NEW YORK – Some auto salespeople are losing the art of selling and closing the deal because the Internet has empowered so many car consumers.

Showroom staffers increasingly face shoppers who have done their homework online and consequently are armed with everything from product information to local pricing when they walk into the dealership.

It’s enough to make a salesperson think little is left for them to do other than write up an order.

But that’s flawed logic, say participants of a panel discussion at the Automotive Resource Network’s second annual conference here. They address two hot topics:

  • What are modern consumer expectations?
  • Are salespeople handling customers correctly?

The panel’s answer to the first question: high. The answer to the second: not always.

“Because of the assumption the consumer has done all this research and has become so knowledgeable, it can take away from the ability to close the deal,” says Robert Grill, senior process-improvement manager for Carfax.

That is a No.1 concern among dealers he has spoken with. “Some salespeople almost are waiting for the consumer to say, ‘OK, give me that car.’”

But buying a vehicle remains a major purchase no matter how much the Internet has enabled customers. The salesperson still plays a vital role.

“Customers still need the confidence to buy the car,” says Grill, a former dealership manager who began as a car salesman on New Year’s Day in 1986 at a Hamburg, NY, store.

“Just because today’s knowledgeable customers don’t feel overwhelmed or overmatched at the dealership, they still need that confidence,” he says. “And it’s up to the dealership to provide it, to say: ‘It’s OK to buy the car. It’s time to buy the car. It’s a good deal for you.’”