Selling Cars Online or Offline: The “Traditional” Up


The buyer we’re most familiar with is often called the “Traditional” Up. I put “Traditional” in quotes because today’s Up is anything but traditional. As we see in the data, today’s Up (unlike the Up from just a few years ago) absolutely knows what they and they have a really good idea what they’re going to pay. (By the way, this does not mean you cannot hold gross with today’s Up, it just means you need to be disciplined in your approach to do so.)

Before they ever step foot on your lot, today’s Ups have done their own needs analysis; they’ve done their own product selection; and they’ve done their own feature presentation. Now they’re really just looking for someone to sell them a car.

To prove this point, a recent study by McKinsey & Company found that today’s buyers visit just an average of 1.6 lots before buying. That’s down from more than five lots per buyer in 2004. Despite this data, the average dealer still only closes about 20% of the Traditional Ups they encounter today. This begs the question: If the average buyer visits just 1.6 lots before buying, how is it 80% of your Ups aren’t buying?

It’s About the Experience

For the average dealer, today’s Up is ready for the demo drive and your road-to-the-sale puts that in Step 5 or 6. This process – which buyers absolutely hate – is inauthentic to consumers and blows out many potential buyers before you ever have a chance to present them your deal. They’ve taken themselves out of the market because your needs analysis feels like an interrogation and your unwillingness to provide process and pricing transparency in your dealership puts them off.

Yes, the ones you win you crush on gross and steal their trades. The trouble is you are only winning one in five. It’s time to improve the experience.

Working to create a better offline car-buying experience is no longer an option. It’s no longer an option if you have any interest in gaining actual share while holding gross and creating customers for life. Today’s buyers have too much information and too many choices on where they can buy their next vehicle to continue to reward those dealers providing the long, clunky five-hour road-to-the-sale.

Carvana Says You Suck

Every startup that plans to “revolutionize” the way America buys cars is attacking you on the experience. In fact, the Carvana commercials even say, “This doesn’t suck;” implying, in no uncertain terms, that it sucks to buy a vehicle from you. The sad part for traditional dealers is that it’s not hard to improve the buying experience. Moreover, when you do make the necessary adjustments, everyone’s job becomes a little easier and you start to make more money immediately.

To achieve the improved offline car-buying experience – that is, create a great customer experience – only requires a couple of changes. It requires a shorted road-to-the-sale and the addition of something called process transparency. Just implementing these two seemingly small changes makes for a great experience.

Not sure you agree? Let’s look at two buying experiences. One that mirrors a typical road-to-the-sale today and one using a shortened process that includes transparency; which do you think your customers would prefer?

BUYING EXPERIENCE A: This one is a four- to five-hour grind where everything is hidden from the buyer throughout. In this process, our sales rep started by taking them through every step of the road-to-the-sale before they began their test drive 38 minutes after arriving.

Once back at the dealership, our salesperson leaves our customer at a table all by themselves while he goes to the desk a few times. The customer doesn’t really know what’s going on and spends the time looking around or using his smartphone to shop us.

Later, assuming they’ve agreed to our fourth pencil, they now have no idea why they’re waiting 45 minutes to get into the business office to give us their money. In their mind, they’ve already bought the car, yet we’re making them wait for whatever reason.

BUYING EXPERIENCE B: In this process we asked the customer what vehicle they wanted to see and had them on their test drive within 15 minutes. We did a quick trade walk with them before the demo drive so that our manager could put together the deal before we returned.

As soon as we returned, our manager had the first pencil ready, including a defensible value for their trade. We handed them an iPad and they self-desked the deal by determining the payment terms they wanted.

While waiting for F&I, they used our iPad to learn about some of the F&I add-ons that were going to be presented in a few minutes. Throughout the entire process, our salesperson never left their side and they were in and out in 90 minutes.

Obviously, scenario “A” is not a great experience for your customers or your sales team. Your customers want speed, they want efficiency and they want to know what’s happening at every step.

This is exactly what we provided in experience “B;” a shortened road-to-the-sale that seemed efficient to the customer and that provided process transparency throughout. Not surprising, but dealers employing the processes in experience “B” close their Traditional Ups at a much higher rate. What might be surprising, is that they earn grosses equal to or better than dealers who grind out a four- to five-hour nightmare known as the road-to-the-sale.

Next up in the series: Okay, Where Do I Start To Create a Great In-Store Experience?

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: It’s About a Great Experience)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at