Au revoir, dinosaur


By Allan Coates
Internet Sales Columnist

Kids like to play with dinosaur toys in a fantasy world. But we adults know that story ended badly 65 million years ago. So why do some remnants of dinosaur behaviour still exist in the car selling process today?

“Why did that old guy buy a computer?” wailed the sales manager to me when I sent a customer an Internet price quote to our car dealership.

This sales manager was used to making a couple thousand dollars each time this gentleman had bought a Cadillac in the past.  However, instead of appreciating the customer’s continuing loyalty, the sales manager complained about how empowered he was concerning invoice prices, rebates etc.

Take note: the equation between car buyer and car seller has changed so don’t wish for the good old dinosaur days.  Adapt to a changing business environment by focusing on the efficiency of a short transaction process that enables you to shift more quickly to the next customer to make better use of time.

“Your Internet customer is an idiot!” one dealership co-worker thundered.  

Let’s look at this anti-consumer, anti-teammate dinosaur attitude that oozes out of that sentence.  The sarcastic “your Internet customer” remark reveals a total lack of understanding of the customer.  

It’s not my customer or his customer it’s the car dealership’s customer. So reply to that customer in whatever mode – in this case the Internet – they prefer.  It’s simple math: the customer pays your salary.

The “is an idiot” slander was made in reference to the fact that this customer, from whom I had received a deposit, was at the car dealership to sign the lease papers and take delivery.  

What ticked off our car dealership is that she took the time to read the entire lease agreement.  I say “smart woman” and bravo to her.  We want the customer to fully understand the financial terms, thus heading off any complaint that would be much more time-consuming and expensive days or weeks later.

“Here’s what I do with Internet customers,” a sales consultant told me once. Then he proceeded to rip up the appointment information of a customer who initiated contact via the Internet.

I was visiting one of our car dealerships that day and this particular sales consultant did not know that I was his employer’s Internet sales consultant. (That in itself is an error by management).  

This particular employee went on to brag that he wouldn’t give the time of day to “cheap Internet customers.” He failed to comprehend that the sole mission of the sales department is to sell.  

In short, don’t exhibit dinosaur DNA and prejudge your customers; the commission you lose may be your own.

Adapting to Today’s Environment
I haven’t received many comments from Canadian Auto World readers about my articles.  Hopefully that’s because my message is clear and my advice is practical so no elaboration is necessary.  However, I do thank those readers who did take the time to e-mail me.  

Indicating a willingness to adapt, the central theme of the feedback was that providing a written Internet price quote simply made it easy for the   customer to shop around that price quote to get a few dollars off at a competing car dealership.

That’s no different than when an UP walks into the showroom and then drives to competing car dealerships to shop around your price. Fearing an Internet price quote is the remnant of the ancient approach of refusing to provide a real price but telling the customer to “come back and we’ll beat the other price.”

I tell sales managers and sales consultants, now sometimes called product specialists, not to look at the Internet as a negative: your written e-mail quote is used to bargain elsewhere. But as a positive: you have a splendid opportunity to make a first impression with the customer by providing the convenience of a free online car-buying service.  

It’s critical to make the Internet price quote sufficiently attractive and professional to the customer so that they will want to visit your car dealership for a test drive and trade-in appraisal.  

A sentence that I used in my e-mail price quotes was “Hopefully, the time and money you just saved with this convenient Internet sale price will persuade you to buy from us.”  

The point is to set your car dealership above and apart from the competition, thus pre-empting a customer’s visit to someone else’s car dealership.

Unfortunately, there’s one in every crowd who won’t adapt.  One car dealership executive e-mailed a personal attack for promoting Internet sales.  

At the other end of the scale, I received an e-mail that was very encouraging for the future of the automotive retail industry.  One sales consultant expressed the wish that management at his place of employment would read my articles and learn to accept and exploit the Internet as a fact of 21st century life.   

In summary, dinosaur behaviour is never a good plan for the future.  
Allan Coates is the sole proprietor of the business consulting firm I Write the Words. He works on connecting car dealers with customers through advertorials, marketing materials and newsletters. He can be reached at or 905-483-9935.