With the decision to trade in my 7-year-old Acura MDX for a smaller crossover, I started one of those common life journeys that we either love or hate: buying a car.
Do I buy another used car or a new one? Do I buy or lease? Should I buy foreign or domestic? Will I overcome the higher upfront cost of a hybrid vehicle before I trade it in or sell it? Do I want another SUV or a sedan? Am I too old (or too young?) for a little red sports car?
The options and questions available to most people when considering a car purchase can be overwhelming.
I’m extremely busy. I’m a partner at a successful marketing company, I teach at a local college, and operate a not-for-profit.
I don’t have the time to visit dealership after dealership dealing with salespeople.
So, I did what most of us do today: I turned to the Internet.
The Demilitarized Zone: The Car Dealership
It’s said that the Internet can make things easier because we can research features, prices, and testimonials before venturing off into the demilitarized zone (AKA a car dealership) where we’re subjected to biased – and often aggressive – sales tactics.
Even the most experienced have trouble understanding the levels and complexities of the various pricing structures, add-ons, and warranty schemes invented by automobile companies.
The world of car buying has become more complex, not simpler, despite the accessibility of more on-demand information.
My experiences working with MV-1 have shown me that there’s a better way to engage and promote autos online, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about customer experiences.
While I did all the online research, comparisons, and testimonial reviews that most of us do before buying a new car, ultimately my final choice was most influenced by my in-dealership experience. In fact, that experience changed decisions previously made from talking to friends and online research.
Here’s a summary of my experience.
What I Wanted to Buy
I chose to downsize to a luxury crossover vehicle from my Acura MDX, a great, roomy SUV with a collapsible 3rd row.
I was generally happy with it but did not want or need the size anymore, and was unhappy with the need to use premium fuel. Read: I didn’t want to pay for premium fuel.
What I Decided to Buy
Talking with friends convinced me that a Suburu was the right vehicle for me. It had the price, durability, and utility that I needed. Everyone who had one was extremely happy but I was not convinced. It just didn’t have the style I was looking for. So I did some online research.
After months of reading “Top Luxury Crossover” articles, talking to friends, and watching YouTube review videos, my heart and mind were set on buying the new 2017 Infinity QX30. The price seemed about right, the style and performance were what I was looking for, and the utility was just enough for my planned weekday/weekend activities.
When I made the decision, the QX30 had not yet hit the market so I went to my local Toyota-Infinity dealership and asked about availability, wait lists, etc. After months of online research, I was ready to put down a deposit without even a test drive.
I spoke to a sales person who took my name and ensured me that I would get a call before the first models arrived and be one of the first to test drive the vehicle when it did. So, I made the decision to wait. I did not go to visit any other dealerships as I was certain this is what I wanted and, as previously mentioned, I’m busy.
After months of silence from my local Infinity sales person – and with my current lease about to expire – I decided to drop in. To my surprise, there were two QX30s in the showroom and a few out on the lot.
I approached a salesperson – who was quite eager to talk to me – and asked for a test drive. He was quick to get my information (although they already had it) and take me for a test drive.
He joined me on the drive, telling me exactly where to drive. We drove for approximately 5 minutes when he instructed me to return to the lot.
During the drive, he pointed out feature after feature, trying to sell me on the merits of the Japanese styling and technology married with the Mercedes-Benz engine under the hood.
In the end, I just didn’t “feel it.” That short time in the car did not match the expectations of what it would feel like and so I decided to take a few days and test drive a few competitors before committing. Well, that and the fact that the price for the model I would want was almost $15,000 more than MSRP.
I decided to do a little car shopping as there are many dealership in close proximity. I drove to the Audi dealership, an older building which was under renovation.
I asked 3 people for help but kept getting passed around. I was confused. I was dressed in one of my best suits, shined shoes, and clean shaven. I looked like I had money and told them I was looking to buy today.
Finally, someone reluctantly came down to see me. He took me to the back lot to look at a few vehicles but said if I really wanted a test drive, I’d have to book something for next week. He was busy.
When someone says I’m ready to buy today, “next week” isn’t the right answer.
While I had decided not to buy another Acura, given the day’s experiences, I figured I owed it to myself to check out new models.
I visited my Acura dealership and asked to speak to a salesperson. I told her I did not want to buy an Acura but thought it was prudent to come in before I made a final decision. She asked me a lot of questions and asked me to drive the new RDX.
It was closer to the end of the day and she was clearly looking to pack up and go home but she took me on a drive for about 30 minutes. We returned when I asked to return. She did not try to sell the car while driving but continued to ask about my driving patterns, my past experiences with Acura, and my needs. She competently addressed all my concerns and had me questioning my decision to not buy another Acura.
Mostly, she sold me on the power and style of the car without having to pay for premium gas, which all the others I was looking at would have required.
I was intrigued and almost ready to put in an offer. I decided to test drive a few more before settling on a car.
I crossed town to visit the local BWM dealership. There was a young woman behind the counter busily typing away on her computer, so I walked around checking out the models in the showroom. After 30 minutes of being ignored, I approached and asked if a salesperson could speak with me. She called someone on the phone and informed me that someone would be right with me.
She and I were alone in a very large showroom. I walked around for another 15 minutes and realized no one wanted to sell me a car. My preconceived notions about BMW confirmed, I left.
The next morning, while on route back to the Acura dealership to buy the RDX, I drove by the local Mercedes-Benz dealership.
I remembered reading that my original choice (the QX30’s engine was said to be the same as – or based on – the GLA 250) so I decided to stop in quickly to check out the available cars.
I looked around for a bit and was approached by a salesman. I told him that I was looking to buy a car that day and asked to test drive the B-Class hatchback, which looked like something I would want at a decent price.
He asked a few questions and, based on my answers, suggested that it was not the right car for me. He told me I’d be happier in a GLA 250 and told me that he’d allow me to test drive the B-Class but wanted me to first try the GLA 250. I complied.
He didn’t allow me to drive the car. Yup, that’s right, he drove.
He asked if I like to drive fast to which I answered: “Hell yeah!” He smiled and took me on a planned road trip for 20 minutes on which he raced this car like it was on a test track. He showed me the car’s capabilities in the most extreme situations.
When we got back I said: “Holy crap! Where do I sign!” He said he would not sell me the car until I drove it myself. This was approximately 10:30 AM. He got out, handed me the keys and said: “See you later today.”
Confused, I replied that I would only need 10 mins or so. He laughed and said: “Son, you can’t buy a car with a 10-minute test drive. Come back and see me later this afternoon when you’ve had a real test drive.” So, I did.
When I got back, I was thoroughly convinced to buy the car. He understood my needs and he showed me HOW it met my needs, but mostly because of the overall experience. It was about me, not the car’s features.
When we sat down, I started to negotiate. I would like to ask for X, Y, and Z. He again gave me that wry smile and said: No, that won’t fly. I can tell you’re educated on these matters and I know time is money for you so let me tell you what you can get…even better incentives that you haven’t asked for.
I would have given this man children, if that were possible.
Within two days I was driving around in a brand-new Mercedes-Benz.
CX Lessons Learned
It’s been a few months since I’ve purchased the Mercedes 250 GLA and I often think about this experience as I’m working with new and existing clients.
The lesson learned wasn’t a new lesson, it was a reminder of a reality I’ve been preaching since my early days developing digital strategies for clients: Customer experiences are the most important part of a marketing mix, regardless of how you choose to market your product or business, online or offline.
My online research disrupted what my friends talked me into, pushing me to buy a smaller crossover from Infinity. However, my experiences at the Infinity dealership – and with its sales people – gave me pause.
That, in turn, led me to engage face-to-face with other brands and in the end, an amazing customer experience – on top of a killer car – made my decision for me.
Let that be a lesson to those of you developing your sales and marketing campaigns: At the heart of your acquisition strategy should be extraordinarily great customer experiences; and at the heart of your influence marketing strategy should be extraordinarily great customer experiences.
These customer experiences are at the very heart of your customer lifecycle. It fosters a deeper loyalty from existing customers, fuels stronger advocacy from those customers, and, ultimately, drives more convertible leads.