Monday, August 25, 2014

Editorial: Car Dealers Need to Fix the Test Drive Experience

Everyone has had the experience of going into a dealership to test drive a new car. Some people go in with the intent of buying a new car while others go just to educate themselves and to test the waters to find out if a new car is even worth considering. I do a lot of test drives each year, mostly in the latter category as it helps me stay informed about the marketplace and offers the opportunity to experience a pretty broad variety of cars. However, in far too many cases, the test drive experience is an absolutely dismal one and it highlights to me why some dealers struggle to convince buyers that buying a new car is a good idea for them. It would be in everyone's best interest for dealerships to invest in the test drive experience as it not only helps dealers sell cars, but also would get prospective owners excited about the new car they are looking to purchase.

For starters, dealers who think a quick 5-minute spin around the block using only right turns and with no variation in road conditions are fooling themselves if they think this is sufficient to convince a buyer that the car is right for them. Instead, a dealer should treat the test drive as an opportunity to curate an experience for the prospective buyer, helping to highlight the key traits that stand out about the car they are driving. On a sporty car, that may mean some opportunities to experience the cars handling, acceleration, and braking capabilities. On a luxury car, that may mean some less than perfect roads to show off the smooth ride or a loop designed to highlight the key luxury and convenience features that are equipped. Whatever the car, the dealership should make an effort to provide at least 20-minutes behind the wheel through a variety of different conditions to help demonstrate exactly what makes that car special, each segment paired with a brief talk track to point out the key feature being highlighted. The experience can be further tailored to each prospective buyer's needs by adjusting it slightly based on what the buyer has indicated as being important to them in a car purchase.

Of course, to do this, dealerships would need to invest in resources to search out and develop the routes, create the talk tracks, and train the salespeople to provide the right kind of experience. Since most dealers are being squeezed to maximize the number of sales, perhaps tasking this to a manager or to a specialist who is compensated based on helping to drive sales will provide the right kind of motivation to focus on improving this experience. Designing a system to manage time slots and setting aside the requisite vehicles to offer these longer test drives would also be a part of making this experience work. Of course, since it is a longer experience, salespeople need to be trained to weed out the casual lookers from the real sales prospects, but providing a casual looker the opportunity for a longer test drive might just turn them into a real prospect.

At the end of the day, the goal is not only to sell more cars, but also to help improve how people think of dealerships. People who go through a dealership should walk out feeling better informed and contemplating the merits of the car they just experienced and not feeling like they were just given some cursory attention and sent on their way. Adding this change in test drive procedure to their arsenal will help dealerships not only sell cars, but also build relationships that will be important for keeping their sales pipelines filled.

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