Presales in the automotive industry is a long and delicate process, made of a lot of activities and tools. Here’s how to best manage it to achieve the most satisfying sales results. 

Today, tackling the issues of the automotive sector means, first of all, facing reality: The pandemic triggered by COVID-19 has had a major impact on car sales all over the world and on the turnover of companies in the automotive supply chain. 

It’s a time of crisis and we need a turnaround. In this situation, therefore, there is no greater error than limiting oneself to “playing defensively” and letting fear get in the way. 

In business, the winner is the one who adapts to the changing reality and is able to react before others, looking to the future. Today, the future is increasingly digital. Even in the Automotive Industry. 

We have already focused on Digital Transformation in the automotive sector in this post where we talked about Digital Customer Experience, data-driven marketing and customer care, and the importance of personalization. Now we want to focus on one specific and decisive phase, the one before the actual sale. 

The presale in the automotive industry is by no means a linear process. It is composed of many touch-points, which develop through very different channelsLearning to map and monitor this complex “path” is of primary importance. Let’s start here. 


Presales, activities and tools in the automotive industry: how does the Customer Journey develop? 

Let’s start with a simple question: How long is the automotive presale journey? The short answer is this: It’s much longer and more articulated than those of many other industries. But let’s look at it in detail, starting with a first certainty: The starting point is almost always online

In fact, 95% of automotive customer journeys begin with an online search. In 60% of cases, this search is done through a mobile device…and beware: it’s most often videos that users searched for; we’ll come back to this later (Source: Think with Google). Furthermore, only one in three people already have the exact car they want to buy in mind before they begin their research process (Source: Cox Automotive). 

So, what happens after these initial searches? How does the Customer Journey develop from this point on?  

A study by ACA Research (you can find it here) tried to map the Customer Journey of those who are about to buy a vehicle. It offers a very precise snapshot of the presale phases in the automotive sector, from the initial research to the final purchase. 

What has emerged is that this journey covers a timeframe ranging from 5 to 12 weeks and develops according to 4 main stages

  1. First, after the initial online research, the person makes a list of vehicles they are interested in and their brands (a step that usually takes place 1-3 months before the purchase).
  2. A much narrower selection is then made. This is a decisive moment, where feedback and online reviews factor in, and especially those on social media. In this regard, here are some other points worth noting:  For 75% of car buyers, social networks were among the most valuable resources for seeking inspiration on which model to buy (source: Autoxloo); watch out for videos: Around 70% of people view YouTube videos in the early stages of the car buying process (source is research commissioned from Google by Millward Brown Digital).
  3. Then there is the moment of the test drive (2 to 4 weeks before the purchase). From the online world,  we then move to the “physical world” of dealers and other sellers.
  4. Finally, comes the moment of the quote and the final choice.

Throughout this journey, the touchpoints encountered, on average, are as many as 20, very different from each other and spaced out in time. How is it possible to cover them all? And how is it possible to be found in the right place, at the right time, to the right people? 

Big Data is the most valuable weapon available to brands and dealers. 


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Big Data and presales tools in the automotive sector: From sentiment to segments 

Big Data refers to the “digital traces” that we all leave online. As we have seen above, we leave a lot of digital traces in the car research and purchase phases. Their importance is enormous. It’s no coincidence that data is often defined as the oil of the digital age. Why? 

Through this information, it is possible to know the characteristics, habits, and expectations of people, from large numbers down to individuals. Even more important: Starting from past behaviors it is possible to predict future ones.  

Automotive brands, but also dealers and resellers, must therefore learn to collect these traces, analyze them in-depth (this is why we prefer to talk about “Smart Data” or “Deep Data”) and interpret them in order to have the deepest possible knowledge of their target.  

This is an operation that must be carried out on several levels. 

From the most general and overall level, to get an idea of what the sentiment of public opinion is and how it varies over time. But then you have to focus on specific subsets, first and foremost on a territorial basis. Sentiment toward a given brand or vehicle type can be very different depending on the context, such as from one country or another. But there can also be significant variations between geographic areas that are just a few miles apart.  

From sentiment, then, it’s good to move toward defining real target segments.  

It’s about gathering together potential customers who share certain characteristics (from social, to age, to more “psychological” traits). This is a complex operation that must be carried out in a functional, omnichannel manner, selecting the most significant and useful information from the mass of Big Data. Then comes the interpretation phase, through artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. 

All of these operations, if well processed, allow the target to be divided into increasingly specific micro-targets, to be hit with tailored actions. In short, it is no longer a question of sending one-to-many messages, it’s about being guided by data to conduct targeted and surgical actions that show unprecedented effectiveness. 

Here is a concrete and significant example. 

We are referring to a web marketing campaign recently carried out by Mini and aimed at potential customers interested in high-end cars. The brand collected data from its internal CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, but also from its website and social channels. Thanks to analysis and machine learning systems, the target was identified efficiently and precisely. But that’s not all: It was in turn subdivided into smaller segments based on individual habits, types of devices used, previous searches carried out, times of day when they were carried out, and various other signals that were cross-referenced.  

In short: This operation tried to go beyond “segmented targets” to get closer to true personalization (a topic we’ll come back to later). 

The results of this operation speak for themselves: A 300% increase in the conversion rate and a 75% reduction in cost-per-acquisition (which measures the unit cost incurred by the advertiser for each conversion obtained). (To learn more about this interesting case, see here). 


From segments to individuals 

We’ve talked about the importance of Big Data to investigate changes in sentiment and to identify specific target segments to interface with. But can you go beyond that? Yes.  

And what’s beyond segments? Individuals, with their unique characteristics, behaviors, and specific needs. Big Automotive brands, but also dealers, can now move from one-to-many marketing to the one-to-one revolution 

Personalization is one of the oldest and most effective business strategies. Today it takes on new life thanks to the most powerful technologies made available by Digital Transformation. And personalization is what companies like Doxee do, providing solutions that can be invaluable in the automotive presale phase. 

Here are two examples. 

  • Doxee Pweb®: Represents a revolution in the way that data, offers, and complex information are communicated to customers. It’s about creating real dynamic and interactive microsites built based on the characteristics, behaviors, and needs of each individual
  • Doxee Pvideo®, a tool that combines the effectiveness of video communication with the boost of personalization

Think of the possibilities of being able to “see,” in detail, the car you are thinking about buying through a video that is created based on your characteristics. Think about how valuable this tool can be in the various presale phases (above all, for the estimate), but also in the post-sale phases (service, maintenance and Customer Care in general). 

The big automotive brands have realized that personalization can be the key to winning the challenges of the future (there are interesting examples from BMW, see here, and from Mercedes, see here).  

They have realized, in short, that the digital revolution is the turning point to look to the future after this period of crisis. It’s a revolution that has the individual driver at its center. 


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