Industry Events

Cars.com Online Automotive Leadership Summit 2008

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.

Cars.com 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.

Cars.com Leadership Summit

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

Some Stats:

  • 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:

  1. Closing Ratio
  2. Cost Per Sale
  3. ROI

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.

Cars.com Leadership Summit

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.

Ralph Ebersol - Cars.com Leadership Summit

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Thanks for the kind comments Jeff; glad you enjoyed yourself, and great to see you got as much out of the Summit as we put into it. Also, good to see you again, and hope to see you at the next one.

Dan Perry
SEO Manager
Cars.com
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Looks some good inside info was given at this. Can't wait to hear more about it and see how it evolves.
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    Stan Sher
  • November 29, 2008
Those events are always fun and exciting.
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Jeff - thanks for the review and insights. Ever since you moved the Refresh to this new platform it has definitely improved!

I actually envy you getting to listen to Cory go on a "tangent about something about something else"...he is always ahead of the curve! And the rest of the assembled group - must have been a real treat - kudos to Cars.com for their choices!

My 2 cents on the measurement thing...I can totally see the metrics working in the new car arena - those of leads/sales/ratios/costs etc. We have invested an incredible amount of time and effort in making that information as accurate as possible at our dealerships.

I don't think that it tells the whole picture pertaining to pre-owned advertising, however. A funny thing hapened on the way to the internet...we attribute more and more sales to "the internet", but we don't ever seem to sell more cars overall.

If you just look at the traditional metrics for pre-owned, the cost per sale is astronomical for the two big players, Auto Trader and Cars.com...it even led some of our stores to drop features from both (which did ultimately cost us sales). We ceratinly look at the traditional measures as one component of evaluating our pre-owned online spend, but we have slowly come to the realization that we don't spend significant $$ anywhere else to advertise our pre-owned cars.

I guess my question is this...does anyone else (outside of AutoTrader.com - I must've drunk the KoolAid) look at it this way? If so, what percentatge of the traditional $300 - $450 advertising cost per car should be attributed to internet in pre-owned?

I also think that there is a great post/discussion lurking about the whole "lead scoring" / "microtargeting" topic - I am looking forward to that one!
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Jeff - nice review!

Edward - marketing isn't just one thing or one site. It is a broad picture that tells a story on many different levels at many different places. You never know what piece of the mix will be the part that motivated that consumer - even if that consumer tells you (he probably doesn't even know). So you have to be in a number of places.

Don't believe that cutting back on one thing caused less cars to be sold. Are you privy to all of the dealership's marketing expansions, schedules, and cuts? Did a radio spot end a few days before something was cut on a website? Did your television ad change?

We, as an industry, have siphoned these "Internet Departments" off into their own little corners and are either pulling the rugs out from under them now with major cuts or just doing anything the "Internet Manager" says to do because "he knows that online thing". We need to bridge the gap. I think dealerships need a person, or group of in-house people, to handle their entire marketing platform: traditional, online, and internal (yes, internal: PR, CRM, IT). In fact, I think this is going to be the next article I write.

Sorry Edward, I got off on a tangent and didn't even conclude the tangent. The answer about what part of the per car advertising cost should be directed toward online resources is a personal one. It requires someone with the complete picture to figure out what works best for your dealership.
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Alex - thanks for the insights...we don't utilize any other medium to advertise/market our pre-owned inventory. No newspaper, no radio, no tv...just the internet and some grass roots/community involvement strategies. We noticed a differnece after going back to the higher level subscriptions with Auto Trader and Cars, so we do think that there is a direct relationship. That brings the question of "ALPHA" to mind - is anyone using this new product? Any results?

We do have a group that manages the interactive marketing platform including two IBDM's, a Marketing Director, our CRM/IT guru, and our Agency Representative. Sometimes the 'layers' can get in the way but we have found it to be largely beneficial overall.

Looking forward to your post on the subject!
In that case Edward, I have to recollect something my grandfather taught me a long time ago when I told him I thought the newspaper should die.

He said:

"Alex, it isn't where you advertise, it is where you've advertised. If you change something it will affect business for a short while until people get used to your change."


-other post is here: http://www.dealerrefresh.com/death-internet-director/
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Alex,

That is very wise. I believe that we should not give up on resources. We should just look at more resources and cut back a little. In other words, do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Expand, get your name out there and let the community online know your dealership and build an awareness. This is why I believe in using both cars.com and autotrader.com instead of one or the other. This is why I believe in using Dealix and AutoBytel. Instead of focusing on one, split your budget and try a little of everything. Maybe I am wrong but I feel that the more resources you tap into the bigger your outcome with be. Get your SEO/SEM working properly and let the whole world know that you are one of the top internet dealers in the country or you are the highest volume dealer in the area or the country. Excitement and awareness brings traffic and sells cars.
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