The Cultural Shift Required From Car Dealerships

  • by Steve Phillip
  • 28 Mar, 2017

How Creating A Social Media Culture Will Secure Future Business 

Group of people pulling a social media banner toward them
Your Social Media Strategy Needs Your Team To Pull Together
In my recent post The Demise And Rise Of The Car Dealership , I examined the changing face of the new car buyer and stressed the importance of automotive retailers building online communities to engage with their customers, if they expect to still be in existence in years to come.

The retail experience, at the majority of car dealerships, has changed little in decades and falls well short of customers’ expectations. It’s little wonder then, that so many customers prefer going to the dentist than entering a car showroom . Something has to change and the industry has a tool at its disposal that will go a considerable way to winning over new customers and securing the future of the car dealership.

The future of retail is not going to be about simply selling more products, instead it will come from encouraging customers to engage with the buying process because they know, like and trust your brand and your dealership’s employees – you must first make them ‘ raving fans’ .

Imagine a future, where your salespeople keep in touch with their customers, throughout their ownership cycle, even becoming friends with them and your customers become your best ambassadors, regularly sharing your news, offers and product launches with their friends and families. What would happen if your customers bought into ‘Brand You’, as much, if not more than they do with the manufacturers’ you represent?
Trust Keys On PC Desktop
Building Customer Loyalty Using Social Media
Embrace Change And Secure Your Future

Back in 1992, I was franchise manager for a subsidiary of General Motors called Saturn. We sold new cars at full ‘sticker price’ and gave customers ‘market value’ for their part exchange. We befriended customers in a way that no other dealerships were able and on one occasion our 2 retail sites experienced more than 300 Saturn owners converging at Winnipeg airport to join us for a barbeque and to watch the Apollo 13 movie in an aircraft hanger – it was Field Of Dreams stuff without the baseball players.

If you are of a certain age, then you will be familiar with the story of a this wholly owned but autonomous GM venture, which revolutionised the car buying experience in North America but which ultimately, was always destined to fail because senior GM leaders couldn’t see the benefits of new ways of doing things and a new kind of organizational culture.

Will you and your automotive business follow a similar pathway or are you prepared to embrace change in a way that GM’s leaders were unable and recognise that your business needs to become social first, sales focused second?

Embrace The Social Revolution 

79% of car buyers research their new car online before visiting a retailer. 84% of buyers will use their smart phones to locate their local car dealership. 70% of Twitter users expect a response from a dealership within an hour and sooner if they have a complaint. Facebook users exceed 1.8 billion, with more than 70% of the company’s revenue coming from mobile advertising and by 2018 it is estimated that there will be more than 2.8 billion social media users globally .

Whether you choose to embrace social media as a key influential marketing channel for your dealership, make no mistake that your customers are already making this decision for you and whether they’re aged 15 or 115 they are using social media in their millions.

How do you build a community of raving fans online? Well, you don’t do it by regularly posting images of cars displaying For Sale prices. This is old school, neolithic marketing and relies on 2 main strategies; he who shouts loudest or/and who can give away the best deal (discount).

Business today has to be competitive, your customers still want and expect a good deal but the discount they receive today will soon be forgotten if it’s replaced by average or poor service tomorrow. Your customers need to know you care. People buy from people, nothing has changed in this respect – they need to know who you are and what you stand for, they want to like you and above all else they need to know they can trust you. These traits have been engrained in great salespeople for centuries.
Joe Gerard Built Loyalty By Being Social
Consider Joe Gerard , arguably one of the most successful car salespeople of this generation, who sold more than 13000 cars, at a Chevrolet dealership, between 1963 and 1978 and was recognised by the Guinness Book Of World Records. Joe generated huge amounts of customer loyalty, with greetings cards being one of his key secrets to success. He knew the importance of being social.

In more recent years and although not inducted into any hall of fame (as yet), is the story of Laura Madison , a salesperson at a Toyota retailer in the US. Laura regularly handed out her own personal mobile number and not the dealership’s to prospects and customers and used unorthodox techniques on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest to build referrals and huge amounts of customer loyalty.

Laura would spend $200 per month to host her own website, to which she downloaded the dealership’s car inventory. She would post blogs and useful and helpful advice for her customers. When she started at the dealership in 2011, her approach was considered so out there that she did not meet with much approval from her team mates or management either. However, as her results began to speak for themselves and the dealership saw significant increases in its monthly sales and customer retention rates, attitudes soon changed and management began to adopt some of Laura’s approaches into the rest of the team. Laura has since left the dealership to take up a position as National Director of Sales for a very successful automotive training company.
Reassessing Your Social Media Culture

Your dealership has probably been using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms for a while now. You perhaps have a marketing person or two, who dutifully post the manufacturer’s or your group’s content on these sites. The reality however, is that you see very little in return; engagement levels are at best pitiful and no one in marketing has provided you with any evidence that it’s worth you spending time and money on social media.

You must reassess your social media strategy and do so now! You need to stop posting images of cars with prices on and photos of Mr & Mrs Smith, standing next to a salesperson, as they take delivery of their new car, whilst maintaining an awkward pose, knowing they’re about to become famous on Facebook. Sadly, Mr & Mrs Smith are not on Facebook, so you can’t tag them and the rest of your Facebook fans don’t really care who Mr & Mrs Smith are!

Before you start changing your social media content, you need to alter your culture. You need to embrace a social first, sales second attitude to this ‘new’ technology. Competitions, quizzes, helpful driving guides, video pitch walks, customer stories, all have a place to play in your social revolution but more importantly will be your decision to open up the use of social media to your individual sales and aftersales team members. You need to trust them, through good guidance and a clear social media policy and training to promote your brand in a way that would historically have cost you thousands in advertising fees.

What will social media enable you to achieve if it’s done well? You will be able to promote your brand, your culture and your business to your customers' friends and families and build Joe Gerard and Laura Madison type loyalty on a viral scale. The challenge is, are you prepared to begin to lay these foundations now and in doing so, secure your future or will you wake up one day and wonder what happened?!
In my next post, I will be sharing with you how you begin to lay the foundations of cultural change that will enable you to build a secure social media marketing foundation for the future. This post will be of interest if you want to be one of those dealerships that rises above the rest, whilst others seal their own demise by sticking with old school ways of promoting their brand.

Many thanks for viewing my post. Please share it with anyone you feel would benefit from the information provided.

If you have any private questions on the subject matter you can connect with me on LinkedIn and send me a message, or else you’ll find my contact details on my LinkedIn profile . You can also follow me on Twitter at


Steve Phillip spent more than 18 years in the retail automotive sector, in the UK and the North America, running new car dealerships and almost 10 years in automotive consultancy roles, working with manufacturers such as Austin Rover, Saab, Volvo, Honda, General Motors/Saturn and various dealer groups.

Photo of Steve Phillip Founder of Linked2Success
Steve Phillip LinkedIn And Social Media Training Expert Since 2009
by Steve Phillip 12 Jun, 2017

I got cross this week, mainly cross with myself I must say. On Thursday, I'd set some time aside, late in the day, to carry out my usual LinkedIn and social selling activities, when I received a scheduled call from a client.

I’d kind of expected the call to last 15 minutes or so and when, 45 minutes later, we were still talking, I began to realise that my social selling window had rapidly diminished.

After 20 minutes, I knew I’d missed the boat, as far as engaging with my network for that day was concerned and I   was   cross for 2 reasons; one because I knew I was clock watching and after 20 minutes or so, not giving my client the full attention he deserved and 2, because I knew that I should not have left my social selling activity until the last job of the day!

by Steve Phillip 29 May, 2017
Have you ever found yourself thinking   "I'd like to send that person a LinkedIn connection request"   and instead, you hesitate and think better of it? Are there moments when you want to leave a comment on someone else's post but a mild level of stress builds up inside and you quickly move your fingers away from the keyboard? Do you have some great insight that you'd like to share with your LinkedIn network but the very thought of posting an update, let alone writing an article, fills you with dread? If you experience any of these traits, then welcome to Parapet Syndrome!

'Putting your head over the parapet' is a term with various definitions, some of which include:   to do something that may cause people to criticise you; to be brave enough to state an opinion that might upset someone; to do or say something you think is important even though it may have bad results.   Each of these examples involve taking a risk, where the outcome could be a level of physical or mental pain for person sticking their head over the parapet.

by Steve Phillip 15 May, 2017
In the new age of social selling, if you keep on doing what you've always done, you will not achieve what you used to get.

There are few things that annoy me more than a cold call, which interrupts my morning, my routine, my thought process and my equilibrium. You'd think by now that I would be disciplined enough not to answer such a call, especially when I'm in the middle of doing something 'important' but no, like you possibly, I kid myself that this unrecognised number could be my next most valuable client. Of course it isn't - instead it's Mike from an insurance company asking me if I have time to discuss my options for health cover.

After 2 minutes of Mike trying to convince me to spend "just 10 minutes" with him on the phone to discuss how I might protect myself and my loved ones from the devastating consequences of leaving my health to chance, I manage to release myself from our call and attempt to get my head back into the business proposal I was writing before Mike intruded on my time.
by Steve Phillip 02 May, 2017

If you’re reading this post, the chances are you’re a parent, with a child or children who attend school and if you’re not, then you probably know someone who is. If you are a teacher then you're probably wondering why I'm providing parents with advice about how to criticise you? If so, then please read on and be reassured.

Rarely, these days, does a week go by, when we don’t hear coverage on the news about cases of online bullying. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this phenomenon, tagged as ‘cyberbullying’, is mainly aimed at children, such as the tragic story of 14 year old Megan Evans , from Millford Haven, who, in February 2017, was driven to take her own life, following a consistent campaign of cyber-bullying on the social media site Snapchat.

Such stories are particularly heart breaking when they involve children. Equally concerning though is the increase with which teachers are on the receiving end of similar bullying and abuse and often from the parents of the children they teach.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) receives hundreds of calls every week from teachers who are being ‘cyberbullied’ The majority of such complaints are about parents using websites and social media, in particular, to attack those they entrust with their childrens’ education.

This week, the media has emphasised the problem of inappropriate online posts by singling out some of the top web and social media sites for failing to do enough to prevent illegal and hateful content being shared online.

by Steve Phillip 24 Apr, 2017
Are you exhibiting at a business market in the coming weeks? Perhaps you've organised your own conference or seminar and you're keen to ensure you achieve a high level of quality attendees?  Such events are great opportunities to network, attract new customers or partners and do business but only if you've prepared adequately.

Over the years, I've exhibited and been a keynote speaker at many business markets and conferences but it never fails to amaze me how so often companies fail to maximise their involvement at these events. Whenever I exhibit or speak, I never turn up without first letting the world and her dog know that I’m going to be there.

I’m always surprised when event organisers email to thank me for frequently tweeting my attendance at their event. Often I’m provided with a database of registered attendees and again, the organisers thank me for sending out an email to let these contacts know where they can find me on the day and in the process, of course, I end up indirectly promoting the entire event.
by Steve Phillip 12 Apr, 2017
One of the most common questions I'm asked is, "How much time do you spend on LinkedIn each day?" I soon see through this inquisitive probing of my own personal LinkedIn habits and recognise that what the questioner is really wanting the answer to is, "How much time will I have to spend on LinkedIn to win new business because, actually, I'm very busy doing all kinds of other important stuff ?"
by Steve Phillip 30 Mar, 2017
Should you have a LinkedIn company page, what are the benefits? This particular aspect of LinkedIn is one I receive a lot of communications about. For many members, it seems that LinkedIn company pages are somewhat of an inigma; "what are they for, how do I use them, do I need one?"
by Steve Phillip 28 Mar, 2017
In my recent post The Demise And Rise Of The Car Dealership , I examined the changing face of the new car buyer and stressed the importance of automotive retailers building online communities to engage with their customers, if they expect to still be in existence in years to come.

The retail experience, at the majority of car dealerships, has changed little in decades and falls well short of customers’ expectations. It’s little wonder then, that so many customers prefer going to the dentist than entering a car showroom . Something has to change and the industry has a tool at its disposal that will go a considerable way to winning over new customers and securing the future of the car dealership.

The future of retail is not going to be about simply selling more products, instead it will come from encouraging customers to engage with the buying process because they know, like and trust your brand and your dealership’s employees – you must first make them ‘ raving fans’ .

Imagine a future, where your salespeople keep in touch with their customers, throughout their ownership cycle, even becoming friends with them and your customers become your best ambassadors, regularly sharing your news, offers and product launches with their friends and families. What would happen if your customers bought into ‘Brand You’, as much, if not more than they do with the manufacturers’ you represent?
by Steve Phillip 23 Mar, 2017
If I see another comment or post from a LinkedIn user whinging about the new user interface or that LinkedIn needs to get their act together because it's a shambles since the new look platform arrived, I'll personally disconnect the accounts of those users (not sure how but I'm sure I'll find a way)!

Complaining about LinkedIn this way is like constantly moaning about the state of the world we live in, whilst forgetting to live a life or taking strides to make the situation better. 

LinkedIn is not the perfect platform, its new user interface is buggy, certain functions don't,  it's takes a few more seconds to load pages (anyone remember dial-up internet access?!) and THEY'VE STOLEN ALL MY BELOVED FREE FEATURES!

Free features? Did someone say free?!

What Does LinkedIn Offer You For Free?

Well let's ask James, a client of mine who emailed me this week and told me how he had been responding to posts requesting information and support rather than simply indirect selling or marketing to his LinkedIn network and how this approach continues to pay dividends. He provided two examples: "A colleague sent me a link to a post requesting some information on storage solutions. I responded immediately and also called to introduce myself and the solutions I could offer. The post was only 4hrs old but within this time the company had already received information from another supplier and placed the order! Unfortunately I just missed out on this opportunity but it demonstrates how effective the platform can be. The MD of this company, with just a single post, must have saved hours of searching around for potential suppliers."

James had some better news however; "Scrolling through posts yesterday evening instead of the TV channels, I came across a similar request reaching out for info. I immediately drafted an email on the mobile (as it was late) and made contact by email and phoned first thing this morning to qualify their requirements. I quoted this afternoon and arranged for the customer to visit to our site on Monday to collect some samples for trial.   Like most things in life, with positivity and persistence good things will come your way, eventually!"

I'd like you take note of the final line from James's comments; "Like most things in life, with positivity and persistence, good things will come your way, eventually!". If you're expecting to surf LinkedIn once in a blue moon, send out an occasional invitation to connect or randomly like and comment on a few posts and that new customers will somehow come a knocking at you door, well welcome to the real world!

In the UK, only 2 out of 10 invitations to connect will result in an acceptance (at Linked2Success we achieve between 45-65%). If you don't have a daily plan to allocate at least half an hour per day to specific activities on LinkedIn then why are you expecting to achieve results?

Man Without Facebook Page Lands His Biggest Client To Date.

I had a fascinating conversation this week with a prospective client, who, earlier in the week, had invited me to connect with him on LinkedIn. Following a couple of back and forth messages, we arranged to speak on the phone. Richard explained how he had recently set up his own manufacturing business and had been highly sceptical of social media - he doesn't even have a Facebook account (imagine that!!).  "I set up a profile for my company and even created one for my wife's new business. I then began sharing some posts and started making connections with relevant contacts. I also learnt the importance of sharing striking images on social media and one of my wife's LinkedIn posts has so far achieved more than 50,000 views! The most surprising thing though, has been that I've won new clients for my business, in fact our biggest client to date came from LinkedIn." 

Since January this year, I have personally secured a training contract with a UK automotive manufacturer and delivered several workshops for them. I'm currently involved in similar discussions with another European  motor company. Both of these opportunities came from posts I had shared but more importantly, from the subsequent conversations I had with individuals who left comments on my posts. One of these online conversations went on for weeks, all contained within LinkedIn. In fact, I have yet to speak with this individual on the phone, let alone meet but our conversations continue to thrive built upon the principles of know, like and trust.

Was I lucky to uncover these opportunities? Definitely not! I plan to meet people like this on LinkedIn. I don't always know who the specific contact will be, I just know the type of person I want to attract.

by Steve Phillip 19 Mar, 2017
"Daddy, tell me again, people actually used to drive cars themselves.....why?"

In my life time and therefore yours, driverless cars will become the norm. Salespeople will no longer take customers on test drives, finding a convenient location to handover the keys, watching attentively as the customer struggles to master the unfamiliar stick-shift (yes, my Stateside friends, we still favour fumbling with a manual gear shifter here in the UK), where reverse gear has inexplicably moved from top left to bottom right of the gear knob.

Imagine a situation, where a device, worn on the wrist or woven into clothing allows car owners to summon their vehicle, hop in and through voice activation, input their destination and then sit back for the ride, whilst checking their latest social media updates. Science fiction, a world from another century? I'm afraid not, these days have already arrived. 

Uber is at an advanced stage of driverless taxi development and Google already has driverless prototypes on the road in California. Some luxury carmakers are already fitting autopilots to their vehicles to help owners handle motorway traffic. Sure there is still a way to go, before driverless vehicles become a natural replacement for the human driver and the technology still has to be proven as a completely safe method of transport, as Tesla's very public crash of one of their vehicles demonstrates. Then there are the unknown factors, driverless technology has to cope with, such as temporary traffic lights or a school crossing warden (lollipop person), suddenly halting your progress.

The Real Challenge For Today's Car Dealership Is Already Here Though

Before you start worrying about cancelling your current driver-required vehicle consignments, there is a more pressing issue you should be considering, if you are a Dealer Principal or the director of an automotive group and that is, where will your future customers come from and are your employees suitably equipped to attract and retain them?

In the past month, I've spoken with 2 friends who shared, in a highly exasperated manner, their experiences of buying a car from a retail dealership. One told me how he'd done all his research online and with the exception of one or two specific questions, he was ready to buy. For the first 20 minutes of his showroom visit however, Angus was on the receiving end of the diligent salesperson's qualifying process; "what are you intending to use the car for sir?", "who else will be driving the vehicle?". It didn't take long for my friend to vent his frustration and ask;   "just tell me, how do I buy this car?!"

Then there's my pal David, who spent last weekend, with his wife and children, looking for a car and on two occasions experienced exactly the same scenario. Once again, having researched various car options online, David was certain which vehicle he wanted to buy, he also explained to the salespeople he met that he had the finance in place and was ready to do the deal.  Within 5 minutes of explaining his requirements to the salesperson, he was introduced to the business manager, who then proceeded to explain the FCA regulations and presented the options of paint protection and gap insurance. When David explained he didn't require this information and that they had the finance in place, the response was "I'm required legally to explain this information to you sir". 

Despite the significant steps taken by many automotive manufacturers and dealers to promote a more friendly and trustworthy car buying experience for the customer, it seems that many are delivering quite the opposite. It would appear that little has changed in the past 50 years, as customers are passed from sales, to the business centre, to aftersales, all of whom appear to have their own agenda and require the customer to build trust with a new individual, with each transaction, whilst the salesperson moves on to his or her next new customer.

The Modern Customer's Retail Experience Online Needs To Be Mirrored When They Visit Your Dealership

Today's car buyer, millennials in particular, demand transparency and to feel that they can trust the people they intend to buy from. They need the purchasing experience to be simple, efficient and quick. In 2015, Auto Trader published a white paper " It's About Time: Streamlining In-Store Processes to Improve the Customer Experience ".  The main highlights of this paper showed that the average time it takes to complete the new car qualification and sales process is nearly 53 minutes  - more than half the amount of time a customer ideally wants to spend in total buying a car. Add to this the average of 21 minutes, to a maximum of 41 minutes, it can take to negotiate the deal, then an average of 43 minutes to go through the vehicle appraisal procedures and 61 minutes to be on the receiving end of the F&I process, then in our time challenged world, you can perhaps understand the trepidation many customers feel before entering a car dealership and the sense of sheer exhaustion they probably experience by the time they leave.  

Auto Trader's study concludes by showing that customer satisfaction is at its highest in the first 90 minutes of their visit to your dealership and then goes on a downward spiral from that point. If your customer spends more than 2.5 hours involved in buying a car, then their level of customer satisfaction drops below buyers' average customer satisfaction scores. The answer then, would seem to be that your dealership must effectively satisfy the customer's needs when they engage with you online, whilst finding ways to reduce the amount of time they have to spend in your dealership - you must therefore become brilliant at building relationships online and offline.

How Do You Build More Trust With Customers And Where Does Social Media Fit?   

As we move toward the end of the second decade of this new millennium, evidence suggests that customers' retail experiences are largely being shaped online, with 79% researching their vehicle options via Google and social media sites before approaching your dealership. Virtually all the information your customers require to enable them to make their purchasing decision and often facilitate the purchase itself, is available on the web. As just one example, customers can now use their mobile phones to compare what other buyers have paid for similar models, through information compiled by data gathering websites and at the click of a button the customer is then connected to the dealer who is offering the most competitive price. Increasingly new car buyers are sitting at home, undertaking their new vehicle purchase online with a salesperson they haven't ever met.

More than 4000 car shoppers took part in another study by Auto, the outcome of which identified that 56 percent of those surveyed preferred to initiate their car buying process online and complete the financial transaction this way also.  Auto Trader examined the emerging buying behaviours of customers and discovered that over two-thirds of motorists are searching for a new car online between 6-9pm and 57% of these expect a response from a dealership they enquire of within 4 hours - is your dealership geared up to listen out and respond within this kind of time frame and at that time of day? If you're not, you will lose these customers to a more socially savvy competitor. Other studies indicate that 7 out of 8 brands actually fail to respond to online customer requests within 72 hours and yet 900 million complaints are made using Twitter every year.

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