Dealership Success: Which Way the Wind Blows

Getting and keeping work-ready vehicles on-lot has been a losing battle for dealers over the last two years, and it looks to be this way for a while still. Dealerships and their business-owner customers are both, in their own right, scrambling.  Simply, their goal is to manage the changes in the processes of buying and selling work vehicles, while keeping their respective businesses operational, and their staff employed.

There is a near-complete loss of faith in the vehicle industry to successfully produce and deliver the volume of work vehicles required.  It was already hard enough obtaining work-ready units through the necessarily longer upfitting process, now dealerships have to navigate OEM chassis shortages. Availability of some raw materials and manufactured components used in vehicle production is being called into question. Supply chains that were always a workable headache, are now stagnant in some places, atrophying or even non-existent in others.  Inventory is drying up across the board.  Even the pools are shallow if not dried up completely –  and that’s just to name a few of the new challenges you must face, and sometimes explain to frustrated and impatient customers.  I could go on.

It’s unfortunate, it’s unfair, but it’s not insurmountable.  You just have to know which way the wind is blowing.

First, a reality check.  Even as OEM’s start to ramp up, it’s already too late to just get back to “normal inventory” like nothing happened.  The ripple has already begun.  A return to “normal inventory” is still far enough out that it’s hard to predict.  And, soberly, this new normal may not ever be the old normal that we all knew and understood; it is now critical for you and your buyers to begin planning much, much further ahead.

While most business owners are broadly aware of the major issues holding up production and delivery of new work vehicles, they may not have – or understand – all of the information.  This can mean that you’ll occasionally have angry customers who think that these inordinate delays are in some way a personal slight, as if you have re-prioritized them to the bottom of the list.  This is a deep, and slippery hole that is very difficult to dig yourself out of, and not one you want to be in more than once.

Now is the time to invite, encourage, educate and engage your customers.  Get them as up-to-speed as you are with each of the new issues the industry has been facing since 2020.  A proactive approach with your knowledge and a calm, matter-of-fact delivery should remove any doubt –  you know which way the wind blows.

With that in mind:

Personal experience and professional observation tells me that, by and large, the best time to handle an objection/stumbling-block is before it occurs, and I’m seeing a growing number of dealerships doing just that.  For customers awaiting delivery of an already purchased vehicle, dealerships are aggressively working to educate and inform those customers regarding the specific nature of the current global supply-chain woes, and how specifically the delivery date of their new truck or van will be impacted. 

Regarding new purchases, this is where you have the most breathing room.  Conversations are being steered away from any sort of “Buy something NOW” mentality.  Instead, many dealerships are proactively reaching out to their entire customer base.  All of them.  First, to make sure their customers are as informed as possible regarding inventory availability as projected over the next two years.  Once the salesperson and the business owner are on the same page with regards to delivery-date expectations, it then really becomes an easy order conversation.

The more buyers understand the what’s and the why’s underpinning this extremely lengthy new process for acquiring work vehicles, the more comfortable they will be in taking timely and informed actions with you; actions that support both of your bottom lines. Share in the process with them and keep them posted throughout.  The more your customers feel they have retained control over their own outcomes by working with you, the better the odds are that they will continue to work with you. 

Difficult delivery times challenge any budget.  Educate buyers on the need and benefits of new ordering habits.  Encourage them to think ahead, and lead them to consider appropriate add-ons.  When regularly planning far ahead, availability for more specialty and custom builds becomes a more real possibility.  Better equipment for happier customers, generating even higher revenue for you. 

In taking the time to ensure they have a clear understanding of what is going on, all you need now is an easy order tool to streamline this process even further.  This can be a simple fill-in-the-blanks template given to each member of your sales team, plus a page on your website that allows the customer to fill it out themselves. 

You may already have one of these tools built into your website, CRM, or both, and just didn’t know it, or forgot where it was; just a few years ago only certain dealerships with certain types of business accounts would have a need to regularly use this kind of form.  Now, it’s as integral to the sales process as simply showing up.

That said, if you have verified that your website and CRM providers just don’t have a simple easy order form available for print and online use, it might just be worth asking if they know which way the wind is blowing…?