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Imperial Cars' obsession with sales conversion - a guest opinion

Neil Smith, Imperial Car Supermarkets

At the risk of stating the obvious, sales conversion rates have been a glaring business health indicator across all industries for as long as we all can remember - motor retail being no exception.

For Imperial Cars to achieve a mind-boggling revenue growth to £201m in only 5 years  - with a 44.7% YOY increase in the last financial year alone -, we knew from the start our internal processes and procedures, as well as data management, couldn’t just improve, they had to become razor-sharp.

We’ve spent years (and we’ll likely never stop) looking at every component of our sales process to identify major improvements as well as marginal gains; but there are 5 cornerstones that, in my opinion, stand out head and shoulders above all others:

1) Removing all the reasons that might stop customers from coming to the showroom.

It’s all about qualification at the first point of contact - way before customers even set foot in the showroom.

I can’t recommend setting up a sales support contact centre highly enough; this allows the process to be kept completely under control by giving customers a consistent, high-quality experience - no matter the operator they’re dealing with.

For us, this move resulted in all phone calls and live chat dealt with immediately, as well as 99% of email enquiries being replied to within the first 15 minutes. 

2) Ensuring your sales executives are up to speed with previous customer conversations.

Which can only happen if you’ve invested in a top CRM system. I’m not exaggerating when I say how well your sales team is going to do depends largely on what information is available on the system and how accessible that data is.

Ideally, you’re looking for your people in the showroom to enter the conversation at the exact point where the support centre left it - not going back covering old ground, and certainly not starting from scratch.

You need to be able to use the knowledge to your advantage to give customers the best possible experience. How well you do here will make or break the deal.

3) Ensuring the cars customers are coming in to see on the day are ready to test drive.  

This is such a simple yet fundamental requirement that, surprisingly, doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

4) Always getting the customer to test drive the car. 

Not surprisingly, “Bums on seats sell cars” is still the most effective tactic. It’s fundamental customers test drive the car because until they do, they don’t really know whether they like it or not.

There is next to no point (as well as an unnecessary waste of valuable resource) into diving in the finest details until the test drive is completed and customers are satisfied it’s the right car for them.

5) You guessed it… Building rapport. 

People buy from people they like and trust, right? A lot of effort and time should be spent on rapport building before anything car-related is discussed. If your salespeople can’t do that, you might be looking at one of the biggest barriers to sale in your organisation.


Let’s remember almost all customers come to physical site because they’re ready to buy. It’s that simple. 

If they don’t buy on the day then our job as motor retailers is to figure out where the process fell short.

Imperial Cars currently converts to sale on average 64% of all appointed customers and 35% of ‘walk-ins’, averaging out at 45% overall conversion monthly. Whilst this is a really positive statistic it immediately raises the question: why did the remaining 55% not buy?

Customers came into our showroom because they saw a car they thought was right for them; the details we provided were satisfactory; they were clearly happy about the price, or they wouldn’t have even bothered - so what happened?

There must be something in the process that’s not quite working for them - and that can be any of the points made above.

Yes, a 45% conversion rate is good - and it’s probably a goal for some - but on the other hand, what put the other 55% off?

That’s why drilling down in the lost sales data daily, by site, by model, even by price range is so important.

In our opinion, there can be no significant improvements in sales conversion rates without a scientific, informed and data-driven approach - only unsubstantiated opinions relying on individual knowledge and experience.

Author: Neil Smith, operations director, Imperial Cars

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