Selling Cars Online or Offline: Okay, Where Do I Start To Create a Great In-Store Experience?


For dealers who’ve successfully conducted business the same way for decades, I can understand that (A) Some of you still don’t buy in to the whole “better customer experience” thing; or (B) Those who do buy in may have no idea how or where to start creating this better experience.

If you still don’t buy in, all I can say is good luck. Enjoy rising or falling with the market. Enjoy the turnover that you’ve enjoyed for decades. Enjoy tightening margins and the 4+ hour “grindfests” you and your customers loathe. You will still make money (as you always have) for the near term, you just won’t be growing share or making as much as you could.

For those ready to change, but who just don’t know where or how to start, let’s begin by getting beyond the built-in roadblocks your managers will throw at the notion of a great buying experience.  Things like, “But, statistics from this old-school sales trainer taught us that if we take three or more hours to close a deal, we close more deals.”

This data (which still gets shared today on sites like LinkedIn) was relevant in the pre-internet days; when the customer leaned on the dealership to provide Value, Relevancy and Authenticity (more on these three later); when they needed (and appreciated) a needs analysis; when they wanted help with product selection; when your full feature presentation meant something.

As we learned in The Traditional Up, today’s Up has already done their own needs analysis, product selection and feature presentation… now, they just want someone to sell them a vehicle. Today’s Up wants the deal done in under an hour (and they overwhelmingly hate the typical road-to-the-sale).

No Shortcuts

Of course, some old-school sales managers will tell you “If we shortcut the road-to-the-sale, we’ll shortcut our profits.”

Clever. Even true… if a shortened road-to-the-sale was actually a shortcut; it’s not. Shortening the road-to-the-sale is merely about creating an efficient process that customers will love. Of course, the reason that we need a shortened road to the sale is the buyer already has all the information.

The Sonic One experience of one person, one price, one hour doesn’t shortcut a thing; it merely recognizes that the Up most often arrives on our lot ready for the demo drive. Understanding this, they don’t make the prospect retrace steps they’ve already completed. Moreover, the Sonic One process eliminates the long, clunky hand-off to F&I (thus reducing a major point of friction for customers).

Everyone’s Online; So Why Fix Our Offline Processes?

Virtually all shoppers are virtual, right? Virtually everyone hates the dealership experience, right?

Absolutely! But, as we already learned, they still want to shop… so let’s make them want to shop with you.

A recent study from DrivingSales showed that 61% of today’s buyers make no contact with you before they arrive. No contact, despite the all the opportunities they’ve been presented to submit a lead or pick up the phone or chat with your team.

Surely, as great online car buying options like AutoFi grow, the percentage of traditional Ups is going to be reduced; but to what? 51%? 41%? Whatever happens with online buying over the next few years, the 100% in-store experience is still going to be an important chunk of your business. That’s precisely why we’ve got to fix this.

So, if we agree that we need to change our old-school road-to-the-sale, and that changing won’t destroy our business, the next step is to proceed… without fear.

Next up in the series: What Does an Efficient Road-to-the-Sale Look Like?

(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