How to Reach Owners Online When They’re Ready to Sell

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In these times of short supply, one popular way to get cars on the lot is to buy directly from consumers. We’re not talking about trade-ins. Today we’re looking at less traditional ways of buying vehicles, such as buying from sellers who are trying to sell their vehicle themselves, typically through websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Or, approaching your service department customers. And of course sometimes sellers come to you.

Many dealers are finding that it can pay to be proactive and go online to find private sellers before they sell to someone else. These folks are ready to sell, and you can represent an opportunity to get the job done quickly, fairly, and safely.

Finding Private Sellers Online

Finding and making offers to private sellers, though worthwhile, can be a lot of work. If the ‘buyer’ role is an added responsibility for someone on your staff – a part-time job – your success will likely be limited. Searching and buying online should be part of the responsibilities of a staff member you tap to be your designated buyer. Because this is not a traditional ‘sales’ role, ensure your compensation plan aligns with your dealership’s acquisition goals and metrics. After all, this person is a buyer, not a seller, and should have a different set of goals and performance metrics.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of software out there that can help manage this part of your business more efficiently. Multiple vendors, such as Vettx, Leadlocate, Topmarq, and Vincue are offering tools to find sellers online, automate the bidding and seller appointment process, and target the right vehicles being sold locally.

Of course, your buyer can also spend time scanning the sites where sellers might advertise, such as Craigslist, eBay Motors, and Facebook’s Private Car Sellers group. A motivated buyer who visits these sites frequently can find sellers who might not appear on some other platforms. No matter how your buyer finds local vehicles for sale, make sure he or she is prepared to make the most out of every opportunity. Work out a process, get the tools in place, and be prepared to make adjustments as you learn.

Approaching E-Bay/Craigslist/Facebook Private Sellers

These sellers expect to get more money for their vehicle by selling directly to the next retail owner. This isn’t new; there’s been private seller-to-buyer markets for as long as there’s been a car business. But, as a dealer, you have several advantages over those retail buyers. Many sellers have experienced the frustration of a missed appointment or two, or the wariness of a sketchy stranger showing up at their house. They also may not want to spend their weekend lining up appointments with strangers. And some may be uncomfortable with the idea of a large cash transaction, or a check that might not clear.

But they all understand that a dealer can offer convenience, and that he’s a pro. Smart dealers are able to leverage all that as they reach out to sellers online. They can present themselves as a safe, simple, and convenient alternative, and drive away with inventory that will still turn a profit.

Work the Process

Many dealers tend to treat this as a process, not as a random hit or miss effort. Here are a few ideas from dealers who are finding and buying cars online successfully:

  • Appoint and train a Used Car Buyer.
  • Understand the types of vehicles you are most interested in, including age, mileage, options, etc.
  • Be prepared to make a pre-offer asap.
  • Consider software tools.
  • Run a CARFAX vehicle history report on anything you might plan to buy.
  • Calculate your price range for each vehicle.
  • Bring the CARFAX vehicle history report when you meet with the seller.
  • Prepare as fast and convenient a closing process as possible.

Appraisal and Closing

Often success or failure rests in the details. A number of industry experts have suggested the importance of revising the traditional appraisal process. This goes for whether you’re looking at a service customer’s vehicle, or a walk-in, or a seller on Craigslist that you invited in. Even if you already have a pretty good idea of what the vehicle is worth, make the owner part of the process. In most cases, even an online seller will want to meet to go over the car and finalize the deal.

It can also be helpful to let them “sell you their vehicle,” by inviting them to tell you all about it. Owners are often more critical of a vehicle’s flaws than anyone else. Plus, getting to know what’s unique or interesting about that vehicle’s history can be helpful when you’re selling it.

During the appraisal, go over the CARFAX Vehicle History Report with them, as you walk around the vehicle. Not only does that allow both of you to get on the same page regarding value, the use of a trusted third-party data source reinforces that your offer isn’t just a ‘lowball.’ This approach helps your seller understand and take ownership of the number you eventually decide to offer them. When that time comes, hopefully, the process will have reduced the likelihood of causing any surprises.

Keep the entire process, including how you pay the owner, as simple and fast as possible. Remember that part of the appeal of selling to you is convenience.

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