Industry Events

Conference Recap: Dealer ThinkTank Chicago

[highlight color=”#F0F0F0″ font=”black”]This post was originally written by Bill Havican, on his blog.  Bill, thank you for sharing your experiences with the DealerRefresh community! – The Dealer ThinkTank Team.[/highlight]

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Dealer ThinkTank Chicago last week, here are my thoughts:

Dennis Galbraith

I arrived a little late (thanks Chicago traffic) but just in time for the start of Dennis’ presentation. Not that I was happy about Allan Cooper being unable to attend but I was thrilled being able to hear from Dennis. I recently attended Digital Dealer’s Chicago workshop but unwisely went to see a different presenter. I heard awesome things from others about Dennis and was happy I had the second chance to hear from him.

While I forget the name of Dennis’s presentation it covered a lot of little things that dealers could work on right away to improve their website experience. What I understood was that the idea is to optimize every little thing you can to get an advantage over your competition. This was great and sort of an overall theme of the workshop in that each presenter gave us a number of ideas that we could implement right away.

Dennis presented us with a few good stats that surprised me a bit like how phone research is now greater than desktop research. He also shared with us how our sites are now being looked at as authorities and let us know that about 85% of people visit a dealership’s site before visiting the dealership. With that he suggested that we provide as much info as possible but make it easy to navigate with tabs and more tabs on the VDP rather than just paragraphs of info with computer generated buzzword filled sentences.

In addition, as someone that’s just starting to delve into analytics, I appreciated the info he provided about setting up conversion goals and page load target times. All in all I was able to come away with a full notebook page full of actionable items which is exactly the type of thing you want at an event like this.

Eric Miltsch

Eric told us about the 6 things we need to do in 2014 in regards to our digital marketing strategy. What I loved about Eric’s presentation was that it was very technical but not over our heads. I’ve been on webinars or read blogs from other experts that seem as though they’re tailored for other experts and not for the people that really desire the information.

A few of the main points that I took away included using autofill and trends to develop content, Google Authorship on blog posts, and Facebook dark posts. I had no idea what dark posts were or how to create them but Eric was kind enough to take the time to show me one-on-one how to do them during one of the breaks. Thanks Eric!

All of the info was great but it paled in comparison to the “selfie stick.” This wonderful contraption allows the user to extend the distance between yourself and camera phone. There were a couple of people at the event with Google Glass and let people try it out, but in my humble opinion the Selfie Stick stole the show.

Jerry Thibeau

The man, the myth, the legend. I wear a lot of hats at our auto group but my main priority is managing our BDC. I fundamentally believe in continuing education and am in constant search of books, blogs, webinars, and forums where I can learn from others. Of all the experts out there that are kind enough to share their wisdom I keep coming back to Jerry and learn something new each time. In fact, the first thing I do when training a new rep is make them listen to Jerry’s “7 Phone Skills Guaranteed to Make You $$$” webinar. So it was fun for me to attend a live presentation and meet him.

As always Jerry’s presentation was entertaining and thought provoking. I feel our team does a very good job at how we handle leads and I wish I would have gotten in on the mystery shop so I could see how we stacked up to other dealers. That said while the large concepts of what he spoke about weren’t new to me I was able to find all sorts of great little things our team can to do tweak our processes a bit. For example, rather than asking “does today work good for you or is tomorrow better” we can ask “when are you more available, today or tomorrow.” I could probably write an entire post on what I gathered from Jerry’s talk but instead I’ll just say that if you’re looking for help with follow up and phone skills he’s the man to go to.


This was an opportunity to gather at different tables and engage in discussions with colleagues about anything and everything. The panelists all sat at different tables but our table was left out. It wasn’t all that bad for me though because I had the pleasure of sitting next to Chad Sabatka. Our group is considering building our own website from the ground up and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a greater success story than Chad’s. He was kind enough to listen to my questions and concerns about the idea and offer a lot of great feedback. So the breakout session was exactly what I was hoping for.

Since the focus of my job is managing a sales BDC fixed ops can be an afterthought., the event’s sponsor, was there to talk about their new service offerings. I’ve helped previous service managers out in the past but I still have a lot to learn so I thought this went well. It seems like this new program they offer is going to be pretty good and will help break down customers’ misconceptions about dealership service drives as well as help market to them. Best of all, there really was no sales pitch. It was more of this is a program that we gave all our members and here’s how to maximize results with it. Much respect to them for that.

Jeff Kershner

Jeff gave a very entertaining talk on “Showrooming” and not really how to avoid it but how to use it to your advantage. He told us about a recent buying experience where he showroomed a salesperson then went and bought somewhere else. Basically the salesperson spent too much time at the tower and left him alone long enough to find the exact car he wanted at a competitors dealership. Oops. With that as a lead in he gave us some great ways to implement the use of tablets in the dealership.

An old traditional way of selling is to withhold as much information as possible to keep the customer in the dark and while Jeff’s presentation included being more transparent and earning the customer’s trust, giving them a pre-loaded tablet also can be used to help control the information that they look at. So if Bob and Betty are given a tablet with an engaging video about Chevy’s MyLink system maybe the salesperson will be back before they can look up KBB values, TrueCar, etc.

He gave us a lot of great ideas but I think the best one involved implementing it in F&I. Interestingly enough there was a gentleman from a Benz store I think (I’m sorry I forgot his name) that did this with his store and saw an incredible bump in back end gross. F&I doesn’t necessarily affect my department directly but you can be sure this is something I’m going to explore immediately with our group.

Joe Webb

After having the pleasure of sitting near him and listening to all his quips during everyone’s presentations I expected his talk to be fun as well. He delivered on that end and hit it out of the park with great content. I’ve worked for a GM store for the past couple years now and have been beaten over the head with the Disney experience so I’ll admit that I wasn’t very enthused when Joe starting speaking about Disney; but that attitude was quickly deterred. Joe managed to take the ideas from Disney, throw in some quotes from Walt, and tie it all into how we should manage our digital presence. The entire presentation was insightful and entertaining. GM could learn a few things in how to seamlessly blend the two worlds. 

Rather than list the many calls to action Joe gave us it can be summed up in a quote he gave us from Walt Disney (and forgive me if I wrote it down incorrectly), “You don’t build it for yourself. You build for what the customer wants.” I can’t speak for everyone, but there are many times when discussing digital strategies with my group that I forget the customers’ point of view. It was a perfect note to close on as it indirectly summarized the previous speakers themes which all had the end user in mind.

Joe closed out his time by sharing a touching and personal story about a Disney trip he planned. It was made even more memorable with his dad in the room and hearing how Disney went so above and beyond makes me want to plan a trip next year for my family. Really, that’s the point of everything we do, isn’t it? We should be creating experiences for our guests that are so memorable they get emotional (in a good way) retelling it to friends and family.


After Joe’s presentation there was a Q&A session where the panel of presenters fielded any questions we could come up with, many of which are similar to the recent discussions on this forum. At it’s conclusion Marni and Kelly, the hostesses for the event from ActiveEngage, were kind enough to invite me and others upstairs to have a soda and talk shop. This type of stuff made the time spent well worth it, and not just because they picked up the tab, but because it gave me an opportunity to pick the brains of experts in our field.

When I first started out on the floor I had the wherewithal to befriend the successful salespeople at our group and learn from them. Then when promoted to ISM I basically had to learn on the fly, I was great at follow up but I knew nothing about SEO, PPC, or any other acronym that you could throw out there. I didn’t have that 25 year vet to talk with but I was fortunate enough to discover communities like this and others to learn from. So an opportunity like I had at Dealer ThinkTank to learn from all the extremely intelligent members of this community, both presenters and attendees, it was incredible.

If you’re somewhat new to this world or someone who is always hungry for new ideas, I highly recommend attending a DTT. If nothing else, you’ll get to be involved in a group selfie with Eric or see Jeff do a runway strut.

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