Industry Events

AutoCon 2012 Review with Jay Campbell

As a 19 year representative of the “Vendor Community” and long time attendee of the various Digital Auto Conferences, it was refreshing to experience a show from the retail dealership perspective.

As the newly appointed Digital Marketing, Internet and BDC Director of a large Western Lexus Dealer, I was hoping to fully immerse myself into the newest plug and play gadgetry and techology-assuming I would be returning to So Cal with all sorts of new things to tinker with and install. Luckily for my Dealership’s bottom line, I didn’t find anything in the conference which truly “WOWED ME”. I did however find some complimentary pieces and also listened to some excellent speakers of which I’d like to discuss and write about for DealerRefresh…

The opening speaker for AutoCon was Sean Stapleton of Vin Solutions. Sean spoke about Integration and reaching people at the right time with the right message relevant to their behaviors. Their new Wheel Solution offering one universal log in and dashboard for everybody in the Dealership is getting much closer to fruition. It will be interesting to see how much money Auto Trader (which now owns Vin Solutions) puts into R&D to continue to develop and fine tune their software. Some of the take home quotes from Sean “Mass Media has Lost It’s Mass” and “Will you be able to Dynamically Change Messaging and Content based off your Prospects and Customers Real Time Behavior

After the opening speech my GM and I attended the 10AM Workshop given by Ralph Paglia of ADM on Digital Marketing and where it’s going.  Ralph is a notable thought leader in our business and I was hoping to get a good sense of where the next evolution was going to come. Ralph’s message was excellent but I thought he spent a bit too much time talking about the past and how we got to where we are now. You will always learn or take away something from a Ralph discussion. His take home quotes “Measurement must equate to Activity and ultimately Drive Action” and the most important thing to any Dealership over the next couple of years was “Social Relevancy and Improving and Managing your Online Reputation“.

Up next at 11:45AM was Jerry Thibeau of Phone Ninjas and his workshop Putting Dealer’s Phone Processes to the Test. Both my GM and I were really impressed with Jerry’s phone skill teaching and process. He actually secret shopped our store in front of the entire class and one of my ISM’s held up quite well as Jerry tried to break him down piece by piece. We’re going to have Jerry out for a two day training seminar at the end of the month.

I’m blown away at how many Dealers today still don’t understand how important phone skills are as the chief pillar in the architecture of your Digital Dealership. It’s a fact 7 out of 10 walk in’s have actually been online shopping your store thru a variety of pathways (3rd Party Sites, OEM sites and of course your own site). If you don’t have a well constructed phone answering process (whether via a virtual BDC, BDC or Professional In store Operators)to handle these same online shopper’s inquiries to achieve the ultimate goal of SHOWN APPOINTMENTS- your chance at remaining viable is nominal at best.

The last session we attended was Marc McGurren of PCG Consulting‘s workshop A General Managers Guide to Your BDC, Internet and Digital Marketing Dept. Marc is a fresh speaker who really engages his audience making most of the class interactive.  It was very well attended and obvious many Dealer’s were in the room looking for a “Secret Sauce” or “World Beating Strategy” to take their store to the next level.

The class was unique and interesting because it was the first time I could genuinely see the frustration, confusion and disconnect so many dealers have with regard to managing a well run BDC and Marketing Dept. Wearing my vendor cap and watching and listening intently, I was BLOWN AWAY by Dealers questions and comments about whether they should be using Auto Trader or etc. It’s never been more clear to me the need for intelligent, informed and well trained people needed in the Digital Marketing, BDC and Internet Depts across Dealerships in North America.

Marc offered his informed opinions and recommended various solutions but nothing any progressive and forward thinking dealer isn’t likely already using or has contemplated using. He does have a slick spread sheet which calculates and fully customizes ROI for every part of the Dealership’s bottom line.  I have seen many already out there similar – but if your store isn’t using one of these, you should be.

There was a time where I was offering content via my own Driving Sales Blog “Confessions of a Digital Car Guy” on a semi monthly basis from 2008 thru late 2009. As an often published writer on many of the Digital Marketing magazines/sites in their infancy, I lost my passion for writing about the Digital Car Business because of slow adoption rates and my personal frustration with trying to engage and help dealers get better. After attending this show I can honestly say my writers block has been lifted and my enthusiasm for the space has returned.

There are a lot of supremely sharp and well intentioned vendor folks in the space now. They are trusted resources for Dealers and many of them are inexpensive with regard to their platforms and how they improve and build efficiencies inside dealerships. Many of them are former dealers or dealership personnel themselves and “get it” in regards to what is necessary and utilitarian inside a modern day store. But I must digress. There is still a lot of room to improve and clearly work to be done.

If your Dealership does not employ a person who has an accomplished Digital Marketing and or Media Background to help guide or run your Internet, BDC and specifically your Digital Marketing Dept…you should do everything in your power to find, even hunt down such a person and pay them what is necessary to get your store on the right track.

In this very crazy economy where margins are dynamically being adjusted, it probably wouldn’t be hard for your store to woo one of your sharpest and impassioned vendors into coming aboard. You should consider it seriously as the knowledge these people often possess is exactly what is needed to modernize the parts of your store you struggle the most with.

In closing, I wanted to add what I thought was an “Optimal Front and Back End Marketing Strategy” to digitally evolve over the next 12-16 months.

    • Fully Optimized & Intelligent Website
    • Database Marketing (Sales and Service preferably thru an intelligent and fully DMS integrated CRM)-
    • SE0SEM
    • New/Used Inventory Push to the Endemics and Classified Sites
    • HookLogic (Lead Intelligence to increase shows)
    • Building and/or Growing an E-Commerce Store- for Parts and Service

Did you attend AutoCon 2012?
If so – what did you think? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

  • C
    Chris Saraceno
  • September 18, 2012
AutoCon was an Excellent Conference! A must for all who are looking to grow
  • R
  • September 18, 2012
Jay, thank you for attending AutoCon 2012 and this well written and thoughtful summary of your experiences at AutoCon 2012... In my own self criticism during the workshop of mine you attended, I had also felt I took too long covering the developments of digital marketing that brought us to the current point. When covering this topic in the future, I would like to assure you and your readers that the first 30 minutes of history will be compressed to 15, leaving 45 minutes to the present and future.  
Thanks for the mention, it was nice meeting you and look forward to a couple of days in your dealership.For me Autocon was a great event.  I am sure Ralph and team will take your comments and use them to host an even better event next year.  We all learn from experience and considering this was Ralph's first event, I have to give him credit for executing AutoCon in less than 6 months.
AutoCon was the first event my company attended as an exhibitor. We had no idea what to expect. We had a great experience! Every dealer we talked to at our booth was excited to be at the conference and many asked us when and where the next one would be. I personally attended a few of the workshops and all of them were well done and contained valuable information. We closed some deals, but the industry contacts and relationships we gained from attending were just as valuable. 
  • S
    Shawn Morse
  • September 19, 2012
 Jay It was great to meet you at AutoCon. I agree with the comments, AutoCon was a very well run event and the feedback I heard from dealers and vendors was very positive. We are really looking forward to working with you and your team and I hope to see you again soon at some of the upcoming Digital events.
One thing that I care in your post is the thing that I already learnt. Last time I have not fully understood it, but now it make me realize a lot of things and I do hope that I can issue my own book about this topic.