As frozen lots thaw across the country, dealerships should brace for a wave of new-car sales brought on by heightened consumer demand and amplified manufacturer incentives. But while OEMs look to entice new-car buyers with lucrative rebate offers, it’s important for dealers to keep market conditions in perspective and be mindful of their marketing strategies.

Though some stores may be reluctant to let cars roll of the lot at prices significantly under MSRP, Cars.com chief analyst Jesse Toprak shares that effectively managing inventory in this period of demand has the potential to pay long-term dividends.

Category-specific Offers

Not all incentives are the same, so the first thing to do is to analyze the offers your inventory is already qualified for.

“Manufacturer incentives are very category-specific,” said Toprak. “Small SUVS are in peak demand and will likely see minimal incentives this year – somewhere between $500-$1000, maybe none at all. Large trucks on the other hand may see incentives upwards of $5,000-$7000.”

Make sure everyone from the new-car manager to the floor sales team understands all of the current manufacturer incentives and knows how to communicate them effectively to new customers. Since we know shoppers do their research ahead of time and tend to arrive on the lot with a deal in mind, not having full command of current offers has the potential to start that initial customer interaction off on the wrong foot.

Planning Ahead

It’s common for regional and national groups to use inventory forecasting models to optimize pricing and acquisition, but many smaller stores still face challenges balancing immediate needs with strategic planning. By thinking ahead, and potentially sacrificing short-term gains, Toprak suggests that dealers can better position their stores for bountiful spring and summer sales.

“Small single-point stores need to be particularly aware of market dynamics because they can’t afford to make mistakes,” said Toprak. “It’s even more important for them to plan long-term. Of course they’ve got to think about what they’re going to do this week – that’s a given – but they shouldn’t stop there. If they can look three to six months ahead, they can take advantage of market fluctuations and trends, rather than fall victim to them.”

Consistent Promotion

While some may be skeptical of “selling the deal” rather than the vehicle, by proactively connecting your dealership’s value proposition to inventory, you have the potential to offer a tremendous deal while also establishing a long-lasting customer relationship. It starts by integrating offers consistently through all of your marketing efforts. Look to answer these questions:

  • Are your manufacturer and dealership offers up-to-date in each of your marketing channels? Do you have a dedicated staff member responsible for keeping incentives current?
  • Are you effectively merchandising both your inventory and dealership? When potential customers seek out incentive information through your dealership, can they also learn about what makes buying from your store a smart decision, beyond inventory?
  • Does your advertising connect? Is the message you’re sharing on your website and external media aligned with the message you’re sharing on Cars.com?

On Cars.com, dealers can promote their incentives in several unique ways, but most effectively through targeted Special Offers. Customizable Special Offers make vehicles standout to consumers on Search Result Pages (SRP) and Vehicle Detail Pages (VDP) while also integrating into brand-building features, like the Dealer Profile Page and Premier New.

“Concentrate on the value you create,” said Toprak. “A good dealer will understand the dynamics of the marketplace and plan accordingly, utilizing discounting strategically to move excess inventory. If they can get to an optimal industry level by the summer, then mission accomplished.”

How do you plan on advertising manufacturer incentives this spring? Share your advice in the comments below or on our Facebook page.