Opinions & Advice

Are you a Finger Pointer?

The world is full of finger pointers and we certainly don’t need more.  I’m so sick of people not taking responsibility for things.  If you’ve been in management, or have had to keep multiple vendors connected, then you have probably felt my same frustration.  Before this turns into a rant I want to say I have been enlightened.  Yes, there are certainly some childish finger pointers out there (that’s right, I called you childish) but most of it comes from a lack of understanding.

Let’s use the pre-owned inventory display conundrum that plagues most dealerships as an example.  This is definitely one of the biggest time wasters and absolutely is hell.

My experience with getting a physical car to show on all the retail sites started with the entry of the vehicle either by a finalized deal (trade) or the wholesale department (auction) entering basic vehicle information into the DMS.  From there it was typical for some digital dead time as we waited for service to check the car out and update their end of things in the DMS.  Then it could be onto some extra reconditioning.  During this time stock photos and “Call for Pricing” are the digital attire for customers to browse – exciting!

While this car is “digitally naked” (feel free to snag that term) the inventory merchandising tool (a HomeNet-type of tool) is showing your photo/comment/pricing to total inventory ratio as being a single car off.  This gets the boss’ blood pressure up as you’re tasked with cracking the whip on your photo takers and window sticker pasters.  Of course, they’re screaming back that they can’t find the car or it is in reconditioning.  Then your representative from vAuto or AAX is telling you the dealership is doing a terrible job on its turn rate…..such is this never-ending fun.

When we’ve finally got the car “digitally dressed” we come across a new problem:  why it isn’t showing on Cars.com.

  1. We’ve checked the DMS:  status code – check, GL Balance above $xxx – check, all necessary fields filled – check.
  2. We’ve checked the inventory tool:  photos – check, comments – check, price – check, necessary fields filled – check, last feed push within 12 hours – check.
  3. We’ve checked the pricing tool:  updated price in last 5 days – check, that price matches the inventory tool – check.

Why isn’t this car on Cars.com?

  1. Call the inventory tool support folks – they have no idea….all looks good.
  2. Call the used car manager to see if he manually deleted it – nope….he wants it online ASAP and now he knows there is a problem, so he’s getting the GM involved – fantaaaastic!
  3. Call the Cars.com rep to be reminded that you requested the feed be switched from your inventory tool provider to your website provider because they can now push videos to Cars.com.
  4. Call your website provider to have them point the finger back at your inventory tool provider…….fuuuuuuuuu….

If you read through all that, I apologize.  I know it was painful, but so is the world of complicated systems mixed with a world of too many needed steps to get a simple chore done.  This is the world we live in and it is a world wrought with little accountability….or should I say little understanding.  The simple answer is “hey vendors – build something” but the truth is the vendors build stuff all the time.

Much of the problem is that people love shiny objects, and in dealer groups, there isn’t always a single voice of authority on which products a group uses.

So, we come back to a need for understanding instead of finger pointing.  Take the time to understand your systems, take the time to understand your process, and create a documented path of accountability so people can understand where to go when a step in the system breaks down.

How many people in your dealership truly understand your technological process?

Here is a simple diagram you can model your process flow off of (example being the inventory feed flow):

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
Nice work in putting together this flow chart, the rant is great as well (have you been talking to Uncle Joe?) The "real time" promises made from some vendors tend to be unrealistic and the reality of technology (at least for me) is not everything fits together seamlessly.

This statement in your post sums it all up for me "This is the world we live in and it is a world wrought with little accountability….or should I say little understanding." Everybody wants to talk about accountability, understanding is the real answer in most cases.

Craig Belowski AKA @ridederty

Flow chart was amazing. I just helped a dealer get through a serious finger pointing session. IN the end we had to co-ordiante a conference call between the dealer, DMS, web company. After everyone put there head together and swallowed their egos it was smooth sailing.

Alex...THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! As an Inventory Management provider for nearly 90 dealerships throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey this is ALWAYS one of the greatest challenges we face in working with our clients. Well done Alex...well said...and it needed to be said. The only thing I would like to add is the latency that can even be experienced from one website to another. Inventory updates that are made either through DMS polling or administrative backend access from Inventory Providers such as AutoUpLinkUSA have varying times as to when they are published by each 3rd party website. While a price change might show within 4 hours on Cars.com, it could take longer on other sites just due to their processing and publishing turn-around times.

Thanks again for bringing up the topic.
Ain't it the truth. Well written and basically what I deal with on a daily basis. It can be nerve-wracking talking to well-intentioned support reps at three different companies all trying to solve the same problem and then .. inevitably... the problem comes back next month and we start the game over again. (If I have to listen to the obnoxious greeting on one of my vendors support lines just one more time I may throw my phone out the window.)
Great post Alex. As a guy that has spent time working for both a data collection/distribution vendor and a classified site I really enjoyed hearing your frustration. That doesn't sound right, but hear me out.

In both of those roles the Vendor has a huge challenge too and always has less than the full picture. It's kind of like putting together a puzzle with the printed side facing the table.

From the vendor side of the desk I used to tell my people to do the legwork, make the calls and figure out the problem, take the extra step to call the dealer back with the solution, even if you can't "fix it."

I especially liked the part about feeds. Can't tell you how many times I had to politely answer "I pay YOU to get my inventory to X! Fix it" with "X tells me YOU switched the primary feed to your website. Got time for a conference call?" Sure wish I had your diagram back then, might still have some hair in the back.
  • G
  • January 19, 2011
Alex - What a great conversation to have... such a frustration for dealers, vendors, classified sites and, ultimately consumers too... You can add another annoyance -- businesses that scrape listings off dealer websites and then don't update them!

Ryan - You've got a unique perspective and represent that dealer frustration well.
  • G
  • January 19, 2011
All in all, don't we... meaning providers of services or products for dealerships... bear the responsibility of integration to the point of making sure this stuff works? Aren’t we here to provide solutions for our dealer customers? Too often, vendors won't integrate solutions because of old policies, old technologies or, most troubling, fear.

One of the vendors listed in this post won't send Dealer Specialties a data feed because they are fearful of our intent, despite the dealer's request to do so. This type of thinking was once the norm at Dealer Specialties as well; however, today it’s different. If a dealer chooses not to use our services, we will help them transition, which includes sending the new vendor our data and photos as necessary.

Another website company represented here won't accept real-time feeds from Dealer Specialties because they believe they compete with one of our sister products. Again, they do this despite our mutual customers’ needs.
  • G
  • January 19, 2011
The answer is simplistic. Vendors who supply products or services to dealers need to remember to keep their customers’ interests first and avoid finger pointing. The dealer doesn’t want or need to be troubled… just fix it. What vendors are interested in joining Dealer Specialties in this endeavor? We certainly aren’t perfect but we are trying… with the dealer’s best interest at heart.
Alex, do you remember the last time you were in town and where sitting in my office as I was building out an inventory feed chart?

Allow me to make a suggestion as you are building out this cart. Add the exact time that each feed gets processed and low long on average it takes to post.

Too many times I have a manager calling me saying "we made a price change in ADP but it's not reflecting in Homenet - how comes?" Of course then have a series of questions:

1. I need an example stock number
2. What are the prices being reflected in ADP and Homenet?
3. When did you update ADP? 24 or 48 hours ago?
4. What time did you last check Homenet for a change?

All this before making a call to support.

Funny that you posted this article today - it just so happens, what I wrote above was a circumstance that happened today. :)

Once you have your flow chart, train your managers on it. Several times - it's rare they will comprehend it the first time around.
Understanding the problem generally gets you 90% of the way to a solution. With this post and chart, I know you have helped a lot of folks understand the issue.

On a side note, we're seeing an increase in the number of dealers appraising a car on a mobile device and snapping a few photos at the same time. As soon as the acquisition is complete they can at least get the car online. It's only a band-aid, as you'd want to replace the quick-and-dirty photos as soon as possible but it keeps the car from being “digitally naked”.

You sure don't have to use vAuto software to implement a similar strategy.

Ed Brooks
  • G
  • January 19, 2011
vAuto and Dealer Specialties are a great example of two competitive companies working together with real time updates of pricing changes for distribution.
"Allow me to make a suggestion as you are building out this cart. Add the exact time that each feed gets processed and low long on average it takes to post."

Great suggestion Jeff, I really liked this flow chart. Alex, this could be like the periodic table of elements for the car business!
I definitely remember watching you struggle with Omnigraffle Jeff - lol. Your exercise helped me come up with the flow chart for Checkered Flag's before I left.

Some other programs you can build these in:
Omnigraffle (my favorite)
Quite a few "mind-mapping" iPad apps out there as well
You could even do one in Excel, but Powerpoint is easier

Thanks for all the comments folks. I had no idea that flow chart would be so exciting. I'm adding it to my presentation at the Pre-NADA Napa Valley PCG event.
Alex, yes, brilliant and very simplified approach. We do it every day, but to see it graphically and explained adds multiple dimensions.

Here are a few other "problems" that we have come across that prevents vehicles/prices/images from posting:

1. Vehicle(s) still in another dealers inventory and will not post to ATC, CARS...have them run the VIN if it will not post. You have to ask when you conference their support, they will not always think of this.

2. Price changes not going through even though you changed them in vauto or your DMS could be a "locked vehicle" or "locked price field" in your inventory management system

3. Broken image URL's will often prevent vehicle to load or all images to load on 3rd party sites or your own website - big issue with BZ sites (aka DMi). We've chased this issue for days until someone decided to start clicking on image URL's

4. Other 3rd party import has not run. This is a common occurence with certain website companies. Even if data collection companies do real time uploads...if the 3rd party companies don't run the inventory and photo processors, the inventory will not update.

Goal for 2011, get more companies (Cobalt, BZ, DDC...) to run inventory AND photo processors multiple times per day, or build API's with the inventory companies - this will reduce countless hours of conference calls - just my .02
Ah the joys of being an ecommerce director. This is one of the biggest nightmares we have dealt. I remember the pressure and the finger point. Yes I was that pin cushion in the past. I love how the blame goes to the Internet manager all of the time. But you my friend wrote a nice article.
Nice one Alex.

You've hit a real pain point for everyone...

Has anyone else experimented with increasing the number of times the export file, including images, is sent to your host? (I've recently upped this to 4 times/day)
We should be demanding API for our inventory feeds.

I nicely asked my dealer website provider (dealeron) to work with HomeNets API. They got it done and now our inventory is updated every 5 minutes.

I'm sure we will eventually get to this across the board, but what's taking so damn long?
@AxSnyder So, in the end, was it the website provider or the feed provider? My guess is the website since the feed host said all was good everywhere else?
Hi Eric!

Although AT and Cars update overnight, HomeNet hits our DMS hourly and updates our site. My experience has found that the closer to real time you get the more scrutiny your system gets. We have 40 reps under 3 roofs in the same market. Almost real-time updates changes your sales processes. All reps consider a car seen on our site means its not sold and they take deposits with conviction. What a train wreck we have when the hourly updates break (and they do break!).
I made that scenario up, but it is based on a whole lot of issues I've experienced in the past. I do recall dropping some brain cells once and forgetting that we switched our Cars.com and Autotrader feeds from our inventory tool to our website provider. A few months after making the switch I did have a problem with the Cars.com feed. We still had our inventory tool sending a feed to them too, but Cars.com wasn't picking it up (that was the right thing to do). It only took me about 2 days to remember we were sending through Dealer.com and not HomeNet - I felt bad for HomeNet having to work through my stupidity. Once I remembered a quick call to Dealer.com cleared it all up.

There are so many people involved and so many steps it is amazing any of us can really keep up with the whole process.
One of the biggest problems is photos. Updating photos and trying to send them to vendors that don't have anything in place to automatically accept the new photos.

Inventory will not become more real time until all the DMS providers can provide updates that quick as well. Most of them are still limited to once a day updates.

And then there are the dealers that WANT to show sold vehicles on their websites so they continue getting leads on the vehicles....

I do remember the days when dealers would cancel on the lot service providers (I won't point fingers) and they would threaten to sue if the dealer took the photos to a new provider.
I completely agree with this bandaid. Our top dealers keep their fresh inventory from being digitally naked by giving all trades they plan on putting on the front line a quick wash, taking a few real pictures, and adding what options the vehicle actually has as opposed to the ones that come with an automated VIN decode.

This has been shown to turn inventory faster (having real photos, real options, and having the vehicle online sooner), which also means less interest is paid on the vehicle by the dealer. It doesn't remove the problem of why the vehicle isn't appearing in the right places, but it's something that more dealers should try to take advantage of.
Software development. Resources. Time. Our API doesn't work with their API, their API doesn't work with ours, one side doesn't have an API, but they're working on it, we can't get it to work until we get done with this other project, etc. are all common problems in this arena.

The good news is that it will eventually happen and everyone seems headed in that direction.
Jeff - from my understanding, DealerOn does have an API with Homenet and it runs every 15 minutes. You may have to get in touch with DealerOn support to get it in place, but it's worth it. We have several clients using DealerOn sites and we operate our business on Homenet, so it's a great fit and damn near "real time". Good Luck - Paul.
I'm already there. Our inventory gets updated every 5-15 mins. Love it!!Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
Hey Alex,

Do you guys have a real-time API like DealerOn? I'd be all over this...
  • J
    Joe High
  • January 23, 2011

Great feedback. There are a number of issues at play here. In my opinion there are a few large vendors that think their size excludes them from accountability. Our dealers don't have time to deal with these headaches. Eventually the vendors that don't work with each other will lose their customers because of the culture within the company that allows it to happen in the first place.
Very nicely put Alex, it's like you were standing in my shoes trying to explain to the powers to be why I do the things I do to do my job, now, where did I put my camera?
  • P
  • April 6, 2011
Alex, great post and obviously you hit a nerve here. It's great posts and passion for the dealer community that makes DealerRefresh a great resource for the industry.

I'm very blessed that you and Jeff are conducting a series of workshops at the Automotive Marketing Boot Camp, April 16-18th. I hope that other DealerRefresh members take advantage of being part of the live education process for your workshops.