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Digital Dealer 15 Review with Kevin Frye

Hoping that Marilyn is squeezing my bum, but afraid it is Michael...
Hoping that Marilyn is squeezing my bum, but afraid it is Michael…

Kevin’s semi-annual Digital Dealer Conference Review

It’s early Thursday morning, 5:20 am to be exact, and as I wrap up another Digital Dealer conference, I figure I should start the day with a well-needed cup of coffee after another long night in Vegas. I close the door quietly and head up the hallway towards the elevator when I hear… wait? Is that someone snoring?

Sure enough, I find some strange guy passed out on the couch next to the elevator with his pants pulled down and his shirt pulled up. Wow, looks like another Wolf Pack wannabe had one heck of a good time in Vegas, I only wonder who was responsible for the “de-pantsing” (and yes, I almost took a picture, but I restrained). When I exit the elevator I tell the security guy he might want to go up to Floor 10 for a quick walk-around…

Digital Dealer 15 at The Mirage - at VinSolutions Reception
Digital Dealer 15 at The Mirage – at VinSolutions Reception

The good news is that the line at Starbucks is non-existent at this hour, and I get a cup of some dark roasted bold and take a seat to try and get my thoughts together when… well, let’s say I am joined by one of Vegas’ finest “hostess” girls, dressed in what looks like the shortest Minnie Mouse dress I have ever seen, and she is plenty friendly at this early hour. I politely share that I am not looking to “party” right now and I make a quick departure 🙂

Then… I run into one of my friends in the industry who I was out with the night before and I realize he is STILL out enjoying the night. Ladies and Gentlemen, ONLY IN VEGAS do you wake up to a morning like this. And with that, I present (cue music now…)

My semi-annual Digital Dealer Review…

Joining Chris Hill with his presentation on BDC or Bottom Line
Joining Chris Hill with his presentation on BDC or Bottom Line

Can you swallow the Hill-Pill?

My first session to attend was Chris Hill‘s “BDC or Bottom Line”, where a packed room of dealers were waiting to hear Chris share his feelings about BDC. I think I can sum it up like this, former Mixed Martial Arts fighter Chris Hill showed up, removed the “country club atmosphere” at his dealership and held his sales managers accountable to manage their people into doing what they should already be doing – and set new sales performance records in the process. It was apparent that there were several folks in the room who had been sent by their Dealer principals to see if BDC was the solution to their problems, and I think many of them were surprised.

I really like Chris’ no-holds barred approach (MMA move?) in letting folks know that many sales managers are not expecting enough from their sales reps. BDC’s are expensive, require constant training of personnel, and many of those same personnel leave for more money (once they realize that BDC folks are doing all the work while the sales reps are making the money). Wow, only a few paragraphs into this review and I am certain there are readers that are highly agitated reading this, but, if you really think about it, aren’t many BDC’s just a Band-Aid for not leading your people to change their work habits to match their changing shoppers?

Edgy stuff Chris – and I appreciate your honesty and resolve.

Twitter Alert! Are you looking for some great auto folks to follow on Twitter? I did my best to add the Twitter links to most of the folk’s names in this review, go ahead and click on each name for your Twitter follow. And, if you are strong enough to handle my sarcasm, give me a follow @kevinfrye1. And of course don’t forget to follow DealerRefresh / Jeff Kershner.

Digital Dealer has gone international as a large group of folks from Italy, Brazil, & more attend
Digital Dealer has gone international as a large group of folks from Italy, Brazil, Canada & more attend to learn automotive best practices (Igor Kalassa on right)

Next Up: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – or maybe it should be called Dr. Jerry and He Cannot Hide.

That would be Jerry Thibeau and Joe Webb presenting “When a Stranger Calls”, with an underlying theme of classic horror films. One might ask “Is there anything more we can learn about handling inbound and outbound phone calls?” – and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”.

The rapid growth of mobile in our industry has lead to a matching rise in phone calls. Our mobile shoppers are much less likely to fill out a form on a small mobile device when they have the option to “Click to call” your dealership, and properly answering inbound and outbound phone calls is more important than ever.

For myself, I have been against phone scripts for sales reps, as I feel they do not sound natural for each person. This session persuaded me to think different, as Jerry emphasized that a sales rep must master the phone script before they venture out on their own, because when they do not, you end up with phone calls that miss the fundamentals (getting name, asking for the appointment, etc). Joe and Jerry also shared that even though the buying cycle has shortened in the last year, it still takes approximately 8 phone attempts to have the best contact rate with your prospects.

Your walk-away from this session should be on the age-old question, should we provide the information in the phone that the caller is looking for?

Joe and Jerry shared that they would rather over-educate a customer than withhold information and anger a customer. Kind of reminds me of one of my favorite Joe Webb videos 4 Words That Make Car Sales Managers Sound Stupid “Just Get’em In“. Speaking of which, we got to see several new videos from Jerry and Joe that were great, make sure to check out DealerKnows Consulting’s YouTube Channel.

Alex Jefferson and Grant Cardone keep me on my toes at  Digital Dealer 15
Alex Jefferson and Grant Cardone keep me on my toes at Digital Dealer 15

Have you heard about the 3 Rings of Marriage?

That would be the Engagement Ring, the Wedding Ring, and the Suffer-ring… (resounding groan in room). Well, I am all about looking into anything related to Engagement right now as I feel that this is one of the most important skills that dealers must perfect as we move forward. Clayton Stanfield presented “21 Ways to Help Your Store Build Engagement with the Millennial Shopper“, where we would learn the results of a customer survey focused on identifying trends in today’s car shoppers’ behavior.

What do millennials want when shopping for a car?

They want lots of options in their purchasing decision, with a fun buying experience that is pain-free and without pressure, and most of all, they want to be able to do this from a mobile device. If you want to engage young shoppers, you need to engage them where they want to be engaged (online, text), not where you prefer to engage them (showroom). The best way to engage with millennials is to ask them lots of questions during their buying decision. When it comes to mobile, let me ask you this – Have you shopped your website from a mobile device?

How well did it display and work on your device? Did the emails you received from your CRM tool display optimally on your smart phone? If not, you have some work in front of you…

Contrary to popular belief, The Art of Enchantment is not found by constantly trolling the forums at DealerRefresh (sorry Jeff…), but Guy Kawasaki wow’ed the crowd with his presentation that focused on how you achieve likability and trustworthiness as a dealer (pretty important in today’s online environment), and how to become the most enchanting dealer possible. OK, stop right here, click this link and buy Guy’s book. It is a must read.

Meeting some of my favorite folks at the DealerOn booth - Elianna Raggio, Jeff Kershner, and Jim Flint
Meeting some of my favorite folks at the DealerOn booth – Eliana Raggio, Jeff Kershner, and Jim Flint

(Sound of beer can opening) “It’s that time of dayyyy, When you can sayyy, It’ time to – head for – the EXHIBIT Hall.

Some of you old-timers will remember that beer commercial (I remember those days, when I had no money but could buy a case of Busch swill, I mean beer, for about $5), and if not, I have hyper-linked it for you. I walk into the hall with my lovely wife Julie when – “Danger Will Robinson”, I have NO DRINK TICKETS in my Digital Dealer badge holder. That’s it. Now I am seething and already thinking how this review will absolutely destroy Digital Dealer 15 when… Kim DePalma arrives and apologizes and gives me 1400 drink tickets. Whew, the DT’s almost set in, but as the much needed alcohol hits my bloodstream, I calm down and a smile returns to my face as I begin my favorite thing – networking!

Since this is my first appearance at exhibit hall, I spend time catching up with old friends, which also include many of my vendor partners. Don’t fool yourself though. I have a binder filled with several issues that I have saved to discuss with these same vendors in person the next day, as well as new opportunities in the market that I want to investigate.

Eliana and the kind folks at DealerOn brought a comfy couch just for me to sit and relax on as I enjoy drinks with so many of the GREAT folks in automotive. Speaking of Big Comfy Couch, did you know that the girl from Big Comfy Couch married the guy from Blues’ Clues???  Boom! – I will now have a Digital Dealer review featured at

"Generous Jerry" Thibeau treats us to dinner at DD15 - thank you!
“Generous Jerry” Thibeau treats us to dinner at DD15 – thank you!

Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach! 

Jerry Thibeau saw me and quickly assessed the situation, I needed food if I was going to pace myself in Vegas, so he generously offered to take my wife Julie and I out to dinner at Stack’s.

Jerry is like the modern day Truman Capote as he chose his guest list well, as we had dinner with some awesome folks in the industry, including my great friend Alex Jefferson, Grant Cardone, Blake Arbogast, and more, with guest appearances by Chip Grueter, Brian Pasch, and Eliana Raggio. Many thanks to Jerry for his generosity and especially for his friendship. I mean that sincerely, Jerry is a true asset in the industry (PhoneNinjas), and he is a classic example of how car folks are a lot of fun. It was also great to spend some more time with my friend Alex (I think I have him convinced to speak at the next conference, and he should…).

Katie Richter, Julie Frye, Alex Jefferson, and Bill Simmons enjoying the VinSolutions Reception - AWESOME!
Katie Richter, Julie Frye, Alex Jefferson, and Bill Simmons enjoying the VinSolutions Reception – AWESOME!

Please say this in your best Three Stooges character “Curly” accent – “What is your porpoise in life?”

Good news! I found it, and it was at the VinSolutions after-hours reception at the Mirage, or more specifically, at the Siegfried &  Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. I have been to a LOT of these conferences, and this was hands-down the most unique after-hours event I have attended. We were treated to private dolphin shows, great music, food and drinks, and access to see the famous white Bengal tigers and the lions in the garden, many of which used to be in Siegfried and Roy’s show. There were LOTS of folks in attendance having a great time, and the up-close opportunities to see the animals and dolphins really created a “wow” moment. OK, believe it or not, I did not stay out too late as I had an early morning speaking slot…

Give me a Diet Coke and a Cigarette!

I hear that this is the traditional “Car-guy’s breakfast”, often confused with a supermodel’s diet, but when I arrived at exhibit hall in the morning I found quite the opposite. We had a full breakfast selection available and I was impressed (all meals were great, best food at a DD conference yet). After a good meal and some quality time talking with AJ Maida, I met with some vendor partners to discuss some pressing issues (the revised Telephone Consumer Protection Act – are you compliant??).

Sean Stapleton, Richard Herod, and Michael Groves at the VinSolutions after-hours party
Sean Stapleton, Richard Herod, and Michael Groves at the VinSolutions after-hours party

Please – just tell me, TELL ME NOW! 

Ed Parkinson was leading his session “Tell Me Now” where he talked about winning the follow-up game with today’s shopper that wants an immediate response. Once again, we looked at the rapid growth in mobile, and Ed encouraged us to ask ourselves, “Do you have chat on your mobile device”?

Less than 5% of dealer websites have live chat, and if you think texting is the answer, think again, it is not as easy as that. And while click to call is convenient, remember that many millennials are hiding behind that mobile device as they don’t want to directly speak with you yet.

I like Ed’s concept of building trust with out-of-touch customers using pictures of folks on your chat box. If you work with heat maps (I do) on your website, eyeballs are almost always drawn towards human faces on a computer screen. Where do you get the best results? When you add a woman’s face to your chat box. Hmmmm, I wonder if that same concept works with pretty women standing in front of a vendor’s booth at exhibit hall.

Now that I think about it, several pretty women complimented me on my “Google Tie” while at exhibit hall, do you think they really meant it?

Subi Ghosh, Kevin Frye, Ryan Leslie, and Kelly Sue Wilson with some give-aways from my presentation. Check out Ryan's hat!
Subi Ghosh, Kevin Frye, Ryan Leslie, and Kelly Sue Wilson with some give-aways from my presentation. Check out Ryan’s hat!

Is that Rainbow Brite or Kevin’s new tie?

If you remember my Digital Summit at Mountain View review from this past summer, I forgot to mention something I picked up at Google’s gift shop, a new “Google tie”. As I strutted in like a peacock with my new tie to start my presentation, AJ Maida brought me down to earth with his remark “You better be careful which bars you go to tonight wearing that tie…”.  Gulp, didn’t think about that. That’s alright, I know that most of the folks that attend my presentations like bright colors and shiny objects, so I wore that tie with pride and took everyone “Back to the Future”, as I shared insight on where the automotive market is going in the future.

What are the 3 most important skills dealers must perfect to succeed in the future?

Well, you should have attended to find out as I shared lots of real life examples on best practices (let me know if you want a copy of the slide deck, but you have to leave a comment after this review with your email 🙂 . I wrapped up with a Jeff Wyler video that shared a new feature in Facebook’s Life Event section, which includes a new car purchase. That was worth the price of admission alone! Speaking of which, the price has gone up for me, I gave away 3 boxes of 5-Hour Extra Strength Energy Drinks to this early morning crowd, along with some great gifts, I hope I left folks “energized” for Vegas that night.

I had to laugh as Ryan Leslie won the “Back to the Future rainbow hat” which is likely the ugliest hat I ever seen. Considering the session I just gave on how to engage on social media by producing truthful and relevant content, if Ryan wore his rainbow hat and walked into a bar with me wearing that Google tie, do you think that would create some engaging content on social media. Oh boy, time to use those 1200 drink tickets that Kim DePalma gave me…

Teach a man to fish and.... Wow, Bill Simmons can be taught with a fish! Always fun to spend time with Bill!
Teach a man to fish and…. Wow, Bill Simmons can be taught with a fish! Always fun to spend time with Bill!

Is eating in Exhibit Hall with vendor booths all around you considered a “Digital Ambush”?

I rushed over to see Seth Barron’s Keynote “The Digital Ambush” to find out for sure. Serious moment here – as a long time attendee of Digital Dealer conferences, the keynote speakers have exponentially gotten MUCH better. When you get the Head of Brand Innovations from Google to come speak, it is a great opportunity to listen.

First – Seth works at the highest level within Google, so one should expect a topic at a “Tier One” level of automotive, and Seth shared anecdotes and examples on how dealers need to understand their brand, know their audience, develop a meaningful strategy, and then create compelling content. My favorite point/example was with Nike. Nike knows that brands do not sell brands in the modern market, PEOPLE sell brands. As an amateur athlete, I am the spokesperson selling Nike as they engage me with my personal fitness endeavours.

My Nike running watch is a great example, where Nike encourages and motivates me to reach my goals, and then it shares my results (and congratulations) on social media sites. Nike understood their brand and they know me as a personal fitness buff, and then they created a strategy that included a tool that could help me with the Nike watch, and when I use it I am creating compelling content that helps sell their brand. Now – how can we do that with automotive?

Julie Frye, Katie Richter, and Subi Ghosh enjoy the DealerOn Party at Rhumbar
Julie Frye, Katie Richter, and Subi Ghosh enjoy the DealerOn Party at Rhumbar

Running sure makes me hungy… 

Not sure if that is running of my mouth in this case, but I went back to an extended lunch break where I caught a quick bite and then went looking at new digital solutions for dealers like myself. Heads up – if you are not using a conquest email advertising solution, you should. CityTwist is one of the providers that were present that gives dealers a great source of quality website traffic that can bring additional sales to your dealership.

Looking to cut out the middleman when selling your wholesale inventory?  I had a great discussion with, who were rolling out their website which offers shoppers exclusive wholesale vehicle inventory and major savings never before available to the general public. They have been working on this internally for the last couple of years and were excited to be at Digital Dealer to release it.

The folks at Calldrip were demo’ing their solution which helps dealers increase their chance of contacting a lead by 900% by responding within seconds of initial inventory. Just have a cc of each of your leads sent to Calldrip, and if the lead has a phone number, Calldrip’s system can call the phone numbers of all of your designated sales reps at the same time, and the first to pick up gets the customer (and info). In a market where the demand for instant response is only growing, this is an answer many dealers are looking for.

Decisions, decisions…

The sessions offered at 2:30 were so good that I actually split my time between 2. First up was Dealer DIY: Inbound Marketing with Kevin Gordon and Nick Williams. Kevin and Nick’s sessions are turning into a “must-attend” for me. If you are trying to figure out millennials, Kevin and Nick are living examples, and they are bringing fresh insight and energy into the automotive digital market. Even though they think it is funny to pull some of my Facebook photos offline and do their best to humiliate me in front of a crowd, I agree with their direction with digital marketing.

It no longer makes sense marketing to many to only persuade a few, when you can market to few and persuade many. Targeted marketing IS THE FUTURE folks, and this is one of the tremendous benefits of harnessing big data and digital marketing opportunities. Kevin and Nick also took apart the argument that the Internet kills gross profit. How much are you spending on your Starbucks coffee?

Did you know that 81% of drivers agree that quality of service is more important than the price of the vehicle – Kevin and Nick call that the “Starbucks Effect”. Great advanced session, great presentation, and everyone thanks you for not photo-shopping the Speedo swimsuit on my picture.

Subi Ghosh delivers the straight talk to vendors on how to be better partners
Subi Ghosh delivers the straight talk to vendors on how to be better partners

Run like a son-of-a-gun…

And that I did as I ran down to see Subi Ghosh present “How to Manage Your Vendors by Becoming a TV Detective“. Wow, more than half of the attendees were vendors, and you better watch out. Subi was talking straight about poor service practices by vendors, but more important, she was sharing how to become a better partner with today’s dealerships. All of us were also treated to the Red Carpet premiere of “The Blame Game“, a new video from Joe Webb and Jerry Thibeau that got a lot of laughs because (unfortunately) we could all relate to it.

Thank you Subi for taking a different approach where you reached out to help educate vendors on how to become better, which helps the industry as a whole. Follow Subi on Twitter, she is a rising star and I am very proud of her.

They ain’t just acting at Acton…

Two of my favorite folks, Justin Brun and Ben Koller from Acton Toyota were presenting “Improve the Effectiveness of your Sales & Service Outbound Email Marketing“. Think about it, if the buying cycle has shortened, and more people are using mobile devices now, you better be updating your lead process email templates to be mobile friendly and to be best scheduled to work with your online shoppers.

Justin and Ben provided great info and examples for folks to follow, including how to take advantage of mobile subtitles in your emails that go to mobile devices (nice!). Are you phone numbers in your email signatures setup to be a live link for “click to call” from a mobile device? That is a great idea.

It is always difficult to have 2 presenters at a session, and I could see that Justin and Ben were well prepared and rehearsed – thank you. I was looking for a little bit more on the mobile templates side, but I can see that Justin and Ben (and me) are still working on finding the best solutions for that. Future session?

AJ Maida, Jessica Wyler, Kevin Frye, VJ Jaeckel, and Mike Roscoe at DD15 Cocktail Hour
AJ Maida, Jessica Wyler, Kevin Frye, VJ Jaeckel, and Mike Roscoe at DD15 Cocktail Hour

The 3 Musketeers or The 3 Stooges?

Three great keynotes to choose from, and I chose the controversial Larry Bruce who was presenting “It’s Called a Marketing Mix for a Reason“. There are a small handful of folks in the industry really working hard with digital attribution, and I was excited to compare what I have found with Larry’s study. Larry’s data came from over 100 websites and showed that the lead to purchase timeframe has shrunk to 57 days (remember when it was closer to 120 days???) – I keep emphasizing this as most dealers are still working the longer buying cycle.

Social media showed the greatest impact on lifting the click through rate on digital advertising, wow, if you are not onboard with social media, you better re-think that. A big finding was that the large third party providers (I will be kind and not share the names) really stand alone, and do not contribute or amplify your dealership’s advertising efforts.

Whoa! Hold on there, does that mean we should judge those vendors primarily on the calls and leads we can directly track, and not all of this “additional website traffic driven to your website’ and more? Can you understand why I am spending so much time with digital attribution right now?

Stand by for some future observations on this from me, but I would strongly encourage you to get a copy of the white paper that Larry produced after this year long study on channel contribution to a marketing strategy.

Jerry Thibeau closes out the conference with a TKO of the Dynamite Monkey - thank you Arnold Tijerina for this great pic!
Jerry Thibeau closes out the conference with a TKO of the Dynamite Monkey – thank you Arnold Tijerina for this great pic!

“I act on impulse and I go with my instincts”

Gordon Ramsay (and here are Gordon’s Top 10 One-Liners) . Well said Gordon, and with that I enjoyed dinner my final night at the Gordon Ramsay steakhouse at The Parisian. Fabulous food, even better friends, and a huge thanks to Sean Stapleton for the invitation. Let’s just say that I was done speaking and I enjoyed my final evening in Las Vegas.

I then woke up at 5:20 am, thought I should start my day with a large cup of coffee, well, you know where that ends. Speaking of which, I actually arrive the previous Sunday as I also attended the Driving Sales Executive Summit, stand by for my first review. Meanwhile –  I look forward to seeing everyone at Digital Dealer 16 which will be held at Atlantic City May 6-8, 2014, cheers!

How was Digital Dealer 15 for you? Sound off in the comments!!


As a former Naval officer I am driven to produce results & to lead people to reach their full abilit Aviation, outdoors, tennis, running, weighli...
  • A
  • October 22, 2013
Great read as always, lots of useful actionable things and good to see you and all my industry friends.
  • B
    Ben Koller
  • October 22, 2013
Thank you for attending our session.  Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for the kind compliment.  Always great seeing you at these events.  
P.S.  We were blinded by that tie of yours every time we looked your way, but we somehow managed through it.
  • M
    Mike Haeg
  • October 22, 2013
Thanks for the great write up Kevin.  As usual, I enjoyed it thoroughly. 
I'd love to take you up on the offer for a copy of your deck.  Any chance you could send that over?  
[email protected]
  • J
  • October 22, 2013
This is so enjoyable and you keep focused on the most important issues -- I've got in the habit to share it routinely with my general manager and general sales manager when it comes out.  I'd certainly like to see the slide deck from your presentation, too.  Thanks! [email protected]
  • J
    Jennifer Lee1
  • October 22, 2013
Thank you for the great write up Kevin. You are an amazing partner and embody the kind of partnership all vendors strive to achieve with their dealers!
  • K
  • October 23, 2013
Just sent over the slide deck Josh and Mike, let me know if you do not receive (I zipped the ppt for size). Sorry to blind you with my tie Ben, I think that tie might have to go into retirement...
One again, great review by one of the true assets to our industry.
Great write-up, as always. Thanks for taking the time to put this together and for the kind words about our session.

On a side note, I'm glad that you were able to publicly announce your love for Canada (and Speedo swimsuits) at DD15. Let me know when you are ready to move up here, and I'll have a beautiful igloo and pet polar bear waiting for you.
  • B
  • October 23, 2013
KevinFrye Great recap Kevin! Somehow I knew the fish picture might make an appearance :) That was a really fun night. I would love a copy of the slide deck if available. [email protected]
  • S
  • October 23, 2013
Awesome write up as always.  I wish I was there but had other things going on.