I just returned from the NADA conference in Orlando. Amidst the talk about new federal regulations on the horizon, avoiding fraud and embezzlement at dealerships and, of course, the excitement over the new NADA president, Peter Welch, there was a lot of emphasis on internet marketing. Many sessions involved ways to improve dealer reputation and sales lead generation on the Internet. That emphasis was reflected in full force on the convention floor where vendors practically fell over each other to get in front of a dealer and explain why their lead generation or CRM systems were better than everyone else's. Some had flashy booths with digital displays and iPads. Others, young blondes in tight-fitting nurse's outfits, bouncing glowing red balls. Really?
Not being particularly shy, and genuinely curious about the differences in the products offered by all of these companies (not to mention being intrigued by the glowing red balls), I set out to learn more. That's when I truly learned the difference between wearing an "Allied Workshop" badge and wearing a "Dealer" badge. I was snubbed so much, you would think I had leprosy.
So I started hiding my badge under my suit jacket.
It worked for about 30 seconds with each vendor, as a warm smile and friendly personality go a long way. During that brief time, I would see them slavering, hoping to hook me on their product. Each question would inevitably lead back to a substanceless elevator pitch. Unsatisfied with vapid fluff, I brought to bear my cross-examination skills, zeroing in on the essence of their system, and I would inevitably get the question: "who are you with?"
Now, it's bad enough that I was wearing an "Allied Workshop" badge, but you should have seen the looks of revilement I saw when uttering the words, "I'm an attorney." It was the real world equivalent of Medusa's gaze. The most amusing example of this was the vendor whose face contorted into a scowl as she stiffened and reeled back so quickly that she nearly fell over in her high heels. Was it something I said?
Needless to say, I didn't get a whole lot of information out of the vendors. They just weren't interested in talking to me.
But then I attended Shaun Raines' presentation on analyzing lead generation metrics and it all made sense. Shaun is the Executive Director of DrivingSales University, which bills itself as an online, fully interactive training solution designed to help dealerships execute on digital sales and marketing strategies to help them be more profitable on the Internet. The focus of Shaun's presentation was the need for dealers to analyze their metrics, including bounce rates, to see what internet marketing efforts and processes are working and which are not. If a system or process is not working for a particular dealer, it can be discarded in lieu of something that does work.
It became clear that many of the vendors out there on the convention floor offered products that work for various types of dealers or dealers who utilize their product effectively, but the variables of any particular dealer's market, the habits of potential car buyers in that dealer's market or the ability of the dealer's internet marketing manager to take advantage of all that the product has to offer all bear on the effectiveness of any particular lead generator or CRM system. This led me to the conclusion that much of the competition on the floor existed, in part, because many dealers allow themselves to be overwhelmed by their options, which led me to another conclusion: once dealers figure it out, there will be a massive consolidation in this industry.
After I returned from NADA, I was talking to a dealer client, and dear friend, of mine in California's wine country about his efforts to take more advantage of the internet. I proposed that a smaller dealership, like his store, would probably benefit exceedingly well from an active internet presence, since his customers have to travel farther than those in an urban market to get their vehicles. Even without the distance factor, I've heard it said that almost a third, if not more, of car buyers conduct internet market research before buying a car. Remembering this statistic, I hypothesized that in his case a higher percentage of his potential customers are likely do more internet research before deciding where to travel to purchase a vehicle. He agreed. That's when he bemoaned the multitude of vendors trying to get his business (he might have described them as "snake oil salesmen") and the vast array of products available to generate leads and manage online reputation.
After discussing the problem, we ultimately decided on his hiring an internet sales consultant to get and manage the right lead generation and CRM system for his dealership. Many other dealerships, particuarly in metro and secondary markets, have had internet sales consultants for the last several years. Admittedly, this dealer is coming to the party a little late (I'll say fashionably late). But this discussion reminded me of the potential value of companies like DrivingSales, that not only train the dealer's internet sales manager, but they claim to be able to analyze the dealer's lead generation metrics to see what is working and what is not. It appears to allow a dealer to cut the wheat from the chaff; cut out what isn't working and save the rest. Of course, dealers and their sales staff don't have time to do all of this and sell cars as well. But with such a high a percentage of buyers conducting internet market research before going anywhere to purchase a car, an internet marketing manager is a critical member of any dealership's team.
I suspect that my next conversation with my dealer friend will involve reviewing his internet lead generation and CRM system vendor contracts.