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Digital Dealer 17 Review with Kevin Frye

Kevin Frye at Digital Dealer 17
You will get knocked out by this Digital Dealer 17 Review

Have you seen my Led Zeppelin sweater?  It’s made of Kashmir…  As I entered Digital Dealer 17 on day one, I was greeted with the sound of Zeppelin’s classic tune “Kashmir”. Ba na nah, ba na nah, nah nah nah! With music like that, I had to expect something grand at this fall’s conference (and nice selection of tunes care of Pandora). Can you believe we are on our 17th Digital Dealer? Wow, we have come a long way since the earliest conference, and I looked forward to meeting great friends while learning great new content that could help me when I return.

Kevin Frye and Julie Frye
We invited several great friends to our anniversary dinner…

Whoa! Hold on there ‘pardner…  I actually showed up on Sunday afternoon to enjoy some Vegas time with my lovely wife Julie. We always look to celebrate our anniversary with dinner and a show in the city that never sleeps, and Vegas did not disappoint. We spent some pool-time at the Mirage (and might I add – FIRST CLASS people watching…), enjoyed the Spa facilities, and then headed down to the Aria for a wonderful dinner at Jean George’s Steakhouse, followed by the Cirque du Soleil show “Zarkana”.  If you are only coming to Vegas for the conference, you are missing out on some of the best entertainment, food, and first class service that Las Vegas has to offer.

DD17 conference screens
I liked the updating HD TV screens at the DD17 Conference – great job Joseph De Palma

Can you say “check-in while wearing a swimsuit?” – And that is exactly what I did on Monday afternoon. Wearing flip flops and the latest in Italian Speedo fashion, I stopped in for the early Digital Dealer registration. THANK YOU for putting this into place as I can quickly grab my conference badge and more in just a minute, and avoid any lines or waiting on the first day of the conference. Now maybe next year someone can personally deliver my registration badge while I sit poolside…

Kathi Kruse & Renee Stuart
The 2 Lovely Ladies of Social Media & more – Kathi Kruse & Renee Stuart

You can’t lose with Kathi Kruse…  I kicked off Digital Dealer 17 with my first session “Ten Dynamite Ways to Generate Traffic, Leads & Sales on Social Media” with Kathi Kruse of Kruse Control Inc. David Letterman taught all of us that we love top ten lists and Kathi shared several great ideas that could be used back at the dealership. Some of my favorites included using “hyper-local” self-published stories in your social media efforts, to include stories that take place within your dealership, as well as building content about financing and bad credit (which just happen to be the top searched terms on Google when it comes to auto shopping…). We have found that any stories building upon our community involvement to be very successful with social media. Maybe the best answer is to focus on being social on social media sites? Hmmm…  Great job Kathi!

Kevin Frye Mat Koenig Stan Sher
Mat Koenig gave a passionate presentation! Stan Sher enjoyed the presentation as well

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Maybe I should be asking myself – where in the world have I been that I have not seen Mat Koenig speak before? Next up was Mat’s session “Mobile, Millennials & Minorities” and I was incredibly impressed with Mat’s energy and passion while speaking. Mat packed the room, and he shared that Millennials are the wake-up call our industry has needed to get us to going back to focusing on people when it comes to car sales. Mat summarized millennials this way – at the end of the day, they just want to be respected, and if we focus on doing that, we will do just fine working with millennials.

Las Vegas coffee
My wife Julie shares her secret recipe for “Vegas Coffee”

Me llamo Kevin…  Wow, the next “M” that Mat Koenig spoke about was minorities and in this case he was speaking about Spanish speaking car buyers. If you think putting “Se habla Espanol” on your ads means you have addressed this part of the market, Mat states you are entirely wrong. As the fastest growing segment of our market, Spanish speakers represent a huge opportunity for car dealers, and setting up a Spanish webpage and making sure to ROUTE any forms or phone calls from that directly to a Spanish speaker in your dealership is the right way to go. Mucho gracias Senor Koenig. And btw – as a speaker, I like that you offer to answer questions in the hallway after the session rather than run late for the next speaker…

Digital Dealer 17 giveaways
A Kevin Frye presentation always features priceless give-aways

Up, up, and away!!!  And off I ran to setup for my session “Do You Need 3rd Party Leads – Using Google Analytics and Digital Attribution to Find the Answer”. Wow – packed room, and I know it wasn’t just to see me, but rather to hear me address what is an incredibly controversial topic in our industry. Rather than share traditional ROI measurements or gut feelings, I wanted to share the work I have put into answering this question myself using the advanced conversion tools available within Google Analytics – with conversion goals, multi-channel funnels, and then looking at assisted conversions.

What are assisted conversions? Simply put, the significant majority of dealers use “last click attribution” to give credit for sales for their vendor partners, which means that the last place most customers visit online is given full credit for the sale. The truth of the matter is that auto shoppers visit multiple sites before arriving at your dealership website, and savvy dealers want to make sure they have a presence on these sites that might “assist” in the conversion towards a sale.

Digital Dealer 17 Kevin Frye
My session “Do You Need 3rd Party Leads” likely felt like a kick in the gut for several folks…

This was certainly an advanced, step by step session filled with actual results for several websites which showed why it takes five to ten times more VDPs on AutoTrader and to convert to a sale than your dealership website (hint – take a look at your VDP at this site and look at the huge amount of ads and links on your VDP which point to competitors or partners of and AutoTrader which make money off of your vehicle). More important, I was able to show dealers how to setup their Google Analytics to find whether AutoTrader and were providing any significant assist and value towards their conversions.

My goal from the beginning was to help find any additional value that I could add to AutoTrader or that would improve their ROI, which is typically low to abysmal for most dealers. Further, I wanted to see if the “foot traffic” that always seems to be touted as coming from the primary aggregators (and not being measured by ourselves “correctly”) was really part of the conversion process. Unfortunately, after almost 18 months of effort and several model iterations, I have not found any significant attributed value that would raise the ROI of these 2 providers in a large manner. At the end of the day each dealer needs to do this for themselves, as the markets vary for each provider. Simply put, without significant change to the current model, whether it be lowering of prices for being on the aggregator, or adjusting the design of each site to provide a much more efficient VDPs per sale model that benefits the dealer, I don’t see much improvement. Go ahead, love me or hate me, but as a dealer, we are paid on PROVEN performance, not “mystery sales”, so why not ask for the same thing from our vendor partners. Perhaps a future article with more details of my efforts on DealerRefresh???

Mike Roscoe, Igor Kalassa, Kevin Frye and Veronica Dunford
Mike Roscoe, Igor Kalassa, myself and Veronica Dunford enjoying the VinSolutions event

Filet Mignon and Lobster Tail for lunch! Not necessarily, but the food got high ratings this year from everyone I spoke to at Digital Dealer. Only complaint was needing some more tables to handle the large amount of folks that attended. Speaking of which…

What did the exhibitors think about the new layout? Typically the tables are mixed throughout the exhibit hall which helped encourage people to interact with the vendors while eating in the hall. This year all of the tables were over in the corner. I am curious as to everyone’s thoughts on this arrangement, good or bad. I kinda liked the old setup, less crowds funneling into one corner, but maybe I am wrong. It was a bit chaotic when the keynote speaker sessions ended and everyone tried to funnel through the one entrance back into the exhibit hall. Thoughts?

Alex Jefferson & Kevin Frye
My cohort from the early days of Digital Dealer, Alex Jefferson

As an ex-Navy Man, I like a good pier…  In this case, that would be the Peer Networking Roundtables, which is usually my favorite part, BUT – this seemed to bomb this time. I saw very few folks at the roundtables this year, and I think I might have an idea why. Another part of the new exhibit hall layout was folks had to file through the exhibit hall to then gain access to the main ballroom where the peer network tables were. I heard several grumblings that folks were unsure of where to go. It could also be when they were scheduled (right after lunch). Needless to say our table had a spirited, fast-moving discussion covering multiple topics where several great ideas were exchanged.

Brent Wees Larry Bruce Kevin Frye
Who’s the monkey in the middle? With Brent Wees and Larry Bruce

And I thought I was going to see Jean Stapleton…  Turns out it was Sean Stapleton with “The Evolution of Relationship Marketing”, but since Sean is “All in the Family”, all was OK. Sean shared that most dealers are not focusing on trust (which is the key concern for most auto shoppers), but rather on quick return from their customers. Kinda reminds me of the “Super Sale” mentality of using any gimmick to get folks in to buy a car for short term gain, but realizing long term pain as you destroy customer trust with shady sales practices and marketing. Sean also asked why dealers continue to fail to focus on marketing to their current customer base, which is much cheaper, more efficient, and builds the relationship we have with our current customers. Sounds like working your own database should be a priority.

Kevin Frye & Wayne Brady
Aw shucks, what do I know, I am just an eCommerce Director from the midwest

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?  From the likes of some social media posts in the previous months, it sounds like some Digital Dealer competitors were afraid of “The Wolf of Wall Street” keynote speaker Jordan Belfort – before I address that, I would share that almost everyone I spoke to said this was the BEST keynote speaker of any Digital Dealer conference yet, as well as many others. Without question, Jordan was an incredibly high-energy speaker that was engaging, educational and entertaining. Yes, I saw the movie, and if I was seeing Jordan sober with this much energy on stage, I am afraid to think of how much energy he would have had back in the day, wow! Jordan shared an incredibly inspiring story of how he achieved success, while also sharing remorse in how he lost ethics through his greed, and hurt others. Jordan has a contagious personality and charisma that engages folks, and his selling techniques are the foundation of almost every financial firm on Wall Street now. Jordan shared how those same selling techniques can help dealers like ourselves, while also warning us that the same pitfalls he fell into are areas we must be wary of as well.

Pot calling the kettle black???  Yes, I saw some of the social media posts, Youtube videos, and forum posts criticizing the keynote speaker selection for Digital Dealer 17. Something about looking at the “plank in your own eye” comes to mind when I look at some of the tasteless finger-pointing and banter I saw on this, and remember this is BEFORE anyone heard the keynote which was a story of remorse and redemption. Simply put, if you have to resort to this type of finger-pointing, then maybe the value of what you have cannot stand alone on its own merit. Let’s ALL rise above this and respect each other for the benefit of the industry and our customers.

Jennifer Volz
Jennifer Volz is fired up for “Rocktails” at Digital Dealer 17

Cocktails after the Wolf of Wall Street? Hell no, we were fired up and ready for Rocktails now. Our automotive family has grown leaps and bounds since the early Digital Dealer conferences, and it was great to see so many friends in the hall.

Who remembers those wax lips we used to buy as kids?  VinSolutions hosted another fantastic after-hours event at the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. What a great and creative idea for a party, and in today’s world of social media and sharing pictures, this was a huge hit. Is there anything more fun than posing with some of your favorite celebrities? Now mix in some drinks and some of the craziest friends you have (cough cough, that would be auto folks who are downright nuts), and you have the recipe for a GREAT time. Gotta share that some of the characters reminded me of a funeral visitation with that waxy look, ooohhhhhh.

Dennis Galbraith
Great to see Dennis Galbraith – smart, energetic,and giving back to our industry

(Sound of clanging bell) Come and get it!!!!  Day 2 started with a trip down to exhibit hall for breakfast – great selection of hot and cold breakfast items, I like it, great way to start the day. Even better, I was able to sit down with Dennis Galbraith to enjoy some breakfast and even better conversation. Soon Igor Kalassa joined us, and we were able to exchange some ideas of where the market is – and where the market is going. I always try to make it a point to ask folks what is on their mind at each conference, and Dennis shared a common theme that I heard from both vendors and dealers…

And the word on the street is “efficiency”…  Both dealers and vendors alike are looking for efficiencies wherever possible in our business, which is Economics 101 as the digital market grows. Readily available information on the Internet has made the old school way of making gross by withholding information an outdated and losing approach. The Internet has driven down gross/unit for most dealerships, what is the answer? Simply put, by identifying and applying efficiencies in our dealership practices and with our vendor partners, we can reduce cost, improve gross, and maximize profitabilities.

On the dealer side, we see a move towards shortening the car buying process in the dealership, and a movement towards providing shopping convenience for our buyers in return for a premium (kinda like how you pay extra for that gallon of milk if you go to the “convenience store” rather than the grocery store up the street). On the vendor side we see movement towards consolidation and integration of services which helps reduce our expenses, while also helping create a smoother consumer shopping experience with a simplified, integrated process. It’s as simple as looking around exhibit hall and seeing how many vendor solutions have partnered together via acquisition to provide an integrated suite of products. Efficiency is the right answer, how can you argue with Econ 101?

Kevin Frye & Ceren Isildak
Many thanks to Ceren Isildak who helped coordinate speakers at DD17

My gut feeling is that you should make decisions with data, not your gut…  I started out the day with “Be a Data Driven Dealer” with Ken Kolodziej of String Auto. Ken shared why most of us make “gut decisions” – with a lack of time and an overwhelming amount of information to consider, we typically make a gut decision rather than one based on factual data. One of the tremendous benefits of our modern market is the amount of great data available that allows us to make the best decisions for our respective dealerships. Ken showed us several ways to better target our prospective shoppers by overlaying SEM and Polk data over our market area maps to best identify where to conquest future customers. My gut feeling is that this was a great session, thanks Ken.

Ali Mendiola and Kevin Frye
Great spending time and getting help from Ali Mendiola with DealerTrack

The Hour of Power…  I have always encouraged setting aside some time during the conference to work the exhibit hall to meet with current vendor partners, while looking for new solutions. I used the second session (and more) to spend some time on the floor. I had a great meeting with longtime partner DealerTrack and Ali Mendiola. It is always refreshing to have a partner that listens to your needs as well as shows you some progressive solutions that can make you better. Ali listened as I shared some current concerns and gave me some great help. Why do I share this? You should be taking advantage of the conference to meet with your current partners for issues you need help with.

Ahhh, so what was new in exhibit hall? Couldn’t help but notice that some big players like Reynolds and Dominion did not have a booth this year. There was one new name that caught my attention though – “Hireology”, so I went over to learn a little bit more. Most every dealer has struggled to find good quality people. Hireology helps automotive dealerships to hire great employees by helping identify qualified candidates using their proprietary tools, providing custom behavioral guides for the interview process, and helping to verify the credentials for the prospective applicant. Sounds like an HR solution in a box that can help many dealerships find the great people they need.

Brian Skutta & Kendall Billman
Enjoyed seeing Brian Skutta & Kendall Billman at a private villa event

See you later, I’m visiting DealerRater…  Lots of activity at the DealerRater booth where folks could get their pictures taken with Alan from Hangover, Mike Tyson, or Katie Perry (and thank for you for the great cover photo for this year’s review). I loved the new “LotShot” solution being introduced by DealerRater where your sales rep takes a photo of the customer with their new car after the purchase, and then the photo is shared with the customer via email as a fun memento of their car buying experience. This can be shared on social media, and even better, the email template sent to the customer with the photo encourages them to leave a review of their experience on DealerRater which can be attached with the photo. Simple and brilliant – great job by Chip Grueter and his team.

If I may, please let me say…  Chip Grueter is one of the unsung heroes of our business. Chip was not only an innovator with his DealerRater website, he has helped improve our entire industry by raising our standards of business to a higher level of integrity. I would also share that in the early days of eCommerce, Chip was of invaluable help to me and many others with helping solve problems each day. I distinctly remember calling Chip to help me solve problems with my CRM and other providers that Chip was not even associated with, but he would share his expertise to solve my issues. Thank you Chip for being a leader in our industry and making it better every day.

Nick Williams Kevin Gordon Kiefer Bartel
Nick Williams, Kevin Gordon, & Kiefer Bartel raising the bar at DD17

Wanna see something slick? Go see Kevin and Nick!  Kevin Gordon and Nick Williams presented “Run Your Dealership like a Startup”. Kevin and Nick packed the room as they shared how their initial days working at the Jim Pattison group were like running a startup company within a company as they developed their eCommerce department. With their new company “Convertus”, they are going through the startup experience again, but with greater wisdom to do it optimally. How can that experience help us?

Did you know that in ten years, 75% of our workforce will be from Generation Y? If dealers want to attract a high quality workforce from this generation, we need to better understand them. Most dealers hire “experience over talent” with our current approach, choosing the easier path of finding someone whom already has experience in the automotive industry. The more difficult path is to find and develop talented individuals who will help grow your dealership for the long run. With Generation Y, that means taking the role of a leader rather than a boss, and finding ways to motivate your people besides money (which is not the number one thing for Gen Y). Always insightful and helpful, Kevin Gordon and Nick Williams are rising stars in our industry. They are also marked men on my Hit List after the prank they pulled on me. If you were there, you know what I am talking about. Kudos Kevin and Nick, you got me, but make sure you are sleeping with one eye open moving forward…

Ian Mathews & Lindsey Donges
First ever Digital Dealer proposal? Ian Mathews asked Lindsey Donges to marry him shortly before this pic – CONGRATS!

Is your business in the crapper? Try us!  Had to laugh when I saw that Digital Dealer 17 had a “bathroom sponsor” this year. Go ahead, you can make fun of how the conference is being monetized. Now take a close look in the mirror and keep laughing, don’t we also monetize the daylights out of everything we have at our dealerships? I love car guys…

Digital Dealer 17 bathroom sponsor
Word leaked out there was a new bathroom sponsor at DD17 – wah wah wahhhhh

Not him again!  Just kidding, I started the afternoon with Dennis Galbraith’s session “Objective Based Budgeting”. Dennis becomes a new man while speaking – his passion and energy are uplifting, and I am glad he uses his great knowledge to  help fellow dealers to become better each day. My favorite part of the session was this – if 96% of our market is NOT in the market currently to buy a vehicle, why do we run advertising that focuses on a “buy now” message? That approach has no residual value – why not include a more brand oriented, long term value building message with each marketing campaign? I agree Dennis, and well done!

Having drinks
A few of these really makes networking fun and productive

Passionate plus Pretty equals Perfect!  I enjoyed Renee Stuart and Mike Fitzpatrick’s session “Salesperson Websites: Insider Secrets that will Leave Your Competition Behind”. Renee has a contagious enthusiasm and passion that gets other excited along with her. Their giveaway was a free consultation session to help identify your personal goals and to help you build your own website. I think Renee was more excited than the winners, and I like that. If someone is that passionate about their product, you know you are going to get first-class service. Key takeaway for me was this – your goal with your personal website is to create useful content that your readers will share. And one of the easiest forms of shareable content is having a FAQs section. LOTS of useful tips for all that attended. Hey, I just answered FAQ number one – where do I find useful content?

I scream, you scream, we all scream for Ice Cream!  Everyone joined for a quick “ice cream social” in exhibit hall before the next Keynote speaker, John Jantsch. Unfortunately, I missed this session as I completed several more demos in exhibit hall. I had an early morning Thursday flight this year and I was working to maximize my time on the floor where possible. However feedback was positive from others I spoke to.

Digital Dealer 17 Jeff Wyler
Enjoying drinks with the first class Jeff Wyler Automotive Family

We are not a group, we are a FAMILY – that would be the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family. I joined some of our great folks from the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family for drinks and discussion at the Palazzo. One of the core values at the Wyler organization is that we value our employees like family members. Many of you know that my brother was diagnosed with leukemia this past July, and I have been incredibly fortunate to work for a family that has been both generous and supportive during this difficult time. I have seen this same wonderful generosity and compassion with many of my fellow employees in difficult times over the years, and this is the first time I have been in that same situation. Let me take a moment to thank the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family for their love and support in helping my brother, and for being a first class leader in our industry.

Amber & Marc McGurren & Julie Frye
Love Amber & Marc McGurren – lovely couple and lots of fun

Bare naked ladies at the Mirage! Did you see the folks at DealerOn and Force Marketing bare it all??? Another great after-hours event was held at the “Bare” pool and lounge at the Mirage by the wonderful folks at Dealeron and Force Marketing. Well, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so I cannot share all of my pictures, but Eliana is definitely my favorite! (kidding dear friend..). It was a beautiful evening with even more beautiful friends. I am so proud to have so many great friends in my autofamily (that would be #autofam), and for all of those that have helped me – I can only hope that I have helped many others. For those of you that attend these conferences – kudos to you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to try and make both yourselves and the organizations you work for better.

Eliana Raggio & Julie Frye
Fun filled event hosted by DealerOn & Force Marketing – great to see you Eliana Raggio

It’s all give and take you know…  Truth is, it is a lot of work putting this review together each conference, and I hope it helps each of you. If you have enjoyed this and found it beneficial over the years, then I have a favor to ask from you (this is your giving and my taking part…).

Now that Digital Dealer 17 is over, I have returned to the reality of an incredibly difficult situation at home. My brother Jon was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in late July, and his chance for long term survival is minimal. His primary chance for a long term cure is a bone marrow transplant, and finding a match for the transplant is only found 30% of the time. Thank God (and I mean that literally) we were able to find that match, and it is a blessing for me that I am able to do this for my brother.

The bone marrow transplant surgery is on October 6th, and the following 100 days are critical for my brother. I am asking YOU for your prayers during this difficult time. That’s right, I am “pitching” in my review, and I am not ashamed of my faith, no matter how much I fall short each day, to ask for your prayers to help my brother during this difficult time. I hope and pray that in my next Digital Dealer review that I will be writing about the successful recovery of my brother.

Jon Frye and Kevin Frye
Glad to give it my all for my brother Jon

Until then, I encourage you to leave your thoughts and comments below on what you thought of Digital Dealer 17. If you can handle my sarcastic and sometimes scathing commentary within the automotive sphere, give me a follow on Twitter at @kevinfrye1, and I look forward to seeing you at Digital Dealer 18 in Tampa next spring.


As a former Naval officer I am driven to produce results & to lead people to reach their full abilit Aviation, outdoors, tennis, running, weighli...