I am not sure if it was because of the simultaneously scheduled “King of Cars” TV marathon on A&E or that the all male review “The Thunder Down Under” was completely sold out this past week, but Jeff and Alex were unable to attend the Spring Digital Dealer Conference being held in Las Vegas, and I kindly stepped up to provide this friendly review for each of you…
Located at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, this year’s spring conference promised some great entertainment combined with a strong agenda of current issues within our fast-moving market. I teamed up with Alex Jefferson of Proctor Honda and Acura to attend multiple sessions, as well as to meet with several vendors to share some useful information with our DealerRefresh readers (please note the well-coached GQ pose that Alex prompted me to take…).
“Please God, what does it take to sell a car?” That is certainly a strong opening statement, and this session led by Gil Chavez, Joe Webb, and Kim Clouse reviewed some strong fundamentals to what it takes to utilize the Internet successfully to sell cars. This was a great session for the first day as it reminded everyone of the skills that build a strong foundation for your Internet strategy. With such a challenging market, and with so many things to do, Gil, Joe and Kim emphasized that today’s Internet manager must be “God-like” – which begs the question “What type of pay plan does a God-like Internet manager deserve…”
Video is still a hot topic, and has been building interest at these conferences since it first hit our market. Sean Bradley gave a great seminar that shared the benefits of video for your dealership, as well as several useful tips. Some things that caught my attention included NOT using TubeMogul to distribute your videos – but rather taking the time to distribute unique content, and to mix up your titles and descriptions rather than just creating duplicate content. There was also some discussion regarding using recycled content that everyone else is using (OEM videos) vs. creating unique content. I learned about some technology developments in this arena from Sean that I think could provide some very interesting changes within our Video SEO strategies, to include pixel, voice, and face recognition technology within the search engines. Google is concerned about content, and does your video content have audio that is saying the keywords you are targeting? And in a side- note, if you are making video testimonials of your customers – are you getting a signed release to publish them online???
How about “Getting Social” online? Jesse Biter of Homenet led an excellent session on how to utilize social networking tools as part of your Internet solution. Jesse had a full-house of attendees, and this was definitely a hot topic for this conference. I think Jesse summed this up quite well with telling us that social networking is just “word-of-mouth” online. What is your dealership’s best closing source? Referrals! Social networking provides the tool to utilize “word-of-mouth” online to create referrals to your dealership. I found 2 very useful recommendations from Jesse to include TweetBeep (which is very similar to Google Alerts, but allows you to keep track of any conversations about you and your dealership online), as well as to include your Facebook info in your signature fields for your emails as a great way to personalize yourself to your customer.
Do you know what your customers are saying about you? Are you managing your online reputation, or just burying your head in the sand and hoping that everything goes ok? Matt Lamoureux of DealerRater gave an outstanding presentation that addressed all areas of online reputation management. He also shared how to share positive reviews online with your Facebook friends, which is a great way to build up more of those online referrals. I think more than half of the sessions I attended brought up DealerRater as a “must” if you are serious about your Internet strategy, and I am strongly encouraged to see Chip Grueter and his team being incredibly aggressive in keeping their product on the cutting edge.
I know that it is hard to rate a “best” seminar with so many great speakers and presentations, but I have to say that Brian Pasch hit a home-run with his “SEO Survival Toolkit”. Let’s face it – the battleground of our market is on the search engines, and Brian showed us several useful tips on how to better search engine optimize our sites. What really aggravates me is that what Brian is showing us (e.g. having duplicate titles and duplicate meta descriptions on our website pages is not good) should be common sense for SEO, yet why do our automotive website vendors still make these common mistakes? When we are paying thousands of dollars a month to our website vendors, why do we have to pay additional money to make their sites perform optimally in the search engine results? Brian also shared great tips on using blogs, press releases, Google Map listings, and much more to better optimize your sites.
The exhibitor hall was huge, and unfortunately, not very full. Our slow market was reflected in less vendors being present, as well as in where the vendors were. Several vendors are taking an alternative approach to these conferences, and are choosing to work the floor and the sessions aggressively with networking rather than have an exhibit. Depending on what service or product they provide, this can be a very effective approach. I tried to visit most of the exhibitors and learn what was hot, and what was new. vAuto has been upgrading their tool, and now has a new module where you can view a graph of where the inflection point is for your inventory pricing – or more simply – at what point of pricing does your online views suddenly jump! eBay Motors is taking a more aggressive approach now in better training dealers on how to use their tool effectively. More dealers are now looking to Live Chat to improve their website conversion rates, and ActivEngage was seeing a lot of traffic. While speaking with Homenet, I learned about several new features that I was unaware of, but that have been available to me at no additional cost for some time. This was a great wake-up call for me (and I hope for others) that all of us need to go back to our current vendors on a regular basis to train on their tools and ensure that we are using them 100% to our advantage. It is also encouraging to me to see vendors that are constantly improving and upgrading their tools on their own initiative to help us in our business – that is the kind of partnership that my group looks for and is most beneficial for us. And before you ask, the “give-aways” were quite minimal this year, so Alex and I chose not to give a best give-away prize this year. I am not mad at any of the vendors for this, in fact, this is a good sign, as when times are bad, ALL of us need to cut back on unnecessary expenses.
Very interesting concept – what happens when several different vendors are trying to sell their service, but find other areas that their prospects are struggling with, and are making it difficult for the vendor to close their deals? Three proactive vendors decided to address this and banded together to provide a combined solution to best meet their customers’ needs. Dealer 212 is a consortium of 3 vendors, Su-Lin Jasicki with CarSoup, Tanesha Bennett with ADTraffic, and Katie Jackson-Richter with Cuneo Advertising. What impressed me about this approach was that they were willing to think “outside of the box” and put their heads together to find a solution that worked best for the dealer, rather than compete with each other for the best solution for themselves. I am looking forward to seeing how this works out at the next session…
What was the “word on the streets?” Was it text messaging? Twitter? Facebook? Community Pages? Video inventory? Online pricing tools? Best SEO tactics? The “word” was OVERWHELMING. Listening to people in the sessions or at the exhibit hall showed me that attendees are struggling with how to manage everything that this job entails. How do you manage 17 different social networking sites, 8 blogs, 4 community pages, Live Chat, inventory, video SEO, Tweeting all day, and 1001 other items every week when you are already pressed for time? And on top of that, we are still fighting internal politics on getting the culture at our dealerships to change with this market. My advice is to choose your battles. You cannot do everything yourself. Prioritize what you need to do, and then do that as well as you can. Then choose to LEAD your people to take ownership of the Internet as well, and to help you with other areas that you cannot manage directly.
Another great benefit of attending these conferences is seeing opportunities for new businesses to serve our fellow dealers. With that in mind, Alex Jefferson and I are starting a new company called “BS Statistics”. Our company will provide any statistics you need to sell your product or service, and we can show you how our service will help increase your sales by 43.7%. Further, with our help, ANYONE can become the “expert” in their field, using our BS statistics to provide the credibility you need in pushing the product or service you are selling. Don’t believe us? 87% of the speakers at Digital Dealer are recognized experts in their field, thanks to our BS statistics…I hope this is taken in good form, as after attending countless sessions and product demos, we were beginning to question where so many often quoted “stats” come from…
Ah – the “after-hours” section of the review. Hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? All kidding aside, the entertainment available in Vegas is unmatched. Many thanks to Ruanne Varden and Stuart Lloyd at Clickmotive for a great dinner and a ticket to the Cirque de Soleil Beatles Love show (absolutely incredible, has my highest recommendation, and anyone going to Vegas without seeing a show is missing the best part). Chip Grueter and the DealerRater team hosted a fantastic dinner and drinks session at Stacks (fantastic restaurant at The Mirage) that was well attended and lots of fun. Whew – and then Jesse Biter and the HomeNet team kept me out the entire night at the exclusive nightclub Jet. No, I didn’t see Brittney Spears there (it is one of her places to go) but I did see Mike Roscoe, Patrick Workman, Phil Penton, and many others living it up. Thanks Jesse for your hospitality!
With all that said, here is my concluding sermon. There is no “school” for what we do. And if some university started a degree for “Automotive Internet Professional”, the day you graduated with your degree, the information would likely already be outdated. These Digital Dealer conferences are invaluable – and they are the only “school” available to us that are up to date and are moving as fast as the market (hence 2 sessions per year). Even with the Las Vegas nightlife and some very late nights for all, the sessions were still highly attended. The people attending these conferences are serious and are not only attending the sessions, but are working the exhibit hall to network with others that can teach them more. My overall summary is that this was another outstanding conference, I came away with a lot of great ideas that can make our group better, and I would highly encourage everyone to attend the next one. Cheers to all (and I apologize if I could not mention all of the great folks I met with)! And if you missed it, here is a short video clip of the Mirage volcano eruption.
About the Arthor: Kevin Frye is the eCommerce Director
for the Jeff Wyler Automotive