I almost forgot, the month of May marks the BIRTHDAY for dealerrefresh.com. It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 years.
Dealer.com interviewed me a few weeks back for their newsletter, I figured what better time to post the interview on DealerRefresh.
Thanks to EVERYONE for making DealerRefresh what it is!!
DealerRefresh: Straight Talk about “New Marketing”
Interview with Jeff Kershner
Jeff Kershner heads up Internet process training at Mile One Automotive, the large dealership group with stores in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. But that’s not how most people know him. Most people know him as the man behind DealerRefresh, www.dealerrefresh.com, the blog that he started three years ago.
DealerRefresh’s focus is Internet sales and marketing – but don’t call it that if you talk to Jeff, who prefers the term “new marketing.” As he explained when we spoke with him recently, “Calling it ‘Internet sales’ or ‘Internet marketing’ makes it sound like a niche part of the business. Increasingly, it is the business – the fundamental way for dealers to reach and win all their customers. Dealers who don’t accept this won’t survive.”
Helping dealers thrive, and not just survive, has become DealerRefresh’s primary mission. Here’s more of what Jeff had to say.
Dealer.com (DDC): Where did the name DealerRefresh come from, and how did it get started?
Jeff Kershner (JK): It’s like the refresh button on your browser: every now and then you need to hit the refresh button to make sure you’re seeing the most up-to-date version of a website. I found myself thinking about how we dealers need to refresh our thinking in order to be on top of all the change in the business. And that’s what the website tries to provide.
When I came over to the sales side of this business, the Internet was just starting to have an influence on dealers and consumers. Since I knew how to type, I was appointed as the guy that takes care of the “Internet stuff”. The problem was, nine years ago there were no valuable resources for dealers on how to leverage the Internet. There was no one to share ideas and communicate with. So I decided to start blogging about my ideas and opinions.
Since then, DealerRefresh has become something much larger. Over 3,000 people read it every month, and many of those visitors are active participants who respond to the posts and publish ideas of their own. It has morphed into a community of dealers – ISMs, mostly – who are helping one another refine their practices, share ideas and opinions. And it’s a great place for someone new to the whole thing to find basic information and guidance.
DDC: Why do you think it’s become such a supportive community? Don’t dealers worry about giving away their secrets?
JK: Some dealers like to hold their cards close to their chest, but you find that mostly in places where the Internet effort is already very well established. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of dealerships in the U.S. that have no Internet presence at all, and the vast majority are somewhere in the middle, still finding their way. The general feeling throughout the industry is that there’s so much work to be done that it makes sense to help one another.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s a certain amount of thinking out loud that goes on at DealerRefresh. In a lot of dealerships, the ISM is a pretty lonely position. You’re at your computer all the time, and there may be no one else at the store who’s dealing with the same issues you’re dealing with. When you share what you know online, sometimes you’re figuring out what you know – you put an idea out there, someone responds, and the idea gets refined in a way that profits everyone.
DDC: By now, most people are aware of the issue of civility – or a lack thereof – on Internet forums. It’s something that started with email, and now we read about “flame wars” on some blogs and other participatory websites. What would you say the civility level is at DealerRefresh?
JK: This is actually one of the things I’m most happy about. Being respectful of others is the number one rule on the site, and people really are 99% of the time. I recently spoke with someone who runs a prominent blog outside of the automotive sphere. He had looked at DealerRefresh and was amazed at the great way that people interact with one another there.
Listen, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s boring. We’re not wearing white gloves and drinking tea; in fact one of the things the website is known for is its no-B.S. attitude. People say what they really think, and there are plenty of critical judgments expressed. But when you get right down to it, most of what contributors have to say is productive and helpful.
DDC: Are you pushing a particular viewpoint when you write for DealerRefresh?
JK: Naturally, I say what I think when I write my posts. But the only consistent viewpoint expressed on the site as a whole is one I don’t need to push. The readership and the people who post all believe that “new marketing” – all the techniques opened up by the Internet – is the future of automotive sales. What motivates me, and what brings people to the website, is a compelling interest in figuring it all out. That can mean something really specific, for example, how to format an email template. But we take up plenty of big issues too: ad spend distribution, the value of third-party leads, and so on. Maybe I have a strong opinion on some of these issues, but it doesn’t dominate the site because people are free to disagree – and, believe me, they sometimes do!
DDC: What’s next?
JK: Wow, that’s really hard to say. DealerRefresh has already become so much more than what I originally envisioned. That’s because of the way that dealers have flocked to it and made it their own forum. I’ll keep writing my posts, of course, but the future of the website itself is really up to the readers. The readership isn’t just growing in size, by the way. I’m hearing from more sales managers and even GMs these days who write to tell me how their dealership has benefited from help they’ve found at DealerRefresh.
DDC: Jeff, thank for your time. Keep fighting the good fight!