Industry Events

Digital Dealer 11 Review by Kevin Frye

Kevin Frye reviews Digital Dealer 11

Photo of Las Vegas #DD11

What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas
… as shared by Eric Qualman in his keynote presentation at Digital Dealer 11 – and how appropriate considering the explosion of social media the last few years.  While many of you have been waiting for this semi-annual review of the Digital Dealer conference on DealerRefresh, many others have been getting a “play by play” analysis of the conference via Twitter, Facebook, industry blogs, and more, with real time updates, photos, and even video.

Could any of us have imagined how much our market would have changed just since Digital Dealer 1?

I think we are all familiar with this…

I arrived on Sunday morning for an early start to the week with the VinSolutions Dealer Advisory  Board running from Sunday evening through Tuesday.  Before the chaotic week began, I figured I would spend a few hours at the Mirage pool, and wow, the people-watching was first class.  I have never seen so many tattoos in my life, and then I learned that “The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth” was just wrapping up its convention at the Mirage.  Maybe I should review The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth next year…

While this review is about Digital Dealer, I think it is important to share a few words about my experience with the VinSolutions Dealer Advisory Board.  VIN has really made itself an exceptional player in the industry by making significant efforts to listen to its customers, and to implement their end-users’ ideas into their solutions.  I have been able to tap into the knowledge base of some of the top performers in this industry at these boards.  VIN treats each of us with a first class experience and I extend my sincere thanks.

Chip Perry at Digital DealerChip Perry of AutoTrader Talks about recent acquisitions

As we wrapped up the VIN Dealer Advisory Board, I had the pleasure of meeting Chip Perry with AutoTrader, who spoke about the recent acquisition of VinSolutions, as well as Kelly Blue Book, Homenet, and vAuto.  While I have to respect the confidentiality of much of what was shared during this discussion, I can share that I was impressed that Chip Perry and Mike Dullea (CEO of VinSolutions) would take the time to speak with us as end-users and explain many of their long term goals.

Suffice it to say, the integration of each of these vendors and their data is being approached slowly so as to ensure minimal to no disruption to current customer service, as well as to optimally leverage the power of having all of these tools and data under one umbrella.  Why do I share this?  Because is segues into…

Digital Dealer 11 exhibit-hallExhibit Hall at Digital Dealer 11

Behold the Behemoth!  Was there any bigger statement to attendees of Digital Dealer 11 than the first 3 feet they walked into the exhibit hall?

Front and center, from left to right was VinSolutions, Homenet, AutoTrader, Kelly Blue Book, vAuto, and Kelly Blue Book.  As I thought about all of the vendors I visited, and all of the dealers I spoke with, the pink elephant in the room was the merging of these powerful vendors under common ownership.  If the future of our industry lies in greater efficiency and greater power by merging some of the most important tools we utilize under one umbrella, then where does a dealership stand if they are not using that “one” solution?  Are you at a disadvantage by using a solution outside of this group because you have more cost by not taking advantage of economies of scale?  Do your competitors using a “one” solution have an edge on you because of the significant inside look they have with their online shopper traffic by having integrated data?

If you know me, you know that I can be outspoken, and I am compelled to share this as this is the unspoken concern that many dealers (and vendors) are thinking about at this time in our market.

Sometimes the first bite is the best…  I kicked off Digital Dealer 11 by participating in the roundtable discussions in the Grand Ballroom.  Our table had an animated discussion about several issues, including how we measure ROI accurately, what the expected benchmark closing rates on lead providers should be, what new online tools were working for us and we would recommend to others, and much more.  I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Garzona with Longo Toyota during this discussion who was very impressive and I can now add to the long list of invaluable network connections I have made at prior Digital Dealer Conferences.

It’s understood that you are good…  I think one of my biggest dilemmas in attending these conferences is in choosing which presentation to attend.  While I have listened to many presenters that I know are great, I try to balance which ones I go to see with whether I have reviewed them in the past.

So…  I am sorry I was unable to see Shaun Raines and his great panel,  Jeff Kershner,  April Rain and Richard Herod (who were presenting at the same time as me and I hear they did great!), Pat Ryan, Ralph Paglia, my great friend Joe Webb (who helped me tremendously in my speaking presentations), Phil Sura (does anyone else agree that Phil is the nicest guy in this industry), Sean Stapleton, Jack Simmons, Tony Rhoades, Larry Bruce (always sparks a lively debate), Rich Lucy and Anthony Bartoli (two of the smartest and funniest guys in automotive) and more…  Believe it or not, I was actually “splitting sessions” this year, going to one session for about 25 minutes, and then switching to another, just to be able to maximize my exposure to the great talent that is shared at each conference.

Vivian Holmes and Paul Rini at Digital Dealer 11Vivian Holmes with IntellaCar and Paul Rini of Jeff Wyler Florence Buick GMC

First on my list was “Creating the Apple Store Experience in Dealerships” by Jim Hughes and Bruce Polkes with IntellaCar.  Jim and Bruce shared how Apple does a great job bringing their products to life when you visit an Apple store as they aspire to “wow” each and every customer that comes in their front door.  Apple clearly understands how customer satisfaction drives customer retention – and can anyone argue that most Apple customers are loyal to their brand?

I found this presentation to be very important to me as I am always looking forward, and it is readily apparent that the younger generation is drawn to tech-savvy businesses.  What message is sent when you demo a new car with multiple high-tech features, and then hand your customer a pen and a paper application to fill out?  Can we say DISCONNECT with our upcoming future customers from this tech savvy generation?

If your cars have the latest and greatest in technology, then why don’t your people have the same?  I spent some time later with Vivian Holmes of IntellaCar looking at their iPad solution as well as with Rich Lucy (a current user) and was very impressed.

I pity the fool who doesn’t listen to his customers!  I was presenting for the second session with “Shut Up and Listen to Your Customers!” and I shared multiple video clips with actual customers who directly answered many of the questions we bring to these conferences.  Take a minute to watch the clip below and see what customers have to say about what they think when they see your inventory online without a price.

If you would like to see the entire playlist of videos that I shared to utilize in training your dealership personnel, just email me at and I will send you the playlist (it is a private playlist and I must send you the links to be able to see).

Make like a banana and split…  Next up was a split-session, where I attended Nikki Allen’s “Listen Up Kool Aid Drinkers” where she shared some inside information on how she has taken her dealerships to a premiere level, and then I ran down the hall to catch Bryan Armstrong’s “The Solutions Lie in Service”.  If you have not figured out now how explosive the growth has been in eCommerce for service, then you are being left behind.

I understand that ALL of us have started out with sales as the primary priority, but Bryan shared how important our online presence is for service customers. Bryan brands himself as “the average car guy”, and his easy going manner and great sense of humor allows him to easily identify with his attendees, who walk away with simple, easy to implement ideas and strategies that help build your online service reputation while increasing service revenue.  Sounds like a recipe for success to me…

There are dollars in the data…  Eric Brown, CEO and co-founder of Dataium moderated a panel that discussed advanced cloud intelligence data solutions.  “Advanced cloud what?” you ask?  Let’s just say that the power of data and analytics with our modern Internet allows us to better recognize our visitors’ pathway into our website, along with a whole bunch of other data that gives us invaluable insight on how they are shopping for a car online.

Hmmm, how’s this – what if a customer started shopping online and found himself on, researched some trade-in values as well as read some reviews on great fuel efficient cars, and then went to AutoTrader to search some inventory. While there, the shopper found some inventory that was priced very competitively within the market (maybe that dealer was using vAuto…) and then went directly to that dealer’s website, where they looked at several pages and then submitted a lead.  When you receive that lead, you are able to see the entire path of how the shopper found their way to you, and with that information, you know that they are researching a great fuel economy car priced between 15k and 20k and they have a preference for the color blue.  All with the power of integrated data.

Did anyone pick up on the relationship between several of these vendors? I strongly believe this is the next wave of technology which will drive our eCommerce efforts.

Tom Harsha and Kevin Gordon at Digital Dealer 11Tom Harsha with iMagicLab and Kevin Gordon with the Jim Pattison Group

Did Homenet finally lose the blue softball jerseys???  OK, I don’t know if they were a hockey jersey, softball uniform, or what, but I think the folks at the Homenet booth were relieved to be wearing something different at this Digital Dealer conference J. While visiting at the exhibit hall, I was able to see many great friends, including Nick Cybela (“Digital Nick”) with Ford Digital Marketing who shared some great insight on some recent changes with Google that could help me with my search engine marketing efforts.

Joshua Fichter of 5 Star Ford shared how they are changing their showroom experience to greatly streamline the dealership visit and cut down on time spent in the purchasing process.  I was very happy to see another great friend, Tom Harsha, who continues to grow and improve iMagicLab with another mutual great friend, Keith Latman.

Chad Smith with Three Birds MarketingChad Smith with Three Birds Marketing

Word on the street – no major items of excitement at this conference imho.  It seems the primary question and concern I was seeing was how the industry will shake out with the recent acquisitions of many of our major providers.  Several people were excited about Three Birds Marketing, which provides a powerful integrated marketing and communications platform for delivering creative, content driven marketing services.  Chad Smith gave me a demo of their solution which emphasizes to “listen, engage, convert, and retain”.

Blackbook was also promoting their free credit score estimator tool while hosting R. Lee Ermey, “the Gunny” for photos.

We don’t have a choice about social media, it’s about how well we do it…  Eric Qualman, author of Socialnomics, gave the keynote address, while dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt in remembrance of the passing of Steve Jobs the previous day.  While Eric shared many great points, I think one that you will enjoy is, where you can determine how influential you are within your industry.  What better tool for a competitive crowd like the automotive industry?  Hmmm, let’s take a look at my friends with the “most klout”

1)     Bryan Armstrong (65)
2)     Jeff Kershner (52)
3)     Sean Stapleton (51)
4)     Joseph Little (44)
5)     Allison Carpio (40)
6)     Jeff Wyler (26)

Am I surprised Bryan Armstrong is the leader?  Absolutely not – Bryan has raised over 20 foster children and I have the highest respect for him both in and outside of the industry, great job!  If you are serious about social media, Klout is a great tool to see how well you are doing in your efforts.

Chris Fousek Alex Jefferson Katie Richter Kevin Frye and Todd Smith

I’m always suspicious of guys wearing bow ties…  Another split session on the board, with Tim Clay’s Total Conversion” presentation that shared how a dealer can significantly improve the strength and presence of their website online by making sure to claim and match up the multiple sites online that list your dealership.  When is the last time you audited your high profile portal sites online???

Tim is one of the best speakers I have seen, very professional, and he is great at making complex things easy to understand.

The other session I attended was Jim Flynt and Alexi Venneri who shared “10 Things I Hate and Like About You”.  Jim and Alexi shared a key point when it comes to social media – when you are not trying to sell, you do sell.  Jim also shared how important Facebook is when it comes to our service departments, as our service customers visit our dealerships way more often than sales, and they are more likely to share their experience online.  Jim is a personal friend and a true leader in the industry, great job Jim and Alexi!

Packed and stacked…  Yes folks, the rumor is true.  There are real, living people that work at Google, and one of them descended from the heavens to visit us at Digital Dealer 11.  And the house was packed (note to Mike Roscoe and Arnold Tijerina, if you bring Google in, make sure to provide a large room to accommodate the crowd).

Google shared in detail exactly how their search algorithm works and how to guarantee to be in the first position on page 1 for every search.  If you failed to attend Digital Dealer, your loss!  I came away with 3 key points straight from Google in this presentation.

First, they shared that Google’s current philosophy is “Mobile First”.  Is your dealership preparing for mobile?  Google shared that when it comes to mobile, it is NOT about filling out forms on your phone, it is about hitting the live link to make a phone call to your dealership from the mobile site.

Second, 81% of car shoppers are deciding within 3 months on their car buying decision. The buying cycle is starting to shorten with the readily available access to information.  Is it time to adjust our Internet lead workflows and shorten them???

And finally, Google shared what works when it comes to being successful online – Be found, Be relevant, Be engaging, and Be accountable.  Does your website fit this profile?  If so, something tells me that Google will reward you in the search engine results if so.

Kevin Frye and Matt Murray at Digital DealerI really enjoyed Matt Murray’s Presentation on why “Social Media” works

Matt Murray doesn’t know squat about social media!  Absolutely kidding.  Matt and I have had some back and forth about social media after my “Social Media is BS” presentation at DD10, and I certainly wanted to attend his presentation on “Social Media Works”.  Matt had the best PowerPoint presentation and an incredibly smooth speaking style that I truly enjoyed, he is a natural when it comes to speaking in public.

I think Matt shared the true secret of success when it comes to social media.  When you provide superior service and an exceptional experience, then your customers will talk about this on social sites and you will be successful.  Hmmm, maybe Matt and I are really on the same page when it comes to social media…  He also shared some innovative ideas on how a dealership can work to identify the “influencers” in their market and then work with them to be successful in social media.  Note to DD team – bring Matt back, he is good!

Show me the money!…  Jerry Thibeau of PhoneNinjas wins my highly official contest for best give-aways and most engaging presentation.  Jerry opened his presentation by showering the front rows with dollar bills.  Alex Jefferson injured some attendees in his effort to gather some “penny slots” money for later while the folks in the back regretted not sitting up front. Jerry held a contest with great prizes where he would randomly mystery shop dealerships that were in attendance and measure their phone skills. When we work SO HARD to convert website traffic into phone calls, why do we do such a poor job at answering the phones? Highlight of the presentation was a live mystery shop where the guy who answered the phone at the dealership and did the worst job identified himself at the end of the call as the General Sales Manager….

Give it to me straight…  No holds barred in Kendall Billman’s presentation about “What is Your Website Hiding”.  Kendall had researched the websites of attendees and showed many deficiencies in their current websites, including lack of good page titles and meta-tags, failure of content to be read by the search engines, and having very few indexable pages for the search spiders to read. Sometimes the truth hurts, but when your highest source of store traffic is your website, can you afford anything less than the full truth?  Kendall is witty and entertaining, and when people saw that he was throwing out $25 casino chips for questions, he was suddenly quite engaging as well (kidding Kendall!  Great job!)

What do shoes and cars have in common?  Perhaps more than you can imagine.  One of the best presentations I attended was by the folks at  Zappos shared with photos, PowerPoint, video, and songs how they have become one of the most successful eCommerce businesses in history.  How do they do it?  Like their motto says, they are “powered by service”.

Zappos delivers such an exceptional service experience that they differentiate themselves from their competition, and their incredibly satisfied customers are loyal and they share their experiences on the social sites.  Sounds like what most dealerships are trying to figure out. HOME RUN.  Attention Mike Roscoe and Arnold Tijerina – please bring in more “outside industry” success stories like this to Digital Dealer. I can share from personal experience that some of the best ideas I have applied in our eCommerce efforts at Jeff Wyler were learned from innovative thinkers outside our industry.

Alex Jefferson and crew at Digital Dealer 11Alex Jefferson and friends enjoying Las Vegas

Bitch and moan, gripe and groan…  I only heard a few complaints about Digital Dealer 11. While the new registration process was a success for many (It took me less than 3 minutes to check in and get my badge and bag), there were several others who had to wait over an hour when they found their badge had not been pre-printed, etc.  I also heard a few complaints about the food/drink service this year (no fruit for breakfast, not as organized).  Maybe we are just getting spoiled?

Keeping an automotive industry person satisfied has got to be worse than dealing with a high-maintenance spouse – ouch!

Arnold Tijerina April Rain and Larry Bruce at Digital DealerArnold Tijerina, April Rain, and Larry Bruce enjoying “Old Vegas”

And that’s all folks!  OK, ok, I know you want to know about the “after-hours” part of Vegas.

Seems like this “staying in Vegas thing” is getting harder every year.  There were LOTS of VIP events and parties hosted by more vendors that I have ever seen.  An attendee at Digital Dealer really gets spoiled with the first class treatment provided by multiple vendors.  While I cannot attend every event, I can share big thanks for the hospitality and generosity shared by all.  I would like to thank Larry Bruce who took April Rain, Arnold Tijerina, and myself zip lining over Fremont Street in old Vegas (make sure to check out the video, looks like Larry needed to be rescued!)  What a great time and if you have not visited this part of Vegas, it is a blast.

Had a great time in the limo with this crowd, and wow, if I could bottle Larry and April’s energy, I could build the pyramids in 3 days.

Vin Solutions Tatoo Party at Digital Dealer 11Joe Little of VinSolutions gets a Tattoo at the VIN King Ink Party

The VinSolutions party at King Ink was a big draw, and there was a line of people who wanted to get a free tattoo care of VIN (fake and REAL).  Speaking of which, if you got a QR code tattooed on your body, where would it point to if someone scanned it?

I want to see your answers in the remarks below.

ActivEngage Dinner Party at Digital Dealer 11Having fun at the ActivEngage Party at the Venetian

The always awesome crew at DealerRater (Chip, Heather and Matt) treated me to dinner at the Mirage, where I spent time with Kevin Gordon and Nick Williams, Alex Jefferson, Jeff Kershner, and many more. Todd Smith with Activengage is “money in the bank” when it comes to entertaining, and I thank him for a great time while eating at Bouchon at the Venetian. I had a wonderful time playing penny slots with Katie Richter (GREAT friend!), and when I was down to my last nickel, I gave it to Alex Jefferson who then won $30. Who votes that Alex owes me half???

Was also able to spend time with another GREAT friend, Su-Lin Jasicki, and meet new friends like Sean Pettley.

Kevin Frye at the Slots at Digital Dealer 11This is how the “High Rollers” live!  – Ok, it’s just $40.10 on penny slots, but FREE drinks!

I’m getting  too old for this sh-t!  OK, five total hours of sleep the last two nights was tough, but I was still there in the morning, though Alex Jefferson showed up with only 10 minutes to spare. He better be thankful, because our motto is you can party hard, but you better be leading the pack in the morning, and I would have tortured him relentlessly if he was late J.

As I wrap up this conference review, I have found over the years that the biggest benefit I have found in these conferences is the acquaintances I made at the shows, that turned into associates, who then turned into friends, and who have turned into some of my best friends. My biggest complaint is that I feel torn in where to spend my time when I attend Digital Dealer now as there are SO MANY great people I know in this industry.

Cheers to all, and I look forward to seeing you at Digital Dealer 12!

Kevin Frye ziplining in Las Vegas at Digital Dealer

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
    Andrew DiFeo
  • October 14, 2011
Excellent review Kevin, sorry I missed DD11 but I look forward to seeing everyone at DD12 in Orlando!
  • J
    Joe Webb
  • October 14, 2011
Once again, KF, another sound wrap-up to a conference.  The idea of splitting sessions boggles me, but your dedication is awesome.  Sorry we didn't get to see each other as much as usual, but I too try to find the delicate balance of "sit in on friends' presentations vs. new peoples' sessions that I can evaluate".
Great wrap up and overview of DD11. I loved the read. I need to catch up with Bryan's Klout score.
  • J
    Jerry Thibeau
  • October 14, 2011
Well written article Kevin!  Thanks for the mention Kevin.  Was great having you in my session.
  • B
    Bruce Polkes
  • October 14, 2011
Great review Kevin. You really captured the spirit and detail of the show. Appreciate you taking the time to share your observations with whole community. And sounds like you had lots of fun to boot.
  • L
  • October 14, 2011
Great wrap of the conference.  
  • A
  • October 14, 2011
Thanks for they buzz! Great review.  
Thanks, Kevin! It was fun!
  • T
  • October 14, 2011
Kevin thanks for leading the way so others may follow. You are an inspiration.
Great review of content here and thanks for the kind words Kevin.  Always great to see you.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • October 15, 2011
As always, we love the traditional Kevin Frye review of Digital Dealer.

Great video too - thanks for sharing Kevin.

Who on earth would get a Tattoo of a company logo? Especially in our industry when businesses gets bought and sold all the time. That's like getting a tattoo  of your high school girlfriends name on your left ass cheek.
  • P
    Phil Sura
  • October 17, 2011
Wow Kevin......I'm honored that you gave me the nice guy award, especially coming from a true professional like yourself.  Thanks.  Phil Sura 
  • J
    Jennifer Suzuki
  • October 17, 2011
 Great review! We missed most of conference whilst busy working the expo floor! If you made it
to E-Dealer Solutions party at Revolution check out the video!
  • J
    Joe Little
  • October 17, 2011
I'm married, and have been for 15 years, and actually to my high school girlfriend but her name is tattooed on my back shoulder not my rear end. Where's your wife's name tattooed on you? Must be loyalty thing.  I guess VinSolutions has done enough for me in my professional life than I could ever imagine. This tattoo I received at DD11 will remind me of the amazing people I work with.  Mike Dullea, Sean Stapleton, Matt Watson and the rest of the amazing employees at VinSolutions and the awesome dealerships we do business with.  Its not about the tattoo its about the story. Maybe one day you will have a story or a person worthwhile enough to put on your body permanently.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • October 17, 2011
Joe, didn't mean to strike a personal nerve. Believe when I say I was not judging your character. We all have our own ways of expressing loyalty and dedication. Yours is with a tattoo.
Kevin, As always well written, funny and accurate. Thank You for giving my session a shout out, Thank You for Zip-linning over downtown Vegas with me, Thank You for the fantastic discussions over dinner but most of all Thank You for the years of friendship and support. I look forward to seeing you every DD and I am always excited to learn and grow from your expertise. I can't wait to till DD12, "Operation Crazy Conference Hi-Jinx" will commence! See you soon.
  • B
    Bethany Johnson
  • October 18, 2011
Kevin, great write up!  It gave me the 'inside scene' since I missed it...I was really pleased to be asked to speak at DSES and couldn't be away for both.  Thanks for giving me/us a thorough summary! :)
My apologies. Over reaction to a long day of video editing.
Thanks for the kind words from everyone - always fun to put this review together.  Many thanks to Jeff Kershner for hosting the site to share this with all.  Looking forward to seeing everyone at the next conference.  Of note, I have replied to everyone that asked for the Youtube playlist link for the shopper videos I created and used at DD11.  If I missed you, let me know at [email protected] and I will email to you...