“The best time to plant a tree,” instructs the age-old proverb, “is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”
And so it goes with artificial intelligence (AI) and your dealership.
The automotive industry didn’t have the tools to implement AI twenty years ago, but it does now.
Are you considering AI? If not, you should. And here’s why.
An increasing number of retailers in a range of industries and product categories are reaping significant business outcomes and market leadership by implementing AI in their marketing and sales processes. Amazon and Netflix are two of the most obvious examples.
Now it’s your dealership’s turn.
According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, automotive dealers can harness the power of AI to transform their marketing and sales automation, forecasting, and personalization to drive substantial new sales and service business.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s chat briefly about AI itself. As in, “What the heck is AI, anyway?”
Generally speaking, AI is focused on a single goal: Create technology that allows machines to function not unlike the human mind – to learn from experience, adjust to new information, and perform tasks such as business planning and problem solving.
Today, we are all bombarded with messages about AI. AI is seemingly everywhere.
If you think back, however, you may recall another technology evolution that appeared on the scene in a similar fashion.
Image source: Fastmetrics
Clouds on the Horizon
A decade or so ago, “all cloud, all the time” was the business mantra.
But those clouds had nothing to do with blue skies or weather patterns.
First in high tech circles, and then in all of our daily lives, we came to recognize that the “cloud” referred to the software and services that run on the internet and allow us to access information on any connected device with a web browser.
Since the advent of the cloud, for example, a prospect can now go to your website and view your inventory during the work day; schedule a meeting with a specific salesperson while at home that evening; and be more prepared to sign on the dotted line once they arrive at your store the next day.
Today, the names of cloud service platforms and applications are familiar: Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Uber, Waze, and on and on.
It could be argued that cloud computing had a relatively long gestation period – or hype cycle – before actually taking hold and becoming a mainstay of our business and consumer cultures. That is, we heard about data clouds long before they appeared overhead and we were formally introduced to them and realized their impact.
In some ways the introduction of AI into our global consciousness has been different. And quicker.
While not quite an overnight sensation – the term “artificial intelligence” is said to date to the mid-1950s or earlier – it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that some consumers may feel as if they found themselves married to AI without a courtship.
All of a sudden, AI platforms and applications simply appeared. As in, “Where did this ‘Siri’ thing come from?”
And now AI’s impact is being felt in the automotive industry. In ways that are big and lasting – and that provide tremendous opportunities for forward-looking dealers to secure business throughout their stores and groups.
Bringing AI to your Showroom
AI can provide immediate value to your dealership in at least three key ways: By employing enhanced personalization techniques to improve your customers’ buying experience; by securing higher sales from in-market buyers that weren’t previously in your database; and by lowering overall marketing and sales costs.
Right time. Right place. Right message. AI is especially adept at reaching customers at just the right moment with a tailored message developed specifically for that individual consumer.
Employ AI’s “virtual assistance” to determine which customers to target, with which message, at what time, and by what communications channel. Such hyper-targeting and pinpoint engagement greatly improves both marketing effectiveness and efficiency. (Read as: More sales, more quickly, at less cost.)
Improving consistency and personalization. If a Main Street merchant knows it’s going to rain, umbrellas are likely to be prominent in the store that day. Similarly, dealerships can leverage AI-based customer behavior forecast models to personalize the car buying experience even further.
For example, by analyzing customer demographics, transaction histories, and online activities, dealers can generate individualized recommendations that span the entire customer lifecycle – from the showroom floor to the service lane. In this way, AI can help make your customers feel special before they enter your store as well as long after they have left it.
Casting a broader net while not losing any fish. AI can also uncover additional sales and service opportunities simply through its ability to cast a broader in-market prospect net. And to help harried sales teams keep track of it all, AI-fueled CRM solutions can make sure prime leads are identified and acted on, deals don’t fall through the cracks, and customers aren’t neglected.
The key here is AI’s ability to draw from, and make forecasts based on, a broad range of new information sources. Importantly, these forecasts are not static in nature as are the business projections made by the often unwieldy legacy dealership systems in place today.
Instead, because slick new AI products are always learning and adapting to evolving real-time information such as customer preference data, they are much more current, accurate, and immediate – and therefore, much more valuable to your dealership.
As the McKinsey report concludes, dealers are in a strong position to drive game-changing business value by applying AI to their marketing and sales processes and teams.
We’ve all heard the line before: “This will change your life.”
In the case of AI – not unlike that of the data clouds that came before it – this isn’t hyperbole.
In fact, McKinsey & Company has labeled this new phenomenon the “AI-enabled new normal.”
Put AI to work in your dealership and your business really will never be the same.
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