Industry News & Trends

Digital Dealer 14 Review with Kevin Frye

Sean Stapleton, Kendall Billman, Jessica Wyler, and Kevin Frye enjoy Digital Dealer 14
Sean Stapleton, Kendall Billman, Jessica Wyler, and Kevin Frye enjoy Digital Dealer 14

Our Annual Digital Dealer 14 Review with Kevin Frye

That’s right – I’m one Tough Mudder! Well, maybe tired is a better word. I ran my first Tough Mudder the weekend before Digital Dealer, and for one day, I beat Father Time – though he took revenge on me that night as I nursed multiple bruises, scratches, and sore muscles from running 10+ miles in the mud and tackling 23 tough obstacles. And less than a week later I ran a half-marathon the Sunday before Digital Dealer.

Why do I bring this up?

After finishing the race, I cleaned up and boarded a plane to fly down to Digital Dealer, tired and sore. When I arrived at The Rosen Shingle Resort, I was welcomed to my room with a bottle of wine and a selection of food.

Now that is a great way to start Digital Dealer 14! So let’s get started..

Kicking off Digital Dealer with "Digital Beach One" - poolside with Jerry Thibeau and friends
Kicking off Digital Dealer with “Digital Beach One” – poolside with Jerry Thibeau and friends

Florida sun at DB1… Before the actual conference began, I attended DB1, also known as “Digital Beach One”, hosted by my gracious friend Jerry Thibeau and Phone Ninjas. Who needs Baywatch when you have the fabulous bikinis and Speedos worn by some of our finest in automotive?

Though I must share that while drinking a beer by the pool, I could easily identify many auto guys arriving by their pasty white skin and the dark socks with their sandals… Many great friends joined Jerry and I as they arrived for Digital Dealer 14, and I enjoyed a little Florida sunshine before things really kicked off.

Key Players in Automotive Join Mike Roscoe at a Pre-DD14 Cocktail Party
Key Players in Automotive Join Mike Roscoe at a Pre-DD14 Cocktail Party

Where Where Are You Tonight??? Mike Roscoe and Kimberly Depalma hosted a cocktail hour to welcome several of the speakers and key folks working behind the scenes of the conference. Mike is a huge music fan, and I envy him living in Nashville with all of its great live music. Turns out that Mike loved one of the albums that I still listen to, Living Colour, small world.

Kicking of Digital Dealer 14 with my Roundtable group
Kicking off Digital Dealer 14 with my Roundtable group

No squares at this roundtable… Many of the dealers that attend the Digital Dealer conferences will agree on this – the roundtables are incredibly valuable. I sat with the “eCommerce Directors of large automotive groups” table, and within minutes we were talking about several key issues we are dealing with each day, to include how to motivate your managers to embrace the Internet and CRM, debating the pros and cons of BDC vs. “cradle to grave”, and which CRM platform works best with eCommerce today.

While talking about how to get managers to change their ways, Alex Jefferson shared one of my favorite quotes – “Is your 20 year guy just a 1 year guy 20 times over?”

Several folks shared great success with email campaigns, to include identifying used cars that were needed at their stores, and then sending out an targeted email campaigns asking to buy those vehicles from customers that owned that same vehicle in their data base (giving them their dealership the used inventory they need, while selling new cars to the folks that responded to the email campaign) – great idea!

With Peyton Hoffman of Dominion
With Peyton Hoffman of Dominion

Serving others comes first for some folks… I was fortunate to spend a few minutes with Peyton Hoffman with Dominion Enterprises during the conference, and learned about her missions work helping others in Africa. I was incredibly impressed. Every time I saw Peyton she had a beautiful smile and a happy attitude. Maybe her secret is helping others around her. You have won my respect and admiration Peyton!

Can’t make up my mind… There was a large selection of great speakers and topics to choose from, and I struggled on which to attend with many time slots. I can tell you this, Big Data is a Big Deal, and I encouraged folks to attend as many of these sessions as possible.

I sat in Sean Stapleton’s session “Leverage Data Integration in a Big Way” and learned that real big data needs to be in real time to be useful to today’s car sales rep. Big data can allow your dealership to make better decisions to deliver customized sales experiences to your digital shoppers. Sean also shared that people are creatures of habit, so why not let data show you what your customer’s habits are, and then use that information to sell them a car?

We also learned that the goal of modern websites is to deliver custom messaging to each visitor with a dynamic website that changes based upon big data available about that shopper and their habits. Is that a lofty goal? More on that later.

You can always count on some creative give-aways at my presentations
You can always count on some creative give-aways at my presentations

Is Kevin Frye a good speaker?

Hopefully I did not debunk that myth in my presentation “Mythbusters: Debunking the Top Myths in Automotive eCommerce”. I was blessed with a full house of attendees, with many folks even standing, and I am humbled by the folks that take the time to see what I have to share as a fellow dealer. I tackled several controversial issues, to include “Is SEO dead?”, does “Just Get’em in” still work?, “Do more leads necessarily equal more profitable sales”, and I addressed whether Klout is really an accurate measurement of whether someone is influential in automotive (check out my “Are you a Klout Whore” article I wrote earlier this year to learn more).

While addressing whether having an Internet Team still makes sense in today’s market, I posed this question: “If 92% of your shoppers use the Internet before buying a car, WHY do less than 20% of your sales reps and managers train on how to work Internet leads?

If you want to know why your Internet teams are overwhelmed, why your response times are so bad, and more – ask yourself why you are failing to position your dealership to match the demands of your customers.

Jessica Wyler, Jeff Kershner, Ani Hagopian, Bill Simmons, and Casey Lynn
Jessica Wyler, Jeff Kershner, Ani Hagopian, Bill Simmons, and Casey Lynn

Oprah would not be happy… Did you ever watch an episode of Ellen or Oprah where the studio audience was not completely full? Of course not, as professionals know that to best engage an audience with a host (moderator) interacting with several guests (panel), they need an intimate environment that is full of people. PLEASE Digital Dealer, if I can ask for one thing, try to use a smaller room for the panel discussions.

I realize that the logistics at the hotels are difficult to accommodate this, but I have watched the attendance drop at panels over the years as having a huge room where the panel is separated by 200 empty chairs to the first guest does not work. With that said, I do not envy the difficult job our Panel Moderators have trying to engage the attendees at the various panels.

Ralph Ebersole did a great job at the live chat panel I sat on – you are a true pro Ralph. Speaking of which, I was very impressed with Jose Alonso who sat on the panel with me and who maintains an unbelievably high retention rate with his BDC staff. Jose, you need to speak to other dealers on how to do that consistently.

Justin Brun shared some powerful approaches to how Acton Toyota uses Live Chat to drive their highly successful efforts. Justin has been working in the trenches from the infancy of automotive eCommerce efforts, and I have a lot of respect for his proven experience.

Jay Baer hits it out of the park! - Larry Bruce, Jay Baer, Chris Fousek, and Joseph Depalma
Jay Baer hits it out of the park! – Larry Bruce, Jay Baer, Chris Fousek, and Joseph Depalma

And this ball is out of here!!! Congratulations Digital Dealer, you hit a home run with your keynote speakers this conference. Jay Baer was the first keynote speaker, and while his presentation started slow, it steamrolled its way into a fantastic presentation loaded with useful facts that each dealer could return with to become better digital dealers.

Jay shared that in 1977 a media buyer had the easiest job in the world, but now they have the hardest job in the world with the massive amount of choices on where to market in today’s digital market. I know this is true because the biggest difference I saw at Digital Dealer 14 is the large amount of dealership marketing personnel now attending.

Jay also talked about how one dealership has got it right by training all of their sales reps and managers on working with the Internet – that would be the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family!

My favorite line from Jay’s presentation was “Quit being a 19 year old dude and trying to close the deal on the first date”. That was his way on summing up many dealers approach to social media, where we shake the prospect’s hand and immediately move in for the close. Jay’s approach – Youtility, is to encourage dealers to worry less about selling better, and worry more about teaching better.

I agree (as the other will follow). Rather than breakdown Jay’s entire session, I would strongly encourage you to read his book “Youtility”. In all of the confusion surrounding how dealerships should use social media, Jay’s book has it right.

Late night fun poolside with Kendall Billman, Larry Bruce, and Chip Grueter
Late night fun poolside with Kendall Billman, Larry Bruce, Cliff Banks and Chip Grueter

Time to wet my whistle… I won’t lie. I am tired after I speak. And after this great start to DD14, I was ready to wind down and share a few drinks with some great friends. Say what you want, but some of the most fun people you will meet work in automotive, and they can be a dangerous lot after hours:).

I spend my first night at the exhibit hall as a strictly social event, to include both my vendor friends and dealer friends. After making the rounds, I enjoyed dinner at the Italian restaurant on site, and then went over to the DealerOn and Haystak sponsored event at Rocco’s Tacos. Alex Jefferson and I walked out of the hotel to get a cab and just happened to run into David Metter getting out of the HookLogic limo. David graciously offered us the limo (maybe because I am such a good customer? Lol) and we rode over to catch the fun at Rocco’s.

This is an easy choice for me, because I sincerely enjoy hanging out with the team at DealerOn. Ali and Amir Arrizezvani are both incredibly smart (go see them speak if you have not before) and they always put on a first-class event. The photo booth was a great idea, and Eliana Raggio came through on her promise that I would have a great time winding down with lots of fun folks.

When it was time to go, Alex and I found our limo driver (Carlos) waiting. Many thanks David for the limo, and rest assured that Alex and I tipped your driver well!  Of course I had to stop by the pool bar when I returned (I told you I was winding down!) and saw several more great friends. Now here is my question – does Kendall Billman ever sleep?

Look who I ran into? Dave Marod, Jessica Wyler, Kendall Billman, April Rain, and Kate Frost
Look who I ran into? Dave Marod, Jessica Wyler, Kendall Billman, April Rain, and Kate Frost

Just call me Farmer Kevin… That’s right. I was up at 6:15 am to be ready to meet with Tim James with Showroom Magnet shortly after 7 in the exhibit hall for a quick demo. Fortunately, I showed up a bit early for Kevin Gordon and Nick William’s session “The Most Valuable Webpage You’ll Never Build”, as it was packed and was standing room only.

Kevin and Nick are 2 young visionaries in our industry, and their presentation on creating great landing pages within your website really struck a chord with all of the dealers present. Why? They made dealers ask themselves this question, why do we spend tens of thousands of dollars on SEM campaigns and more and then fail to omit the most important step in maximizing your return on these marketing efforts?

Dealers work incredibly hard and spend a lot of money setting up digital marketing campaigns that just point back to their website home page, rather than a high conversion and highly relevant landing page that would double or triple their leads. Kevin and Nick shared their approach, and they strongly encouraged us to ensure that all of our SEM campaigns are tied into our Google Plus pages.

Watch out for these 2 – they recently left the dealership environment to start their own company, Convertus. And before you spend another $100,000 on SEM this year, visit their site and learn how you can maximize your profitability by having some great landing pages built first.

You might also want to talk to Phil Sura at UnityWorks as well, as they were introducing some video landing pages at Digital Dealer 14.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!
Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

You’re killing me… It was hard to not attend the next session, but I went back to exhibit hall for some important visits with my current vendors to have face-to-face meetings with several of them on key issues I needed to address. Meeting with my vendor partners is an important part of these conferences, and part of my preparation before attending is to print out notes of who I need to meet, and why. I also use some of this time to check out new solutions that are being introduced.

If the measure of a successful keynote is getting people to talk, then this was knocked out of orbit… Avinash Kaushik with Google gave the next keynote, and boy, was it a doozie.

Avinash took a complex subject – search and the website experience, and quickly brought it down to the basics of what a car shopper was looking for. How did he do it? By visiting multiple dealership websites, automotive inventory websites, and mobile websites within our industry and then giving his breakdown on how most fell far short of shoppers’ expectations. I could see several vendors AND dealers break into a cold sweat as Avinash put up slides of several sites. AutoTrader took a hit on the chin when Avinash showed his search for a truck, which resulted in an AutoTrader page with 35% coverage of ads, to include 13 ads that had nothing to do with his search (HIS words, not mine), ouch!

There were certainly lots of laughs, though I had to cringe when I imagined if I was one of the dealers featured in an embarrassing light, or if I was a vendor that had spent thousands of dollars to be at the show and then endured this critique. HYPROCRITE ALERT!

Who am I to speak, as I believe that sometimes we have to endure the hard truth to be pushed to learn the greatest lessons, which Avinash was trying to do. Avinash moved on to several other areas, for example –  when it comes to social media, if you are looking at engagement (follows/likes/+1’s), then you are failing. Avinash emphasized that we must focus on 3 areas to be successful in social media, influence, experience, and value (side note, he encouraged us to use And while Google Analytics is an important tool, he shared that we also fail there. If you are measuring “hits” on your website, then you are looking at How Idiots Track Success (HITS).

This was a packed AND standing room only keynote, and regardless of how you feel, Avinash was successful in challenging dealers and vendors, even if they disagreed, in looking closer at what they are doing in eCommerce, and I can guarantee folks were talking afterwards. Avinash is the author of several great books, including Web Analytics 2.0, as well a his great blog Occam’s Razor. I highly recommend reading his work.

Step right up folks! While enjoying lunch in the exhibit hall, I could not help but notice the vendor(s) behind me trying to give a demo on a stage while all of us were eating. Talk about a tough gig! After lunch I sat through several more demos, and then worked my way over to the next presentation I wanted to attend, “Don’t Get Edged Out by Edgerank”. I was late, and that was my mistake, as it was packed – hopefully someone can fill me in on what I missed.

Anthony Bartoli, Rich Lucy, Jennifer Volz Sheppard and Justin
Anthony Bartoli, Rich Lucy, Jennifer Volz Sheppard and Justin

Well, since I had done a poor job planning… I failed to plan properly and be early for my other presentation, so it only made sense that I attend “The Power of a Plan” with Tony Rhoades.

Before the session started, Anthony Bartoli and Rich Lucy decided to work as “ushers” outside Tony’s presentation, encouraging folks to come in, or maybe I should say “strong-arming” them in, but no matter what, I want to hire these two to usher my next presentation! I walked away with 3 key points that Tony made in his talk. First, you must have top-down commitment to be successful with eCommerce initiatives with your group. Second, training is critical to superior performance. And third, winners keep score. My score showed that this session was a winner.

I’ve got the power!!!  Chris Vitale with iMagicLab moderated “Don’t Just Put a Fresh Coat of Paint on Your Old CRM”, featuring Elise Kephart and Chris Hill. I think I am speaking for every attendee when we listen and think “Why can’t we duplicate Elise one thousand times and hire her in all of our dealerships!” Elise would be a star in ANY industry with her excellent customer service and sales skills.

Elise shared that the use of her videos allows her to personalize herself in the car shopping experience, and that once the shopper has seen the video, it’s no longer a “blind date” when they come in to see her. She also shared a neat tip on how she takes a new $2 dollar bill, writes a personalized thank you note with a QR code to a thank you video, and then puts it in the gas cap area so that when her customer gets their first fill-up, they find her note – LOVE IT.

This was the first time for me to listen to Chris Hill, and he shared how he has broken multiple records by eliminating the BDC at his dealership, and making his sales reps accountable for following up on leads, setting appointments, and selling cars. Chris shared that his people had time to make calls, and that managers need to get past excuses and ensure their people work for their money.

Chris’ best line? – “The BDC is a heavy overhead cost which is the managers’ fault for allowing a country club atmosphere to exist (with the sales reps)”.

Chris was not afraid to speak his mind AND back up his approach with performance. Whether they agree or not, dealers love to hear other dealers like this, Chris needs to speak at an upcoming conference. If someone wanted to debate BDC vs. “Cradle to Grave”, he would be perfect.

Jeff Kershner and Kevin Gordon get a head-start on me at The Blue Martini
Jeff Kershner and Kevin Gordon get a head-start on me at The Blue Martini

Time for another visit to the exhibit hall for drinks and a recap of the day’s events. Many thanks to Barbi Brand and Pogo Parr with Century Interactive for an enjoyable dinner and an unscheduled scenic tour of Orlando!

Of course it is mandatory to go to The Blue Martini, sponsored by ActivEngage, Haystak, and HookLogic, and after a late arrival, I found Jeff Kershner and Kevin Gordon had got an early start on me. Turns out that Jeff has a reserved table 365 days a year at The Blue Martini now that he travels to every automotive conference, training session, 20 group, new dealership opening, you name it, all year now.

Lots of fun as always making the rounds and seeing everyone, and frankly, I was wore out by 1 am…

Kim DePalma and Igor Kalassa having a great time at The Blue Martini
Kim DePalma and Igor Kalassa having a great time at The Blue Martini

Can I get an “Amen”??? Thursday opened with Mark Schaefer, the final keynote speaker.

Mark preached about turning our customers into evangelists, which many dealers struggle with. As Mark shared, it’s like the deer we have been hunting suddenly have guns – I love that analogy. Rather than always trying to get our social media friends to “like” us or to “fan” our page, perhaps we should work to interact with them…

Mark emphasized 3 guiding principals:

  • Create meaningful content
  • Combine that with targeted connections
  • Offer authentic helpfulness

This session made me ask myself, how can I create content that is influential in my market?

Can someone give me the low-down???  I know you are looking for the word-on-the-street, and it was all over the place. Many folks were still talking about the recent public relations nightmare. Read the thread started by Bill Simmons recently and you will learn a lot more (as well as see the apology).

VinSolutions / had just announced their recent purchase of Haystak which had stirred up a buzz as well.

Several dealers were talking about the AVA Automated Virtual Assistant product which claims to have a much higher conversion rate with communicating with email leads, as well as vAuto’s announcement of their new AuctionGenius product.

What’s that you say?  As for me, I am looking far, far ahead at a very high level. Where will we be in 10 years?

I expect to see a cloud based DMS, with ONE DATABASE of all of our sold customers, closed RO customers, and all of our prospects. We will be using big data to provide a customized experience for every online prospect, to include having websites that change dynamically for each online shopper, and having our sales reps providing unique, custom follow-up for each shopper. And dealerships will have all personnel working Internet leads from top to bottom, and the industry will treat every lead as a lead, not separating them into Internet, Walk-in, and Phone.

Save the date for Digital Dealer 15!
Save the date for Digital Dealer 15!

Back to the land of milk and honey… Work was calling, and I had to leave to catch my flight, and I apologize for missing the last couple sessions. When I look back at the earliest Digital Dealer conferences, it is amazing to see how far this has grown and to see the large amount of people attending and looking to become better “digital dealers”.

I hope you noticed that I have linked a lot of names in this review. If you are looking to follow some key folks in automotive on Twitter, make sure to select each, and follow me as well if you would like – Kevin Frye.

Cheers to all, and I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas!

As a former Naval officer I am driven to produce results & to lead people to reach their full abilit Aviation, outdoors, tennis, running, weighli...
Great summary as always Kevin.  Wish I was there to enjoy it, take in the excitement, and the learning first hand.  Hopefully be there at the next one.
  • J
    Joe Webb
  • May 14, 2013
I'm quite despondent that Kevin Frye left before I had the chance to give my presentation because I love being included in his wrap-ups.  With that said, considering I missed the first day and a half of the event, so thank you for the summation.
  • K
  • May 14, 2013
Joe - you are always a MUST attend in my book, and I'm sorry that I was on the way to the airport during your presentation. However, you got a huge round of applause when I showed your "Just Get'em In" video during my presentation, a true classic!
  • P
  • May 14, 2013
Hey KevinFrye well said on your Digital Dealer wrap-up. I wanted to mention that I was at your presentation, “Mythbusters: Debunking the Top Myths in Automotive eCommerce” and wanted to give you a standing standing ovation when you discussed the topic of Gen Y! It was really timely and so true that there are plenty of intelligent hard workers in the industry that work to live not live to work and they shouldn't be penalized for that. Thanks for getting the message across to more dealership owners!
It was so wonderful I don't know where to start. Kevin, your topics were dead on. I admire your straightforwardness. Thank you for sharing your knowledge rather than keeping it for yourself. It's refreshing reading and listening to successful people. Sometimes you wonder if they are for real. Well let me tellyou, that I talked to a GM that has worked with you and he had nothing but great things to say. It's great when you can prove the success with the numbers. Thank You and I look forward to Vegas.
Awesome review Kevin - and yes, I feel like im at every conference anymore... as I type this from Philly while attending the Automotive Boot Camp. :)
  • K
  • May 16, 2013
Thanks for the kind words ValleyMitch and Paula. And Jeff - we look forward to your review of the Automotive Bootcamp :)
  • B
    Bill Simmons
  • May 16, 2013
Kevin, thank you for the kind words and mention in the review. I really enjoyed your presentation and also learned a lot from the chat dealer panel that you were a part of. Keep up the great work and look forward to seeing you this Fall at the next conference.
  • M
    Mike Haeg
  • May 16, 2013
Hey Kevin!
It was great meeting yourself and Jessica in person!  Thanks for joining and I'm glad you enjoyed the unexpected (Read: Unnecessary)  tour of Orlando.  Maybe next time we will check out the Tampa location for dinner.
As always, great write up and insight.  Enjoyed the read immensely.
  • A
    Ali Amirrezvani
  • May 16, 2013
I always look forward to reading your event recaps, especially when you call us smart...  I'm glad you enjoyed yourself at our party.  It's always a pleasure seeing you.  Looking forward to DD15.
It was such fun getting to catch up with you at DD14. I always enjoy reading your Digital Dealer recaps on DealerRefresh, and, as usual, you did not disappoint! Thank you so much for your kind words and for agreeing that it's important to live larger than yourself. It was great to see you so engaged in the Peer Networking Roundtable. See you soon!
  • C
  • May 17, 2013
Same thoughts from me Joe... Good thing is;  He will definitely have another opportunity! Joe Webb KevinFrye
Tons of meat in that post, as always nice recap Kevin. Thanks.