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The Future of Car Sales: 7 Ways XM Can Improve the Handoff Across Channels

You may have heard that the future is already here, it’s just not distributed evenly – that’s certainly the case with the future of car sales. Some firms within the industry are already well in advance of their more traditional rivals. One of the primary tools they use to maintain that lead is experiential marketing (XM) technology that fluidly connects online and offline data to improve the consumer experience.

Customers today switch frequently between and among online and offline channels. That’s especially true in the auto industry, where the feel, smell and emotional charge of a car are essential components of the purchase decision. People have personal relationships with their cars that are just not comparable to anything else they buy except their homes.

Watch our latest webinar, "The Future of Experiential & Events: How Top OEMs  Leverage Digital To Impact Engagement & Bottom-Line Results," and learn what  major brands like Cadillac and GM are doing to deliver a rich brand experience  and drive sales across tiers. 

That’s why the vast informational resource of the web and the tactile sensations of the dealership interweave, and customers might move between online and offline many times before, during and after the purchase.

Bain & Co.’s research into the future of auto sales found that customers on average shift between different online and offline channels at least four times. They expect their suppliers to know them and remember them, carrying data across those fluid boundaries. They don’t want to keep entering the same info over and over, either on paper or online. The absence of data flow tech is experienced as a brand who doesn’t know and doesn’t care who they are.

Based on data from Bain and other industry insiders, here is a glimpse into the future of auto sales, including 7 consumer buying behaviors that are likely to become the new normal.

  1. About half of auto purchase journeys start online now. The dealership is not the first step. In fact, the consumer is well into the narrowing of options before that point. The percentage of online touchpoints, including email and chat, is already large and on the rise.
  2. Online only purchases are highly unlikely. Customers still need to be in the car physically before they make such an important decision. XM along with software integration to reduce repeat data entry will be crucial elements to differentiating market leaders.
  3. The function of the dealer is changing. Buyers want to do their research in private, but they tend to talk to dealer 2.4 times on average during a single purchase episode. Buyers show a preference for going to the dealer for the final configuration of the car and signing purchase agreements.
  4. Brand loyalty is a complex equation. It’s not so simple for OEMs to hold on to multi-generational customers anymore. Even though 60 percent of buyers already have a precise brand, model and price in mind when they arrive at the dealer, loyalty numbers overall are decreasing as consumers express a willingness to switch for better overall package. Test drives, personalized options, connectedness and excellent service are the top XM factors that can make all the difference.
  5. Trust comes first. The most influential source of information and recommendations are friends, family and colleagues for 44 percent of buyers. Next comes online review, industry influencers, and testing sites for 30 percent of buyers. In third place, only a quarter or so of buyers trust dealers as their primary source of information about the car.
  6. Speed matters. From first search to final purchase, the average buying episode has shrunk down to about nine weeks. Dealers and their partners must engage with prospects earlier to reach new audiences and have a chance at changing their minds.
  7. Leading brands will offer online only purchasing options. Although only 2 percent of buyers today have gone through the entire process online without ever seeing a dealer, that’s about to change. In surveys, two thirds of prospective buyers said they would definitely consider buying online only in the years ahead. Conservatively, Bain estimated that 25 percent will actually follow through with those plans.

Here are four action items to take away from this data in terms of how XM tech can help you deliver on the growing omni-channel sales imperative.

Appeal to buyers in original, memorable ways

Consumers are accustomed to high levels of innovation and personalization at ecommerce sites. Meet and exceed their needs by making better use of customer data. Dealers with giant, traditional lots aren’t generating the excitement or engagement of smaller, pop-up dealers with XM events that put visitors in the drivers seat, either in person or in virtual reality.

Integrate your data flows

Develop a single line of sight into the customer’s needs and expectations. The best way to do that is with XM software that standardizes and normalizes data from various, incompatible systems into a 360 view of the customer. Bridge online and offline channels and reduce data entry to move faster with less errors.

Dig deeper into analytics

Data can’t tell you anything without context. Dealers and OEMs can market more effectively with targeted, customized messaging but that depends on a facility for turning data into information and knowledge into wisdom. Data can tell you if individual customers need a better entertainment system for the kids, better audio for the commute or better headlights for business trips.

Prioritize relationships over sales

The sale is not the end of the customer journey, it’s just a turning point. After the sale, learning to make the most effective use of the car, joining a community of brand advocates and maintaining the car with ease are the building blocks of long-term loyalty. Digital collection is much easier at this point, as it can come from data from the car itself, apps used to control data within the car and social posts buy the customer related to the brand. XM is crucial here both in managing customer data and in keeping them involved in the brand’s digital ecosystem.