Thursday, January 24, 2008

Building trust when prospects think your reps are rattlesnakes in suits ...

Shopping cart for products worth $20,000 a pop
How it built trust and sales

What happens if the knee-jerk reaction of most prospects is to think you are about to rip them off?

You have to go to extremes to show you have nothing to hide and prove you are telling them the whole story (no hidden fees, no strings attached, no fine print, no nothing that will bite them in the you know what later.)

That was the problem facing Chris Hanson, director of eCommerce with Subaru of Plano, Texas, His company sells cars. And people who sell cars are often regarded as being as trustworthy as lawyers and journalists like me.

The answer was introducing a shopping cart online --- an unusual move in an industry where the average sale is $20,000 or more. Even more unusual, the company used an avatar to help prospects through the process.

If automotive dealers can sell cars online, what's stopping you?

Here is the story in his own words (the original appeared in our print publication, the Internet Marketing Report):

"We wanted to get prospects to trust us more than they trusted rivals. Every other industry was online, but our industry had resisted. And we also lagged when it came to trust: J.D. Powers’ reports showed the average buyer trusted us as much as the average lawyer. Not much.

"We knew many prospects were well-educated, computer savvy and unafraid of the Web. So we decided to try selling cars using a shopping cart with a difference. Because prospects were unfamiliar with the concept, our cart has an avatar, a virtual sales rep to guide them through the process.

Build trust in a non-threatening environment

"As a prospect lingers on a section, (for example, State taxes), the avatar’s eyes follow, look at the same spot, then rise to meet the eyes of the viewer and talk about how it works.

"Recently we’d been trying to contact a woman who’d called. But she wouldn’t take our calls.

"When we noticed she’d been using the avatar and cart, a rep called again, asking if she needed additional info. This time, she wanted to talk and we made the sale. In three months, we’ve already recouped the initial set-up costs. Prospects can get to know us, understand the process and compare offerings in a non-threatening environment. That establishes trust before they even talk to a rep."

In other words, this is about building trust by showing not selling, prospects get a guaranteed price, they get to see the details of the financing, the avatar explains interest rates, title transfers, taxes, etc.

Why buy this way? The first person to buy a car from Subaru using the shopping cart said that she liked to buy, but hated to be sold.

"I have only been buying a car every 10 years because I dislike the process so much. Now that I understand how it works, my whole view of the car buying process has changed."

That's someone who's likely to come back for more soon.

You can see the shopping cart at

Postscript: Chris Hanson just e-mailed me to say he is holding a seminar on this stuff in March. You can get more info and read about how other companies are using avatars and carts at

Posted by IMR editor Julie Power Thursday January 24, 2008.

All comments welcome!


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