The Machines Are Rising
Digital marketing expert offers a primer on machine learning and how it is changing the way dealers think about prospects, sales, and repeat business.
July 2017, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
In an era in which car buyers have come to expect hyper-personalized experiences — think Netflix or Amazon, with their amazingly accurate recommendations — auto dealers have a lot of room for improvement. Many still believe that an email newsletter with the recipient’s name in the greeting counts as a personalized offer.
But we are seeing a growing cohort of dealers who are harnessing technology to provide truly individualized experiences. A key enabler for this is a technology called “machine learning,” a type of artificial intelligence. Machine learning entails finding patterns in highly complex data sets that are beyond the capability of a human brain. Marketing platforms that utilize the technology can automatically act on the consumer insights it generates.
Given customers’ need for individualized communications, machine learning is positioned to become a critical component of any successful retailer’s marketing arsenal — and it is now within reach for auto dealers.
While this may sound intimidating, the implementation of an engagement program driven by machine learning can take care of these tasks in an automated fashion with little to no manual intervention required from dealership staff. In practice, the program continuously tracks customer behavior online, merges that data with any offline sources (like CRM or DMS data) and then analyzes this aggregated data set to predict what information consumers might like to receive and what they may be shopping for.
Customer Needs Are Changing
A vehicle purchase tends to be fundamentally tied to a person’s identity and view of themselves. At the same time, changing lifestyles result in changing vehicle needs. We must remember that customers and prospects are human beings with rich, complex and ever-changing lives.
The best salespeople in the world know their customers’ likes and dislikes, their preferences, and their changing tastes. The capacity of the human brain, however, limits us from achieving this type of sales nirvana, and frequent turnover at dealerships often results in the further loss of salespeople along with their relationships.
In this environment, machine learning-enabled platforms assist the sales team by tracking the behavior of each customer, learning and memorizing their preferences, and predicting their future needs. Key capabilities include:
- Track customer behavior across the web
- Connect to the CRM, DMS, website, social channels and other data sources
- Leverage aggregated and cross-checked data to drive insights
- Drive actions and automatically direct engagement via multiple channels
By enabling dealers to easily run multistage automated campaigns, machine learning helps move prospects and customers along in the sales cycle in a personalized way. Engagement is automated depending on a recipient’s response, with predictive models choosing to send a different offer to a customer it detects shopping online for a specific model, to one who has recently clicked on a video of a new vehicle or one who might be in need of service or a new lease.
In addition, by using behavioral data to predict who may be in market, the technology can detect likely buyers and tip off the sales team to contact them before the competition.
Investing in machine learning goes beyond merely future-proofing your dealership’s marketing infrastructure. The customer’s car-buying experience will be enhanced and simplified by the added personalization and efficiency brought to it. The customer will be better equipped with relevant information at every stage of their lifecycle and the dealership staff will have a better understanding of their own customers.
This does not mean total value of the customer’s interaction with the dealership will be derived from a purely technological experience. It means this technology will bring customers to the dealership on their own terms. It will assist the dealership’s sales team in their roles as trusted advisors to the customer. If done right, blending technology and in-store professionals will deliver an amazing customer experience delivered with a human touch.
Valerie Vallancourt is vice president of marketing for Outsell and an expert in driving revenue through dealership digital marketing. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.