But consumers are going digital, doing price comparisons, reading reviews, and watching videos. Offline touch points such as walk-ins to dealers and test-rides have been dropping sharply, found a recent Google-Kantor survey of people interested in buying a car in India. Yet, sales processes haven’t got into sync with changing consumer behaviour.
This is where sales tech can change the game. Singapore and Bengaluru-based startup Lucep, for example, is helping auto companies and dealers with what it calls “an Uber for test-rides."
A vast majority of sales leads come to auto companies from third-party websites and blogs. Lucep’s open API (application programming interface, or the interface that allows apps or programs to communicate with each other) embedded in sites can capture digital leads and allocate them to dealers. A call to a prospective buyer can go out in minutes and a test-ride can reach a customer’s home instead of waiting for the prospects to come to a dealer.
Quick closure of sales
Earlier, manual processing of leads via email and spreadsheet took nearly a week, by which time a buyer may have moved on to another brand. The effect of digitizing it for an Indian auto brand was to treble the percentage of leads converting to test-rides, from 10 percent over a three-month period last year to over 30 percent during a pilot study in the same period this year, says Sujay Iti, Lucep’s regional manager in Bengaluru. “The pilot showed it took six minutes on average to make the first contact on a lead compared to 51 hours earlier."
The test-ride is one part of a broad spectrum of online-to-offline engagements that Lucep aims to accelerate. “We believe this is underserved because of either lack of appreciation of value or not putting a process into place," says Lucep co-founder and CEO Kaiesh Vohra.
After test-rides, the next logical step for “Uberisation" will be “instant support," says Vohra. For example, a person facing a problem with a vehicle in the middle of the road can open the brand’s app. Lucep integrated within the app would help connect with a nearby dealer, check the status of warranties, and so on.
The cost of providing this level of support comes down when you can instantly allocate the request to the nearest dealer that has the required services. Apart from these efficiencies, digitization of sales and support processes can help a brand get a bigger bang for its marketing buck.
Brands and dealers are not always on the same page in the complex web of auto sales. For example, a dealer licensed for a certain area may at times be inundated with leads allocated to that pincode. The dealer may lack the incentive to chase new leads in such a situation. But from a brand’s point of view, any prospective buyer’s query going unanswered hurts perception, apart from wasted investment in marketing.
Digitization allows a brand to closely track leads, measure outcomes, and take steps. If the problem is inaction, it can be sorted out with the dealer. If leads are few, marketing campaigns can be tweaked.
“When you generate leads with a campaign, you do it for a target audience. So feedback is important for marketing. If the wrong set of people is being targeted, they can retarget the campaign midway. It’s a self-feeding cycle," explains Neel Padmanabhan, Global Client Partner for Lucep.
Insurance against failure
The five-year-old startup first had an AI-powered sales tech widget for small and medium enterprises, before making headway in banking and insurance companies.
Vohra, who worked for Accenture after doing AI studies at the University of Edinburgh, knows how to partner with a systems integrator to disrupt legacy processes in large corporations. This helped roll out Lucep software for customer engagement at a global banking chain’s branches across Mexico a couple of years ago.
But a startup’s path is strewn with pitfalls. Last year, Lucep spent several months working on a flagship innovation for a bank in Malaysia. The bank pulled out on the day it was to sign off on a pilot. “This has happened with multiple banks," says Vohra. “The business cries out for the tool, but budget control pulls it."
It’s harder for a bootstrapped startup like Lucep, whose founders Vohra and Zal Dastur have steadfastly eschewed venture capital funding, to withstand the cash flow crunch that arises from such setbacks and keep on adapting and innovating. But it did find better traction in insurance, where MetLife, has taken to its software.
Lucep is using artificial intelligence and geolocation to help the US multinational’s insurance agents get qualified leads from digital channels. The lead goes to an agent best located to deal with it fast, along with contextual information and selling points generated from an AI engine. This began as a pilot programme in Portugal, after Lucep won an innovation contest for an 80,000-Euro ( ₹6.35 million) award to test the solution. After the pilot got glowing reviews, it’s expected to be deployed in 50 countries where MetLife has a presence.
Last year, Lucep got selected in Daimler’s Startup Autobahn programme in Singapore, whose aim is to bring startups and corporations together for innovations in mobility. This was Lucep’s entry into the automotive industry, and now it’s working with leading brands from India and the UK, like Royal Enfield and Triumph.
But however good digitization sounds on paper, the ground reality is far from frictionless. Iti shares his experience with an auto brand for which Lucep did a 30-day pilot. The feedback from dealers after the pilot was a dampener. The sales leads were far more in number, but most were duds, they said.
This was surprising because the sources of the leads were the same; it was just the process of capturing them and following up that had accelerated.
Luckily, in a digital system, it’s harder to fudge the issue. Lucep was able to show the brand marketing team that a majority of leads had simply gone unattended. So how did the sales persons decide they were duds?
“Complaints of lead quality were coming in simply because they did not want to be accountable," explains Vohra. “Nobody likes to be tracked, especially sales people."
For the brand, on the other hand, such tracking and analytics is vital to ensure that the marketing spend delivers optimal value. In this case, the brand cracked down after the review by setting a requirement for all leads to be called within five minutes. This led to a number of sales staff having to be replaced.
Disruption doesn’t come easy.
Sumit Chakraberty is a contributing editor with Mint.