It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if, ever since COVID-19 shelter-in-place, you and your salespeople have been preoccupied with this looming question: How can we help people with their transportation needs if we can’t be there in person?

Let me put it in perspective for you and ease your concern. About six weeks ago, I shared a slide at a presentation that stated, “Selling can happen across the social distance.” Six weeks later, I want to revisit that statement and change it: “Selling is happening across social distance.”

Here are some hot-off-the-presses statistics from AutoFi that will rock you out of your paralysis. In just a week’s time, we discovered that:

  • Web traffic for AutoFi dealers is up 16%.
  • Dealer leads are up 22%.
  • And most telling of all, submission of completed online loan applications by customers are up 39%.

Chart iconDo I have your attention now? My key point is that remote selling is working. More dealers are embracing this transformation, and customers are eagerly jumping on board as well.

How do you leverage consumers’ receptivity to the new way of purchasing vehicles? Business Development Center trainer and guru David Kain—who says he and his siblings were helping close car deals while they were still in diapers—shares his wisdom on how to connect with your customers on a more authentic and human level by evolving your Business Development Center into a Business Development Culture.

AutoFi flower iconAt most dealerships, the BDC handles inbound leads and phone calls and sets appointments for the salespeople. Internet departments manage digital retail. Essentially, these two groups worked in siloes. But, as Kain points out, in today’s virtual environment, forward-thinking dealers are dissolving these boundaries. That means dealers have a golden opportunity to expand the role of the BDC and build trust and transparency with the customer like never before.

During the pandemic and beyond, the BDC’s responsibilities will include going out and meeting people in the community and participating in social media. In a word, it’s all about getting to know your customers as people.

AutoFi laptop icon, chatting onlineKain maintains that building a true Business Development Culture starts at the top, with the leadership of the organization. The dealer principal needs to chart the course and present his or her team with a new vision of selling, where creating a remarkable customer experience is the new brand. A martial arts aficionado, Kain suggests that, by using the energy of the customer and reflecting it back to them in a warm and welcoming manner, dealerships can accomplish way more than the traditional scripted or templated approach to selling.

So how do you cultivate human-to-human relationships with customers? It’s actually easy, says Kain. Slow down. Care more. Talk less. Listen carefully. There’s an old adage in sales: “Customers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And this matters even more during COVID-19 when customers are worried about their jobs, health, and family. If we don’t listen to them, we’ll lose them.

AutoFi heart iconHere are some of Kain’s key recommendations:

  • Don’t get hung up on vehicle availability. First and foremost, get to know the customer. Find out about their concerns, their families, their car buying history, and what purpose the vehicle serves for them. Second, research the source of the lead. Did the customer come to you via Carfax, Autotrader, or your dealership’s website? Make sure you understand what they are looking for. And if you can’t get ahold of the exact model they want, don’t be afraid to suggest a substitute vehicle—perhaps one that’s less expensive. Your customer will be much more open to suggestions after you get to know them.
  • Do a digital field trip: Go to the lead source and visit the site. Once you recognize your customer’s expectations, you can get on the same page with the customer and tailor your approach accordingly.
  • If you’re in management or a leadership position, study the trends and share your learnings with your team (like AutoFi stats). Inform your people about all the good things that are happening (like how many cars were sold through the digital platform), and your team will catch the fever. Kain stresses that daily meetings, where you acknowledge the challenges but emphasize positive news, will help your team members become optimistic—in a realistic way—about the future when shelter-in-place restrictions are eased.  
  • At the sales level, focus on building relationships and not just selling all the time. Build a database of customers and make notes in your CRM, including their interests, photos of cars they have bought, their kids’ names, and other personal details. Make sure you add your customers’ information to your smartphone for easy access. And set up Instagram and Facebook social media accounts. A recent statistic reveals that 78% of salespeople who are active on Facebook outsell their peers.
  • Train, train, train. Learn the fundamentals of digital retailing. Get familiar with digital technologies that will help support your sales effort. And do role play with your team on Zoom.

Successful dealers are encouraging activity. They are keeping the momentum going and positioning themselves to capitalize on this groundwork in the near future. Kain offers up this simple aphorism: “The more busy work I do, the more ‘business’ I get.” So what are you waiting for? 


View the Remote Selling – Road to the Sale webinar on demand, and join us for the AutoFi Remote Selling & Social Distancing Series, every Tuesday, 9:00 AM Pacific through May 5, 2020.


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* Caveat: As always, I urge you to check with your local and state Dealers Association to ensure you are operating within current guidelines.