Originally posted on https://www.autoshopdigital.com/online-consumers-thought-process
While the digital age has brought many positives into our lives, it has also complicated the thought process for consumers, and by extension, the sales process in your auto shop. Gone are the days when a customer would drive by your car yard and make a purchase with you then and there.
These days, your clients are more likely to first encounter you online. Is stands to reason, then, that your businesses’ online presence (or lack thereof) can play a big role in whether or not a customer chooses to purchase a car from you.
Read on as we take a deep dive into the online consumer’s thought process, and take a look at some strategies you can use to make it easy for potential customers to buy from you.
1. Need Recognition
OK, first things first. The purchase cycle typically begins when the customer recognizes a problem they face in their life e.g. they need a car to get to a new job or the tires on the car they do have is bald.
The trick here is to ensure that when that problem or need arises, the customer can easily find your business. One way that businesses are achieving this is by researching both the customer journey and the lifecycle of their own product.
In the automotive industry, it’s worth considering the average lifecycle of cars and associated products as well as looking at industry trends to ensure your digital advertising is on point when customers are searching for you. When is your busiest season? Do customers typically flood into your shop in search of snow tires as the cooler months set in? Use this information to your advantage.
2. Information Search
No stage of the customer purchase process has been altered by the internet more than the search for information. Whereas in the past, customers may have relied on flyers for information or dropped by your showroom to do their research in person, these days the preliminary search almost always happens online. Research shows as many as 86% of car buyers first research products on the web before even setting foot in a dealership.
Below are a few strategies you can leverage to ensure your business is putting its best foot forward and effectively reaching your customers online.
SEO and SEM
While two very different strategies, SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) work hand in hand to ensure customers can easily find your business online. SEO helps potential customers find your website organically through a multi-faceted approach involving web design, regularly posting content and the use of keywords. By focusing on the SEO of your website, you can increase the chances of your site appearing high up in search results on Google and other search engines.
Ever noticed those ads that appear at the very top of search listings? That’s SEM, and chances are, your customers notice them too. SEM involves paying to place an ad for your business at the top of search listings as well as a number of other spots on the web. By combining a solid SEO strategy with SEM, you can put your business directly in front of your target customer at the moment they are searching for you.
Google My Business Page
A complete optimized Google My Business profile is a must-have in 2019 and can be a handy tool to get your customers over the line. Not all customers will navigate to your website. Whether they are time poor or just aren’t tech-savvy, some customers will never make it past Google. For this reason, keeping your Google My Business page up to date is the best way to capture these customers.
In addition to your physical address, your Google My Business profile stores handy information like your opening hours, phone number, and even gives you the ability to make regular social media style “posts” to alert customers to promotions or deals in your business. The best part is, your Google My Business profile shows on search and Google Maps, so it can promote your current deals to customers as they navigate their way to you.
Related: 10 Auto Repair Shop Marketing Ideas
3. Evaluate Alternatives
Once a consumer has recognized a need and done some initial research into their options, they will next continue to evaluate these options to help them make a decision. Below are some key focus areas to help your business put its best foot forward.
Focus on Your Website
In the online sales cycle, the best thing your business can do to ensure you come out on top in this stage is focused on your website.
These days, we know that about 58% of your customers are using their phones to browse websites. For this reason, it’s essential to make your site mobile responsive or risk losing those leads to a competitor.
Instead of stopping here, it’s a good idea to take a good hard look at your site through the eyes of your customer. What information are they looking for? Is it obvious where it is? Is that information easy to navigate to? Is the website intuitive and engaging? If not, switch things up to make your site as customer-friendly as possible.
Once you’ve got your customers on to your website or social media platforms, the battle is half won. Now you need to keep them there! One of the best ways to achieve this is by creating and posting engaging content. In the automotive industry, this can be done by posting videos and USG (user-generated content) that shows social proof.
Social Media Advertising
For big-ticket items like vehicles, the information search can sometimes be a lengthy process. To ensure your business remains front of mind for your future customers, it’s a good idea to incorporate digital advertising into your online strategy. Depending on which social platforms your business is on, running paid ads based on demographics, interests, and even those who have previously visited your website is a great way to achieve this.
There’s a good chance that your customers will at some point visit a comparison site for help evaluating their options. While these are great tools for customers, they are not always great for your business. It’s worth doing your research and seeing which comparison sites mention your brand to ensure that all information they are listing is correct. Many of these comparison sites (e.g. Capterra) are a review based and give businesses the opportunity to get verified and respond to reviews directly. This is a great step in managing your businesses’ reputation online.
4. Makes Purchase Decision
It’s crunch time. Once your customers have evaluated their options they will make an informed decision. In the automotive industry, the vast majority of vehicle purchases happen in person at the dealership. Once a customer has made a decision, they will often get in touch online to make an inquiry or schedule a visit to your dealership. Here are a few ways you can streamline this process for your customers.
Unless you have a full-time online team to respond to messages, it’s worth investigating a chatbot for your website and social media platforms. Programs like ManyChat make it easy to design your own chatbot that operates through Facebook Messenger to respond immediately to customer requests.
Depending on the needs of your business, you can set up your chatbot to provide quick answers to commonly asked questions, deliver information, and share the schedule of your sales team so customers can easily book in an appointment to come in and check out the vehicle they have their eye on.
Depending on the CMS (content management system) you use for your website, you should be able to use a plugin to use the same chatbot on your website.
If this all sounded like technical mumbo jumbo, don’t stress. There are tech whizzes out there who do this sort of thing all day, so if you can, consider outsourcing this sort of work to ensure it’s done correctly with the customer experience in mind.
Make it Easy to Find You
Not all customers will book in for an appointment, choosing instead to show up to your dealership at a time that suits them. Help cater to these customers by ensuring your correct address and any other useful information is clearly posted on your website, social media profiles, and Google My Business page.
As you know all too well, no two customers are the same. Ensure your team are on the same page and receiving constant training to provide the best possible experience for your customers once they make it to the dealership. Nothing turns potential customers off quicker than an overly pushy salesperson using outdated tactics to try and push them over the line.
Woo hoo! This is the moment you have been waiting for. While the purchase of a vehicle, servicing or any type of accessory may signal the end of the customer thought process, your job as a business is far from over.
6. Evaluates Their Decision Post-Purchase
One of the most important parts of the sales process for big-ticket items, like vehicles, is the post-purchase process. While you may or may not have a set structure to stick to once a customer drives away, here are a few things to keep an eye on.
A couple of days to a week after your customer makes a purchase, it’s a great idea to get a member of your team (the salesperson that performed the sale if possible) to reach out to the customer and check-in. However, you frame this interaction is up to you, whether it’s just a friendly follow up or an invitation or special offer, all customers will appreciate the gesture as well as the opportunity to ask you any questions that may have arisen since they left your shop.
In the hours and days after making a purchase, customers are most likely to leave you an online review. For this reason, it’s important to remain vigilant and check in on all online review platforms regularly to see any feedback (both positive and negative) and get it taken care of. Maybe the customer gave you a glowing review – fantastic! They will appreciate you thanking them for the review. Maybe they left some constructive criticism on your sales team or another aspect of your business. Likewise, you’ll want to respond ASAP and nip it in the bud.
Related: How to Respond to Negative Reviews
Encourage Them Back
A vehicle purchase should be the start of a long relationship with your business. It’s a great idea to get in touch with customers in the weeks and months following a purchase to give them an incentive to remember your business. Whether this is by offering deals on future services or the like, it’s an important opportunity to ensure the customer stays with your business for their vehicle needs.
As more and more of the consumer buying process moves online, things will continue to change. Many studies suggest that these days if a brand really wants the business of a consumer, they need to capture their attention at the exact moment when they realize a need and use hyper-targeted marketing to convince them to pull the trigger before they have time to evaluate alternatives.
To make this happen, businesses are now placing a large focus on the sort of AI (artificial intelligence) technologies that can analyze data on past customers and utilize machine learning to help target future customers at exactly the right moment. Whether or not you choose to deploy this sort of technology in your business, it makes sense to stay on top of trends and ensure your business is agile enough to succeed in the ever-changing auto industry. Don’t forget to check out AutoShopDigital for building a clean, modern website for your auto-shop.