The data is overwhelming. Customers really dislike the cat-and-mouse negotiation process. Well over 80% are uncomfortable with it, and furthermore, don’t understand why they must endure a century-old process in an online, Amazon.com world.

So why aren’t many dealers (who incidentally have great websites and full-time Internet Sales personnel) still not giving customers what they want?

Because most dealers and sales managers made their bones by being effective negotiators. This is what they know. They’re good at it. And a good part of that negotiating technique has involved controlling information.

The problem is twofold.

First, because of the Internet, the information-control ship has sailed.

Second, you can’t control a selling process that isn’t really a selling process anymore. It’s a buying process largely completed at prospects’ homes and offices where dealership personnel have no leverage whatsoever.

How’s that working out? One of my colleagues recently bought a new car. He contacted three same-brand dealership Internet departments. Two said “Give us your phone number, we really need to talk.” One answered all questions via email and text. Guess what? That’s where he bought his car.

Yet, many in our industry have not come to grips with the fact that the main door of the dealership is no longer that glass rectangle in the front of the building. It’s the glass rectangle screen on prospective buyers’ desks or in their hands.

Prospects enter your showroom online, and interact not through face-to-face conversation but via the telephone, website, text and chat. This is where the real close takes place. What it takes to close these deals-at-a-distance is product knowledge, responsiveness and the delivery of value by providing clear and complete information.

A dealer told me years ago that the way to win online is by “out-serving your competition.”

So back to the sales managers who want to continue doing what made them successful in the past. Most of them are easily in their 50s and 60s and, like me (also not a young person), challenged by changes in people, technology and the marketplace. 

At the same time, most dealers, (also not spring chickens) are loyal to their sales management teams, often having developed close family relationships. It’s hard for a dealer to replace loyal managers, even if they’re ineffective in creating, staffing and managing a contemporary sales process.

The lack of a younger sales management team usually saddles dealerships with the antiquated control-and negotiation-based sales process.

OK, the old-timers are one thing, but I am especially flummoxed by second-, third- and fourth-generation dealers who continue the control/negotiation approach when they must know they are out of step with what today’s consumers look for when they shop: transparency, speed, simplicity, fairness and the customer in control.

When you go online to buy that laptop, smart watch or camera, Amazon doesn’t say, “You have to meet us at our office before we can answer your questions.” Why would anyone consent to that when shopping for anything online? Especially nowadays when plenty of dealerships will provide fast, transparent information and services. And competitive dealerships aren’t the consumer’s only option any more. Many are turning to Lyft, Uber, Clutch, Fair, Flexdrive, Zipcar and other services.

All that said, I understand the two primary reasons preventing dealers from moving to a completely transparent online sales process:

  • Fear of change.
  • The need to transform and/or replace a long-term sales management team.

The Rikess Group has been addressing these issues for more than two decades. Change is tough, but you always want to make significant changes voluntarily and when you can still retain a measure of control over your destiny before external forces make you change in ways you really don’t want to deal with. For example: financial disaster, loss of the business, and/or being replaced by someone who will make the changes.

As for transforming the sales management team, we routinely address this issue during the leadership and planning phase of our digital/transparent sales implementations.

We typically see one-third of managers understanding the need for change and willing to help; one-third who wish to continue their traditional opaque/control style of selling and will move to a dealership where they can continue doing what they’re used to; and one-third who claim they will be supportive while hoping the transition fails and will actively or passively block progress.

We’re able to identify who’s who and address each individual appropriately.

I hear many dealers saying the business is changing so fast. Yet they aren’t. Do you want the market to pass you by? Do you want to gamble on hanging on to your old best practices or catch up to what today’s customers want? Change is a choice. Better to make it when you can afford to rather than when you are forced to.

Former dealer Mark Rikess is founder of The Rikess Group, a consulting and training firm. He is one of the original advocates of one-price selling. He is atmarkrikess@gmailcom and 916-715-8129.