sure all your digital business listings are correct and consistent so that shoppers have the right information. Consistency across business listings also improves your SEO, making your website easier to find.

Once you drive online shoppers to your website and inventory listings, it’s up to your team to foster those leads and maintain their interest.


Operating Amid Hiring Challenges

“My team is too small to connect with every online lead.”

Labor shortages are a growing challenge for dealers, who need sales-savvy teams. Additionally, the last few years have seen a buying frenzy, especially for verticals like Powersports, RV and Marine, that turned sales teams into “order takers” instead of actively engaging customers. These two factors have resulted in many dealerships facing a reduced capacity to market and interact with online shoppers.

If you’re in a similar situation, the following tactics can help you expand your team’s size and empower your current employees to operate above and beyond in their roles. Even if you’re not facing a labor shortage, you can use these strategies to enhance your customer service abilities.

Stellar Work Environment & Compensation
Would you work for you? This is a great question to help you evaluate your dealership’s work environment, wages and culture against the industry standard. If the answer is yes, then you’re in a good position to attract top-tier industry professionals.

Expectations for better work environments and higher wages are causing employees to seek out dealerships that meet or exceed the industry standards. Does your dealership’s employee compensation and advancement opportunities indicate you’re invested in your team’s potential? We hope so!

Cross-Training Opportunities
We’ve always been impressed by the scrappiness of smaller teams and their ability to product the sales and marketing results of a much larger team – at only a fraction of the size. Smaller teams are accustomed to wearing many hats and managing a variety of responsibilities. We encourage to support your team by creating lots of cross-training opportunities so that each factor of your dealership remains in full operation. Regular appreciation and bonus incentives will motivate team members to embrace the challenge.

The ideal employees for cross-training opportunities are those who excel at customer-centric roles over other aspects, such as online marketing. After all, you can always find technology to automate your digital engagement (and we’ll discuss this later on), but you can’t replace a social-savvy salesperson.

Clear Dealership Values
Would you stay in a job role that didn’t have a clear purpose? It’s important for every employee to understand the “why” of their job role and see how their contribution directly fuels the dealership’s success. Make sure each team member’s role is clear and every employee has a firm understanding of your brand’s vision, values and industry challenges. Employees who feel confident in their roles and in the dealership’s purpose are motivated to invest more effort in their roles.

Proactive Roadblock Planning
When challenges occur suddenly, they can throw off the dealership’s productivity if the team isn’t prepared to address them head on. You can improve your team’s ability to problem-solve on the fly by developing a dealership-wide contingency plans for likely challenges and even worst-case scenarios. Proactive planning ensures your team has the confidence and resources to act quickly when complications arise.

Third-Party Partnerships
If circumstances beyond your control are preventing you from filling necessary job roles, you may find it beneficial to outsource some of your needs to a third party. Perhaps you need an industry expert to analyze and advise on quarterly trends or a marketing agency who can manage paid ad campaigns your social media posts. When selecting a third party, choose someone who has a firm understanding of the industry and how it impacts your brand’s needs, and who is an expert in delivering trusted results.

Digital Solutions
As promised, we’re circling back to using technology as a solution. Today, advancements in technology can fulfill just about every marketing and operational need for your dealership (with the exception of stellar salespeople). If you’ve noticed your team spends multiple hours following up with online sales leads, look for technology solutions that take the pressure of maintaining online lead management off your hands so your team can focus their energy on closing deals.

Digital automation is doing amazing things these days, from maintaining up-to-date inventory listings to re-engaging sales leads on your website. You can save hundreds of work hours by streamlining common digital touchpoints such as responding to lead form submissions and answering dozens of emails. Every repetitive task delegated to technology gives your team more time on the floor with customers.

With the right technology to consolidate lead generation, teams of any size regain the ability to focus on the most important leads.


Navigating Consumer Demand

“I have too many website leads to keep up with them all. How do I prioritize the right leads?”

Powersports Business asked attendees of a 2021 webinar how their dealerships addressed online lead follow-up, and these are the results:

  • Sole staff member – 26%
  • Entire sales team – 68%
  • Third-party vendor – 0%
  • Other – 5%

Surveyed dealers show that sales teams are usually tasked with website lead engagement. The challenge here is that the strength of a sales team lies with engaging shoppers who are ready to buy, but internet leads are often early in their online search and don’t yet qualify as a sales lead.

When shoppers land on your website, you can’t see where in the sales funnel they’re in, what they’re looking for or when is the right time to reach out. The solution for many dealerships is to focus all their resources on leads who standing in the store or calling on the phone. The rest of the leads who aren’t actively contacting the dealership may receive a mass email blast once a while but aren’t being actively nurtured.

Due to the continued high demand for units in many verticals, a lot of dealers aren’t concerned about nurturing website leads while they’re still backordered on unit sales. It’s true that dealers don’t need to be generating more leads right now, but they do need to have a process for identifying qualified leads among their many website visitors.

Scoring Lead Interactions
Ten companies in an Eloqua study were analyzed for the efficacy of their lead scoring systems. The results showed their systems generated an average 30% more close rates on deals, 18% higher revenue and 17% higher revenue per deal.

To launch a lead scoring system, you’ll need to identify how an online shopper’s actions indicate their readiness to buy. Where an action occurs along the sales funnel will determine its score and tell you how much time to invest in that lead. For example, if a consumer visits your website or follows one of your social pages, they would be considered a “warm” lead because they’ve shown interest but aren’t actively pursuing a unit. Now if that consumer submits a lead form for an inventory listing, they will become a “hot” lead because they’re clearly motivated to learn more.

Qualified Lead Follow-Up
Online shoppers are accustomed to visiting several website platforms during their online search, and they’ll move on quickly if they don’t hear back quickly from dealerships. We urge you to follow up with “hot” leads by creating a process that engages shoppers while their interest is high and immediately tips them into your sales funnel.

Set expectations for your team to respond to lead form submissions within a matter of hours to connect with shoppers before they start talking to a competing dealership.

You can also optimize your customer engagement strategy by identifying the important touchpoints of the customer journey. This includes social media direct messages, lead form submissions and requests for a quote. Each of these actions should receive a response within 24 hours to keep the shopper interested.

If you’re concerned about finding the time to follow up with leads, you may consider using an automated system that identifies shoppers’ actions and nurtures qualified leads without requiring manual follow-up from your team. (Consider our article on automated email marketing to learn more about this technology solution.)

By optimizing your lead engagement strategy, you can dedicate the time you save to fulfilling your customers’ expectations.


Fulfilling Customer Expectations

“I’m not a mind reader. How do I meet my online customers’ expectations?”

Today, 83% of shoppers want to complete some or most of the buying process online. It may seem as though the internet removes control from your business and limits your influence on the customer journey, but the opposite is true. Being online gives you the ability to better understand shopper expectations and guide their buying choices.

Shoppers have high expectations for the customer experience – 80% consider a brand’s customer experience to be as important as its service and products. In fact, as much as 75% of repeat business for powersports dealerships is generated through the customer experience.

This means that your competition isn’t the dealership down the street – it’s the experiences your shoppers have had in the past.

Cox Automotive reports that big brands like Starbucks, Netflix and Amazon have elevated customer expectations by launching a meet-the-customer-where-they’re-at approach. As a result, consumers expect every brand to be able to deliver an intelligent buying experience that understands their needs at every step.

The following digital strategies can help you meet customers wherever they are on the path to purchase:

Upfront Pricing
Many dealers avoid displaying unit pricing on their websites to avoid giving away too much info to competitors or potentially driving away shoppers. However, gated pricing creates unnecessary roadblocks by leading shoppers to wonder if a unit will be outside their budget. If a consumer has to pick up the phone to inquire about a unit’s price, they’re likely to continue searching for a dealer website that lists its prices.

Being upfront with pricing builds confidence and trust with your shoppers and helps your team filter out unqualified leads who would low-ball their purchase offers.

Omnichannel Digital Retailing
“Digital retailing” refers to shoppers being able to dive deeply into the buying journey without encountering roadblocks or dead ends. “Omnichannel” is the practice of treating every online interaction as part of a bigger process instead of isolated occurrences. By designing each step of your sales funnel to build on the last, you are leading shoppers deeper into a customer experience that you own.

What omnichannel digital retailing look like in action? It can mean designing your website to be more transactional so that visitors can complete more of the buying journey online. If your website’s main message is for leads to “request a quote” or “call today,” you are ending the search process for leads who aren’t ready to contact your dealership. Websites should be rich sources of information for visitors at all stages of the buying journey, with in-depth descriptions of each unit, as well as quality photos, credit applications and pricing.

Providing omnichannel digital retailing allows shoppers to progress at their own pace, whether they’re eager to complete the paperwork now and bring home their new unit or they need more time to really sell themselves on the idea of a purchase. No how fast or slow shoppers move, digital retailing ensures they still arrive at your dealership.

Omnichannel Customer Service
Omnichannel customer service means integrating your customer service platforms to capture a complete record of each customer’s journey in one location. This better positions your team to intercept the customer journey instead of reacting once shoppers have made their own decisions.

Omnichannel customer service means creating a seamless experience across channels. Let’s say a lead reaches out to your dealership on social media and then a few days later submits a lead form and has an email conversation. Then, finally, they come to your store and chat with your team in person. An omnichannel strategy would mean that each of these interactions used the same brand voice, set the same expectations and captured the interactions in a singular record that your team can refer to during the in-person conversation.

Up to 54% of consumers feel like they are interacting with siloed departments instead of a unified business. You want to deliver connected experiences instead of single, one-off interactions. This is where a good CRM system can provide a 360-degree view of each customer that’s accessible to all departments. Your CRM system should capture a complete record of every lead’s interaction with your dealership so you can better understand the unique journey of every customer and fulfill their expectations.

Omnichannel digital retailing keeps your brand in front of every shopper, regardless of how fast or slow their move through the sales funnel, so that you’re always in position to make a sale as soon as they’re ready to buy.


Driving Revenue During Times of Inflation

“Prices for units and gas have increased. How do I convince shoppers to still make a purchase?”

Inflation is a widespread concern these days as we see consumers reduce their budgets and conserve their paychecks for necessities. Many businesses worry that inflated prices will cause shoppers to delay fun purchases, such as vacations, upgrades and, yes, units. While industry enthusiasts have shown that they’re willing to indulge in their passions regardless of inflation, they can only make up part of your customer base.

To help you weather a downturn in market spend, here are some strategies to drive more revenue to your dealership:

Promote Maintenance & Repairs
The rising cost of materials combined with ongoing supply shortages has led some manufacturers to change up the materials used in their units, such as replacing metal with plastic. While this can reduce the price of the unit, it can also result in faster wear and tear. The increased need for repairs and maintenance means you have more opportunities to drive business to your service department.

If you’re already running active digital advertisements (and we hope this is the case, as we’ll explain later on), we encourage you to dedicate part of your ad spend to your maintenance and repair sectors. The auto industry has proven to the other industry verticals that many consumers are choosing to maintain their older modes instead of paying for a new unit at an inflated price. When the need for repairs arises, you want your customers to come to you, the unit’s expert, rather than going to a local garage for service.

Demonstrate Your Worth
Your dealership has value and industry expertise, and your customers need to know it. Create messaging for your website pages, blog, social media and digital ads that highlights your industry knowledge and thought leadership. When shoppers decide to make a large purchase, they’re going to choose a dealership that they believe will give them their money’s worth.

Examples of information you should emphasize to your customers include:

  • Years of industry experience
  • Passion for the industry and for your work
  • How you stand behind your guarantees
  • Whether your dealership offers buybacks and pre-orders
  • Anything else that makes your dealership “worth the cost”

If a looming drought in sales is causing you stress, consider how you can take advantage of low-traffic periods to reconsider your brand’s digital strategies.


Take Advantage of Low Sales Seasons

“Why should I invest in my online presence when the selling season is over and no one is buying?” 

Many industries are familiar with “off seasons” when weather or economy changes mean that no one has a need to buy a unit. Instead of sending your dealership into digital hibernation, we encourage you to make the most of this opportunity to optimize your online presence.

Analyze the Previous Quarter
While the dealership is quiet, use this time to consider how you performed during the previous sales period. What went well, and what could be improved? The following questions can guide your discussion with your team:

  • If any customers left your business, what made them go?
  • What prompted new customers to choose your dealership?
  • How does your financial outcome compare to the last quarter?
  • What factors affected your revenue?
  • Are your greatest revenue challenges tied to a human problem (eg, staffing shortages) or a digital one (eg, not enough resources to keep up with online leads)?

If you experienced fantastic sales, think of three new ways to drive even better results next quarter. That could be driving more in-person traffic to your dealership, connecting with online leads faster or streamlining your ability to communicate with shoppers on any platform.

Boost Your SEO
Your SEO results require ongoing attention to keep your website in front of shoppers during the next sales season. The more work you invest in your SEO now, the better it will perform in the coming months. Look for areas where you can improve your SEO by anticipating your shoppers’ needs for the next season. What questions will your future shoppers have? What seasonal keywords are they most likely to enter into search engines? Do you have the time and resources now to organize a content calendar full of relevant topics for the rest of the year?

Look to the Industry
If you’re stumped on strategy ideas, look to your industry for inspiration. Are your competitors using digital marketing strategies that you haven’t previously considered? Does your online presence align with consumers’ expectations for shopping online?

Planning for the future can seem like a poor use of your time if the industry landscape feels unpredictable, but many digital trends are here to stay. Read on for strategies that can help you drive long-term success.


Make Your Dealership Future-Proof

“If the future is unpredictable, how can I keep my dealership relevant?”

2020 threw the world for a loop, and 2021 was spent battling against supply shortages to get enough inventory on the lot. Now, the coming years are doubling down on digital retailing and selling.

Many dealers still see in-person sales methods as the standard for the industry, but digital is the default avenue for your shoppers. While many questions about the future of the consumer landscape remain unanswered, we know that digital will continue to be the driving industry force – and that’s the way customers want it.

Employ Digital Strategies
Customers won’t be returning en masse to your physical dealership, so we encourage you to turn your focus to your online presence. You should assume that any customer who is visiting your dealership in person has already researched you thoroughly online.

Does your online presence offer the information your shoppers need to complete their search? Put yourself in their shoes to find out: Assume the viewpoint of an online shopper and submit an online search for units related to your dealership. Does your website appear among the top search results?

When you visit your website, are your webpages easy to navigate and informative about your brand and inventory? Can you perform most or all of the buying process online? Do you have digital tracking tools in place to capture your actions and make that information easily accessible for your sales team? Has your team been prepped to identify and nurture promising website leads?

By analyzing your online presence from the view of an online shopper, you can determine if your dealership meets consumer expectations and delivers an optimal digital experience. If you run into roadblocks on your website or other online platforms, you can utilize the strategies we’ve listed above to address these issues and enable your website to drive more conversions.

Obviously, your dealership can’t be everywhere and do everything all at once, but you can identify the trends that are relevant to your dealership’s challenges. Tackling these trends now will set your dealership on a path to success that extends through the coming years.