Isn’t she ‘tweet? It’s that time again – the semi-annual Digital Dealer conference, and of course the infamous review care of DealerRefresh. Jeff Kershner was unable to attend, I think he was attending the Cannes Film Festival or receiving the Nobel Prize for Automotive Excellence or something, so that leaves the flunkies like myself and Alex Jefferson with The Proctor Dealerships to pick up the slack…
So what kind of healthy food do automotive professionals eat? For the first official meeting of the “Automotive Industry Knights of the Round Table”, we chose to meet at the Rosen Shingle resort, which coincidentally was also the location for the 8th Digital Dealer Conference held in Orlando, Florida. Ok, so the table was not round, and most of these guys are not Knights, or even someone I might want to even run into at night, but great fun was had by all as we gathered together to share what is working well for each of us in this rapid-paced market, as well as looking for new ideas for where things are going.
Is it legal to give away alcohol? I am not sure, but Joe Webb (President of DealerKnows Consulting) sure knows how to encourage audience participation, and his session “It’s the Lead to Appointment Show” was a great example of how to do well with your presentation. Joe did a great job using game show analogies to teach his points, and getting folks involved. What was his secret? When he first asked for a volunteer, he had one hand go up. After the participant finished, Joe awarded him a bottle of wine. When Joe asked for the next volunteer, 40 hands shot up! Audience input, humor, video clips, and outstanding material make for a superior session, great job Joe!
If you know the name and address of the guy who runs Google Maps, please let me know… I and many others would like to see this fellow get “beat up from the feet up” as Google Maps can be a colossal nightmare to manage, especially for large auto groups with multiple locations. Getting your maps info accurate can be a real aggravation. However – having correct information on your Google Map listings, and following the analytics for that site is very important as we learned in Brian Pasch’s (PCG Digital Marketing) session on Automotive Internet Reputation. The mysterious Google search algorithm finds reviews of your dealership and attaches them to your Google Map listing. When you consider how many folks view your Map listing every day, shouldn’t you worry about the reviews they will see there as well? Brian made a couple suggestions that I thought were very good, to include having some links point from your website and/or blog directly to your Map listing, and creating a portal page for all of the review sites about your dealership. Of note, Brian’s brother Glenn (with Improved Performance Solutions) also attended and presented at this conference. Glenn shared with me that he was actually Brian’s body double, used for all of his bare-chest shots…
You dropped a bomb on me – baby… My favorite one-liner from the conference is awarded to Patrick Workman with Dealer.com, who was showing me how to “drop a search-bomb” on my competition with the Dealer.com search engine marketing tool, where I could pinpoint a campaign right on top of another dealership’s location. Can you feel the love? Dealer.com continues to excel with great SEO, but I was also impressed with how they are starting to closely work with automotive ad agencies like Moore and Scarry where the ad agency is coordinating the dealership’s traditional and digital marketing efforts directly with the dealership’s website. This is tremendously important in our efforts, as we need to ensure that we are presenting one message across all marketing mediums. When you are pushing a special in your latest TV or radio commercial, or print ad, will your customer find that same special/message at your website???
I love it when vendors push stuff… Well – maybe not all the time, but in this situation, I liked what I saw. Todd Smith with ActivEngage shared a new feature that they are using within their chat tool where they can “push” a video to your website shopper. If your shopper is looking at a new model on your website and asking questions about that vehicle, the ActivEngage rep can push over a video of that vehicle to the customer via Live Chat. I like it – a lot. We need to present compelling, exciting information to our customers to keep them engaged with our online dealership showrooms, and keeping these shoppers engaged and converting them to actual phone calls, email leads, or showroom visits is key to our success.
And then a fight broke out… Well, a beat-down did appear imminent during the Wednesday morning panel discussion “The Price is Right”. A “spirited discussion” took place on the panel between Dale Pollak of vAuto and Pat Ryan Jr. of FirstLook that kept folks on the edge of their seats as each shared their philosophies on how their respective tools can best help us as dealers in selecting, marketing, and pricing our vehicles in our respective markets. Mike Waterman of DealerTrack, Jim Flint from the John Eagle Family of Dealerships and myself (with Jeff Wyler) also participated, and each of us shared our thoughts and approaches with pricing strategies. Truth is – there was great value in everything said, whether one agreed with all of it or not, and I was glad to see some sparks fly from people who truly believe in their products. Great job to all, and on a side note, my money was on Pat, as he is a former Chicago Policeman (Blues Brothers flashback!)
My secret temptation… Sometimes I bring some of my competitors’ business cards with me and hand them out while walking through the exhibit area, with a “Please call me on Monday as I am very interested in your product/service, and do NOT stop calling me if you cannot reach me”… Wouldn’t that be fun? While tempting, I have not followed up on that idea thought it would be great fun. Every conference I see more and more folks, including more of the local dealers in my area. Great to see past participant Andy Warner of the Lormar group, and first-time attendees Sarah Sweeney and Robert Sabbaugh of the Jake Sweeney Automotive Family. More and more, dealerships are understanding how important eCommerce is to our industry, and that they must excel at it.
Can I be honest for a moment? Enough already with the barrage of social media propaganda! Ok, I realize that I am being harsh here – and when I spoke to Alex Snyder at the conference he concurred and told me he was going to write about this as well. Social media was the “buzz” at DD8 and there were multiple sessions dealing with this topic, and a large amount of the exhibitors were promoting their new social media/networking tools. As I worked the exhibition hall, I asked many of these same vendors what they thought about the huge emphasis on “How are we going to get onboard with all of these social networking sites, and how are we going to sell cars there?” Truth is, many of them don’t even believe that social networking sites are the place to “sell cars”, but they are only delivering what dealers want. Let’s face it, I guarantee that there were many attendees who showed up at this conference with instructions from their GM to jump onboard this Social Networking wagon (eg. “Johnny, go down to the show and buy us some of that Social Networking stuff!”). Is this topic important? Certainly! I believe we should have a presence where we can share our online reviews, encourage our satisfied customers to interact with us, and also share relevant information and specials with our friends. BUT – let me ask you this? What did you used to think of your friends who called you about their new venture with Amway??? Hello – can we say avoid them like the plague? The same idea carries over to your Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. If you are trying to blatantly sell on these sites, you will turn off your “friends”. My advice is this. Yes, social networking is important, pick some of the top sites and provide relevant information on those. Do you want to know how to do it best? Take a close look at the folks on Facebook or Twitter that you love to follow. Ask yourself why – there is your likely answer… Balance your time and efforts into focusing on other areas of your business that deserve your highest attention, such as inventory photos and descriptions, improving your website engagement and conversion, etc, rather than on feeding 200+ social networking sites with your latest Nissan special. I think a lot of dealers have got their priorities out of balance and need to keep this area in perspective…. (wow – now I am going to be like the Google Maps guy, where everyone will want my address to pay me a special visit…).
Whose map is that? Why, that would be Ron’s map of course! Many folks were telling me to stop by the booth for a new vendor, ronsmap, whom were launching their new site that is designed for consumers, but is looking for dealer participation. Want to learn more? Visit their website (Hey Ron Morrison – how is that for driving folks to your website!)
What is Jim Ziegler’s favorite website? I am not sure, but I can guarantee that his mention of adultfriendfinder.com (uh – link omitted intentionally) as one of the top social networking sites during his presentation of “How to use online social communities and Technology-enabled Marketing” kept folks interested, and also wondering if their dealership firewall would allow that site through their local network. I guess the burning question that follows-up from this is whether this same site also deals with your online reputation???
Yo! Word-up! Ahhh – the “word on the street”… Yes, I always try to spend time meeting with folks during the mixers and during the breaks between sessions to see what they are thinking, find out about what sessions they liked, and what vendors have caught their attention. Unfortunately, I found many folks that felt like many of the sessions seemed like a repeat of the previous conference in Nashville. Perhaps this is not a fair statement, but maybe there is some truth (isn’t that always found in perception?) that it seems like the same folks presenting, and there did not seem to be a lot of exciting new material. This also might be a reflection of our current market. I can share what I felt I missed, and that is – Where are we going with mobile technology and how are we going to work with our customers on this platform? I am a firm proponent of common sense, and all you had to do if you attended ANY session was stand in the back and look at the folks in the crowd. During every presentation I would see folks using their smart phones to text, check and respond to emails, or surf the web. No, it’s not just the “young folks” who are doing this, it’s all of us. I do believe the reason we don’t see many sessions or vendor solutions to this area is that we don’t know the answers yet in how to best adapt and grow with this shift in consumer behavior. I hope to see more of this in the next conference.
I love the nightlife… Of course everyone knows that all of the big rock stars and socialites hit the Orlando scene (except for Kershner..) As always, much fun had by everyone, though I have a sneaky suspicion that Brian Hannan with Cars.com took myself and the rest of the “Price is Right” panel out to dinner the night before to babysit us before our early morning presentation. I had a great time meeting Jack Simmons who is the dealer training manager at Cars.com who shared his favorite closing line with me, which I have promised to keep a secret… Pat Ryan Jr. also kept me entertained with some great stories from his earlier days as a Chicago Police detective. The gang at Clickmotive generously took me out the following night and kept me laughing as well (many thanks!). A large group of us headed out to The Blue Martini for drinks and fun on Wednesday night, where I ran into Todd Smith who had set aside some tables for all of us, and kept us entertained for the evening (thanks Todd!). I was able to run into Andrew Difeo who is now running a dealership in Florida (congrats Andrew), as well as catch up with lots of other folks including Stan Sher, Katie Richter and April Rain of Cuneo Advertising, Cliff Banks, and of course my great friend Alex Jefferson. Kudos to Cliff Banks who was up with me bright and early the following morning and helping me show the young folks that some of these old guys can still have a good time (though I suspect each of us was in bed by 8 the following evening, lol…).
Everyone else that I photographed is somewhere in this shot – is everyone happy now? Whew!
And the $1,000,000 dollar answer is… Keep your focus! Be candid and honest at where your dealership is in its online efforts. If you are just starting, or are doing very poorly, focus on the fundamentals. Work with your website and inventory presentation and work on answering your leads quickly, and on providing proper follow-up to these leads (sales AND service). If you are doing these things well, then you can start worrying about peak search engine optimization, social networking, mining your database, playing with video, and all of the other great areas that help us reach our highest levels of performance. I speak with too many folks who are overwhelmed and are worrying about not Tweeting every day or creating their next micro-site when their most pressing concern should be worrying about having someone answer the leads they are currently receiving and doing it well.
I believe the conference was a success, with increased attendance, full sessions, and lots of dealers who are excited as they feel the market is bouncing back. I enjoyed meeting so many great friends during the conference and apologize for not being able to mention everyone. We did receive the exciting announcement that Digital Dealer 9 will be in Las Vegas this fall. Upon hearing this news, I immediately starting putting together my Digital Dealer 9 conditioning program to build up my “tolerance” and learning how to live with sleep deprivation! I look forward to seeing everyone there.