Running in Place or Running to Win?

Tinker Haven Hatfield is famous among sneaker enthusiasts known affectionately as “Sneakerheads.” Tinker’s engineering work for Nike has revolutionized movement, running, and professional athletic performance. When you compare the sneakers of the past to one his radical Air Jordan designs, it is a lesson in the way futuristic thinking and innovative technologies improve fundamental behaviors and activities…like running.

When you consider everything required of you to run your dealership, you’re either running in place or running to win by embracing the future.

For those anticipating (with dread) the virtual dealership, many hadn’t noticed the sun setting on their empires. Predictions of future customer-engagement and the reality of virtual car sales are now a proven process – practical and profitable for those running to win. This disruptive technology has taken root and those willing to look at their fundamental behaviors with an innovative lens are going to have an advantage.

This isn’t just me saying this. Futurist Jim Carroll, in a 2015 speech, “25 Trends for 2025,” summed up some interesting insights:

  • In 2005, FacebookTM was used mostly by college-aged people
  • Google MapsTM mapping service was new
  • TwitterTM wasn’t yet
  • Autonomous vehicles weren’t on most people’s horizons, and drones were still bees

“And as always,” Carroll said, “most people weren’t really thinking about the future in 2005 [or 2018, for that matter – author note]. The result is that most predictions about the future are often treated as ridiculous, comical, or viewed as based on too much science fiction.”

Ring true?

In its 2010 report, “Intuit 2020 Report: Twenty Trends That Will Shape the Next Decade,” Intuit predicted, “The balance of power will shift from the business to the marketplace as customers grow more informed about products and services. With this shift from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ marketing, companies won’t find customers, their customers will find them.”

Sound familiar?

“The use of social and mobile networks and technologies will possess greater utility…business[es] will be redefined in how they create value and compete and will help consumers…anticipate and guide decision making and risk management,” Intuit’s report added.

How connected are you?

How you cope and thrive in the car business over the next decade will challenge the best – but isn’t chaos the medium in which car dealers excel? Yes, the future is different – and yes, isn’t the future now?

Subscription transportation services, ride-share, and autonomous pods. Fewer customers and fewer sales. A business where 90% of car buyers will transact and complete the deal online, with little or no human interaction.  Home delivery. Downsized showrooms. Chatbots and virtual reality. A service department transformed by vehicles driven by electric propulsion and braking systems will have fewer parts to repair, replace, and maintain.

Those innovators who enter the automotive business without having to unlearn the legacy processes will create the disruptive practices that we have to contend with, assimilate to, or yield to!

Until we realize this, the showroom will continue to operate as it has. Customers (some) will still prefer to touch the metal and enjoy the new-car smell, sit with a sales associate to work the deal, visit F&I for finance and lease options, and hear aftermarket presentations void of depth and conviction.

Soon, maybe sooner than expected, you’ll reminisce about the old days, such as 2018, when there was an entire office dedicated to F&I. A virtual showroom will replace the physical one, with just enough square footage for a real model or two for those who still want to touch and test drive. Most consumers will prefer to shop and buy online, taking test drives using multi-sensory virtual-reality devices from their living rooms. Perhaps they’ll sign the deal with a touch of a thumbprint to a smartphone-like device attached to their wrist. Within a few hours, the purchase drives itself to their residence.

Autotrader recently announced a significant upgrade to its platform, adding online deal-making functionality.  That sounds like big news, but is it?  Pundits have been predicting that online car buying would be a reality by 2019 for several years now, and vendors have been helping dealers get ready by promoting an array of digital online and in-store consumer-engagement tools to help target buyers by lifestyle, interests, and need.

In a 2015 article I wrote for Dealer Marketing Magazine, I listed several actions to help dealers get ready for their future. Here is an updated list – how many have you embraced?

  1. Disrupt: Now’s the time to disrupt the status quo. Can customers engage with and buy from your dealership without stepping into your showroom? Are your finance and aftermarket options incorporated into the deal flow, beginning online and up-funnel?
  2. Learn: Leverage the technology and talent behind vendors. Take advantage of what they offer so you can fight margin compression more successfully – and so you deliver a seamless and engaging experience, online and in the showroom.
  3. Develop: Train, train, and train some more. Develop product experts for your vehicles and your aftermarket products. While customers come loaded with information, train your specialists to ask the questions that deliver the products’ value story that customers need to hear.
  4. Embrace:  I am often amazed at the number of dealerships still using old F&I techniques and paperwork, when studies show they cost the dealership opportunity and money. Therefore, this last point is a plea to bring your dealership up to current-day best practices by incorporating e-menu, e-rating, e-contracting, and e-registration into your F&I. Technology helps provide a more compliant F&I process that consumers appreciate. It can also lead to improved PVR and product penetration.

Just as Nike set out to transform human performance with Tinker Hatfield’s disruptive technology, innovative F&I services, connected experiences, and intelligent tools are creating new consumer behaviors and taking automotive retail beyond the boundaries of today’s industry. Run, don’t walk, if you want to stay in the race.