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Putting buyers’ bums on seats still sells cars

By Tom Seymour

Modern car buyers do so much of their research online that dealers are left with fewer opportunities to build rapport, answer questions and cement buying decisions.

Kevin Howard, dealer principal at Bolton Kia, a subsidiary of Kia UK, said this makes the test drive more important than ever: “Previously you would build up to the test drive over multiple visits, but so much research is done online now that customers are at the final stages of the buying process and more often than not are ready to get behind the wheel when they visit.”

He said dealers with rigid qualification processes that let only ‘serious buyers’ take a test drive were making a mistake.

“We don’t stand in the way if a customer wants a test drive before anything else.

“I’d rather be in a position where the customer is looking to buy from us, rather than us having to push for that sale.”

Stephen Dorman, Kia UK general manager, customer quality, said the brand aims to get half of showroom visitors behind the wheel.

He said dealers should be flexible enough to tailor the test drive to a customer’s needs.

“We advise our sales executives and ‘Kia geniuses’ to get several different potential test routes together and then show them on a map for the customer to choose from.”

Kia introduced ‘geniuses’ in August 2015. Howard said Bolton Kia’s ‘genius’ team was crucial to the test drive experience.

Kia’s ‘geniuses’ first give a 10-minute demonstration to talk about the car and its features before accompanying  potential buyers on a 20-minute test drive.

Customers can then book in a longer, unaccompanied test drive of between two and 12 hours.

If a customer decides to buy, the ‘genius’ introduces them to a salesperson and sits with them through the process.

Howard said: “We’re pretty flexible really and you’ve got to try and accommodate what that customer wants.”

Kevin Howard Bolton Kia “We don’t stand in the way if a customer wants a test drive. I’d rather be in a position where the customer is looking to buy from us, rather than us having to push for that sale”Kevin Howard, Bolton Kia

Bolton Kia’s figures support this approach. Howard said 70%-80% of test drives convert to a sale. Bolton Kia incentivises its genius team through customer satisfaction scores, rather than sales leads, to make sure there is no pressure selling.

Hendy Group also involves product ‘geniuses’ with test drives. It is the first dealer in the Honda network to use them.

Paul Murrells, new car sales director, said the key to converting a test drive into a sale is providing the right customer experience.

“Often, when customers arrive in our showrooms, they are seeking the reassurance of someone with a real passion for the product that can align the product’s core features with their lifestyle needs’” he said.

“The product genius programme recognises that the dealership model of the past no longer correlates with the needs and expectations of the modern consumer.”

Hendy employs product geniuses at its 25 locations across its 12 franchises.

Murrells said: “Having the product genius handle the test drive helps to increase the productivity of the sales staff and the feedback from customers has been tremendous.”

Martin Sewell, HR Owen Bentley brand director, said the group – which also represents prestige franchises such as Bugatti, Aston Martin and Ferrari – doesn’t have a specific test drive conversion target.

“More often than not, potential customers who sample cars go on to buy,” he said.

“Every customer is different, and while the group wants every test drive to result in a sale, the time between test drive and signing an order form is vastly different for every customer.

“The customer experience and making them feel comfortable with the purchase is more important than chasing a metric or lead to drive ratio.”


Promoting the test drive

Kia has run a promotion in Q3 and Q4 this year, offering customers £1,000 off its vehicles if they take a test drive.

Howard said the dealership tends to piggyback on manufacturer campaigns such as this with its own email marketing.

Bolton Kia’s most recent campaign with the £1,000 cashback offer had a 90% open rate, a 40% click-through rate and 25% of those booked a test drive.

Early in 2016, Seat offered a £500 discount to those who took a test drive.  Vauxhall offered the same discount on its Corsa and Adam models to boost sales during August and the September plate-change.

Howard also uses data, such as renewal dates for PCP deals, to boost test drives.

“We’ll contact customers on a three-year PCP deal around 20 months in for a test drive,” he said.

“For the 2016 Sportage campaign we decided to incentivise existing Sportage customers with three years’ free servicing if they test drove the newer model.

“We’ve only had the opt-outs move by around 3% over the last 12 months so I’m pretty happy with that. Our customers want to hear from us.”

Dorman said online campaigns are a great way to bring in customers, but they need to be combined with outbound calls and specific appointments.


Alternative test drive options

Most test drives still take place at dealerships, but with customers increasingly seeking convenience, should dealers offer test drives on demand, at a time and place to suit them?

So far, Howard said his business is not seeing demand from customers for test drives at home or at work.

“I can count on one hand the amount of times this year that it has been requested,” he said.

However, TestDrives2U, a company that links car buyers with dealers with a test drive at home or work, used research from Capgemini’s Cars Online 2014 report, which surveyed 1,041 UK car buyers about test drives, to help inform its decision to launch the business in spring 2016.

The Capgemini research showed 84% of customers would consider a test drive at a location other than the dealership, 40% want dealers to bring the car to them, compared with 24% wanting the test drive at the dealer.

A further 33% did not want the dealer involved at all, preferring to pick the car up at a convenient location. The remaining 15% and 16% wanted to test a car through renting it short-term or by using a car-sharing service.

Matt Stone, TestDrives2U chief executive, said its figures showed test drives at home or at the workplace could hit conversion rates as high as 70%, depending on the franchise. For the dealers it works with, this is higher than the conversion rate for showroom  test drives.

Stone believes investing time going to the customer, rather than asking them to come to the dealership, is rewarded with a higher conversion rate.

“A home test drive means customers can drive on familiar roads, involve all the family and spend less time on the whole process. I think they are more relaxed and therefore more inclined to buy,” he said.

Because the location of many of HR Owen’s dealerships  in central London make it more difficult to demonstrate a supercar’s ability, it invites in-market customers to test a variety of the latest models at group test-drive events at Millbrook proving ground, Oulton Park and Goodwood.

Sewell said: “Having a range of vehicles to test on track can often result in customers leaving with a different model to the one they came to test or often they can end up buying both.

“The events give customers the opportunity to drive the cars in a controlled and supervised environment with back-to-back testing to get a true picture of the performance and handling on offer from multiple models.”

HR Owen also takes cars to a customer’s house or workplace at a time to suit them.

Sewell said: “This method tends to work well, as they are committed and at ease near familiar roads.”

He doesn’t put a limit on the amount of time spent with customers with home visits, as it is left to them to decide how much time they want with the car.

Sewell said: “The very nature of the products HR Owen sells means that it is never merely about transportation – these cars are statements and performance machines.

“Every dealership has a theoretical ‘test drive route’, but realistically no two are the same. Some will take minutes, some will be delivered at specific driving events and some will be extended loans to the client over days and nights.”

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