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View from the business school: Social media, the sales process and football ground toilets

By Professor Jim Saker, director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University Business School

Last week the School of Business and Economics hosted a master class sponsored by Audi UK as part of its Leadership and Excellence programme.

The audience was made up of Audi heads of business and an invited audience of local business people.

The speaker was Josh Robinson, from Sports Revolution, who is also the social media adviser to UEFA.

The aim of the session was to explore alternative perspectives on business and on this occasion the topic was ‘How to turn customers into fans – lessons from sports marketing.’

From rational human beings to fanatics

In reality most people came along expecting that the topic would be interesting, but only marginally relevant to the car industry. 

As the talk progressed interviews with sports fans were used to identify what motivated them to travel miles to support their team on a wet Wednesday in February.

What was it that turned them from rational human beings into fanatics.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was put up on the screen and the usual explanation was offered. 

We need to address our physiological needs first, e.g. food, and then we move on to ensure that we have somewhere to live, e.g. safety. 

The interesting point made in relation to sports fans comes at the next level with the need to belong.

Usually this is found in the form of family, but with the sports fan this is also found in following  their team.

The sense of belonging is a key driver and one of the ways that you belong is to have information about your club.

The football fan has an urge to know more about their team and will buy newspapers, magazines and access websites in their quest for news.

The real benefit of social media is that it allows the supporter to share information with other users and start conversations based on their own views of the team’s performance.

This quest for knowledge as part of the process of belonging was seen as being critical.

The research on the behaviour of football fans showed that this passion for information included trying to access news while at the match.

The problem is that when 40,000 people all try to download at the same time the system grinds to a halt .

As a result clubs are now wifi enabling their stadia.

When fans did find a signal the research showed that at half time most male supporters did two things – go online and go to the toilet.

Some supporters separate these activities, but  many attempt to do them both at the same time which to some extent explains the poor state of male toilets at sports events. It also suggests that men can’t multi-task.

The point is people go online in the down time of any event whether it is a training course, a football match or the theatre.

Using the down time

The question was asked, ‘What is the customer down time in a car dealership?’

More than 10 years ago we did video research in Ford dealerships into how people bought cars. 

It examined what happened, who the customer interacted with and what the customer did during the process.

At that time the sale of a car took about two hours during which the customer was left alone on average for half of it usually with a fairly unpleasant cup of coffee in a plastic cup. 

I enquired of some of the attendees how long it currently took to process a purchase and the reply was that the time hadn’t been shortened much and that the customer was still being left alone for a large part of that time.

The challenge is that 10 years ago the customers in our videos just looked bored.

Today they have many different options one of which is going online.

Some may simply be checking Facebook, but for many others the supposed down time means they could be checking competitor options and pric-ing packages.

Whereas in the past the salesperson would come back with figures and information the down time has allowed the customer to equip themselves with additional information in which to inform the negotiation taking place.

Reinforcing the customer’s decision

The ability of customers to have instant access to information during the sales process presents a challenge and opens up a need for transparency. 

It also gives the opportunity for a good dealership with a vibrant social media presence to suggest to the customer that while they are waiting they should look at certain social media feeds which potentially could reinforce the customer’s decision to buy. 

Access to positive user generated content can act as an independent verification of the quality of the proposition.

In reality the message is ‘don’t believe me believe my customers’ and look at what they are saying.

So in one evening it was decided to change the new car sales process and avoid stadium toilets, a true master class.

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