How does Cars.com really stack up against the competition after 10 years of business?
What makes Cars.com different?
How are dealers measuring the effectiveness of their advertising sources? (Is it still emotional, or are they allowing the numbers to speak?)
Does lead scoring have a place in the showroom, or is it a better fit for the larger entities?
Will consumer comments and reputation management for dealers move the needle AND will Cars.com jump into this arena?
When and will online video advertising find a home in the dealer universe?
Is it time that your dealer employs an in-house SEO expert/manager?
These were just SOME of the questions we discussed at this year’s Cars.com Online Automotive Leadership Summit.
I wasn’t sure how to format this post. Do I keep the topic and conversation all about Cars.com, or do I write about the actual discussions that took place? The truth is, talking about Cars.com would make up for a short post since there was little discussion about them and more about the car business.
Why would Cars.com spend the time and money to hear a bunch of Dealer Internet Consultants talk about the car business?
Because they’re crazy or crazy smart? Having 11 well-known Dealer Internet Consultants in one room for 2 days brings to the surface a lot of great information.
So who was there?
David Kain from Kain Automotive, Cory Mosley from Mosley Automotive, Thomas O’Connor from Precision Training, Todd Smith from activEngage, Jennifer Suzuki from eDealer Solutions, Paul Webb from Street Smart Training, Michael Tyman from Professional Success, Les Abrams from NADA, John Shumaker from The Cure Consulting Services, Bill Philips from Automotive Internet Management, Shaun Raines from Dealer Advisor AND myself; representing DealerRefresh and the Internet Manager for MileOne.
The day started out with Mitch Golub, president of Cars.com, briefing us on where Cars.com has been and where they are going. He talked about the principles and the driving culture behind Cars.com.
- Principle 1: The consumer is KING
- Principle 2: Advertisers are our Partners
Nothing seems more important to Mitch than having great people working with him, having a dedication to fun and enjoying what you do at your job. It doesn’t take but a few moments of meeting and hearing Mitch speak to know that he is a leader, a leader of his tribe. I sincerely mean that.
Alright, enough of the sappy shit. What did we get to see from Cars.com? What tricks are they pulling out of their hat in the near future?
- A New Home Page
- Mobile Websites product for dealers
- The allowance of dealer ratings by the consumer
- New Chat program for dealers to engage with consumers
- Cars.com has grown 55% since 2006
- Leads to dealers are up 44%
- Average leads to dealers are up 14%
- Saturdays are the busiest day for Cars.com’s mobile website
- Did you know: Cars.com has an average of 20,000 dealers while their closest competition estimates at being at an average of 21,000?
Something that I have always found interesting about Cars.com is the fact that they realize their actual Cars.com website cannot be everything to everyone. They have completely immersed themselves into the social side by owning and managing sites like pickuptrucks.com, motherproof.com and several other online car enthusiasts’ forums. Getting to understand the consumer through these mediums, I think, gives Cars.com a nice advantage.
Enough about Cars.com, the exciting part of this trip was the fact that you had 11 well-known dealer consultants (not including myself) in one room with open discussions on several topics. Twelve pavement pounders that are in and out of dealers getting to work the front line while helping dealers become better with their Internet marketing efforts and sales processes.
One discussion that hit home with most was how dealers are measuring (or need to measure) the effectiveness of their ad sources. It’s still amazing how so many dealers are not tracking, not measuring or even keeping records and statistics on what is working. They continue to make a judgment call to cancel an advertising source based on “gut instinct” (could these be some of the same dealers that are closing their doors next few months).
What dealers should be tracking to determine the effectiveness of their ad source:
- Closing Ratio
- Cost Per Sale
Yes, there are others but they all eventually play into these 3 measurements.
Of course, online merchandising 101 is always a discussion. The same stuff that most readers of DealerRefresh have heard and have talked about a million times over; how do you properly merchandise your inventory online? Many times we take what we do on a daily basis for granted (especially when you’re in a major metropolitan area where you have more dealers dialed in than not) but the truth is, most dealers are still severely missing the mark on properly merchandising their inventory online.
If you merchandise your inventory like every vehicle is the only one of its kind, you’ll produce more leads. But how good are these leads? Is this customer ready to buy, and what are the chances that he/she will buy this vehicle? The topic of Lead Scoring seems to surface everywhere I go now. The opinions I find are split right down the middle. You’re either on board with it or against it. I think if you’re against it, it’s because you don’t understand it and you’re not looking at the large picture. I made the statement, “Chances are no one will be saying the words ‘lead scoring’ with-in the next 2 years.” The new term used will be “microtargeting” but of course will encompass lead scoring.
Dealer Videos and more Video
Where is video going and will it change the online landscape for car dealers? We already see Google giving video greater relevancy in the search results, but great video content is where the problem lays for dealers. How can dealers afford and obtain the resources for quality engaging online video? Yes, you have the sales people walking around a used car talking about the feature benefits but what comes after that? And will amateur footage always be cool? The truth is, many dealers are still not aware of this medium or are struggling with it. I don’t think we spent enough time on this subject. That might had been the same time Cory went on some tangent about something on something else. LOL. Sorry, Cory.
Dealer Rating websites and consumer ratings – another hot topic!
Consumers have been rating hotels and restaurants online for years now. Trip Advisor anyone? But all of a sudden we are seeing more and more consumers jumping online and sharing their experiences they are having at your dealer.
Will Cars.com step into this arena? The discussions were leading to an answer of YES. We were all a little taken back by this, knowing that this would not be an easy task and could cause a few dealers to bail out. I think it’s a HUGE move and one that could ultimately benefit Cars.com in a profound way IF handled correctly. I suggested starting with an Opt In for dealers that wanted to participate. Back to Principle 1: The consumer is KING.
Another question that was raised by Dan Perry (SEO manager for Cars.com): Is it time that your dealer employs an in-house SEO expert/manager? I don’t want to get too deep into this because Dan has since written an article for DealerRefresh to discuss this.
I’ll leave you with a few stats that most of us are or should be aware of:
- In 2008 $749M was spent in search alone in the automotive sector.
- By 2012 search spend is projected to be at $1.9B.
- Search is estimated to account for 56% of auto online ad spending by 2012.
- 23% of dealers are planning to adopt paid search in the next 12 months.
- 14% of dealers plan to adopt banner ads.
- 35% of dealers plan to adopt online video ads.
There were many other topics that we discussed but these are a few that stuck out and wanted write about. Plus this post/review is getting way too long.
Cars.com took great care of me during my stay in Chicago. The Hotel was top notch, the dinner at here and here were fantastic (the conversations at the dinner were even better). As usual, the hospitality from the whole Cars.com crew was the best. I don’t know where they find such nice people.
A HUGE THANKS for everyone at Cars.com for putting on this small and interment workshop. A special thanks to Ralph Ebersole for inviting me to be a part of this event.