THERE was a time when opening the boots of the cars on your forecourt and draping some bunting from one lamppost to another was enough to catch the eye of Mrs Miggins as she wandered past on her way to Waitrose.
The little Mini Metro you had keenly priced at £995 would be sitting there, sparkling away, and she’d decide to delay her grocery shop, tow her little shopping cart on to your forecourt and pore over the upgrade to her open-toed sandals, white socks and leg power for what would feel like the rest of time.
You’d guide her around the Metro, extol the virtues of the slick gearshift, lightweight doors and wind-up windows and think of the best ways possible to mask the fact it had an engine akin to a wheezing guinea pig that would struggle to climb a dropped kerb, let alone a hill.
But work your technique you would, schmooze her with a slick patter until eventually she signed an order form and handed over a week’s pension as a deposit. Sale bagged, you’d shut the boots of all the cars again, pack up and go home.
These days, dealerships need a lot more than bunting and boots to capture the attention of car buyers.
The noise businesses need to cut through to get noticed in the car-buying cycle is deafening. Especially online where it can feel like shouting in a stadium full of angry England fans – here, getting your voice heard is nigh-on impossible.
Attracting buyers online requires new rules of engagement. It’s no longer good enough to simply have a forecourt and hope buyers will wander on to it.
Now, buyers aren’t browsing, they’re invariably heading to your site to seal a deal. They’ve done their research, watched the videos of people testing cars and read the countless reviews from countless motoring outlets.
They’ve searched the classified websites, crunched the numbers, probably got finance quotes, more than likely got insurance prices and they probably already know the car they’re coming to buy at your site is the one they want.
These are new buyers who need to be treated differently. Nine-to-five trading doesn’t suit them – they want to talk to you while they’re watching Coronation Street via a chat function on your website, not on the phone.
They want answers to emails via email, not on the telephone, because they’ve probably found your car online while at work when they probably should have been doing something else.
But how do you capture their attention?
Well, you need to catch their eye when they’re digitally browsing. That means using different tricks, digital bunting if you like, that flutters in a virtual breeze.
Slice of the action
I’m talking about content – news, features, reviews of your very own that you can cast out there, like lures on a line, enticing buyers drifting by to take a bite.
Believe me, it works. The dealerships I follow on social media that do it well certainly get my attention. A decent blog post, or feature, with a compelling headline and pictures can funnel internet browsers to your site.
I can never understand why some dealers post links to other people’s content on their social channels – that’s like sending potential buyers who turn up at your dealership to a rival down the road. You wouldn’t do that, so why do this?
Don’t let magazines and newspaper outlets online suck up everyone when you could be grabbing a slice of the action too.
It doesn’t have to cost the earth, either – in fact, you can do it yourself, and the benefits will far outweigh the time spent on creating and adding it to your website.
We all know consumers these days are carrying out most, if not all, of their research online, so perhaps letting them do that on your site, rather than somewhere else, could be key.
In practical terms, this could be a review of a car you’ve got on sale, less salesy, more advice-led – think Apple Store Genius – where you’re helping the potential buyer make an informed choice.
As buyers’ choices get more and more complicated, with extended car ranges stretching body styles and powertrains to the limits, helping potential buyers make the right choices on your own website is more important than ever.
I’m not saying it’s time to take the bunting down – that would be sacrilege – but I am saying perhaps it’s time you put it up in different places.
James Baggott is the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and chief executive officer of parent company @BaizeGroup, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.