Why don't we “see” a lot of car buyers?

Because, they're hiding behind laptops, computer tablets, smartphones, live chat and auto-buying websites, while cross shopping multiple dealerships simultaneously.

They are out there, but the recession taught them how to vulture-shop using digital tools. That's why the average American consumer is still spending 25% less daily than in 2007, according to Gallup.

Today, even law firms are more negotiable on fees, because of this same digital cross-shopping phenomenon.

But consumers may not know all they need to in order to get a great deal buying a car, even though they think they do. “Babies with revolvers,” is how one dealer client describes them.

Many customers stay arm's-length from the dealership when beginning to shop. They use new-media tools to get dealer commitments on price and trade, without making any financial commitment in exchange.

So how do you sell a customer that you cannot see, speak to, or even understand? Here's a game plan. Embrace the concept of real-time marketing, reaching the buyer when, where and how they are shopping for what you sell.

Think about your sales area as being your entire region or state. If a consumer is willing to shop competitive dealers hundreds of miles away, why not invite that customer to shop with you as well?

You need to reach the maximum number of people over the shortest amount of time. Broadcast TV in conjunction with the Internet is an effective way to do this, among other options.

Next, study your own business-development center data in terms of busy contact days with new consumers, customer-appointment volume, and busy sales days.

Google web analytics, your customer appointment calendar and your sales sheets have all the info you need to get started.

If your highest volume days are early in the week, why run ads on Friday and Saturday?

If your appointment volume is highest mid-week, isn't this a natural byproduct of your BDC efforts? Why run ads after most consumers have chosen a dealership already?

I call it “adver-timing.” It's worth looking into.

Adam Armbruster is a senior partner in the retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Co. Contact him at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.