For pretty much as long as they've existed, car salespeople have battled consumer distrust.
General Motors is using technology to try to overcome this skepticism and also improve showroom efficiency. In January, the company launched its Dealer Sales Assistant (DSA) app for iOS and Android tablets, and dealers have deployed the sales tool to more than 8,000 U.S.-based GM sales associates.
With a few taps, the app lets sales consultants access information that includes vehicle inventory, specs, accessories, trim packages and towing capacity. The goal of putting that information on a phone or tablet was to "get sales representatives closer to the customer, out from behind the desk," says Les Copeland, CIO for GM North America IT.
Before DSA, salespeople would gather this information from paper-based and PC sources. Time spent assembling the material gives would-be customers a chance to walk away.
DSA also addresses moments when consumer distrust is likely to rear up -- like when a customer sits across a desk from a sales associate, staring at the back of a monitor and not seeing what the associate sees. It's a different dynamic if the sales rep hands a shopper a tablet as they walk around the dealership. Dealers have viewed more than 700,000 pages on the app through late August.
The mobile app development work itself wasn't all that hard, Copeland says. The hard work was making sure the app presented the right data -- "not displaying 1,000 different things, but only the most important things," he says. GM developers spent time with salespeople and customers to learn what information's essential, so a salesperson isn't clicking around on an app as a hot prospect scoots out the door. "The difference between selling a vehicle or not can be seconds," Copeland says.
DSA is an example of the kind of new, business-driving apps GM must deliver more of to make its massive IT insourcing effort pay off. GM is going from 90% outsourced IT to 90% insourced, betting that employees will know the business better and move faster than an outsourced workforce. Copeland considers this app just the start of strengthening the relationship among GM, dealerships and customers. The company is considering ambitious plans such as using data to personalize the dealership experience much like a Web retailer personalizes a user's experience. "How do we make sure we know who the customers are, the minute they get onto the lot?" Copeland asks. "It means managing customers across all our environments, from purchasing vehicles to getting service."