How to bring the e-commerce buying experience into the store

The average e-commerce buying experience is personalized, targeted, intuitive, and puts the control of the shopping experience at the hands of the consumer. The in-store buying experience can be the same.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every facet of our lives and created havoc across multiple industries. One of the industries that have been impacted probably more than others is the automotive industry. What comes to mind when you think about car buying? Car salesman? Negotiations? Feeling like you got a bad deal in the end even if you did get a good deal? Huge car lots with lots of flags and giant dinosaurs? For the most part, many people do not consider the car buying experience as one of the positive moments in life, ever!

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The instore buying experience should adopt some of the e-commerce buying practices - personalized, targeted and relevant to the buyer's needs and jobs to be done. 

Compare that with the experiences most people get today with your average e-commerce buying experience. It's personalized, it's targeted, it's intuitive -- and puts the control of the shopping experience at the hands of the consumer. 

To better understand the difference in the e-commerce buying experience versus the in-store car buying experience, I spoke with Eron Sunando, vice president of Commerce Cloud at Salesforce, to learn more about how brick-and-mortar retailers, focused on the automotive industry, can improve the in-person buying experience by introducing e-commerce best practices into their practices. Sunando has over 20 years of executive management experience across multiple industries, with global companies spanning the United States, Japan, and the Asia Pacific. He has experience on the Sell Side in sales, business development, and digital transformation; as well as the Buy-Side as chief operation officer and head of IT. Sunando starts by giving very simple but profound advice: "Dear sales professional, it's not about you or your products."   

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Eron Sunando, vice president of Commerce Cloud at Salesforce.

"Across the board, we are seeing industries and companies shift from being product-centric to customer-centric. One of the best examples I love to show is Brooks Running. When you go to the Brooks Running website and go to their shoe finder, they take you on an elaborate process to understand you, and not until the end of the process do they actually show you the shoe. The process feels and is focused on the buyer and his/her needs," said Sunando. 

According to Sunando, to shift from being product-centric to customer-centric, consider the following capabilities:

  1. Guided selling. Think of guided selling as a way to help customers discover their needs. The discovery process is based on your ability to be patient, ask relevant questions, and be guided by the purpose of finding the best value and fit for your clients. 
  2. Jobs to be done. Focus on customer needs and why they need the product in the first place. What problem are they trying to solve? (hint: it's not about you - it's about the customer)
  3. Conversion, Not Just Content. A lot of companies focus on splashy content on sites that provide great information but doesn't convert a visitor to a buyer. So how would this play out for automotive players in the new world? 

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The Fourth Edition of State of Sales report from Salesforce Research surveyed 6,000 sales professionals worldwide to discover the changing behavior of sales organizations and customers in the pandemic. The research identifies new growth strategies and tactics that sales leaders are adopting in the next normal. Here are the two main takeaways of the research: 

  1. Sales reps retool tactics for a new selling landscape. Sellers are adapting quickly to changes both inside their companies and outside from customers. High-performing reps recognize the importance of empathy, trust, and insights in building strong customer relationships that will outlast the current crises. The vast majority of reps -- 79% -- say they've had to adapt quickly to new ways of selling.
     
  2. Sales leaders pivot for recovery and growth. Sales leaders are steering their ships towards recovery and growth in a changed world. Despite a future riddled with ambiguity, leaders are quickly adjusting strategies and implementing needed changes. Seventy-seven percent of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019.

The report found that Sales use of AI has significantly grown in the past two years. AI adoption in sales has shot up in recent years -- 21% adoption in 2018 versus 37% adoption of AI in 2020. The number one use of AI in Sales is to better understand customers' needs. Today's most advanced e-commerce platforms use machine learning and AI to accelerate and grow sales. CRM platforms powered by AI can be leveraged to capture the questions during the in-store buying process, helping sellers segment the data capture, identify affinity groups -- family purchase versus individual, sport vs. truck models -- continuously refining the questions to be asked based on the specific persona of the buyer. 

Sunando reminds us that e-commerce sites will not be splashing cars with no intent on their websites. Also, e-commerce sites will not assume that potential buyers know the differences between T5 vs. T6, FWD vs. AWD, or lease vs. subscription. Yes, of course, the cool cars and design would still be important, but moving a visitor to a site -- from being a visitor to a prospect to a customer -- requires the ability to take them through the guided selling motion and understanding the concept of jobs to be done. Consider asking these qualifying questions: 

  • Why are you buying a car? What's the purpose? Why now?
  • Who are you buying it for?
  • Are you going to drive it every day? A weekend car? 
  • Do you have children? Elderly? 
  • Who would be riding in the car and what is important for them?
  • What's most important? Budget? Size? Third Row Seat? Sunroof?

Most of the time, these questions do get asked by good sales professionals in the showroom. The answers to these questions are much harder to ascertain online, but it's not impossible. It takes a mind shift and willingness to look at things from a different lens. It takes efforts and discipline to push from vision to action. It takes openness to get out of the comfort zones. Things we all have heard of in the past -- but maybe with COVID-19 and the "new normal", it is time we execute on them. 

This article was co-authored by Eron Sunando, vice president of Commerce Cloud at Salesforce. Sunando leads the Go-To-Market discipline to drive growth through new product innovation and industry expansion for Commerce Cloud globally.