The changing role of car dealers: confessions of an automotive online expert

Someone who started his journey as a car salesman, moved to different retail manager roles to eventually use his insider experience as a trainer, consultant and writer is surely the most interesting person to ask when it comes to the changing role of car dealers, as part of our expert series.

Joe Webb, founder and president of US consulting firm DealerKnows is often recognized as 'the funniest person in the car business', yet the insights he has shared about the changing challenges of car sales should be taken seriously by all automotive companies.

Read his confession and golden advice below:

What sets a good car sales experience apart?

'I despise buying cars. Yet, I work in the industry.

"It is very sad for me to say that I have never had a great time buying any vehicle."

As a matter of fact, because of my involvement in the industry, it only highlights the sheer inefficiencies I’ve endured when car shopping. Alas, I will happily share some of the few (and far between) finer moments I’ve had.

I once sold myself a car.

Yes. While working at a dealership, I found the vehicle I desired, ordered it, wrote up the paperwork, and placed the deposit. Just to make sure everything was above board, I had the General Manager sign off and approve the deal (so they didn’t think I was costing them money).

Before signing, I looked over the paperwork that I myself wrote up and was still second-guessing myself, asking, “Am I somehow screwing myself?”

"Even I didn’t trust myself. That is the nature of car sales."

In the end, everything went as planned and it is probably the least stressful way I’ve ever purchased an automobile.

The only other highlight I can say that I experienced was when my wife was in need of her last (and current) car. She had decided upon a Mercedes Benz.

I told her that I would prefer she perform all of her own research, land herself on the model she wanted, and advised her to contact the dealers through email in an effort to extract Internet pricing on the right vehicle once she found it.

After she had collected the different pricing, I’d step in, look over it to ensure it was a good deal, and we’d go in to pick up the unit.

This was very easy for me.

Eventually, she finished her research phase and shared with me all of the ups and downs that occurred.

She was disappointed with many of the conversations she had while contacting dealers, but one representative from a store was by far the most transparent and accommodating. I looked over the numbers, felt it was a reasonable deal, and we went in to pick up the vehicle.

When we arrived, it turns out the person that had impressed my wife with his communication all along was someone I had trained in the art of lead management a few years before. I never knew he was at a Mercedes Benz dealer.

"But it validated me in the fact that my sales methods could also work on my wife in a retail environment."

He had our best interests at heart, and short of some back-and-forth in the finance office, my wife got her car. That was a relatively painless and simple experience.

"Over the years, I’ve bought several vehicles. I’ve had salespeople play endless pricing and payment games with me."

I’ve been handed keys and told to take a car for a spin alone (even though I was new to the area, the sales rep never asked me my name, or asked for my license). Had I been less honest, I could have driven off with a new vehicle free-of-charge.

When visiting dealers over the years while shopping for automobiles, I’ve been lied to, ignored, harassed, bait-and-switched, spoken to rudely, and pressured. Some of them even knew I was in the industry.

"It is just a sad stereotype that some dealers prefer not change."

Thankfully, dealers are beginning to wise up.

They are becoming more transparent with their pricing online. They are attempting to do business the right way, asking for a fair deal from both parties, offering quality service without upselling, and legitimately taking their clients’ needs into consideration to move a unit.

In the end, I suppose I haven’t been fortunate enough to be greeted by many of these upstanding folks during my personal shopping experiences, but I know they’re out there because I work with their organizations every day.'

What do customers expect from car dealers in 2015?

"In 2015 and beyond, consumers, in my opinion, aren’t looking for a car salesman or salesperson."

They want an automotive retail professional. They want someone who speeds up the transaction for them rather than trying to slow it down.

They don’t want someone to sell them a car; they want someone who will get out of their way so they can buy a car.

The information age has placed the power back in the hands of the consumer and dealers are recognizing that if the sales transaction is going to remain on the showroom floor rather than online, they’ll need to deliver a better customer experience everywhere.'

"Vehicle ownership may be a necessity for many, so the auto sales industry must finally come to the realization that people love buying, but hate to be sold."

About Joe Webb:

Joe Webb is the founder of DealerKnows: a recognized and energetic consultant, trainer and writer in love with everything automotive, internet sales and digital marketing. Starting as a salesman himself back in the day, he has witnessed how digital is changing automotive retail and dealerships. Now his goal is to 'deliver real-world, no-nonsense expertise to better the culture of car sales'.

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Hungry for more insights? Watch our video interview with Lauren Fix, the Car Coach of USA as part of our expert series.

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